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Yuki Kawauchi (Japan) is an absolute legend in the running world - and in the world of record breaking!

He first entered the limelight with his dramatic win at the Boston Marathon in 2018 and is revered by runners both elite and non-elite, as well as striving young athletes.

Since then, he's earned the record for the most marathons completed under 2 hours 20 minutes by crossing the finish line within the impressive time on a whopping 104 occassions.

Now, Yuki is telling us all about his running career and passing on some tips to fellow runners looking to up their game.

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"My two favourite things"

Yuki was just a young boy when he found his affinity for running.

His parents had encouraged him to run from an early age as a way of building up his strength and fitness, and they quickly saw his potential.

He explained: "When I was in kindergarten, even though I was slow in short distances, I was tenacious in longer distances. So my parents had an inkling that I might be better at endurance running."

His official running debut came at the age of six. 

At the time, his parents were his running coaches, and their message to him was simple: run as fast as you can.

And every time he was among the first to cross the finish line or broke his personal best time, his love for the sport grew stronger and stronger.

Yuki Kawauchi (left) guiding the leading young runner at Kawauchi no Sato Kaeru Marathon

Yuki started entering races at age nine, and it was through this he discovered he loved travelling just as much as running.

"I got to go out of my local area to enter races, which felt like a little holiday trip," he said. "I race, then I go and eat nice food, get in a local hot springs, and then get driven back home. I enjoyed travelling, and entering races meant I got to travel as well. It was fun opening up running magazines and deciding where to go for my next race."

Despite his best efforts, it wasn't until later in life, when he was in middle school, that Yuki won his first 5 km (3.1 mi) race in Okegawa, Saitama, and his journey to becoming a record breaker really got started.

Into a competitive environment

While Yuki's middle school didn't have the strongest track-and-field team, he later enrolled at a high school with one of the region's top Ekiden (a long-distance relay race held primarily in Japan) teams. 

His plan had been to continue running in local races while contributing to the school team, but that did not happen.

He said: "Training was so tough, and I was told not to enter local races without permission. So the only time I ran local races was when it was included in the training plan made by my high school coach; that was about once a year. So most of my races were either in the track or at Ekiden races."

During a normal week, Yuki would have to endure three or four high-intensity training sessions. And he never knew in advance what he'd be doing the next day, so he was always nervous of ending up with two high-intensity training sessions back-to-back.

Yuki Kawauchi (left) finishing a half marathon at Kawauchi no Sato Kaeru Marathon

Also, being in a strong high school team meant fierce competition, with only a handful of members selected on race days. As a result, Yuki often pushed himself to the point of injury.

"In my second year of high school, I got injured. I was flustered because I had to train well to become an Ekiden member, and I got sucked into a string of injuries. Whenever my injury started improving, I worked too hard, then I got injured again."

In the third year of high school, Yuki missed the preliminaries for the inter-high school competition, and for most of the races he entered, he didn't even make it to the starting line.

"I constantly ran with pain. Resting didn't help. Because I'm covering up these things when I run, I'll eventually end up going over the limit. It wasn't a fun experience at all."

While many members left the team, Yuki kept going because he felt that nothing would be left if running was taken away from him. Even during these intense times, he came out with some good results (coming third in the region and seventh in the Kanto Highschool Ekiden).

Breaking free

In his final year of high school, Yuki lost his father to a heart attack. As he had two younger brothers, he considered his career options carefully when he was choosing a university. In the end, he chose Gakushuin University in a bid to land a job related to local revitalization and events.

Another important factor when choosing a university was avoiding schools that regularly make it to Hakone Ekiden, also known as the Tokyo-Hakone Round-Trip College Ekiden Race, one of Japan's most watched running races.

"Because I ran under constant pressure during high school, I was thinking about how to have as much fun as possible while running. And I thought I should go to a university that doesn't have a super-strong track and field team, and I could start afresh."

Yuki was right. Running life at Gakushuin University changed his approach to running substantially.

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The most significant change was the amount of training. Instead of having up to three runs a day, it became just once a day. Giving time for the body to recover helped reduce injuries. There was now a clear cut between training and rest, which had some psychological benefits too. 

High-intensity training only happened twice a week instead of three or four times a week; a training plan was made two months in advance, making it easy to adjust the distance and pace of easy runs in between training.

"On my days off, I went to the trails or some travel-like runs in the city. From the university campus, I can go to tourist spots like Sensoji, Tokyo Tower, or Nihonbashi, just where my mood takes me. In the past, I was in some ways forced to run, but I started to feel that running for the sake of running can be fun, even though fast times and good results are still satisfying."

"Just because the university team wasn't as strong as the top tier, members weren't fooling around; everyone took running seriously and put a lot of thought into training. My thinking had changed too. Now I wanted to get stronger while having fun."

Coming back to "my two favourite things"

Yuki's first full marathon came during his university years. He only had one month to prepare, and his team suggested he shouldn't go ahead with it. He persuaded the head coach that he was only taking part to qualify for the Tokyo Marathon (something that's no longer required today), and that he wouldn't race too hard.

With those conditions, Yuki's entry to the Beppu-Ōita Mainichi Marathon was decided, and he got so much more out of it than just a race.

"I actually wanted to travel to the Kyushu region. Although I started entering local races again during university, I could not go to places like Kyushu, Hokkaido, or Shikoku regions as I had hoped. I hardly hopped on a plane before, either. So I wanted to board an airplane and go to Beppu-Ōita."

Since it was his first marathon, he took an entire week off. After the race, he boarded a ferry to go to the Shikoku region to visit Dōgo Onsen; then, after some detours, he crossed the Great Seto Bridge back to the main island and visited Kurashiki and Okayama. Finally, he stopped over to Osaka to see the Osaka castle, eat some takoyaki, then headed back to Tokyo.

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But how did his first full marathon go?

"At first, I was going to take it easy up to the 32 km (19.8 mi) mark, as discussed with the head coach. But from the 27 km (16.7 mi) point, I got a tailwind. Until then, I was being chatty with other runners, but then I picked up the pace, and I kept passing people. My goal time was 2 hours and 27 minutes, but I ended up with a time of 2 hours 19 minutes and 26 seconds. I went sub-20 in my first-ever marathon."

This first race was the beginning of his impressive Guinness World Records title.

His first Tokyo Marahon, which was his goal race, turned out a lot tougher. He had to stay in the medical tent for 40 minutes after the race while he battled numb hands and over-breathing. Despite all the pain Yuki was in, his time was a minute faster than his first marathon.

Fastest "citizen runner"

After graduating from Gakushuin University, Yuki began working for Saitama Prefecture and started his life as a civic servant and a runner not belonging to a corporate team. In Japan, most track and field athletes continue their career by entering a corporate team instead of finding sponsors and going professional.

"Because I was interested in local revitalization, I intended to go to Japan Tourism Agency at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. I made it to the final interview, but they said, 'Having someone like you running Hakone Ekiden was unheard of'. On the other hand, Saitama Prefecture was encouraging, wishing that I would continue running. I ended up thinking that I would indeed be able to continue running if I worked at the latter."

Kawauchi had lived in Saitama Prefecture since the first year of elementary school, so he felt that he would be able to contribute to the area and do some running at the same time. What he had in mind was to do lots of local revitalization work, but he was allocated to an evening high school (a high school for students who work during the day).

At work, he was in charge of general affairs, which meant collecting school food money from students, checking and signing school fee receipts, and making payments, amongst other things.

Yuki Kawauchi guiding the runners at Kawauchi no Sato Kaeru Marathon after the race

This was not the type of job Yuki had in mind, but it was a plus for him in other ways.

"If the students are not on holiday, I work from noon til nine at night. And it's not easy to put a lot of overtime on top of that. That meant so long as I did some hard miles in the morning, my training was done for the day. The routine felt like an extension of the university days."

In 2011, Yuki came third in the Tokyo Marathon with a time of 2 hrs 8 mins. His name became even more known, and that resulted in invitations from race committees across Japan. This enabled him to race almost every week. The phrase "race is training" got picked up by the media, and this style of regular races for improvement was dubbed the "Kawauchi Method."

"If you enter races, you get aid stations, you get timed, and you get to run in the middle of the road. You get to do high-intensity training that is more intense than when you train alone. And there are rivals in races - if you compete with them, it's great training whether you win or lose."

Repeating this training style resulted in great results, including two consecutive wins at Beppu-Ōita Mainichi Marathon (2013/14) and a bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games. Not being in a corporate team seems like a handicap at first, but Yuki turned the situation into an advantage.

His unique method resulted in an unexpected surprise as well. By March 2018, he had run sub-20 marathons 78 times, resulting in a Guinness World Records title for the most marathons completed under 2 hours 20 minutes.

"The previous record holder (76 times) took 40 years to achieve it, but I ended up doing it in just over 10 years. When I started entering a lot of races, people told me to hold back a bit, but I resisted, thinking that others would go to training camps and do hard training during weekdays. I had to find a place to do some intense training, and that for me was entering races. Sticking to my idea, in the end, had turned out well."

Becoming a professional

After years of progressing as a civil servant runner, Yuki ended up hitting a speed bump.

"Although I was able to win at Boston in 2018, everything else was pretty messy. Even if I can go faster than 2 hours and 10 minutes, but only just. I was no longer able to do 2 hours and 8 minutes."

Kawauchi needed something different to get out of the rut. The hint came from his younger brother and ultramarathon runner Yoshiki.

"After university, Yoshiki went to work in a private company for three years. But because of overtime work, he quit his job and turned professional. He looked like he was having fun and was improving his personal best. I thought that I might be able to see some improvements if I become a professional athlete."

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During this time in 2018, his job as a civil servant was coming to an end. Kuki High School, where Kawauchi worked at the time, was having its 100th anniversary in 2019. To prepare for that, Yuki dedicated a lot of his work time on an anniversary book.

"I wanted to research Kuki High School's history and heritage and help create this book. In the final three years of my civil servant career, I finished my routine work as quickly as possible and dedicated the rest of my time to creating this book. As a result, the book was appreciated by former students. The publisher had even told me that it was rare to see a centenary so well put together these days. With that, I felt that my work as a civil servant is complete."

2018 was Yuki's 10th year as a civil servant. That meant he would be relocated to another school or department; he was also qualified to take an exam to get promoted. It was a good time, therefore, for him to decide whether to stay or go.

"Do I want to move up the career ladder, or do I want to improve my running? When I posed this question, my passion for running was strong. And suppose I become a professional and travel across the country. In that case, I might be able to get involved with local revitalization and events, which is what I originally wanted to do as a civil servant. I had no potential sponsors at the time, but I took the leap of faith."


Yuki began looking for sponsors after deciding to become a professional athlete. While it was vital for him to do well in races as a pro, he also wanted to do events and give talks across Japan. However, sponsors proposing that idea did not come quickly.

"Many potential sponsors told me how they were looking forward to seeing me race with our company logo or how they were looking forward to seeing me represent Japan at the Olympics. But that was different to what I had in mind. Because I wanted to be involved in local revitalization, I wanted to be a professional athlete that lets me do that."

Soon, Yuki met a potential sponsor - Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance - that spoke differently. The company said they wanted to work with him, along with local staff, to engage in local revitalization in races held across the country.

"And they said all this before I said anything. They were saying exactly the sort of things I had in mind. They called this "Marathon Caravan" - a package that would take us across Japan while catering to the characteristics and needs of each region (where the race is held). I can continue improving my running while giving a little boost to places I travel. I felt I had found my new home."

In April 2019, Yuki officially became a professional runner. His training regime didn't changed much, but now, what he used to do for free became a paid job. "When I was a civil servant, I hardly gave lectures. And even if I did, I had to do it free of charge as I work in public service. Now preparing for lectures and talking to a group of people is part of my job. This was a big change."

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"Marathon Caravan", a package of events made together with Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance, also kicked off. The caravan not only went to races but to other running events too.

"Local branches of the Aoioi Nissei Dowa Insurance helped out with everything from preparation to negotiations. Thanks to them, the Marathon Caravan has been successful. Whenever local governments organize some races, they are happy because the local insurance company comes to help out and even provides some prizes. Marathon Caravan is great for local communities, my sponsor, and myself. It's not just a 'win-win' situation; it's a 'win-win-win' situation."

Top of the world

It's been four years since Yuki became a professional athlete. He continues to have strong ambitions, including breaking his PB in not only marathons but also in other distances. He will continue to aim for high-rank finishes in races and do well in the Marathon Grand Championship (Japan) in 2023. In terms of local revitalization, his goal, for now, is to visit all 47 regions of Japan with Marathon Caravan.

As for his Guinness World Records title, he broke his own record by increasing his number of sub-20s to 104 in 2021, and he is expected to tally this up even further. Yuki will apply for the record again once he's hit a good round number. But that's not the only record he has his eyes on.

"I could also try costume running records, especially those that only I could break. That could give people a chance to be interested in running, as well as in Guinness World Record titles."

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Yuki has been through a lot. During his high school years, he was always aiming for the top and thought being number one at a fixed sport was a must. However, he now feels that you don't have to get stuck with the same goals and dreams as everyone else.

"That means in running, you don't necessarily have to aim to be an Olympian."

"So long as, in the end, you enjoy it, and you feel you've achieved something, then that is a fantastic thing, no matter what others tell you. If you utilize what you're good at to the best of your ability, and target something that is different from everyone else, then your life will surely be richer. If you are struggling with your goal, how about asking yourself whether that goal is right for you. Change that goal slightly, then you would feel much better about yourself."

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