The Slowest Marathon

On October 12, 2019, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya ran a marathon (26.2 miles) in 1:59:40. It’s not considered an official record because it involved using every possible advantage — a closed, flat course shielded from the wind and the use of pacers, for example, but it was an incredible athletic feat nonetheless.

But if that was the fastest marathon, what is the slowest?

The 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden were the first to include the Japanese. The Japanese “team” was only two athletes and it took them a grueling 18 days to reach the Olympic venue. One of those athletes was distance runner Shiso Kanakuri.

On  July 14, 1912, Kanakuri lined up to run the marathon. The omens were not good — the temperature was around 90 degrees, he was still tired from his journey and he was wearing traditional two-toed canvas shoes. But this was the Olympics and he was determined to represent his country well.

Unfortunately, the odds against him were just too great. Kanakuri collapsed from heatstroke and exhaustion (it happens) at about the 17-mile mark. A local family brought him into their house and he fell asleep on their couch. 

Saving face is very important in Japanese culture, and when he awoke, he felt humiliated, so much so that he returned to his hotel, and Japan, without telling race officials. This was not unusual; half the runners in that marathon didn’t finish either.

 It wasn’t until 1962 that anyone realized what had happened. A Swedish reporter found Kanakuri living in retirement as a geography teacher in Tamana, Japan. He had never notified race officials in 1912, so he was still entered. Would he like to finish the race?

Five years later, with the support of some Swedish business leaders and at the age of 76,  Shiso Kanakuri finished his Olympic marathon. His official time is 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds.

This is another running record I will never break.

The complete story is “The Slowest Marathon In History Took More Than Half A Century To Complete” by Sean Braswell at The photo is from that site.

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