Japanese Ekiden, The Ultimate Relay Race

By Donnie | Articles

The Ekiden. Japan's long distance relay race.

Have you heard of Ekiden before? If not, it’s a race that’s very much a part of Japanese popular culture. Ekiden is what I like to think of as a relay race with a twist. The twist is that each runner runs a half marathon. At the collegiate level (I think that’s the one that’s shown on TV) there are six members to a team. The entire team runs for a total of about people at 43 kilometrs or just under 27 miles.

Running the Ekiden would be like a bad dream for me. I would get all suited to run the 4 by 400 relay, and then the coach would walk over to me and say. “There’s been a small change of plans. Instead of doing the the the 4×4, you’ll be doing the…hmm…let’s see (as he flips through the pages of his clipboard)…ah yes! The Ekiden!” The dream conversation would degrade into series of bleeping sounds, like the ones that sensor heavy profanity usage.

Initially, I thought the Ekiden was a race where each person had to run 43 kilometers. I enjoy running, but I have yet to try a full marathon. It just doesn’t strike me as something I want to do. Sure it’s cool if other people do it. I don’t mind looking on and thinking “Wow, that’s a long race.” But I am currently tipping the scales at nearly 225 pounds. That’s not necessarily my best weight for running distances that long. “My Knees…The Horror!” The Ekiden, however, would be something I could handle, it seems reasonable. The longest leg of the race is 10km which I have done several times on my own. I don’t think I’d be very competitive because of the pace I’d have to hold, but I could finish the race.

Japan’s Ekiden is generally a televised event. I don’t know if the marathon relay is held more than once a year, but I always see it on TV in January. I won’t lie and say that I sit and watch the Ekiden on television, it’ s more like I flip to it, watch a few minutes, and change the channel. I know the members of those teams are out there running their butts off, and I can respect that. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really strike me as the most exciting sporting event to watch on TV. There’s no music, just different camera angles of a lady, or a guy, running: the overhead view, the side view, and the face close-up. No offense to those who enjoy the ekiden (I suspect there are quite a few), but watching it doesn’t excite me a whole lot. I don’t have a big interest in NASCAR racing for the very same reason…it’s just feels so repetitive for me, sitting there watching a car go around the track time after time after time. I think the speed, and presence of the cars would get a little old after the first 20 or so laps.

But then again, to each is own. There are diehard NASCAR fans just as there are diehard ekiden fans. You might want to check it out for yourself. You very well may enjoy watching it.

Donald Ash

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  • Peter K

    The total distance is 42 kilometers or 26 miles. The longest leg is 10km or 6.25 miles.

  • Ehhhh

    The Ekiden depends on which one you are talking about. The Hakone Ekiden gets a lot of viewers and has 20 teams (19 which compete) from different universities around Japan and is a total of 200km It’s a two day event and 10 members are on each team. The race is only held January 2nd and 3rd every year and only has male participants. Females aren’t allowed. Its an interesting phenomenon and this will be its 91st year. Just saying I think its super interesting and admittedly boring to watch.

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