Canadian releases Fukuoka Marathon documentary

Brett Larner of the Japan Running News website released his documentary on the iconic Fukuoka International Marathon, which saw its final running (open to locals only) on Dec. 6. Inside the Outside: When the World Came to Fukuoka tells the story of the non-Japanese runners, who, over the race’s long history, turned it into the unofficial world men’s marathon championship.

The film, which is introduced by Larner (and which he produced), does not focus on the 24 Japanese athletes who pushed each other to victory at Fukuoka over the race’s 75-year history, but on the foreigners who came to race there, giving the race an international profile and contributing significantly to its mystique. (Larner himself ran it in 2007 – the year that Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya, who would go on to win Olympic gold the following year, set a course record in his marathon debut.)

The first outsider to be interviewed is Pavel Kantorek of the former Czechoslovakia, who won Fukuoka in 1961. He raced there six times in all and never performed worse than fifth; he also ran in the Olympic marathon in 1956, 1960 and 1964. Kantorek, who was married at the time, comments that he kept getting invited to return because of his exemplary behaviour, unlike some of the runners, who were “more interested in the Japanese geisha than in racing.”

Other notable athletes interviewed include Amby Burfoot, who won the Boston Marathon in 1968 and was fifth at Fukuoka the same year, finishing just shy of the American record; double Olympic medallist Frank Shorter, who won Fukuoka every year from 1971 to 1974, who says “Fukuoka is where I was born as a marathon runner”; and Canada’s own Jerome Drayton, a two-time Olympian who won the Boston Marathon in 1977 and the Fukuoka Marathon in 1969, 1975 and 1976 (and his 1975 winning time, 2:10:09, was the Canadian marathon record for 43 years). Four-time Boston Marathon and NYC Marathon champion Bill Rodgers, who ran in the 1976 Olympics, won Fukuoka in 1977 and was third in 1975. 

For many of the early Fukuoka runners, it was the first time they’d been invited to compete at an international marathon, and it became very prestigious on that basis. The meaning the race holds for them is obvious in their words, many of which were delivered via iPhone, thanks to the constraints of pandemic-style filmmaking. Fans of the marathon’s history will find a great deal of value in the film.

posted Saturday December 4th
by Running magazine