3:45 in Osaka

On Sunday, when I line up about 500m back from the start line in the group of runners aiming for a 3-hour 45-minute finish in the Osaka Marathon, I will be thinking of a man named Sunao.

Sunao means gentle, straight or forthright in Japanese and my wife’s father really was a gentle man.

The day he passed away, he was wearing a t-shirt from the 2011 Osaka Marathon. His memory as well as many other thoughts will drive me over the finish line. Whether I can make it within 3:45:00 is another story.

My current commitment to running was born on a Saturday in June 2012 when I publicly declared that I was going to get in shape. The promise: to run every week day for 30 minutes or 5 kilometres, whichever was quicker. The very next day, I amazed myself when I packed running gear and shoes into my travel bag for a business trip to Taiwan and actually ran every day while I was there.

In the beginning, I was struggling to run more than 4.5K in 30 minutes. But over a few months, I was managing more than 6K in half an hour. The first day that I failed to run on a weekday was when my son was born in January this year.

2013 not only saw the birth of my second child. But it also witnessed a new goal and promise: to run 2000K by the end of the year. Somewhere in the middle of the year, after about the thirtieth time of being asked if I was going to run a marathon, I finally decided to enter Osaka, my wife’s hometown. Once I entered the race, I changed my running program to four days a week.

Before we look ahead to Sunday, I would like to take you back to my first stint with distance running.

More than 16 years ago, when I was more than a little tubby, I was challenged to join the Kesennuma Oshima 10K by the 49-year-old sister of a teacher colleague, who had invited me to his house for an overnight home stay. At university, the only exercise I got was pulling pints at the local pub where I worked, and lifting the ones that I bought for myself. So a little over three months later, I ran the 10K in about 53 minutes.

During my seven years in Iwate, I ran on and off and on again many times over – entering 10Ks and a few half marathons in places like Miyako and Ofunato; and three full marathons, all in inland Kitakami. Running races became a great way to see parts of Iwate and other prefectures in Tohoku. I often stayed with friends, colleagues or friends of friends. These places will also be in my thoughts as I beat the pavement on Sunday. Besides Kitakami, the four cities mentioned above are on the Tohoku coastline and were devastated by the tsunami of March 11th, 2011. Long after I had moved to Tokyo.

It’s not such a problem running 10 kilometres or even a half marathon without much training. But my willpower was never quite enough for the full. And I never managed to train well enough to claim a decent time over 42.195km. Anyone who has run a marathon knows the wall. I hit it hard in each of my races. The best I managed was 4 hours 45 minutes, including walking.

While I have lots of intrinsic motivation to run this race within my stated time of 3 hours 45 minutes, training through the summer really took its toll. In one of the hottest summers on record, every single one of my long runs (25-32 kilometres coincided with temperatures over 30 degrees C). I never managed to completely run any of them: giving up completely or walking part of the way. Sunday will be much cooler but I still have a nagging self-doubt about whether I will do it or not.

I should be helped along by the cheers from my family in places along the race.

To give me a little added extrinsic motivation, I decided to create a charity page. The charity “Project Yui” unites two things very important to me: Tohoku (devastated by the tsunami and earthquake; and my home for the first seven years in Japan) and education. I hope that with a little bit of help from you, my friends, we can raise more than 200,000 yen for this very worthy cause. Every donation will be appreciated however small or big. So if you would like to give me a little extra added encouragement, please donate here:


Thank you for your support.

Last but by no means least, my wife will be wearing Sunao’s t-shirt on Sunday as she, my mother-in-law, my daughter and my son cheer me over the finish line.