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UPDATE (from Japan Running News):

“Japan’s last top-level marathon of the year takes place this Sunday with the 67th running of the historic Fukuoka International Marathon. In recent weeks Fukuoka has been hit by some high-level withdrawals including 2010 New York City Marathon winner Gebre Gebremariam (Ethiopia), last year’s Fukuoka runner-up Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) and 2008 Tokyo Marathon winner Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland), but with four of last year’s top six returning it looks set to be a very close-matched and exciting race upfront.”

The 67th annual Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championships take place December 1st, 2013 on the streets of Fukuoka, Japan. The race happens November 30th for those watching in North America – see times and streaming opportunities below.

While mass marathons such as the ones that take place in New York, Boston, London, Chicago, and Berlin, for example, do invite top-level elite athletes, Fukuoka is unique as they invite or require qualification only from elite and sub-elite athletes and they must be men.

For the Group-A entry standards, one must have run under two hours and 27 minutes within the past two years (December 1st, 2011). Alternatively having run under one hour and 35 minutes for 30K, and must be a road race (Road = certified) and or a half-marathon in under 65 minutes also within the past two years. Group-B entry standards are 2:40, 1:50 for 30k and under 70 minutes for the half-marathon.

Ethiopians dominate Fukuoka.

Four years ago Ethiopian, Tsegaye Kebede, set the current course record by finishing in the time of 2:05:18, he split half-way in 63:05, which of course put him on pace for a 2:06:10 finish. Each of the top-seven fastest times at the Fukuoka race has been achieved by running a small negative split. Nine of the top-20 record times are held by Ethiopians; perhaps the most well-known of them is former world record holder Haile Gebreselassie. His best time on the course is 2:06:52, which is now the sixth-fastest Fukuoka time in history and was run with a 1:04:19 first half, which is one of the largest negative splits of the top-20 record times.  When Gebr ran in 2006, it was the second-fastest time ever on the course.

The 2013 entry list boasts number one seed, Ethiopian Gebregziabher  Gebremariam, who owns a personal best time of 2:04:53. He may best be known for winning the 2010 New York City Marathon in 2:08:14, his debut at the distance. Arguably he maybe be best known for earning 14 medals in eight years at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. The question is, whether he can hold off a Kenyan to help perpetuate the Ethiopian dominance. In the 2012 edition Kenya’s Joseph Gitau finished in 2:06:58 and he is back to challenge for the win. He is noted as being a Japanese corporately sponsored Kenyan, as was the late Samuel Wanjiru.

The Japanese always field high-level competitive athletes. Of the top-20 record times list to date, they have produced six entries including fifth-fastest Atsushi Fujita, who finished one second quicker than the athlete ironically nicknamed “The Emperor”, Haile Gebreselassie. Yuki Kawauchi is known internationally as the “Citizen Runner”, as he works full time at a school while owning a respectable personal best of 2:08:14. He has represented Japan internationally and is known to race often, from the half-marathon to the 50k, short ultra-marathon.

Fukuoka is one race that runners from Kenya do not dominate however, Samuel Wanjiru, who won the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon, holds the third-fastest time of 2:06:39 from 2007.

The most famous streaks are between two highly respected figures in the history of the marathon: Japan’s legend who claimed that the marathon is his girlfriend, Toshiko Seko. Seko won three consecutive in 1978, 1979 and 1980. His fastest time was 2:08:52, which was accomplished three years later in 1983. Seko’s wins are sandwiched between two more legendary athletes in New Zealand’s Paul Ballinger, who ran his personal best on the course of 2:10:45 and Australia’s Robert de Castella, who finished in 2:08:18. This time was not bettered until 1997 when Ethiopian Josia Thugwane finished in 2:07:28, currently the 11th fastest time. The other impressive streak was run by The US’s Frank Shorter from 1971 to 1974, where he won four consecutive, with the fastest of those being 2:10:45.

The Canadian marathon record was set in 1975 in Fukuoka by Jerome Drayton, who clocked in at 2:10:08. Drayton won back-to-back Fukuoka Marathons and three total. Canadians recently have come close to bettering the record with Eric Gillis running the Canadian Olympic-A standard time during the 2011 Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon in 2:11:28. Dylan Wykes owns Canada’s fastest time for currently active competitors of 2:10:47, while Reid Coolsaet’s best – the second fastest of the three is 2:10:55. Coolsaet also set his best at the same 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Coolsaet and company hope to better the agonizingly old record time of Drayton’s sooner than later. In their efforts to chase tougher Canadian Olympic standards, as well as THE record, they have run faster than other Canadians have in decades.

Coolsaet will run the race tonight and although he is non-committal, he is capable and potentially looking for the record. He said, “I’m feeling good and looking forward to the race”. When pressed further he replied, “I am going to put myself in position to run 2:10 and I am also going to listen to my body.”

The inaugural race was won in just 2:45:45 by Toshiichi Wada – an ironic surname. A Japanese runner won the race every year for the first 13 years starting in 1947 and lasting until New Zealand’s Barry Magee won in 1960 in the time of 2:19:04.

If there is a link to watch the Fukuoka Marathon it will most likely be provided by Japan Running News and/or Trackie.ca.
Sometimes you have to download Keyhole TV. Japan Running News explains how to do that HERE.

Fukuoka Marathon starts at 12:10 PM JST on December 1 (10:10 PM on November 30 EST, 7:10 PM PST)


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