The Ageo City Half-Marathon is arguably the world’s most competitive race at the distance. In last November’s event, 18 men broke 63 minutes and 192 men broke 66 minutes. The winner was Takashi Ichida and Ikuto Yufu finished fifth. As part of a partnership between the race in Ageo and New York Road Runners, Ichida and Yufu have been invited to compete in this year’s NYC Half.
The opportunity to run in New York City gives Japanese runners even more incentive to perform well in Ageo, which is northwest of Tokyo. “I am extremely grateful to be invited to run against some of the world’s greatest athletes in a city of dreams like New York,” says Ichida. “I promise to be on the starting line in perfect condition and to give it the absolute utmost of my ability to reach my goals of a 61-minute PB and top-10 finish.”
The Ageo has great significance because it serves as the unofficial tryout for Japan’s biggest sporting event: the Hakone Ekiden road relay, held annually in early January, which has a field of male college runners and draws big TV ratings and rabid fan interest akin to that for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Japanese runners don’t often race outside their country, and the NYC Half will show Ichida and Yufu how they stack up against the world’s elite.
“When Tokyo was picked to host the 2020 Olympic Games, the honor of running in them as a member of the Japanese national team became my life’s driving ambition,” Yufu says. “Being invited to take the first step to reach that goal at the NYC Half, an extremely high-level American race, makes me very happy.”
Kenta Murayama ran last year’s NYC Half after winning the 2012 Ageo race. After finishing an impressive 10th in New York, he returned home to set course records at two ekidens and establish himself as Japan’s premier collegiate distance runner.
Ichida says, “It's also important to me to meet as many people as possible at the NYC Half and absorb everything I can from them to help me reach my lifetime goal of someday winning an Olympic marathon medal.”
Fans in Japan as well as New York will be eager to see if Ichida and Yufu can follow in Murayama’s footsteps.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg