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Japanese runners dominate ultramarathon in cold, rainy weather

2011/12/11 17:30:31

Taipei, Dec. 11 (CNA) Japanese ultrarunners emerged Sunday as winners of the Soochow International Ultramarathon, overcoming the low temperature and rain that forced several world-class runners to withdraw.

Mami Kudo, who holds the world record for the women's 24-hour and 48-hour races, broke her own record in winning the women's race while fellow Japanese Ryoichi Sekiya won his sixth consecutive title in the men's division in a race that began at 9 a.m. Saturday.

The 2009 champion in the women's division ran a total of 255.303 kilometers on the track of Soochow University's Waishuanghsi Campus, breaking the previous record of 254.425 km she set in winning the 2009 race.

The distance also beat the efforts of every male competitor in the race except for Sekiya.

About 10 minutes before the 24-hour race came to an end, students gave the 47-year-old extra encouragement after the organizers announced that she was close to setting another new record.

Kudo, participating in the race for the third time, said she did not think about breaking the record before the start of the event, but felt it was quite a good day for running despite the rain and temperatures that fell below 15 degrees Celsius.

She attributed her record-breaking performance to the event's support services, including the help of volunteers and the nutritious food and drinks available during the race that kept her in good physical condition.

Describing the race as an unforgettable memory, Kudo vowed to return to defend her title next year.

Many of the top men's runners did not have such a good experience. Sekiya was the top survivor in the men's division by completing 261.257 kilometers after some pre-race favorites, including Valmir Nunes of Brazil and American Scott Jurek pulled out early.

Nunes, the Brazilian and South American ultramarathon record holder, left the track 13 hours into the race due to hypothermia. Jurek, dubbed the "King of Ultramarathon" in the U.S., stopped running after finishing 426 laps.

Though Sekiya fell short of the distance record of 274.884 km he set in 2007 or the 268.126-km mark he set last year, the veteran runner said his result at least met the basic goal he had set for himself.

He said the students' cheering motivated him to keep running. "Though it was painful during the process, it was also the happiest thing for me to complete the race."

The 42-year-old mechanical engineer said the first thing he planned to do after the race would be to travel around the island the way he knows best -- by running.

Sekiya said he wanted to spend 13 days traveling around Taiwan to thank the country for its help following the March 11 earthquake and to visit Soochow University students he had met during previous races.

Nine of the 31 runners in the 24-hour race ended up withdrawing, the most that failed to complete it in the event's 11-year history.

Emmanuel Fontaine of France finished second in the men's division, followed by Taiwanese runner Tsou Shuang-hsi.

In the women's division, Japan's Kimie Noto came in second and Taiwanese runner Lee Kuei-fang finished third.

(By Lee Yu-cheng and Kendra Lin)