Marathons and ultramarathons are some of the toughest challenges endurance athletes have to face. A traditional marathon is 42.1km long and is a bucket list goal for many endurance athletes and enthusiasts. Japan however, has an event dedicated to marathons called Ekiden.
What is Ekiden?
Ekiden is a long distance relay race conducted on roads and sees participation from all age groups that started in 1917. Sponsored by Yomiuri Shimbun, one of the five Japanese national newspapers that still continues to be published to this day, the event celebrated the anniversary of Japan’s new capital city Edo, now known as Tokyo and the old capital city of Kyoto. It comprised of a total distance of 508km over the course of three days which is now varied according to the members in a team.
Ekiden is a prominent feature associated with the New Year. It marks the event of Hakone Ekiden, a 217km, two day competition held from 2nd to 3rd January. University teams face-off in this 10 leg course that features a brutal fifth leg where contestants climb an 800m road on an incline, ending in Hakone. The second day is the returning journey from Hakone to Ōtemachi back in Tokyo.
The All-Japan Interprefectural Ekiden Championships are two of the most prestigious Ekiden marathons held in January. (Source: Nippon)
All Japan Interprefectural Ekiden Championships
The All-Japan Interprefectural Ekiden Championships are two of the most prestigious Ekiden marathons held in January. The competition is divided by gender with the Empress Cup held in Kyoto for only female contestants and Men’s Ekiden in Hiroshima. It sees participation from 47 teams from the 47 prefectures of Japan with varied distances for athletes of different ages.
The women’s championship is stretched to 42.1km split into 6k, 4k, 3k, 4k, 4k, 4k, 4k, 3k, and 10k. School and Junior High athletes run the relays under 4km whereas collegiate and open runners run the 6km and 10km splits. The men’s championship sees 7 participants cover 48km split into 7k 3k 8.5k 5k 8.5k 3k and 13k. Participants running the 3k are high school runners, 5-8.5k for high school runners and 8.5k to 13k for open runners.
Ekiden marathon is one of the most unique marathons in the world. It holds a historical and cultural significance and brings about unity and develops a sporting attitude for people of all ages across the country. This leads to better unity and awareness in keeping fit, which is one of the many factors why Japan has a low obesity rate.