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Japanese High School Ekiden Championship to test for iron injections

Japanese high school coaches are reportedly encouraging IV iron drips for their athletes as a means of performance enhancment

Syringe with glass vials and medications pills drug

At the press conference ahead of the National High School Ekiden Championships, organizers announced that they would be testing the runners for iron injections. Injectable iron is delivery of the mineral through an IV drip. This procedure can be prescribed to runners who haven’t been able to maintain their iron levels naturally or with ongoing oral supplementation.

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2007 Ekiden

Iron injections can help to increase hemoglobin levels in the body, which can improve performance. This testing has been mandated by the JAAF (Japan Association of Athletics Federations), which has been pushing for this testing in long-distance running for over a year. The Japan Times reported in 2018, “The JAAF raised the likelihood of making the injection of iron drugs, which are given by doctors to treat anemia, “prohibited in principle” starting next spring. According to the JAAF, doctors have administered injections to athletes at the urging of coaches without adequate medical assessment.”

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According to Japan Running News, a race official commented, “Iron injections are suitable as a treatment for anaemia, but as a means of enhancing performance they are inappropriate. The injections can have side effects upon the body, so testing will be introduced to protect the athletes.”

2009 Chiba Ekiden Relay team Canada

Mechanism for enhancing performance


In 2018 Japan Running News reported that the JAAF was concerned that top-level high school running programs were encouraging their athletes to take injectable iron. This new testing procedure aims to eliminate this practice.

What are Ekiden relays?

The word ekiden comes from the combination of the Japanese characters for “station” and “transmit.” In the Edo period of Japanese history (1603-1867), couriers traversed the Tokaido road between Edo (the historic name for Tokyo) and the imperial capital city of Kyoto, a distance of approximately 508K, to deliver messages.

Nowadays, ekidens are a popular type of relay race. There is no specific ekiden distance or number of team members. One of the most renowned is the Chiba ekiden, an international event in which countries send co-ed teams of six to complete a marathon distance, relay-style.

The high school Ekiden championships will begin on December 23.