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Rachel Cliff on the depth of the Japanese running scene

With the Tokyo Marathon running this Saturday, we got the inside scoop on the Japanese running scene from Rachel Cliff

Rachel Cliff, the Canadian half-marathon record holder, recently spent time in Japan for the Marugame half-marathon. There she finished in 1:10:28, a mere 20 seconds off of her Canadian record. 

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Cliff, despite her 2:28:53 marathon debut in Berlin, was unable to secure herself a spot in this Sunday’s Tokyo marathon. She said in an email, “It would have been a cool race to do but as you can see from looking at the elite start list (especially the international runners), that I’m not quite at that calibre.”

The international elite start list includes only 12 women, with the slowest personal best at 2:27 and one marathon debut. Ruti Aga and Florence Kiplagat are billed as the two women to watch. The pacers have been instructed to go out at 2:17 pace in hopes that Aga and Kiplagat will be able to follow. Aga is the 2018 Tokyo runner-up and Kiplagat is a former Berlin champion. 


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In the men’s event, frontrunner Kenenisa Bekele won’t be on the start line due to an injury. Bekele holds the world records in the 5,000m and 10,000m. He won the 2016 Berlin Marathon in 2:03 and is considered one of the best, if not the best distance runner in the world, second possibly only to marathon world record-holder Eliud KipchogeDickson Chumba of Kenyathe only two-time male Tokyo Marathon champion, and El Hassan El Abassi of Bahrain are now the two men to watch. 

Cliff says that one of the biggest things she noticed in Japan was the true love of road running. “There is a real love for road racing in Japan and I think because of this they have a lot of depth in their races–anyone can see this by looking at the IAAF rankings but experiencing it first hand was pretty cool. The event itself was so well organized, punctual, and a good environment to perform in. I also appreciated their hospitality–the meet director took the foreign athletes out for a nice sushi dinner in Marugame after the race, which was really fun.”

She’s happy with her performance at Marugame but said that the road back from Berlin took longer than expected. “The recovery both emotionally and physically from the Berlin marathon took longer than I’d hoped, and training wasn’t going great in December. Things really turned the corner in mid-January and so I was pleased to be in a much better place and able to run my second best half-marathon ever.”

Heading into the 2019 and 2020 outdoor season, Cliff will continue to straddle the road and track disciplines. “I’d like to qualify for the Olympics in the 10,000m and/or the marathon in 2020 and I know that results from 2019 and 2020 will count towards this. Technically my main goals aren’t that different from what they normally are–to run personal bests and be able to represent the maple leaf–but having the Olympics in there adds a bit of pressure.”

Cliff’s next race is the women’s only Nagoya Marathon next weekend on March 9. The Tokyo Marathon gets underway this Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT.