Yuki Kawauchi, 26, is a top marathon runner, but he defies the conventional wisdom of the sport in Japan.
Kawauchi is known as a “citizen runner” because he works full time at a public night high school in Saitama Prefecture, while most top runners belong to corporate running teams as “professional marathoners.”
“I’m a dropout” from the elite course for marathon runners, Kawauchi says.
Top runners — after graduating from a university with a highly competitive running club — usually get hired by a company with a corporate running team. While receiving an offer from one such company when he graduated from Gakushuin University, Kawauchi decided he would rather work as a public servant.
In 2010, he ran in the Tokyo Marathon as a nonelite runner but finished fourth overall and third among Japanese competitors, trailing Arata Fujiwara, 32, a professional runner who represented Japan in the 2012 London Olympics, by two seconds, and Atsushi Sato, 35, who ran in the 2008 Beijing Games, by one second.
That race was “my turning point,” Kawauchi recalls. “I recognized that I could compete through my own way of training.”
Kawauchi attracted more public attention when he ran the 2011 Tokyo Marathon in 2:08:37, finishing first among Japanese and third overall.
Kawauchi runs 550 to 750 km per month, compared with around 1,000 km for top runners on corporate teams.
While corporate runners often work out three times a day, Kawauchi runs only in the morning as he has to be at the high school from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Kawauchi is reticent to talk about it, but his training style apparently stems from an injury he suffered in high school as a result of overdoing his workouts.
“I stopped dreaming a dream when I was a high school student,” he says, enigmatically.
“As a dream is unrealistic, I cannot strive for it,” he adds. “It’s a dream for me to run in 2:05 and so I wouldn’t go for it.”
Given his personal best of 2:08:14, Kawauchi says 2:05 will become an “attainable goal” if he clears 2:07 and 2:06 in stages.
Kawauchi frequently enters races as part of his training. He runs in a half marathon almost every weekend and competes in a full marathon nearly every month. While marathoners belonging to corporate running teams enter only one or two races per year, Kawauchi has already run in 10 competitions this year.
Kawauchi questions the conventional way of training used by corporate runners, saying they “cannot gain strength.”
He admits he occasionally feels “envious” about financial and other support available to corporate runners, such as participation in overseas training camps written off as business trips and bonuses paid for good performances.
But Kawauchi has no intention of changing his style as he wants to demonstrate that even an amateur runner can compete in international races and that there are many ways of training.
“My sense of rivalry (against corporate runners) has weakened because we are fellow Japanese when we compete overseas,” he says.
“I’m conscious of his position,” Fujiwara says about Kawauchi. “But there’s no difference between us when we come to the starting line for a race.