Namban Spotlight on ... Yoshiko Katakura

The Namban Spotlight column is an occasional feature in which we profile or interview a member of Namban Rengo.

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Yoshiko Katakura is one of Namban’s favorite daughters. A tough and fast competitor on the track or road, she is also one of the most pleasant and popular. She always has a smile for her cheering supporters, even when fighting pain late into a full-marathon, and is never shy to offer advice to less experienced runners. Spotlight caught up with Yoshiko recently and put a few questions to her about racing, training, and her history with Namban Rengo.

Namban Spotlight (NS): First of all, you are running as a veteran these days aren’t you, but you don’t seem to have slowed down much. In fact I understand that you have had a string of great results over the past 6 months.
Yoshiko Katakura (YK): Yes, I turned 52 last October. But it’s a secret laughs.
NS: So what have been your podium successes over recent months?
YK: I won my age category in the Frostbite Half Marathon in January (1:30:43) and Ome Marathon 10 km in February (42:30). I also won the ladies division of the Yokohama Kanazawa-ku Road 5-km in 21:23. That was also in February.
NS: They are great results and times. What other races have you done?
YK: I ran Osaka Women’s International Marathon on the 31st of January in 3:13:29 and the Honolulu Marathon last December (3:31:28).
NS: Wow, that’s excellent. So age has not slowed you down?
YK: Well, I never used to be a top 3 kind of runner, but the running boom means that race fields are larger and organizers have started adding more age categories. I know for sure that I am a slower runner today than I was 10 years ago, but maybe not so different than 5 years ago. And certainly I have been in pretty good shape this season. I guess that the number of stronger lady runners falls away more quickly in our 50s, and I have just held up better than many.
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NS: Have you got a favorite moment as a runner?
YK: There are many favorite moments. But probably I would have to name my 3:13:29 at Osaka this year. I was celebrating afterwards with some friends who came from Tokyo to cheer. They were more excited than me and one of them deeply impressed me by saying, “I wish someone could make a toast to celebrate my achievement.” It hit me then, that yes, I had achieved something worth celebrating.
NS: Well a 3:13 marathon is a fantastic time even for a lady half your age! What kind of training do you do to keep in such good shape year in and year out?
YK: When I was younger, all I had to do was put in the distance. But I need more than that now. I do a lot of core strength training as well to increase my resistance to injury. I run about 260 km in the peak month of marathon training and run five times a week. I usually do the core strength exercises for 15 minutes before running to get the blood flowing. During summer I tend to stay away from the running track, avoid racing, and cut back on the core strength work. My body doesn’t react well to heat and I think we all need a break from heavy training from time to time.
NS: And you are still enjoying your running as much as ever?
YK: Absolutely! I love planning out my marathon training programs and following them. When the results are good I get a lot more satisfaction by the fact that I have planned and executed it all by myself.
NS: Tell me a little about your history with Namban Rengo.
YK: Well, I joined almost by accident in January 1998. Bob [Poulson, Namban’s long-time captain] moved into my neighborhood and we started to talk to each other when out running. He invited me to join the workouts on Wednesday nights. I remember the first thing I asked Bob was, “How far is one loop of the [400-m] running track?” It must have seemed such a stupid question. Basically I had just been running as a jogger for a long time, and I’d never been anywhere near a proper running track.
NS: Did Bob laugh at you?
YK: No of course not laughs. He was very kind and patient.
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NS: So you have been with Namban for a little over 12 years. What’s kept you here so long? Aren’t you sick of us yet?
YK: laughs No, I love Nambanners because they run very enthusiastically and appreciatively. I grew up as an athlete by joining Namban Rengo and of course improved so much. Being a runner also enriches my daily life.  It makes me feel healthy and strong, picks me up when I feel down, and if needed I can run to catch a train. Traveling to races also provides opportunities for sightseeing and relaxation. Running is such a part of my life now that I just can’t imagine not doing it. I hope to be running into my 60s and 70s.
NS: Well, if you do, I am sure there will be many more podium finishes for you. I know there are a few younger Namban ladies who are waiting for you to slow down so they can beat you.
YK: laughs Well, I will just have to do keep doing my best
NS: Yoshiko Katakura, thank you for your time.
YK: Thank you. Let’s go for a run!

Notes
(The above is a composite of several email and face-to-face interviews.
With thanks to Satohi Numasawa for assistance with translation and Shoji Shimomitsu for photos)