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Hakone Ekiden: The Ultimate Marathon Relay

During the first few days of the year, something fascinating happens in Japan. At 7am on a bank holiday, the streets are packed full of people, there are helicopters circling in the sky, and live instruments provide a steady beat for groups of cheerleaders on every corner. Today is the day of Hakone Ekiden, a long distance relay race where teams of young university students run a grand total of 220km over the course of two days.

Millions of people tune in from homes across the country to follow the extensive television coverage of Japan’s biggest sporting event, which takes place yearly, and has been doing so for 98 years now. Brands such as Nike, Mizuno, and Oakley even release special Hakone-branded products for teams and fans to wear.

There are 23 teams who take part, each consisting of 10 students aged between 18 and 22, who all rise to this incredible challenge. The Hakone course starts in central Tokyo and runs through the city and up the mountains to the foot of Mount Fuji. On the second day of racing, runners turn around and run back into the city again. The course consists of 10 stages, all of which are close to a half marathon in distance. 

The winning formula

So how do students prepare for such a gruelling race? Apart from pounding the pavement day in, day out, several teams are using Wattbikes to complement their training. One of the strongest teams - and this year’s favourite - Tokai University have been using Wattbikes for the past three years to prepare for the race. The team train on Wattbikes and use accompanying training protocols provided by our Japan distributor. 

Their hard work certainly paid off this year, as the Tokai University team won the Hakone for the very first time. The secret behind this win seems to be a mix of traditional marathon training and off-feet conditioning, as the university team utilise Wattbikes for both injured and non-injured athletes to prepare for the race. Injured runners use the Wattbikes to keep up their miles, and non-injured runners use the bikes for cross-training purposes. Sessions on the Wattbikes are done to avoid overloading the muscles and joints, something which can easily happen when training for a marathon, as the landing impact which accompanies this kind of training can be particularly harsh on the body.

The bikes are also used because they can provide higher cardiopulmonary load than running, as the bike allows students to easily raise their heart rate to maximum without overloading joints and muscles through impactful running. The bikes thus have the advantage of securing high strength training while reducing the risk of failure and injury. 

Training with data

The university coach at Tokai University collects data from all sessions, so that he can easily compare each runner’s numbers to past sessions to check for improvement. Students also take advantage of the technological innovations provided by the Wattbike by using polar view to make sure their pedalling technique is good.

Here are three sample sessions which the Tokai University team did to prepare for the Hakone race:

① 70 seconds × 10 to 15 sets (rest 60 seconds) 

Trainer Level 2 to 4 

110 to 120 rpm 

(This is considered to be an alternative to 300/400 m × 10-15 runs)

② 3 minutes × 5 to 10 sets (rest 90 to 120 seconds) 

Trainer Level 2 to 4 

110 rpm 

(This is considered to be an alternative to 1,000 m x 5-10 runs)

③ 15 minutes x 3 sets 

RPM 100 rpm 

 

Find out more about the race and results. Feeling inspired? Check out some of our free training plans and training sessions here.