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The shocking depth of Japanese women’s road running

Rachel Cliff's account of the Japanese road running depth and why she loves racing there

Rachel Cliff set her fourth Canadian record of 2019 over the weekend. Cliff finished the Sanyo Ladies’ Half-Marathon in Okayama, Japan in sixth place in 1:10:06, two seconds under her former record of 1:10:08 that she ran at the Woodlands Half-Marathon in 2018.


Cliff loves racing in Japan and has set all four of her national records there. She says that the depth in Japanese running is astonishing and great to experience first hand. “Sanyo is a women’s-only race so that part is cool, but also there’s insane depth. The 10K, which isn’t a championship event, has a cut-off for women’s entries at 40 minutes.”

RELATED: Japanese half-marathon sees a shocking 400 finishers under 1:10

In the half, Cliff placed sixth. The event was won in 1:08:45 with 27 women running under 1:15. In the 10K, 30 women went under 35:00. For context, at the 2018 Canadian Half-Marathon Championships there were eight runners total under 1:15, including men and women.

What to know if you plan to race in Japan

Cliff says that runners in Japan have one pace: fast. “We went out in 16:15 through 5K and if you weren’t with that pack of women at the front, there was no one for you to run with. There’s usually only one pacer. So that forces you to work hard. It forces you to really commit and go for it.”

Cliff knew that she was in personal best shape and is happy with her race, but would’ve liked to run under 70 minutes. “I wasn’t so much focused on the record as I was running a PB. When you’re a record holder, you’re not trying to sent a new record, you’re just trying to go faster.”


Cliff says the Japanese are so supportive of distance running and proud of their races. “They take really good care of you. I was one of only two international athletes but we were treated so well. There was also a press conference ahead in the race held in Japanese so I needed a translator. We’re so used to seeing African runners with translators in Canada, so it was interesting to be on the other side of that.”

Her Olympic distance

As far as Cliff’s Olympic decision goes, she remains undecided. “The Olympic decision is a tough decision, between the 10K and marathon. I’m not sure what I’ll pick but I know I’ve got to make these plans shortly.”

RELATED: Rachel Cliff breaks her own Canadian half-marathon record by two seconds