Across the Tokyo bay is Futtsu park – a hotspot for endurance athletes in the area. It has the perfect conditions for training in groups and a very characteristic straight road that the team uses for intervals. Shortly after arriving at the parking lot the Tokai team gathers for details and briefing on today's session.

The group is in their final preparations. On the 2nd of January ten of the runners will cover 218 km, competing against some of the most prestigious colleges in Japan. The two-day relay race consist of five legs, stretching from central Tokyo to Lake Ashi in the Hakone region, and then back again. This is a team race to every extent and if one of the runners should retire, the whole team retires. It's all for one, one for all.

And today's session is not your everyday training – it is meant to decide who will run on race day, as well as who will run what leg.

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There are many aspects to what makes the Ekiden so special and so deeply rooted in Japanese society. History, tradition of running and a strong connection to the educational system all play key parts in making this an event for the people. Every year it attracts nearly thirty million TV viewers, making it one of the biggest running event of the year, globally.

As a starting point you have to go back in time, to a time when the stripes of the Shibuya crossing had not yet been painted and when there were no bright neon lights in Shinjuku. In feudal Japan, the country used bare-footed runners, in a what would today mostly resemble a relay format, to pass along important messages between the route of Kyoto and Tokyo. The trick, if you will, was that the continuous switching of runners meant that speed could be maintained throughout the route.

In the early 20th century, the runner Shizo Kanaguri became a running symbol in Japan after having competed in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and later on was crucial in the inaugural Hakone Ekiden taking place in 1920. Even though the actual details of the race have shifted over the years, this is still considered to be the first proper iterations of the modern day Hakone Ekiden.

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While the Hakone Ekiden is the most prestigious race, other forms of Ekiden is held by all levels of schools, from grade school to university. Because of this, most Japanese people have their own experiences of not only participating but also being part of the culture from a very early age in their lives.

At the core, the Ekiden is of course about fierce competition but even more importantly it is about team spirit and togetherness – ingredients that is not so common in other running cultures around the world.

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Morozumi Hayashi - Director of long-distance race and Ekiden at Tokai University.
Noriaki Nishide - Head coach for long-distance race and Ekiden at Tokai University.
Runners, left-right; SAEKI YOSEI(佐伯 陽生), YONEDA TOMOYA (米田 智哉), YOSHII RAITO (吉井 来斗), ISHIHARA SHOTARO (石原 翔太郎), HAMACHI SHINNOSUKE (濱地 進之介), HOMMA KEITA (本間 敬大), TAKEMURA TAKUMA (竹村 拓真), KAWAKAMI YUJI (川上 勇士), NAKASHIMA TAKAYA (中嶋 貴哉)

Rounding up the session, the runners of the Tokai Team gathers a final time. Another qualitative training in the books. While not everyone will be selected to run in the big event only weeks away, it is clear that this is a team first and foremost. Everyone contributes to the collective effort and strives to always help the team, from training to race, it is all in unison.

We at Maurten wish the Tokai University Ekiden Team all the best in the race on 2-3 January, 2021