The qualifying round for the 98th Hakone Ekiden (relay race) was held on October 23 at the half-marathon course in the Tachikawa Garrison of the Ground Self-Defense Force in Tokyo. 10 schools, including Meiji University (1st place), Chuo University (2nd place), and Nittai University (3rd place), grabbed the ticket to the main race based on the total time of the top 10 runners. Tamaki Fujimoto, the third-year ace of NITAI University, has been suffering from alopecia since elementary school and has announced it on social media. This spring, his hair grew back and he talked about his change of heart to be able to run without wearing a wig.
The ace in the black hair band, who leads the prestigious Nittai University team that has won 10 championships, including five in a row, gritted his teeth and finished in 1 hour, 2 minutes, and 55 seconds, the top time on the team, contributing greatly to his 74th consecutive appearance. He finished 7th overall as a Japanese (15th overall including international students). Tamaki Fujimoto ran near the front of the top Japanese group until midway through the race, and in the final stages, he dropped to the back of the group but fought hard to stay with them. The third-year student did not have a satisfied smile on his face, as he had vowed before the summer to fulfill the heavy responsibility of an ace, with an eye on the first place Japanese.
It was not only the strong sunshine on the race day that bothered the sweaty Fujimoto; he suffered from a fatigue fracture in his right foot from early July to mid-August, and again in early September. He had not been able to run as much as he would have liked during the summer, only strength training and pedaling the aerobics bike. I was not even sure if I would be able to enter the qualifying round. To be honest, he was impatient and worried about his injured right foot.
I wasn’t completely healed yet,” he said. Even so, I didn’t want to cause any trouble for the team. I couldn’t let my consecutive appearances be interrupted.
Even though he is wounded, he has a strong awareness of his role as a mainstay of the team. He learned a lot from former ace Yohei Ikeda (currently with Kanebo), with whom he shared a dorm room last year. He watches what his seniors, whom he respects, eat every day and refrains from eating his favorite snacks. The effect has been immediate. This season, I don’t gain weight unnecessarily. He pays close attention to everything from food to sleep and never compromises.
“I wonder how much I can improve the quality of my life. I spend more time living than I do practicing. If you have a big goal, you can discipline yourself.
Inheriting his own foot-dragging attitude, he has a deep understanding of the requirements of a man who is qualified to be called an ace. You have to show your strength in the real thing. Even though Fujimoto was not in good condition, he showed his determination with a frown on his face, which is his pride as the ace of NITTAI University.
After the race, I took off my black hair band and saw that my hair had been trimmed short, giving me a more fearless look, and those who knew me from a year ago must have noticed the change in me to a greater or lesser extent. Those who knew him from a year ago would have noticed the change, to a greater or lesser extent, from the way he looked last year, with his trademark white hachimaki wrapped around his head and his hair flowing in the air. The change in hairstyle was not just a change of pace. Fujimoto had been suffering from alopecia since the fifth grade of elementary school, and always wore a wig when running. The reason why she wore a white hachimaki was to control her hair loss, which she has been revealing publicly since her high school days on social media.
“In the past, I used to feel strange stress from people talking about me behind my back. I used to feel strange stress from people talking about me behind my back, but I thought it would be better to tell people about it so that they would understand. I wanted people who were suffering from the same disease to know that I was doing something, even if I had to hide it. For me, the results have been positive. Some people are cured of alopecia, some people repeat it like me, and some people never get cured.
But I want people to know that it is possible to live like this. I’ve been telling people about it since high school, but now that I’m in college, I feel like everyone knows about it. The attention that the Hakone Ekiden has received is amazing. I didn’t expect it to spread so widely.
He has been wearing a short cut since the Kanto Intercollegiate in May this year. She took off the wig after her alopecia settled down and her hair started to grow back. On her SNS, she has said, “I’ve done UV treatment, itching treatment, liquid nitrogen treatment, and steroid treatment,” and she has been struggling without people knowing. While she was grateful for the wig, it was also true that wearing it took up a lot of her time. There were also some effects on the competition.
“The biggest thing is that I feel more relaxed. I used to have to take care of my shoes. It used to take me 10 to 15 minutes to get ready before I ran to make sure I didn’t come off. Now I use that time for stretching and reinforcement, and even if it’s just for a few minutes a day, it becomes a big deal every day. But I feel uncomfortable without the beehive I always wear, so today I wore a black, inconspicuous hair band.
And now, I am experiencing anew what runners have always taken for granted, and I felt it on the course of the Tachikawa Garrison, where there were no buildings to block my view, even during the preliminary round on October 23. It was the wind that tormented many of the competitors.
“In fact, when I take off my wig and run, I can feel the wind directly. It really feels good. Today (in the preliminary round), I felt it even more strongly.
The expression on her face, as she suddenly relaxed her mouth, was one of joy. On the big stage of New Year’s Day, which will be the third time for him, he will be the ace of a prestigious school. He knows the work that is required of him.
“It’s okay to be muddy. I want to run with guts. I want to run as well as the top group.
He vows to show his passion for running while feeling the cold “Hakone wind”.
Interview and text by： Masayuki Sugizono
Born in 1977. After working as an editor and reporter for a soccer magazine and an exercise reporter for a news agency, he became a freelance journalist. Currently covers many sports, mainly soccer, boxing, and track and field.