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In the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Misato Michishita Sets Her Second World Record of the Year

The 51st Hofu Yomiuri Marathon 2020 was held on December 20, 2020. In the IPC Athletics (Visual Impairment) Women’s event, Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games gold medal contender Misato Michishita set a new world record of 2:54:13, breaking her own previous world record by nine seconds. In doing so, she showed her rivals that the COVID-19 pandemic had done nothing to slow her athletic momentum.

Michishita and her guide, Shida (right), breaking the goal line with a world record of 2:54:13 and securing their victory

A Level Head, a Steady Pace, and a New Record

The temperature was 9 degrees Celsius, and there was a cold northwesterly wind blowing. Michishita’s goal time was in the range of 2:52:00. She was wary, however; once, in Hofu, she’d been slowed down by a headwind. She started off at a fairly conservative pace alongside her guide Yuka Aoyama, while still maintaining a world-record level pace, with her time at the midpoint of the race breaking the world record she’d set in the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in February of this year. She continued on at a good pace and finished the race with Jun Shida, her guide for the latter half of the race, with a world record—albeit not quite the goal time she’d set out for herself.

Michishita finishing off the chaotic 2020 year with a smile after beating her own world record in Yamaguchi, her home prefecture

Her comments after the race illustrated her mixed emotions—some frustration, but spoken with a smile that expressed relief.

“I feel more frustrated than happy. I slowed down around the 40km mark, and I wanted to ramp it up again after that, but I just didn’t have the energy.”

Still, she knew she’d done well. She had energy to spare past the 30km mark, and knew that her training until then—running 40km stretches more frequently—had prepared her well for this race. But it was also because she’d been doing so well that she couldn’t immediately grasp the reason for her slowdown at the end of the race. “I don’t know if it was because of the headwind, or because I just ran out of energy…”

The Hofu Yomiuri Marathon is known to produce world records due to how flat the course is

Even then, however, she’d been able to beat her record. Compared to the previous year, she’d gotten better at dealing with external factors like wind. Her pacing at the start of the race was also a great success, and she seemed happy about the lessons she’d learned towards Tokyo 2020, telling us, “I’ve definitely gotten at planning out my races.”

She sensed improvements in other areas as well. “I’ve gained muscle in my upper body, which means when I run now, I can use my whole body.” When the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to train regularly with multiple guides, she’d begun to focus on strength training, which she could do on her own. As a result, her body was tuned more than ever for efficiency.

“I recalled how it was when I first started out, and started strength training because it was something I could do on my own. But then I realized that this dull sort of strength training was actually pretty fun. [So I used the opportunity to] get proper instruction [on my form, which I’d had difficulty checking because I could never see it] and I think I’ve gained muscle in my upper body.”

Michishita had the energy to smile while running with her guide Aoyama at the start of the race

The Support of a Remote Yet Close-Knit Team

She’ll head into next summer at the age of 44. For her, the effect of the one-year postponement of Tokyo 2020 has been immense. Even then, she maintains a positive view of the situation, saying of 2020, “It reminded me of when I first started out, and it just made running feel so, so fun.”

She said, “I started getting in more frequent contact with everyone [like my guides and training partners] during the periods where I couldn’t see them. So when I did eventually see them at training camps and whatnot, it just made me so happy. It inspired me to see them at these camps, training and working to help me set a new record. It made me think, ‘I need to work hard too.’ And I think our team really bonded and came together because of these experiences.”

Runners with visual impairments ran with the able-bodied runners

Horikoshi Looking Strong for Tokyo 2020, with a New Asia Record

Horikoshi celebrating with a fist pump after beating his personal record by more than three minutes

Tadashi Horikoshi, who came in third in the London Marathon/World Para Athletics Marathon Championships in 2019 and who’s qualified as a member of the Japan national team (alongside Women’s event winner Michishita) was another runner who found success in this race. He completed the race with a new Asia record of 2:22:28, beating his own personal record by more than three minutes.

“I wasn’t able to speed up the way I wanted to past the 35km mark, so that’s something I’ll have to work on,” he said, voicing his thoughts on potential points of improvement. He went on, saying contentedly, “I think I was able to put pressure on some of my rivals out there in the world. I want to get better so I can be more confident when I’m standing at the start line for Tokyo 2020.”

Kumagai (right), who had already qualified for the second invitational slot, and Horikoshi (left) competing in the Men’s event

This race also served as an additional qualification tournament for the visually impaired marathon invitational slots for Tokyo 2020. Masahiro Okamura, who won a bronze medal in the Rio Paralympic Games, came in 2nd place after Horikoshi. He said, looking relieved, “My time wasn’t very good, but I fulfilled my bare-minimum goal [of qualifying for the third invitational slot].”

What stands out is the tenacity of these athletes, who has achieved all of this even as the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the cancellations of numerous marathons. As medal contenders, these Japanese athletes are sure to have a great showing at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as well.

Okamura, bronze medalist at the Rio Paralympic Games, came in second in the marathon

Results of the 51st Hofu Yomiuri Marathon 2020
Men’s Marathon (Visually Impaired):
1st Place: Tadashi Horikoshi (T12)
2nd Place: Masahiro Okamura (T12)
3rd Place: Shinji Yamashita (T12)

Women’s Marathon (Visually Impaired):
1st Place: Misato Michishita (T12)
2nd Place: Yumiko Fujii (T12)
3rd Place: Hiroko Kondo (T12)

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by Jun Tsukida

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