The “96th Hakone Ekiden Qualifying Race” was held on October 26 at Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa. The Meiji Gakuin University Track and Field Club’s Long-distance Division (hereafter Meiji Gakuin) finished in 24th place among the 43 universities participating.
At 9:35 a.m., in blazing sunshine, runners from each university started the race simultaneously. In the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Tachikawa, the starting point of the race, the Meiji Gakuin’s cheering squad enthusiastically cheered on the 12 runners.
At the 7-kilometer mark, the supporters—consisting of Meiji Gakuin students, sponsors, faculty members, and Track and Field Club alumni—waved flags and shouted encouragement. At this point, Takumi Ichihara and captain Mao Sakagami were running at the head of the team. Kai Ando (who ran in last year’s qualifying race), Takeru Zama and other runners brought up the rear in a group as the race continued.
Then the supporters moved to two new locations around the 18-km and 19-km points and waited for the runners. Ichihara was at the head of the Meiji Gakuin team as he passed. With rising temperatures and the rugged up-and-down terrain of Showa Kinen Park, the final stage of the race was especially grueling for the runners. The supporters cheered them on to the finish with even more energetic shouts of encouragement.
Takumi Ichihara was still in the top position on the Meiji Gakuin team when he reached the finish line. The results were determined from the total times of the top 10 of 12 competing runners. The aggregate result was a total time of 11 hours, 24 minutes, 26 seconds for Meiji Gakuin. The team finished in 24th place, down four places from last year.
After the race, Professor Junichi Kamegaya, representing the supporters, expressed their hopes for the future: “The final result turned out to be 24th place, but you ran a great race in spite of the hot weather. Keep going, and keep inspiring all of us in the Meiji Gakuin community.” Then Track and Field Club Long-distance Division head coach Tanase addressed the team with heartening remarks: “Even though we finished four places down from last year, I don’t think this is by any means a bad result. The runners worked hard and trained daily. With the runners who are here next year, I’d like to aim for a result of 20th place or higher and a chance to compete in the Hakone Ekiden final.” Team captain Mao Sakagami said tearfully, “All the runners have worked hard for this day, but we weren’t able to give as strong a showing as expected. I’m certain that the newer team members will achieve good results next year.”
Unseasonably hot late-October weather made it a grueling race for the runners.
We at Meiji Gakuin hope this year’s disappointment will be a catalyst that propels the team to greater success next year and in the years to come.