Lucas Rotich won the Lake Biwa Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, in 2:09:11 in the Japanese city of Otsu on Sunday afternoon (6).
“2:09:11 is a good time considering the warm weather conditions,” said the 25-year-old Kenyan. “Since the pace maker Kosgei went back to pace the Japanese before 25km, I was in front alone without a pace maker at that point, so it was little difficult.”
The race start time temperature was just below 20C and it stayed about the same throughout the race. The plus side of the weather was that cloud covered the Sun throughout the race, and wind was at minimal.
Hisanori Kitajima finished five seconds behind in second place with a PB of 2:09:16 and thus finished in the all-important first Japanese position in the final Olympic qualifying race.
“A side-stitch really started to bother me at about 37km,” said Kitajima, whose previous personal best was 2:12:28. “I tapped on my side in the hope that it would go away and luckily it did over the course of the next few kilometres.
“At some point during the race, I thought 2:08 was a possibility,” added Kitajima, who had won his two other marathons to date, in Nobeoka and Sydney last year. “It was low 2:09, but since it is a huge personal best and my first sub-2:10 clocking, I am happy with the result. The only disappointment is that I could not win today, so my winning streak at the marathon came to an end.
“I like warmer weather so today’s weather did not bother me,” he added. “Please note that I am sending this message to the selector.”
Tanzania’s Alphonce Simbu was third in 2:09:19. Finishing fourth – but, more importantly, the second Japanese overall – was Suehiro Ishikawa with 2:09:25. Since Ishikawa’s performance is the third-fastest time from Japan’s three Olympic qualifying races, his chances of making the team for Rio de Janeiro appear to be quite good.
“I was aiming for the first Japanese position, so I am bit disappointed,” said Ishikawa. “But I think I sent a strong message to the selectors by running sub-2:10 in warm weather. When Maruyama made his move, the pace really picked up so suddenly. But my coach told me before the race to stay calm and run my own race when the major move is made so I remained calm.”
Takuya Fukatsu was the third Japanese finisher, running 2:09:31 – an agonising six seconds behind Ishikawa. Fumihiro Maruyama, who led after 30km and looked set to be the first Japanese finisher, faded in the last four kilometres and was the fourth Japanese finisher in 2:09:39.
Yuki Kawauchi fell off the pace at about 17km, but kept on going and finished seventh with 2:11:53. Kentaro Nakamoto, one of the pre-race favourites, was eighth with 2:12:06. Poland’s Henryk Szost dropped out of the race just before 17km.
Two races in one marathon
The designated pace was 3:02 for each kilometre but the pace maker went faster. The pace was also erratic; the first three kilometres were covered in 2:55, 3:08 and 2:53.
The leading pack of international runners, led by pacemaker Samuel Kosgei, had separated from the Japanese pack, led by pacemakers Yuta Shitara and Akihiro Tsumurai. 20 seconds separated the two groups at 10km.
Shura Kitata broke away from the lead pack at 13km with an injection of speed. “The pace was already fast and I thought he would comeback after 30km, so I decided not to chase him,” eventual winner Rotich said afterwards.
Kitata passed half way in 1:02:36, 41 seconds ahead of Rotich, suggesting a finish time of about 2:05. But Kitata soon started to slow and at 29.3km he was caught by Rotich and Simbu. Kitata ran with them for a while but the race for first place turned into a duel between Rotich and Simbu.
Rotich eventually pulled away from Simbu in the closing stages of the race to win in 2:09:11.
The race to be the top Japanese finisher intensified in the second half. Nine runners remained in the Japanese pack at 22km. Kosgei, who was pacing the lead pack, dropped back down the field at 24km to help pace the Japanese men.
At 28km, the Japanese pack had been reduced to six men. The pacemaker fell behind just before 30km, leaving the top domestic runners to battle for position. Kitajima was the first to lead the pack, leaving Nakamoto behind. Maruyama then made a big move and pulled away from his compatriots.
Takuya Fukatsu set off in pursuit of Maruyama after 37km and he was closely followed by Ishikawa and Kitajima. Ishikawa was the next to surge, catching Maruyama to move into the leading Japanese position.
But the battle was not over. Kitajima was also making a move, first catching Maruyama before 40km and then passing Ishikawa moments later. Kitajima then started to motor, so much so that he was closing on the leaders. Having entered the stadium, he passed Simbu with 100 metres to go to move into second place overall.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Lucas Rotich (KEN) 2:09:11
2 Hisanori Kitajima (JPN) 2:09:16
3 Alphonce Simbu (TAN) 2:09:19
4 Suehiro Ishikawa (JPN) 2:09:25
5 Takuya Fukatsu (JPN) 2:09:31
6 Fumihiro Maruyama (JPN) 2:09:39
7 Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 2:11:53
8 Kentaro Nakamoto (JPN) 2:12:06