Fukushi Puts Faith In Coach For Chicago Marathon

She needs to stay with pacemaker Patrick Rizzo.

She needs to stay with pacemaker Patrick Rizzo.

Written by: David Monti
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Kayoko Fukushi relaxes three days before the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Photo: David Monti

CHICAGO — There is a carefully thought out plan for Kayoko Fukushi’s re-launch of her marathon career here on Sunday at the 34th Bank of America Chicago Marathon.  But Fukushi’s longtime coach, Tadayuki Nagayama, hasn’t shared many details of that plan with his star athlete yet.  So far, he’s only given her one direction.

“Just stay with the pacemaker,” she said breezily with translation help from her manager, Brendan Reilly, in an interview with Race Results Weekly on Thursday.

Such is the faith that Fukushi, 29, has in Nagayama, the Wacoal corporate team coach and the only coach Fukushi has had during her elite career.  In the Japanese system, the coach enjoys primacy over the athletes (in the United States the coaches work for the athletes instead), and Fukushi knows it fruitless to ask questions.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged when asked how fast her male pacemaker, American Patrick Rizzo, would be going.  “He just said stay with the pacemaker.  I think it’s better not to know what he’s going to be doing.”

To some extent, Fukushi doesn’t have much riding on Sunday’s race.  Whatever the result, she will still have to run one of the three official Japanese qualifying marathons (Yokohama next month, Osaka in January, or Nagoya in March), and be the first Japanese finisher in order to lock in a spot on the 2012 Olympic team.

But what Fukushi is really seeking is a sense of mastery of the 42.195 kilometer distance.  Her first and only marathon attempt, in Osaka in January, 2008, was a disaster.  By her own admission she didn’t do enough training (she never even did a 40K long run, she said), but still scooted away from the field on a 2:21 pace.  Her two-minute lead at 30K not only fizzled, but Fukushi was so dehydrated that she literally stumbled to the finish, falling four times on her circuit of the stadium track, the last coming only five meters from the finish line.  She clocked 2:40:54 before officials literally dragged her off of the track.  The entire episode was watched by millions of people on live television.

“Up to 30K it wasn’t a problem,” Fukushi said before breaking out into a hearty laugh.  “Things basically fell apart after that.”  She continued: “I wanted to finish, no matter what.”

Here in Chicago, where it will be unseasonably warm on Sunday, Fukushi said that although she is nervous, she still plans to enjoy the race and isn’t concerned about the warm conditions.  She’s looking for an uneventful race which will leave her motivated to return to training for her Olympic qualifying marathon which she has not yet selected.

“I just want to run straight through to the finish, have a good mood, a good feeling, as I cross the finish line,” she said.  “If I made a good time, that would be great, but the most important thing is to enjoy myself and have a good run.”

The marathon is the only frontier in Japanese distance running which Fukushi has failed to conquer.  Fukushi has run 67:26 for the half marathon (the Japanese record), 30:50.81 for 10,000m (she owns eight of the top-10 times ever by a Japanese runner), and 14:53.22 for 5000m (the national record, and she owns nine of the top-10 times ever by Japanese women).  She was the Asian Games 10,000m champion in 2006 and has made two Olympic Games appearances.

But under coach Nagayama, Fukushi has done nearly all of her racing –outside of major championships– in Japan (Chicago will be her first ever road race in the United States).  Her coach selects all of her events, and under the Japanese system, her manager has to bring all proposed races to the coach, exclusively.  Reilly wasn’t able to tell her that the New York Road Runners had made her a generous offer to run ING New York City Marathon this year.  Nagayama never told her.

“We never had one conversation at all about the New York Marathon,” she said looking bewildered.  “This is the first I’ve heard about it.”