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Mariko Jugeta, 63, gets up to run a three-hour marathon Japan

A minor knee injury and just a full day of recovery from a 13-hour flight through so many time zones are just inconveniences for Mariko Yugeta as he prepares to race in the Boston Marathon and break his world record again.

The Japanese runner will line up in the race on Monday with women half her age and they will do well to continue.

Less than a month before her 64th birthday, a Saitama physical education teacher near Tokyo is a long-distance running phenomenon. In 2019, she became the first woman over 60 to complete a marathon in less than three hours – and is still the only athlete to reach this stage. In January, at the age of 62, she broke her own world record for 60- to 64-year-olds with a time of 2 hours 52 minutes 13 seconds at the Osaka International Women’s Marathon.

“My knee is not in the best condition and I would say I’m about 80% right now, but I’m still aiming for the two-hour and 50-minute ranges,” Jugeta told the Guardian on the eve of her trip to the United States.

Yugeta, who teaches full-time at Kawagoe Girls’ High School, has been up against sporting logic since running her first marathon in 1982 at the age of 24. Her time of 3: 09.21 was significantly slower than the one she recorded in recent years. “It was a lot harder than I imagined,” said Yugeta, who was a national middle-distance champion during her student days.

Japan’s Mariko Yugeta is competing in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon. Photo: Mariko Jugeta

She had to put in the effort to take a three-hour break to focus on raising her four children. “I wanted to run more, but caring for my children meant I had very little time for myself. I ran when I took them to play in the park and with the students at my school, but that was not the preparation you need for a marathon. ”

It wasn’t until she was in her 50s, and her youngest son was in his mid-teens, that Jugeta began to realize his potential. She joined the evening training with a club in Tokyo, often returning home late at night. The pace was difficult and I felt I was getting faster.

Then in 2017, at the age of 58, she finally overcame the three-hour barrier of the Osaka International Marathon. Two years later, she became the first woman in her 60s to run a three-hour race, finishing the Shimonoseki Kaikyo marathon in 2: 59.15 – three minutes and 35 seconds faster than the previous record set by French runner Claudine. Marchier in 2007.

“Middle age should be a time to retransmit”

Yugeta is not the only Japanese athlete to compete years after most of their peers have retired.

Earlier this month, evergreen Kazuyoshi Miura played an hour in a 55-year-old Japanese Football League match, while this weekend, 52-year-old keirin cyclist Keiji Kojima, who rides at the 1992 Olympics, competes in a prestigious match. against riders young enough to be his sons. The 83-year-old adventurer Kenichi Hori is currently trying to become the oldest man to sail alone in the Pacific.

“Age should not be a barrier,” Yugeta said, citing the victory of British runner Joyce Smith in the Tokyo International Women’s Marathon in 1980 at the age of 43. “Middle age should be a time to re-engage in your sport, not to think about how to relax or give up,” said Yugeta, who travels an average of 25 km (15 miles) a day in all weathers and occasionally makes 2,400-meter climbs to the fifth station on Mount Fuji.

“People in this age group are usually the busiest with work and family, and this can affect your mental well-being and your body. But when I sweat when I run, that’s when I feel mentally refreshed. ”

Her training and fitness regimen does not include anything that would surprise athletes decades younger than her: a high-protein diet, plenty of sleep and an uncontrollable determination that led her through shapely declines and bouts of sciatica, tendonitis and jogging heels. . Her training award is restorative soaking in the Sento public bath.

With 114 marathons under his belt, Yugeta says he has no plans to slow down. Her statement of intent for Boston came last month, when she won the 60+ category at the Tokyo Marathon, after which she took six minutes off to take another three-hour break in Nagoya less than a week later.

On Sunday, she is scheduled to meet her running hero Joan Benoit Samuelson. Yugetta, while pregnant with her first child, had watched on television how Samuelson took gold in the women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

On Monday morning, Jugeta will line up in Boston for her last 26.2-mile race as a 63-year-old. Although her sore knee may put her dream of overcoming the 2:50 standstill barrier, a new world record is not out of the question.

“I will definitely take another three hours off,” she said, adding that retirement was not in her plans. “I will continue to run as long as I can. There are official records for the age group over 70, and I would like to try to break them. “