Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Guest Article...Yuki Kawauchi, the citizen Derek O'Keeffe

Friday, February 24, 2012

Guest Article...Yuki Kawauchi, the citizen Derek O'Keeffe

Derek is a local runner from Cork and is a regular visitor to Japan. He took part in the 2011 Tokyo Marathon and follows the news from this country where Marathon running is hugely popular. Yuki Kawauchi has become something of a sensation in Japan, he comes from the ranks of amateur runners yet competes with the professionals.

Full time job holding you back? Think again. Amateur, self trained runner Yuki Kawauchi competes with the best in the work while holding down a full time job.
You may or may not have heard of Kawauchi but he has really thrown a spanner in the works in the pro running scene in Japan. He hit the big time in February 2011 in the Tokyo marathon where he ran 2:08:37, coming in 3rd and was the first Japanese runner home. By doing this he was a surprise qualifier for the world championships in Daegu, Korea last summer. The big-bosses of the corporate teams were left scratching their heads. How can a self coached runner, with no sponsors, and a full time job, manage to beat full time corporate-backed athletes?

One thing that stands out from his training is mileage. Kawauchi runs almost half the mileage of the full time athletes. A typical week is about 50 to 80 miles consisting of one speed session, one long run (22+miles), and one trail run in the mountains. The rest of his training is whatever he can fit in before his working day (12:45 - 9:15pm). Genetics and talent must play a part, however Kawauchi’s training proves that quality is more important than quantity.

Last December he came 3rd in the Fukuoka Marathon, again beating all the other Japanese runners using tactics that he learned from the African elite in the world championships. Tactics such as surging and changing pace through water stations and taking wide lines around corners to psyche out other runners. He explained that he used the Fukuoka marathon as a ‘practice race’ to try out these tactics. You can see him doing exactly this in the last 5k including a fierce battle with team-Toyota’s Imai - HERE.

In terms of effort, Kawauchi leaves everything out on the course. If you look at the video clip for the 2011 Tokyo, he has a constant expression of pain etched across his face for the last few kms of the race. In an interview, he said..."This was my sixth marathon, and the fifth time I've ended up in the medical area. Every time I run, it's with the mindset that if I die at this race, it's OK."

Kawauchi’s next race is Tokyo marathon, this weekend the 26th of February. This should be an interesting battle where Kawauchi will be aiming for an Olympic qualifying time. He is on form at the moment having just ran a half-marathon PB on Feb 5th of 1:02:18. The pros and big company runners have had to knuckle down but will it have been enough to take an Olympic place from Kawauchi.

Extract from a recent interview...
"People have been telling me, 'You should do more scientific training, you should do altitude training.' I don't do any of that. I think common sense and true enjoyment are what's needed. Back when people didn't have as much money they thought about their training and worked hard to get better. At some point technology became more important and they started relying more on scientific training and things like supplements and taping, and maybe they forgot what the important things are.
Japanese corporate runners watch their weight to within 0.1 kg. I eat whatever I like. I don't do any taping or take supplements. I don't breathe low-oxygen air. I don't wear magnetic necklaces. I guess in that way I'm old-school. I run, I work hard, and I like it. I read up, thought about what I needed to do, and found what works for me. It's worthwhile spending money on things that will help your training, but spending money itself isn't going to make you better."


Postscript...26th Feb 2012 : Haile Gebreselassie finished 4th in 2:08:17. Yuki Kawauchi fell out of the main pack just past halfway and ended up in 14th-place with 2:12:51 finish. That is within the A standard to qualify for the London Olympics but there were other Japanese runners who were faster.


Anonymous said...

great article. an amazing guy

Anonymous said...

Great article Derek.

One section that got me thinking - "Tactics such as surging and changing pace through water stations and taking wide lines around corners to psyche out other runners".

I can't understand how taking wide corners (which I observed him doing, in a video which you linked) would psyche out other runners. If he did that against me I'd be delighted. Even spurred on. Am I missing a trick?

Anonymous said...

Thats right, I'm not sure myself why he did it. Maybe I lost something in the translation there :-) But If I were the other runner I'd be thinking "what the hell is he at". Maybe just to distract them.
Unfortunately he didn't have a good race in Tokyo earlier today. He was suffering from 5k onwards. Sill managed 2:12 though, but looks like he won't be going to the Olympics.