Aoyama Gakuin University took a first-day lead of 2 minutes, 38 seconds over defending champion Komazawa University on Tuesday in the annual two-day Tokyo-Hakone collegiate ekiden road relay.

Five Aoyama Gakuin runners clocked a combined 5 hours, 18 minutes, 13 seconds over 107.5 kilometers from Tokyo's Otemachi business district to the mountainous hot spring resort of Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture -- a record for the outbound route.

Aoyama Gakuin University's Hiroki Wakabayashi crosses the finish line in Hakone, eastern Japan, on Jan. 2, 2024, the first day of the two-day Tokyo-Hakone collegiate ekiden road relay. (Kyodo)

Josai University placed third and will start Wednesday's return trip 3 minutes, 17 seconds behind Aoyama Gakuin in the 100th running of the race first run in 1920.

Josai's Yuito Yamamoto set the fastest time for the uphill 20.8-kilometer fifth leg, 1:09:14.

Komazawa won October's Izumo Ekiden and the national championship in November. Bidding to become the first team to sweep collegiate ekiden's three major races in consecutive seasons, the team held the lead after each of the first two legs.

Aoyama Gakuin's second runner, Asahi Kuroda, brought his school from ninth place to second before his teammate Aoi Ota overtook Komazawa's Keita Sato in the 21.4-kilometer third leg.

Aoyama Gakuin's fourth and fifth runners each stretched the team's lead over Komazawa.

"My students ran well amid talk of Komazawa as the overwhelming favorite," Aoyama Gakuin manager Susumu Hara said. "I'm thankful that we were able to hold this race as scheduled. We didn't know after a powerful earthquake struck the Noto Peninsula (and surrounding areas in central Japan) yesterday."

A total of 23 schools in the Kanto region centering on Tokyo are taking part in the race, three more than usual as it marks the 100th edition.

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