Quality Time with the Kids ー 子供と充実した時間

One of the perks of being your own boss is being able to spend more time with the kids. 

When I was in Tokyo, I didn’t get home until after 7:00, which after eating dinner left very little time to do anything else with the kids. 

Now, I’m at home when the kids get back and can do lots more things with them. I’ve started teaching my daughter phonics again – after an 18-month hiatus. And recently, I also discovered this great app called Epic, which has thousands of picture books in English. My older two love it when I read stories to them on my iPad. 

個人事業主として一つの役得は子供と過ごせる時間。

東京に住んでいた時は毎晩7時以降帰ってしまい、一緒に晩御飯した後に他にほとんど何もする時間がなかった。

今は、子供が帰ったら、既に家にいるから、一緒に色々できている。最近は長女に英語のフォニックス(単語の読み方)を教えるのを1年半ぶりに再スタート。また、Epicという数万冊の絵本を持つアプリも発見して、子供達に毎晩英語の読み聞かせをしてる。子供も私も大喜び。

Eat and Run: Book Review

  

Whatever the problem in my life, the solution had always been the same: Keep going! My lungs might be screaming for oxygen, my muscles might be crying in agony, but I had always known the answer lay in my mind.

Not a bad solution to live by. 

Scott Jurek doesn’t do things by half. He gives his best and just keeps on pushing further and further. I first learned about AQ: Adversity Quotient (a theory developed by Dr. Paul Stoltz) when studying for my MBA a few years ago. Jurek epitomizes this never-say-die spirit.

We meet Jurek as he is vomiting, lying prostrate on the searing ground of Death Valley, his brain being cooked in the heat of one of the hottest places on Earth. He is attempting to run the Badwater Ultramarathon — 135 miles of pure scorching hell.

For those who have read Born to Run, you will know Jurek as ‘El Venado’ or The Deer. Jurek is one of the greatest ultra runners of all time. 

It is not often that he succumbs to the elements nor to his own inner monologue telling him to stop, asking why is he putting himself through it. And as we soon find out, this is not going to be one of those times.
We get an insight into the mind of an elite runner and learn that he is no different from you and me. He too gets that inner voice that says, “It’s ok to stop and have a rest. Just this once.”

The next morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I could hear music. It was the siren song of a warm bed, a cozy couch, a few hours of reading, or listening to music, or just being. No one was forcing me to run. No one said I had to. No one was going to die if I just relaxed a little. Those were the lyrics of the song. It was the catchy, terrible tune that had seduced so many runners to drop out of races. It was a melody I could not afford to listen to. The song was calling: Rest. You just ran one mountain. No need to do another.

The difference is that he didn’t succumb. He doesn’t succumb. 

Jurek didn’t start out as an athlete. At school, he was a bookworm and spent most of his time studying. In fact, his route into running actually came through skiing. At his high school graduation, he gave the valedictory speech and left his peers with four key messages:

  1. Be different
  2. Help others
  3. Never let others discourage you from achieving your dream
  4. Do things while you are young

Good advice indeed from an 18-year-old. Sounds more like something a 41-year-old might say to his kids! He took his own advice, even if he admits that at the time of his speech, he didn’t know what his dream was. 

As an adult, Jurek remains an avid reader and a student of life. Through various encounters during his time as a runner, he has shaped his own development.  His visits to Japan and to his bookshelf exposed him to the principles of Bushido. He likens the emptiness of the warrior’s mind in battle to the importance of remaining in the present when running a race. A wandering mind loses focus, and in a 100-mile race that can be dangerous. 

His studies do not rest solely with philosophy. He also studies the effects of the foods he puts into his body. He started out as a meat-eater, became a vegetarian and is now a vegan. Jurek cites studies that link the Western diet with the three most common causes of death in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer and strokes. He has studied through trial and error and lots of reading the effects of various foods on his performance. This book is not just for runners, but for those who care about what they put in their body. He ends each chapter with a recipe that he himself cooks up for himself or for his friends.

The healthier I had eaten, the faster and stronger I had become. Was it a coincidence that sick people were being served starchy, crappy food?

If you like running, Eat and Run will give you lots of practical tips, from how to breath to what training to focus on. If you like Born to Run, you’ll love this book which has more of a flowing style. If you care about your body, you’ll learn some quick and practical recipes, including a good one for chia seeds. And if you like autobiographies, Jurek gives you a clear insight into his mind.

Born to Run: Book Review

  

The next leap forward in human endurance would come from a dimension he dreaded getting into: character. Not the “character” other coaches were always rah-rah-rah-ing about.

Joe Vigil, a coach we encounter on the epic journey that is Born to Run wasn’t talking about grit, drive or hunger. 

In fact, he meant the exact opposite. Vigil’s notion of character wasn’t toughness. It was compassion. Kindness. Love.

I share this view: that it is important to always be nice to one another and to always think about how others feel. 

Even now, I’m not sure why I did this: when I was in the last kilometre of my last full marathon in Kyoto, ready to give up and start walking, I started saying “arigato” to all the volunteers lining the streets handing out drinks. It somehow gave me the little extra ounce of strength I needed to get over the line. Certainly having something nice to think about, rather than “my left knee hurts” pushes me forward towards the line.

Perhaps all our troubles—all the violence, obesity, illness, depression, and greed we can’t overcome—began when we stopped living as Running People. Deny your nature, and it will erupt in some other, uglier way.

It may be overly optimistic to think that if everyone went back to running like our forebears, that all the tyranny would disappear. But being nice to one another is certainly a good mantra to live to. And maybe if we were all running, we wouldn’t have time to be greedy and violent!
Christopher McDougall takes us to meet the legendary Tarahumara – a Mexican tribe known for their endurance running.  First we meet them at a grueling 100-mile run in the heights of Colorado. This is a place where only people really dedicated to running and achieving seemingly impossible goals go.

Instead of a marathon, Ken created a monster. To get a sense of what he came up with, try running the Boston Marathon two times in a row with a sock stuffed in your mouth and then hike to the top of Pikes Peak.
Done?
Great. Now do it all again, this time with your eyes closed.
That’s pretty much what the Leadville Trail 100 boils down to: nearly four full marathons, half of them in the dark, with twin twenty-six-hundred-foot climbs smack in the middle.

On his journey, McDougall talks to scientists who say that we humans were indeed born to run! There is a tendon behind our head known as the nuchal ligament. The purpose of the tendon is to keep the head straight when running fast. It is not needed when walking. The tendon has been found only in dogs, horses and humans.

A jogger in decent shape averages about three to four meters a second. A deer trots at almost the identical pace. But here’s the kicker: when a deer wants to accelerate to four meters a second, it has to break into a heavy-breathing gallop, while a human can go just as fast and still be in his jogging zone. A deer is way faster at a sprint, but we’re faster at a jog; so when Bambi is already edging into oxygen debt, we’re barely breathing hard.

And so our ancestors were master huntsmen who would simply outrun their prey over very long distances — literally tiring them out.
We next meet the Tarahumara in their natural home for the book’s finale when a group of American runners joins McDougall on a trip to race in Copper Canyon.

Born to Run
is an interesting read that I would recommend to anybody with an interest in running, human endeavour or anthropology. But more importantly it opened the door to some more interesting   books, such as Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. 

The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life: Book Review

  

The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life was written in 2000 by Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon.

I bought the book because it appeared on the Amazon list of the 25 bestselling books on running. It is only available in print not in e-book format. 

Most of the other books in the list were about the mechanics of running or preparing for a race. I put myself in the fairly seasoned runner category and so now I don’t really go for the how-to books anymore. And having read Murakami Haruki’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I wanted something more autobiographical. 

The version of the book that I bought was adorned with only one testimonial. I am used to seeing at least five or six on the cover, in the inside jacket and on the back cover. So the marketing of this book is somewhat understated.

The book’s only testimonial appears on the front cover on one of those mock stickers: by Benjamin Cheever of Runner’s World, who describes it as “one of the five best books on running”. I’m sure that with a guy as well connected and respected as Burfoot, Skyhorse Publishing could have found a different or even a more inspiring testimonial. The big problem is that Cheever is a colleague of Burfoot’s. So hardly an unbiased endorsement.

Yes, there are a few high points throughout the book, but on the whole, it was a bit pedestrian for a book about running. I was often left feeling “So what?”

He covers why humans run (because it’s natural and doesn’t require any skill), and how life is about beginning new things all the time (the starting line of a race is a proxy for overcoming the fear of starting new things in life). 

Burfoot then goes on to discuss connections and networks. He obviously has great running groups and many friends that he runs with. He also talks of the deep conversations he has had while running. Being an introvert, running for me is a solitary activity. But I can definitely see the benefit of group running in pushing one another to go faster. So why didn’t Burfoot get some of these people to write a testimonial then?

Burfoot is a winner. He won Boston in 1968 and set his fastest ever time (2:14:29) in Fukuoka, Japan later the same year. Now that he is older, he sees the other side: how most regular runners feel.

One of the great benefits of running is that it teaches us to value the individual–our self. We run a race with 75,000 others, but we’re primarily concerned about our own outcome. 


For us foot soldiers, we are in it to beat one person: ourselves. In our hearts, if we beat our target or get a personal best, we know we have won.

Winning is not about headlines… It’s only about attitude. A winner is a person who goes out today and every day and attempts to be the best runner and best person he can be… Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism, and never, ever, ever giving up. 

He doesn’t just talk about winning. He addresses the other side of the coin too. It’s a cliche by now that in order to succeed we must first encounter failure. Burfoot talks about missing out twice on qualifying for the Olympics. In hindsight he was able to go on and achieve in different areas. 

I have learned that there is no failure in running, or in life, as long as you keep moving. It’s not about speed or gold medals. It’s about refusing to be stopped. 

Burfoot chooses to run without earphones. He likes to hear his own thoughts. When it snows, he enjoys the crisp noise underfoot. He makes an interesting observation that in all the seminars designed to make him a better listener, there is one thing missing:

The more meetings I attend, however, the more I believe that something crucial is being left out. Yes, it’s important to listen to everyone around you. But it’s even more important to learn how to listen to yourself. Whether a decision is purely personal or involves dozens or even hundreds of others, you alone are the only person who has to make it, and you can only do it after listening to your own internal monologue. 

Good advice. Running is definitely my thinking time when I resolve some of the issues of the day. I run with music, but find that when I am deep in thought, I don’t even notice the music. I might try to run from time to time without music.

My biggest takeaway from the book is the importance of mentors – both learning from those who come before us, but also passing wisdom and knowledge to the generations that follow. Unfortunately, this author really didn’t get through to me in the same way that other writers have done through their prose.

I was really hoping that Burfoot would get to one kernel of truth by the end of the book: he promises the meaning of life. Sadly I was disappointed.

If this is one of the top 5 books on running, the bar is pretty low.

Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival: Book Review

  
Currently based in Hong Kong, David Pilling is the Asia Editor of the Financial Times . He was Tokyo Bureau Chief from 2002–8. After the earthquake in 2011, he came back to Japan on a number of occasions. This book covers the recent history of Japan interlaced with interviews with Japanese from all walks of life. 

Bending Adversity takes its name from Pilling’s loose rendering of a Japanese proverb introduced to him by the husband of Japan’s former High Commissioner for the UNHCR, Ogata Sadako:

wazawai wo tenjite fuku to nasu.  災いを転じて福となす。
(Literally: Turn calamity into good fortune)

It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Japan in the current age. 

Starting in the small coastal town of Rikuzentakata a mere 40 kilometres from where I spent the first three years of my life in Japan, Pilling recounts the story of a hotel general manager and the fateful day that changed his life and the lives of 23,000 other inhabitants of the town.

He talks of the miracle Lone Pine that stood while 70,000 others fell on that fateful Friday in March. The before-and-after photos and words on a page don’t fully capture how harrowing the difference is.

The first time I went to “Takata” as the locals would call it was on my second weekend in Japan in early August 1997. I remember eating at the small fast food restaurant near the beach some eighteen years ago, which he describes from photographs:

An entire Mos Burger restaurant, Japan’s equivalent of McDonald’s, floats across the valley like some unmoored boat, its red roof and ‘M’ logo distinctly visible as it sweeps towards the hospital. By the time it gets there, it has been ripped in two.

I remember walking in amongst the trees remarking how huge Japanese crows were (like ravens), and how their voices sounded like grown men’s; picking up a stray volleyball as I walked on the beach, passing it back to some high school kids. Later that evening, I remember sipping beers, eating barbecue meat and camping out under the stars with my new-found teacher mates on the JET Programme. I went back there a few times over the years – to see the annual taiko festival, to watch a traditional street festival where men pulling floats would bash into them into one another, and to eat ramen after running in Ofunato further along the coast. After I moved further north, I didn’t go back there again. Not until six months after the disaster.

I saw the Lone Pine with my own eyes in September 2011 when I went to volunteer with All Hands. I couldn’t help but feel sad at seeing nothing but flat land where houses had once been. And a single tree where a forest had once stood.

In much the same way that we show signs of aging (not linearly but in sudden leaps and bounds) Japan has lurched forward and re-defined its direction through various events. Pilling goes back in time to chart Japan’s forced opening by Commodore Perry’s Black Ships off Yokohama, which brought about the Meiji Restoration but didn’t spell change in the shimaguni (island country) mindset. He also tells the story of expansionist Japan aspiring to be like the Western colonial powers around the turn of the 20th Century; the 1923 Tokyo earthquake; and the devastation of WWII; through the miracle years of growth, surviving not one but two oil shocks in the 1970s; through the bursting of the Bubble in 1990. 
Writing only a year after the earthquake, Pilling doesn’t go so far as to say that 2:46pm on March 11th 2011 was a turning point in history, though he does examine how Japan has defined itself through some very testing episodes. Based on interviews with Murakami Haruki among others, he picks out 1995 (the year of the Kobe earthquake and Sarin gas attacks) as a decisive post-war turning point for Japan, which really spelled the end of the boom years.
Still, the image of Japan in the West is of a waning economic power overshadowed by China. Yet, Pilling reminds us towards the end of his narrative that

[t]hough we have got used to the idea of Japan’s inexorable economic decline, it remains quite comfortably the third-largest economy in the world, the size of the combined economies of Britain and France and three times the size of India’s.

And this in spite of the cataclysmic events of March 2011. According to the World Economic Outlook Database (April 2013) he notes that Japan had a per-capita GDP eight times the size of China’s (or four times in per-capita purchasing power parity terms).

The Tokyo conurbation alone is home to about 37 million people, which is more than the population of whole countries including Canada, Finland or Australia to name a few.

I have called Japan home for nearly eighteen years now. And like Pilling, I can attest that there is still much hope in this beautiful country.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: Book Review

[A] person doesn’t become a runner because someone recommends it. People basically become runners because they’re meant to.

This autobiographical journey seen through the eyes of an avid runner was written by the famous Japanese novelist, Murakami Haruki and was originally published in Japan in 2007 as  「走ることについて語る時に僕の語ること」Hashiru koto ni tsuite kataru toki ni boku no kataru koto (literally “What I talk about when I talk about running). 

Have you ever felt self-conscious about running? I remember when I first got back into it three years ago, I was always thinking that someone was watching me. Seems I wasn’t alone in this thought. 

When I first started running I couldn’t run long distances. I could only run for about twenty minutes, or thirty. That much left me panting, my heart pounding, my legs shaky. It was to be expected, though, since I hadn’t really exercised for a long time. At first, I was also a little embarrassed to have people in the neighborhood see me running— the same feeling I had upon first seeing the title novelist put in parentheses after my name. But as I continued to run, my body started to accept the fact that it was running, and I could gradually increase the distance.

This book not only inspired me to keep pushing on as a runner, but also as a writer. I had already started writing this blog, but had stalled many times. 

If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog. 

As I just entered my forties last year, Murakami’s talk of his running peak which came in his late forties, and the goals he had at that time strike a chord with me as I am at a similar place in my own running journey, even down to very similar running speeds: I broke 3:30:00 for the first time ever just two months ago in February.

My peak as a runner came in my late forties. Before then I’d aimed at running a full marathon in three and a half hours, a pace of exactly one kilometer in five minutes, or one mile in eight. Sometimes I broke three and a half hours, sometimes not (more often not).

It is through his inspiration that I decided to name my blog “Suffering is Optional”. Murakami recalls a conversation he had with a fellow runner, whose older brother told him that allowing ourselves to suffer is actually a choice. If we choose to focus on that pain, we will increase it and it is all we will think about.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

But like the author says, pain is a necessary part of the journey of growth. Without making the effort, we will never reach the next goal or target to better ourselves. 

If pain weren’t involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It’s precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself. If things go well, that is.

And while running can be a social activity as many members of running clubs will attest, it is largely a solitary activity where we compete against ourselves. Like Murakami, I have always been energized by my own quiet time. I guess that makes me an introvert rather than an extrovert.

I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else.

Within the pages of this book, I found a true kindred spirit. I strongly recommend this book to all runners, writers and to all who like to push themselves to the next level. 

The ONE Thing: Book Review

The ONE Thing was written by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan and first published in Great Britain in 2013 by John Murray Press, Hodder & Stoughton.

The best books usually make the argument that so-called time management is really about choice, focus and self management rather than attempting to manage time. Thousands of books have been written on the subject and I have wasted time reading a few of them – finding bits here and there that work for a while but never quite give me the answers I am looking for.

While Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People made sense at the time and it definitely made me change my thinking, I have found that seven things are too much for my tiny brain to remember! 😉

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen was another book that influenced me a number of years ago. But I would be hard-pressed to remember the five steps he suggests or any other snippets of advice that I could quote today as having become a part of how I manage myself or my time. 

The ONE Thing is different. In arguing for focus, it really keeps things simple with a very clear and uncluttered approach. Being based on one question repeatedly asked (in very slightly differing ways which could admittedly get old or annoying quite quickly) to drill from big picture to small detail it feels easy to remember and to adopt straight away. For me, it’s very reminiscent of the Toyota way of asking Why? five times.  

I won’t ruin the book for those who want to read it, and I’m sure the authors wouldn’t be too pleased if I gave away the key question. 

The authors quote research that says it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit. So even in its simplicity, they are not promising quick wins like so many self-help evangelists do. 

The ONE Thing is based on a premise provided by a Russian proverb, За двумя зайцами погонишься – ни одного не поймаешь (Za dvumya zaitsami pogonish’sya – ni odnovo nye poimaesh’)  If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither.

It espouses blocking off time each day to focus on something (not a new idea and one which I have read in many books), which I think ignores relationships. It is not as easy as simply turning down a meeting request from your manager. But it is hard to argue with the logic that time devoted to key goals rather than being bogged down or disturbed by less important stuff has a compound effect. 

The authors use a domino metaphor and illustrate quite well that from research proven in 1983 that a smaller domino is capable of knocking down a domino fifty percent larger than its own size: starting with a standard domino (which would in turn knock down a domino 1.5 times its size) by the 10th iteration, the domino would be the height of an American football quarterback; by the 23rd, the Eiffel Tower; and the 31st taller than Everest. Their metaphor is not lost on the reader in saying that by working on important things each day in a focused way, we can achieve great things.

Ask me in 66 days if I got results!