Surugadai University is the first university in Japan to qualify for the 98th annual Hakone Ekiden. Surugadai University, led by coach Kazuyoshi Tokuyama, who drew attention as a brown-haired ace during his time at Hosei University, came through the preliminary round in 8th place. It was a 31-year-old fourth-year student who inspired his teammates as the mental pillar of the new school. Last year, he took a leave of absence from his job as a teacher at a public junior high school and transferred from the third grade. two days after the jubilation on October 23, we asked Takao Imai about his thoughts on getting his dream ticket in his last year.
Direct mail” from a stranger
The story of the 31-year-old who grabbed the right to participate in the Hakone Ekiden (relay race), which he had set as his goal, while engaging in friendly rivalry with college students around the age of 20, is generating a response beyond his expectations. Immediately after the race, I looked at my smartphone and saw that I had received about 145 messages, and they have never stopped since. Including social networking sites, he had already received more than 350 messages in two days. My smartphone was always running at full capacity, and I had to recharge it three times a day or it would run out of battery.
“I’ve received many direct messages from people I’ve never met before, including a 27-year-old man who wants to become a firefighter, a man who has tried many times to pass the civil service exam, and a man in his 30s who wants to take on a new challenge. I received a lot of direct messages from people who are trying to achieve their dreams, people who are trying to take the civil service exam again and again, and people who are in their 30s and want to take on a new challenge. “Seeing you run without giving up on your dream at any age gave me courage. I couldn’t be happier if my running has been conveyed to society as a message.
The qualifying race for the Hakone Ekiden was the culmination of two years of hard work. Although he stood at the starting line in Tachikawa with confidence, he struggled in the race. I couldn’t increase my pace as much as I wanted to, and I couldn’t fulfill my original role of making up time. Nevertheless, he gritted his teeth desperately and pushed himself to the end. As he finished the 21.0975km, he repeatedly said, “My friends helped me a lot. I was helped by my friends, and they connected me to Hakone. Although he was not satisfied with his own work, many people were impressed by the way he continued to run with his friends toward his goal.
“Even as I am interviewing him, I am receiving messages on my cell phone. I’m receiving messages on my cell phone from people who helped me make the decision to take a leave of absence from my job as a junior high school teacher and re-enter university, people who encouraged me to take on this challenge, people from my former workplace, and many other people who have helped me in the past. I was able to take on this challenge because of the understanding of the people around me and the people who prepared the environment for me to run, including Director Tokumoto.
As he pursued the path he chose, he never once thought of turning back, and although there were times when his body did not follow his mind as he turned 30, he never felt weak. Whenever he was in trouble, he pushed his feelings to the forefront, and his friends called him “the soul runner. Even when his legs were screaming, he didn’t feel any pain, but he did feel invisible pressure. The pressure of being featured in the media as a unique runner in the first year of the challenge was weighing on him.
“The media had been talking about me more than my ability. It would be nice if I were as strong as Ryuji Miura (Juntendo University), who competed in the Tokyo Olympics, but that’s not the reality. I didn’t qualify last year, and I didn’t get any results. 29:30.41 for 10,000m and 14:11.10 for 5,000m are my personal bests, which is barely enough to get me to the starting line for Hakone. However, I felt that there was a gap between me and the rest of the world.
To be honest, there were times when I had a hard time. It may be paranoia, but I was afraid that behind my back, people would think that I was just the talk of the town. …… I’m so glad that I passed the qualifying round in 8th place; it would have been horrible to think that I would have failed to qualify in 11th place or lower. I’m so glad that I made it through to the 8th place. I was happy when I was selected for the main competition, but I was also relieved.
Hakone” was not the goal of my transfer.
While I was surprised by the unexpectedly frenetic pace of the race, I am firmly on the ground. Although much attention has been paid to his “Challenge to Hakone at the age of 31,” the reason he transferred to Surugadai University was not to run. The former physical education teacher, who was once passionate about triathlon at Nittatsu University, felt stuck in his teaching at junior high schools and stopped to reevaluate his own teaching methods. The answer he came up with was to use the self-development leave system for civil servants and relearn at a university. At Surugadai, he majored in psychology and devoted himself to his studies while running, and after two years of study, the man who had believed in guts until his twenties underwent a major change.
I gained a lot from the other challenge,” he said. The psychology class and coach Tokumoto’s guidance have made me realize that teaching is not the only form of guidance. Drawing them out is also guidance. It is also important to wait for them to become independent. Sometimes you have to watch for mistakes and support them. In the past, I would have said many things in detail.
Just changing the subject to “You” instead of “I” will change my approach. I want to think about what the student is thinking and treat them accordingly. I’ve found a new way of teaching, and I’m looking forward to returning to the field in April. They say that a man who chases two hares will never get one, but I think I have made it this far because I have chased two hares.
For Imai, the Hakone Ekiden is not a goal. For Imai, the Hakone Ekiden is not a goal, but a major milestone in his life. Of course, he does not intend to just pass it by. There are only two months left until the race. I don’t want to waste even one day.
“I can say this because I challenged myself and worked hard. I think all the kids will be watching Hakone. In the preliminary round, I was as good as not running. I want to have no regrets in the main race. I’ll try my best again from here.
Interview and text： 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.