There’s no other form of racing quite like ekiden. With varying terrain and distances through each stage, winning is not just about individual speed, but rather athletes with differing strengths taking the baton (or sash, as it is in ekiden) at the right time for the right leg to create a winning result. It’s about all runners working together for the collective good. It’s not just the format of ekiden that defines it however, but its unique representation of team and human spirit.
A storied tradition
Starting over a century ago, long before marathons became popular, Japan’s addition to the world of road racing turns the solitary sport of distance running into a gripping team relay event. Competitors enjoy celebrity status, with children across Japan literally hoping to follow in their footsteps.
The term ekiden comes from combining the Japanese words, ‘eki’, which means ‘station’ and ‘den’, which translates to ‘convey’ or ‘carry’. Its name is taken from the transportation system used to send government documents by a relay of horses and men in ancient Japan.
Ekiden earned special significance from the very first race. The first ekiden was held on April 27, 1917 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Meiji State. To mark the occasion, two teams raced the 316 miles (508 km) from Kyoto (the historical capital of Japan) to Tokyo (the new capital of Japan’s Meiji government). One team represented the Kanto (Tokyo) region, while the other ran for the Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) region.