Kayoko Fukushi has in independent streak, especially for a star runner in the Japanese corporate system, where the coach wields nearly total control and often makes race and training decisions without consulting the runner.
“I am impulsive—100 percent,” says Fukushi, part of the professional women’s field for Sunday's 4 ING New York City Marathon. “That’s my personality. I’m like that in races, too. I’m trying to learn patience.”
Fukushi’s impulsivity has both hurt and helped her at 26.2 miles. The trait got her to the starting line for her first marathon.
In 2008, after a major corporate distance relay, the 5000- and 10,000-meter runner surprised everyone by announcing that she would attempt the Osaka Women’s Marathon in less than two months. Never mind that she had never run longer than 18 miles.
But then the same trait almost didn’t let her get to the finish line. She rushed into the lead and stayed there through 30K (18.6 miles) before an epic crash-and-burn. She collapsed outside the stadium and then three more times on the final lap inside the stadium, eventually finishing 19th in 2:40:54.
The experience, however, wasn’t traumatizing either physically or emotionally. Fukushi can laugh about it now. “I’ve basically forgotten,” the three-time Olympian says. “It was good that the [2008 Beijing] Olympics were right there. I just went back out and qualified for the 5 and 10 again. I wanted to get back into the Olympics. Osaka has not affected me at all.”
Three years after Osaka, Fukushi showed her promise by finishing third in the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2:24:38. In the 2012 Osaka Marathon, she reverted to her debut form, going out hard and struggling to a ninth-place finish in 2:37:35.
“I don’t feel I went out too fast,” Fukushi says. “Physically I wasn’t ready to hold that kind of pace for a full marathon.”
That statement doesn’t sound so contradictory if you understand the thinking of many Japanese marathoners, according to Brendan Reilly, an agent for several Japanese runners, including Fukushi. The idea is that Fukushi considers herself a 2:21–2:22 marathoner and will go out at that pace, hoping to extend the distance she can hold it in successive marathons.
“I would say her strength is her track speed,” said Yukio Mihara, an assistant to Tadayuki Nagayama, Fukushi’s coach. “It’s a matter of trying to tap into that speed and bring it to the marathon.”
Fukushi, who holds national records at 3000 and 5000 meters and the half-marathon, is gradually lengthening her weekly long run to 40K (24.8) miles, compared to the 25K (15.5) that she used to prepare for the London Olympic 5000- and 10,000-meter races. (She finished 10th in the 10,000; she did not advance out of the 5000 prelims in London.)
Fukushi reminds Reilly of another of his runners, Romania’s Constantina Tomescu-Dita, who won the Chicago Marathon in 2004 and the Beijing Olympic Marathon in 2008.
“Constantina always wanted to be aggressive and run a hard pace,” Reilly says. “Over the years with the marathon training, she got stronger and carried the pace longer. We’ll see with Kayoko. I think they’re the same type.”