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Japanese Frontrunners

This year’s Roving Race had a strong Japanese flair to it.

Wataru Iino of Yokohama has proven himself a force to be contended with, winning second place overall, and less than 25 minutes behind racing legend Ryan Sandes. The gold and silver medal holders in the women’s division are also from Japan. With such impressive results being seen from one country, we sought out two of these competitors at camp for a chat.

When we located Wataru Iino, he explained that so far on the race fellow competitors had been assuming that he must be a professional runner. “Not so,” he pointed out. “I am a full-time car design consultant, so therefore I have a love of speed.”

“The main reason I run is so as to not put on weight,” he added with a smile. “I am an ice cream addict, so I don’t want to get too fat! In the month before the race, I visited the factory where they make my favorite ice cream and I had 10 samples. Rum raisin is definitely the best flavor!”

Jokes of food addictions (and his humility) aside, Iino has found the race here in Madagascar trickier than he thought it would be. “It has been difficult to run at speed. If it had been flatter, I would have been able to run faster.” He also found the terrain challenging. “I wasn’t expecting so much soft sand on the trails. It was very tough. It looked like scenery from the Japanese TV program, Takeshi Castle!”

In the women’s division, 39-year-old Maki Izuchi Suban has also put in a phenomenal performance—gaining 15th overall position and winning the woman’s gold medal. She has powered ahead of a very strong women’s field and when we met with her at the end of Stage 3, she was telling us that for her the race got off to a terrible start.

“On the first day, I had food poisoning, so I had to go to the toilet 10 times on the trail. I was also suffering from the heat,” she said. “I wanted to go to the toilet very urgently, so I ran very quickly! On the second day, I ran out of water, and I ran very quickly. Today, I am totally exhausted.”

Despite these challenges, Izuchi Suban said that it was the thought of her stashed food and treats awaiting her at the end of the race that was pulling her through. “I am saving some food for the overnight stage to make sure I don’t go hungry. I bought a nice bottle of wine, and I sustained myself my thinking how good it will be to drink it after the race.”

She’ll probably be adding champagne to that wine stash at tonight’s Awards Banquet—and a supremely well-deserved drink it will be.

By Clare Morin

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