Yuki Kawauchi, 31, winner of this year’s Boston Marathon, has announced he will compete at this year’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 7. And Chicago has announced it will reinstate pace rabbits this year, which marks the 41st running of the race.

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Kawauchi will join the U.S.’s Galen Rupp and the U.K.’s Sir Mo Farah at the race that Rupp won last year to become the first American man to win in Chicago in 15 years. Rupp dropped out of Boston this year due to the freezing, wet weather on the course, but went on to win the Volkswagen Prague Marathon in 2:06:07, establishing himself as the second-fastest American marathoner in history. (Khalid Khannouchi ran 2:05:38 at the London Marathon in 2002; Ryan Hall’s 2:04:58, set at Boston in 2011, doesn’t officially count, since the Boston course is not record-eligible.) Farah was third at the London Marathon this spring in a time of 2:06:21, breaking the British record held by Steve Jones since 1985.

The last time Chicago had rabbits pace the frontrunners was 2014. They were dropped after critics complained they made the race too focused on fast times. (They are not used at either the Boston or New York marathons.) The LetsRun site quotes race director Carey Pinkowski as saying the race is responding to feedback from runners that they want to achieve the fastest times possible on this fast course.

Mo Farah

No Japanese runner has won the Chicago Marathon since Toshihiko Seko’s victory back in 1986. Kawauchi brings a personal best of 2:08:14, considerably slower than the two favourites’. Some speculate that his success at Boston was an anomaly, and that he doesn’t stand a chance in a showdown with Rupp and Farah on a fast course like Chicago’s, and especially with pace rabbits. It might take a hurricane to create conditions likely to favour the Japanese runner, but it wouldn’t be the first time expectations were shattered by freak weather conditions.

Kawauchi will also be contesting the Japanese marathon record of 2:06:11, set by Yuta Shitara at this year’s Tokyo Marathon on February 25.

But Kawauchi won’t be the only Japanese elite competing on October 7. He is joined by, among others, Suguru Osako, who holds the Japanese record in the 3,000m and the 5,000m, and who debuted the marathon at Boston last year, finishing third with a time of 2:10:28. Osako’s PB of 2:07:19 was set with a third-place finish at the Fukuoka Marathon, also last year. He is 27.

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What Kawauchi fans love to point out is that his unconventional training and racing habits set him apart from other elites. For example, he races (and often wins) ultramarathons, something few other elites do, running a great deal of mileage at a slow pace (while eschewing the double-workout habits of most elites, which allows him to avoid injury). He also points out (in a January 2018 article by Sarah Barker on the Deadspin site) that most elites are not achieving times close to their PB’s on a regular basis (though that does not hold true for Rupp or Farah, both of whom set new PB’s this year).

 

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