Long-distance multi-stage relay races are a New Year tradition in Japan. One of the most popular is New Year Ekiden, which is held on January 1st each year and is open to company teams from around the country. This year, Takeda’s Hikari Plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture fielded a team of amateur athletes who found time outside work to train for this highly competitive endurance event. We spoke with coach and anchor Hitoshi Matsufuji, who ran the final seventh section of the race.
Q: This is the third time in six years that Takeda has participated in the race. What were your thoughts as race day approached?
Hitoshi Matsufuji: I felt gratitude towards my teammates and family, and everyone who supported us despite the challenges of the pandemic. This was the first New Year Ekiden for most of the team, it was a windy day and there were definitely nerves! I’m relieved each team member was able to complete the race—that was our main goal.
Q: How do you balance work and training?
HM: Our team members all work full time with different schedules, including night and weekend shifts, which means that we rarely have the opportunity to practice together as a team. Each of us had to find time to practice whenever we could. I’m also the coach, so I tried to maintain our motivation around a shared goal even as we practiced individually. For example, I created a training schedule for the team and suggested training routines suitable for each member’s schedule.
Q: How does your experience as a coach help you in your daily work?
HM: I work at Takeda’s Hikari Plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture, manufacturing active pharmaceutical ingredients for medicines. At work, I am always conscious of my responsibility to ensure the highest level of quality for patients. I hope my attitude to my work has a positive impact on my colleagues, just as my proactive approach to organizing training plans sets a good example to my teammates. Each member of our relay team works full-time, and I feel that by trying to strike a balance between work and training and having to fit our training into a limited period made our sessions sharper and more focused.
Q: What are your ambitions for the future?
HM: I hope that the team will continue to set new personal bests and work hard to compete in next year’s race. Getting results on the track is how we repay our supporters, so we’ll continue to balance athletics and work and deliver results at both.
From left – Gaku Hirose (1st stage, captain), Daiki Nakayama (2nd stage), Yuki Asano (3rd stage), Masashi Hashimoto (4th stage), Shun Kimura (5th stage), Chihei Koayashi (6th stage), Hitoshi Matsufuji ( 7th stage, coach), and Kosaku Tsuruta (support)
Crossing the finish line