On my morning run today, I decided to tackle a hill near my house. My wife calls it a moun’ain in the Colorado dialect she learned while living there. As it’s about a 3-kilometre drive up winding roads to the top, I am beginning to think she might be right. I haven’t managed to run all the way to the top yet, but I will likely be dropping my t’s too,when I do. If I don’t keel over first.
Today on the road ahead of me, I had to do a double take. I was expecting to see beautiful autumnal views. I wasn’t disappointed.
But the biggest surprise was this man making his way up the hill.
I struggled to run 1.5k uphill. It looked like this man was aiming for the top.
Today, I just said konnichiwa as I ran past him on one of the steep uphill curves. Fleetingly, I felt guilty as I went past. But then I thought, the kind of person who has one leg and climbs a moun’ain on crutches is not the type of person to wallow in pity or make excuses.
Yesterday, I finally got my postcard for Kobe Marathon. I’m in B block, which is the first wave. This is great news as it means I won’t have to wait so long at the start before crossing the line and actually beginning the race.
After a very hot summer, and lots of missed training, my target is a very conservative 3:40:00 (about 13.5 minutes slower than my personal best). As long as I don’t give up running and start walking, I should manage it.
About a month ago, I received delivery of an item that I backed on Kickstarter. The item in question was something called the Shift by EdgeGear.
Basically, it’s a strap that allows you to keep your watch in a comfortable position on your hand rather than on your wrist while running. Ever tried to look at your watch while running? It’s hard to keep your rhythm while you lift your arm and if you’re like me, squint to see the numbers close-up after having been looking into the distance. This way, you don’t have to bring your arm right up to look at your time or other stats while running. You can stay in the flow.
Although it seemed to take forever to actually receive the product (I’m sure I ordered it in late summer or early autumn 2015), once it finally came, I was thoroughly impressed. It was dead easy to take my Garmin Forerunner strap off and fit the Shift to it. They even sent tools with the strap and a link to a video on YouTube to walk me through it.
This endorsement is in no way solicited and I paid full price for the product. I’m posting this because I really love the product and recommend it to any runners I know. I’m looking forward to testing it out over full marathon distance when I run #kobemarathon next month. So far, so good!
Earlier this year, I moved with my family from Tokyo to a city just outside Himeji.
A city of 500,000 people, Himeji has a population similar to Copenhagen. It is the second largest city in Hyogo Prefecture, which has a population of about 5 million people. This happens to be about the same size as Denmark’s population. Himejians eat lots of almond butter but not so much Lurpak butter though.
Tokyo is in a league of its own. Many people will remember the infographics that were doing the rounds on Buzzfeed a couple of years ago. If not, take a look at the link. It’s awe-inspiring. According to the UN, the population of the Greater Tokyo/Yokohama conurbation is more than 37 million people. That’s bigger than the population of over 100 countries on this planet, including the likes of Canada and Australia. Now try imagine getting on a train with all those people…
I already made my choice on where to live. It’s a no-brainer really: serene yet efficient Denmark, or the whole of Toronto packed every morning onto the Yamanote Line. Just thinking about sweaty summers and autumn typhoons was enough to make me feel faint. I chose Copenhagen – or a place on its outskirts really:
TOKYO < HIMEJI
But recently, I was faced with a new choice between Himeji and Tokyo.
These two cities host a full marathon on the same day in 2017: February 26th.
I applied for both races because they are oversubscribed and hold a lottery to decide who can run. I wanted to run one of them and decided to let fate decide which.
Tokyo Marathon had a subscription rate approximately twelve times the 35,000+ that can actually run the race. Even a vast city such as Tokyo has to limit the number of runners that can navigate the narrow streets at the start. When I last ran the race in 2014, I was in C block (the third section from the front) but it still took me ten minutes from the gun to get over the start line. That year, I foolishly paid a whopping 100,000 yen (I had more money than sense then) to enter as a charity runner, though I have to say it was worth the experience, and the money went to support the rebuilding efforts in Tohoku (northern Japan) after the 2011 earthquake.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to get accepted although they do say that gaikokujin have a higher chance than native Japanese. Since 2014, I entered as a regular runner and failed to get in twice. So this was third time lucky!
Himeji Marathon is my local race and has a beautiful castle. It would be a great opportunity to get to know the city a little better.
Having lived in Tokyo on and off for 11 years, I’ve had my fill of living there. I would definitely choose Himeji any day to live!
But I don’t know when the opportunity to run one of the six Majors will present itself again. So this time around, I’m going to run Tokyo:
Today was a little bit chilly—about 18 degrees when I started my morning run. The temperature was just the way I like it. If things carry on like this, I won’t have any excuses not to run. But who can blame me for not running in 35-degree heat?
Here are a few pics from today’s run. I particularly liked seeing the persimmon trees and the cosmos—a definite sign of Autumn!
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:
Never let others discourage you from achieving your dream
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.
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.
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.
Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.