Why Are The Japanese Runners So Good At Endurance?

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Japanese runners

The Japanese runners have had my attention in this sport since I began back in 2002.

Their immense attention to detail within the sport of long distance running is just as impressive as the Kenyan athletes the entire world has grown to know and love.

What makes them different?

What are the japanese runners doing on a continual basis that makes them so consistent?

They have a goal and have an undeniable, resolute attitude to run great times. Their coaches are heavily involved in their development and most of the professional Japanese runners are on corporate teams.

Running upwards of 200 miles per week is not anything outside of the realm of possibility for the Japanese long distance runners.

Working hard for the sake of working hard won’t lead to results. You have to be careful of injury, train efficiently, and remember that you are training because you love to run.  I think that an athlete discovers the joy of track when he or she is able to stay injury-free and perform in ways that the athlete wants to. -Yuki Kawauchi (2.08 marathoner)

Brian Larsen over at Japan Running News did a great interview with 2.08 marathoner, Takayuki Nishida

I thoroughly enjoyed the part where he mentioned one of his workouts was 5000m of intervals one day and a 40 kilometer run was scheduled the next day.

Higher level training

Folks, that is 3.1 miles of speed one day and a hard 24 mile run the next.

You don’t have to be an elite runner to appreciate that type of workload. Japanese runners, like their Kenyan counterparts, are simply willing to make the enormous sacrifice needed to produce outstanding running performances.

The Japanese National Record Holders

You Probably

 Never Heard Of

Japanese National Marathon Records

Men: 2.06.16

Women: 2.19.12

Toshinari Takaoka

* Men’s National Record Holder (2.06.16) -Set at Chicago Marathon

*Half-Marathon (1.01.07)

* 10,000m (27.35.09)

Mizuki Noguchi

*Women’s National Record Holder (2.19.12) – Set at Berlin Marathon

* 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon Champion

The Japanese Runners You Can Learn From

Yuki Kawauchi

Many of you may not have heard of him but he is a 2.08 ‘amateur’ marathoner in Japan who works a full-time job who has had to work incredibly hard to work his way to the top of elite marathoning.

It is one thing to have the opportunity to train full-time and not have to worry about other stresses like work and other responsibilities, but here is a guy who chooses to work full time as a office worker in Tokyo and ignores running for the corporate racing teams in Japan.

Here in the United States, if a male was to run a 2.08 marathoner, he would be in the top 3 best marathoners in the country.

Few marathoners with his ability would make a choice to not run full-time for a corporate team.

Instead of thinking you have to be either a corporate runner or quit, I want young runners to figure out what works for them, and work hard. -Yuki Kawauchi

Toshihiko Seko

The first japanese marathon runner I heard of when I began running back in 1992 was the great Toshihiko Seko, two-time winner of the Boston Marathon


PR: 2.08.27

Winner of 1981 (2.09.26) and 1987 (2.11.50) Boston Marathon

Held the World Record for 25,000 (1.13.55) and 30,000 meters (1.29.18).

These records stood for the past 30 years until Mose Mosop broke his records at the 2011 Prefontaine Classic running an astounding 1.12.25 for the 25,000 meter distance and 1.26.47 for the 30,000 meter distance, respectively.

Japanese runners have always had my attention because the Kenyan dominance has led many people to believe that runners from other countries cannot run as fast as those from the African continent.

To be a champion long-distance runner you have to run on the edge of death. –Toshihiko Seko


The majority of the public think of Kenya in long distance running dominance but ask most Americans what country has a national record faster than many of the world’s top Kenyan runners can produce and they probably wouldn’t think of Japan.

I say that in the most respectful way because of my respect for the Kenyan athletes, but many Japanese runners do not train at high altitude and repeatedly compete and outrun the world’s top marathoners year after year.

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2 thoughts on “Why Are The Japanese Runners So Good At Endurance?

  1. Great Article Nathan. Just to let you know, the Japan Running News writer is “Brett Larner.”

    My name is Scott Brown a master’s runner living and working in Osaka Japan. Please let me know when you come over here. Like your style and would be happy to show you around. 

    All the best.

  2. Hi Scott

    Thanks so much for the message and appreciate the hospitality. I will certainly keep you in mind. I have wanted to race in Japan since I began running marathons back in 2002. I really want to break my 2.19.35 PB when I get back from Afghanistan later this year. Take care and best wishes with your training. Stop by again.

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