Livin’ on a Prayer

It has been hard to motivate myself to get out and run lately with first of all seemingly endless rain from the middle of June until the first half of July, and then unbearable heat of over 30 degrees every day since.  

Yesterday I ended up walking back halfway through my 24km run with the Mercury hitting 34 degrees. 

This evening I forced myself to go out again for 12km. There’s no sun of course at night, but the temperature was still 29 degrees Celsius. The heat got to me again and I only managed 6km. But still, it’s better than nothing. 

I’m over 100km for the month and will have to work hard to run 46km over the next five days to achieve my monthly target of 150km. 
Every cloud has a silver lining. At the end of this evening’s run, I was greeted with a message from Runkeeper telling me I had got halfway towards my year-long goal of running 2,015km: only 26 days behind schedule. Last year, it wasn’t until October that I managed to run over 1000km for the year.  

   

Getting things done!

I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork … for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding. 

ALBERT EINSTEIN

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!

Why I’m really looking forward to today (Part 2)

After writing Part 1 this morning, I went to wake my wife up and give her her anniversary present. As the 7th anniversary in the UK is wool, I decided to go with the American convention: copper and bought two tumblers for us both. Now that we are in April, I didn’t think my wife would appreciate a woolly jumper. 

  

My wife surprised me with a really nice brown leather bag, which my daughter helped her choose. I like brown leather and it will really go well with some of the other brown items I use or wear for work. 

  

After a fairly slow and leisurely morning, where I used rain as an excuse to not run, we went out at about 11:30.

We enjoyed a nice Japanese lunch at Aqua City in Odaiba and then took a look around a few of the shops.

By 2:30, we were ready for our main event and went to the fourth floor of Decks to get our picture drawn. 

  

As with every year, the artist was different again and so we looked forward to how it would come out.

I must be honest. When I first saw it, I wasn’t so thrilled. But that has happened many times – and after a while, I get used to it. Caricature is often like that and this time is no different. In fact, I’m already getting used to it. 

  

Our kids look sprightly with their rosy cheeks. They are both looking upwards in anticipation of something(?) while my wife and I look quite tired. 

I suppose it has been quite a demanding year, with lots of new things happening: a new job for me, and new schools for both kids. So it is probably a fair reflection. After all, an artist can only draw what they see, and a caricaturist’s job is to exaggerate what they see.

What I read from my kids’ expressions is that it is my job to help them learn and to navigate their new worlds. So it should be another exciting and probably stressful year ahead. I will continue to worry only about what I can control and not about what I cannot. 

The artist commented at one point that my hair looked green. Maybe I left some shampoo in my hair today. I had been more concerned about going grey. 

I would love to hear from you. What do you think of this year’s picture? How does it compare to previous years? Which is your favourite?

Why I’m really looking forward to today!

Today is my wife’s and my seventh wedding anniversary. I am really looking forward to it. 

Every year, we have our own little tradition that started on our first anniversary when our daughter was just two months old. 

You know when you go to tourist sights, you often see a line of artists: some drawing buildings, some doing portraits and others doing caricature? Well, I had always been an old stick-in-the-mud and avoided these like the plague – forever haunted by a comment outside Notre Dame in Paris in 1995: “Hey, big nose!” 

But finally on April 11th 2009 at Venus Fort in Odaiba, Tokyo with our daughter in tow, my wife persuaded me to take the plunge. Here’s the result:


 

I seem to have a little scowl on my face. I wasn’t scowling, I was just nervous how it might turn out! 

In fact, I was quite pleased with the result, though I did come out with a big nose. Don’t you think I look a bit French? Perhaps it was some secret pact between the Japanese artist, Hiro and the guy near Notre Dame fourteen years earlier. My wife and daughter came out well, don’t you think? 

 Year Two (2010)

The next year, we again had another drawing. We used the same company, Caricature Japan (which I can highly recommend). We always use them. They have several branches mainly in shopping malls around the Tokyo area – as well as in Kyoto and Osaka. We have been to their dedicated shops in Asakusa and Shibuya, but also to Odaiba (where there are a couple of booths) and Yokohama

The artist was different from the first one, as it has been each year since. This is all part of the fun and anticipation as we wonder how it’s going to turn out. 

2010 is one of my favourites as we are all actually smiling, and my daughter’s personality really shines through.

Excuse my photo of the drawing. I have cut off the artist’s name Shio and got a light reflection on the picture.

 Year Three (2011)

Exactly a month after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, we went to the Aka Renga Soko in Yokohama for this drawing. At a time when everyone was in deep sadness and the nation was refusing to spend money in a mass act of self restraint, the red-brick shopping centre converted from an old port warehouse was almost deserted.

The artist (Shokoii) captures the hope that sakura cherry blossom (a sign of spring renewal) was bringing back to Japan. 

 Year Four (2012)

We also went to Aka Renga Soko in 2012 but to a different booth (they have two there). This was when our daughter still hadn’t lost her “puppy fat”. I didn’t like this picture so much at the time because it made me start to think that I wasn’t such a good parent for letting my daughter get too fat. 

Year Five (2013)

Our first Family of Four portrait. Our son was just three months old at the time – even at this very early age, you can see mischief waiting to break through! 🙂 This and the next one are another two of my personal favourites! 

 Year Six (2014)

This one was drawn last year. While some pictures take a while to grow on me, I loved this one as soon as I saw it!

And so today, we’re off to Odaiba again to have our picture drawn. I am really looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

2010-2015: Which days of the week do I run the most?

It was 9:45 pm on a Friday in 2010 (July 30th), when I started using Runkeeper to track my running activities. Since then, until the end of March 2015, I have run 611 activities. Which days do I run the most?

There are three ways to define “most”:

Number of activities: This refers to the number of different times run on a given day of the week.

Average distance: The average number of kilometres run on a given day of the week.

Total distance: Total kilometres run on a given day of the week.

Number of activities

There were very few runs in 2010, and even fewer in 2011.

In June 2012, after making a commitment in a classroom to run 30 minutes or 5 kilometres every weekday (Mon-Fri) morning, I got back into running.

The table below shows how in 2012, my runs were almost uniformly split Monday through to Friday. In fact, I ran 26 times on a Monday and a Friday; 25 on a Tuesday and Thursday; and 23 on a Wednesday.

My big year was 2013 – when I decided to run my first marathon in ten years. This meant a departure from running solely short distances on weekdays and a shift to runs of various lengths and tempos. Tuesdays and Thursday became by favoured days. The following year, Tuesdays were the clear frontrunner, while this year, I seem to prefer weekends and Wednesdays.

activties weekday table
Number of runs by weekday – years 2010-2015

Average Distance

Sundays are clearly big running days. I try to take advantage of not having to go to work, and get in longer runs in preparation for marathons. The Sunday figures do also include a few full marathons, which has the effect of pushing up the number. I am trying to emulate 2013 with a challenging target of 2015 kilometres. While I am not measuring the number of runs I make, it is clear that the fewer I do, the longer each run will have to be. Having only run 40 times this year, I will have to up the ante to make the target. If I maintain my higher average of 11.05km per run this year, I will have to run at least 182 times or about 3.5 times per week.

Average distance by weekday
Average distance by weekday

Total Distance

I ran further on Sundays in 2014 than any other day/period (405 kilometres). While the sheer number of activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays in 2013 contributed to total runs around 380 kilometres for each. A quarter of the way into 2015, with 9 activities covering nearly 177 kilometres, I hope to easily top that.

total dist weekday table

 

Ups and downs: A question of mindset

One running goal missed and one achieved. That’s how 2014 ended.

2013 went so well, achieving the 2000-kilometre target weeks before year-end. 2014 was a different story and though I covered less distance, it was a much harder journey. It didn’t kill me so it must have made me stronger in true Nietzsche tradition. With scars to prove it, I feel invigorated and ready for the next challenge.

distance 13 v 14

Over the last two and a half years since running has come back into my life, it has been more than a mere metaphor for my life itself. Setting goals has pushed me to some huge efforts but has also at times made me want to throw in the towel!

Here is an account of the last year and what I have learnt along the way.

January-February:
The year started really well. After achieving my 2000k target in early December and setting a new target to run 1000k in the five months until my 40th birthday, I was on the crest of a wave. I went on to run my biggest ever month in January. This set me up nicely for “Tokyo” at the end of February. At the Tokyo Marathon, I set a very ambitious 3:30:00 target – 10 minutes quicker than my PB. Tokyo was the first of three marathons I ran last year.
While I started well and was 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 30k, my overzealousness got the better of me in the last 12k. I slowed down significantly, resisting the urge to walk. My eventual time was 3:32:13. During these last 12 kilometres my self-talk turned negative as I focused on the the pain I was feeling rather than on achieving a challenging goal. Japanese novelist, Murakami Haruki said in his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

My feelings at the finish were mixed: joy at finishing with a good time and not walking; despair at not meeting my target. My thinking was turning towards self doubt and I was choosing to suffer – not just during the race, but after too. My extended honeymoon period with running was now over and I found it hard to get out on the road again. Hindsight now tells me that I managed to get to the end without walking because I had trained so rigorously. It would take me until later in the year to learn this lesson of tenacity.

March-June:

march june
My passion for running reached its lowest ebb. I took a rest after the exertions of Tokyo. While I needed to be averaging 200k per month to meet my goal, I struggled to run more than 75 in March and a paltry baker’s dozen in April. By the time of my 40th birthday, I was nearly 500k (a mere 48%) shy of my goal. I have to take this opportunity here to thank my wife again for all the birthday party planning – behind my back – in bringing my father and many of my friends to Kamata to surprise me!

Source: runkeeper.com

I didn’t have the appetite to set a new goal right away having failed so miserably!

Finally on June 1st, I set a new goal: seven months to run 1000k by year-end. While June was also not a great month, I did start to rebuild my habit again. It may sound basic, but commtting to these basic steps has worked for me:

  1. Set alarm
  2. Get up an hour early
  3. Put on running gear
  4. Step outside

If I achieve the above, I succeed in going for a run. When excuses set in, it is usually because I wait until after work to run.

July-September:
Anyone who knows Japan will know that these are the most unbearable months of the year when the humidity and temperature combine to create a double whammy of stickiness. And this is just from raising an arm to press the remote control. Running is not well advised during these months unless very early in the morning or late at night. But when you have a commitment to running, you have to overcome every excuse for not going out, even if you run the risk of getting complaints from your wife about stinky, sweaty running gear 😉
In 2013 I didn’t use it as an excuse as I ran more than 200k in August and September in preparation for the Osaka Marathon. In 2014, this dropped significantly though I did give myself a ready-made excuse: a career change!

July to September happened to coincide with the biggest change in my career in ten years, when I brought a close to my very rewarding and enjoyable time in publishing for a role working with a wider cross-section of industries spanning the public and private sector.
While I stepped up my efforts in July, as I got closer to leaving my old job and starting my new job, I let busy-ness keep me off the road more often than I would have liked. It was easy at the time to justify taking a day off here and there, but as I re-learned later, I need to go for a run to refresh my spirit and relieve the stress of the day!

As Nelson Mandela famously said:

In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the results. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.

Running is my garden.

mar to jun

October-November:

October and November brought new challenges as I learned my new job. Anyone who has changed careers will have experienced “Impostor Syndrome“. During my first three months, I allowed myself many times to suffer from these symptoms. Once again, it was running that provided me with a crutch, when at other times I might have used my travails as an excuse to take a day off training here and there. So I did my best to run as much as I could. I took my running gear on a business trip and managed to get runs in in Northern Ireland (Belfast), Scotland (beautiful Edinburgh including the Royal Mile and the castle), and my hometown in England (past Warwick Castle – an even more beautiful construction than Edinburgh Castle – excuse my bias)! Of course it helped that I had to run two marathons during this period.

At the end of October, I ran Osaka for the second time. After my 3:32 at Tokyo, I entered the race confident that I could run 3:30. I was quietly confident of 3:20. What I chose to ignore was my training record. With a poor summer record to compare against the previous year, I was deluding myself. While I was on target for 3:16:00 at halfway, I hit the wall at 26 kilometres and faded fast. Though I will spare the photo, it didn’t help that I had developed a blood blister covering a quarter of my left foot! Succumbing to the pain, I made myself suffer through the shame of walking, hobbling, trotting, cramping up and getting a free massage through the last sixteen kilometres. A poor but justifiable return on my investment: 4:27:45 – more than an hour slower than my secret target.

Just a few days after Osaka, I received a package in the post from Fujisan Marathon – a race around two of the five lakes near Mt. Fuji at the end of November. In the excitement of changing jobs, I had forgotten that I had entered! My wife frantically booked the last room in a hotel right near the start line. Thanks again for the support you give to me Eri! My expectations were much lower, but with the benefit of Osaka and my autumn runs still in my legs, I ran the course in 3:40:54. If I hadn’t succumbed yet again to walking with four kilometres to go, I would have achieved around 3:35:00.

December:

While I had managed to pick up my run rate in the autumn, I had left myself with lots to do in December. In order to achieve my 1000k target by New Year’s Eve, I would need to run 212 kilometres. I knew this wasn’t impossible as I had achieved this before in January and also September 2013. But at the same time, I knew that I would need to run most days to make it happen. In June 2012, it was a public declaration of intent that gave me the impetus to begin running. So I tried the same tactic, posting this image on social media:

IMG_5207

It worked! On New Year’s Eve, I managed to run the last 14 kilometres needed in order to meet my goal.

Source: runkeeper.com

Seven days into 2015, I am tracking nicely towards my 2,015km target. As I re-learned the importance of habit, each month I will commit to running at least 150 kilometres. My next marathon will be in my favourite Japanese city of Kyoto.

And if you fancy a run in Tokyo from time to time, let me know! It would be great to encourage one another!