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.
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. 

Kyoto Marathon in numbers

Today I had a lot of fun in a masochistic sort of way!

Starting out, I took it nice and slow – keeping a sensible pace. For the first ten kilometres, I was enjoying playing the running tourist, taking pictures of the crowds supporting the runners as well as the sights visible from the road. I will post some of these pics in a later blog.

The temperature didn’t reach the 11 degrees that the forecast promised us. In fact, it was pretty chilly and rained two or three times during the race. But this for me was a good thing.

Looking at the splits for the whole race downloaded from the official website, we can see that my pace was very consistent throughout. Split times refer to the time measured from the start to a given point along the way, while lap times refer to increments within the race. Except for the first 5k and the last 5k lap (35-40k), I managed to run each kilometre in less than five minutes.

Here are the times laid out in a chart:


Graphically, with the y-axis set to between 4 minutes and 6 minutes, you can see the consistency of the lap times in the middle of the race. Evidently, my split times got faster on average as I went through the race. This is because I sped up somewhere around 8 or 9 kilometres and held my pace consistently for most of the rest of the race. This had the effect of canceling out the slow start. As we approach the end of the race, you can see the split time starting to go up slightly as I got tired. I don’t mind admitting that resisting the urge to walk was quite a battle of the conscience!


Over 42.195 kilometres, even a few seconds per kilometre up or down on average pace makes or breaks a full marathon. Today was my best ever time by about 6 minutes. This translates to around an average 8 seconds per kilometre quicker than last year’s Tokyo Marathon. It took me 4 minutes 54 seconds to run a kilometre today, while in Tokyo it was about 5 minutes 2 seconds. It just goes to show that every second counts.


Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 5): 35 kilometres – Finish

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th. 

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.

Read Part 2.

Read Part 3.

Read Part 4.

35KM — 42.195KM

Access: Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station, Subway Tozai Line, or Karasuma Oike Station, Subway Tozai Line or Karasuma Subway Line

There is a turning point just after 35 kilometres right outside the City Hall (京都市役所). Along with the Imperial Palace just a little further north, this is one of the best places to support towards the end of the race. Being here leaves enough time to jump on the Tozai (literally East-West) Line and be at the finish line ready for the last part of the race. You might not feel too inspired by the 1920s architecture in a city of true beauties. But if you happen to be from one of Kyoto’s many sister cities – Boston, Paris, Cologne, Kiev, Florence, Xian, Prague, Guadalajara, Jinju or Zagreb, you might want to go and take a picture of the plaques on the east side of the building.

Access: Higashiyama Station, Subway Tozai Line

After the runners turn around, they head out north and east towards another famous Kyoto temple (and my personal favourite because of its gardens). If you want to be at the finish line in time, you won’t be able go and support them in this area. But it would be remiss of me not to mention Ginkakuji (銀閣寺). No visit to Kyoto would be complete without taking in the sights of this wonderful temple. Its name is very similar to Kinkakuji which we passed in the 10-15km sector of the race. While Kinkakuji means Golden Pavilion Temple, Ginkakuji means Silver Pavilion Temple. The more ostentatious and certainly more photographed Kinkakuji is coated in gold, whereas the pavilion at Ginkakuji has never been covered in silver. It is said to take its name from the silver reflection of the light of the moon. This is definitely near the top of the list of places to visit on a different day of your trip along with a walk down the Philosopher’s Path (哲学の道) down to Nanzenji (南禅寺) and then beyond to Kiyomizudera (清水寺), the temple that stands on wooden stilts.

The runners themselves run up towards Ginkakuji and then turn back, completely avoiding the Philosopher’s Path and Nanzenji. Instead, they head back west and then south past Kyoto University (京都大学), Japan’s second most prestigious university at around 41 kilometres. Kyoto University is the workplace of Nobel Prize winner, Yamanaka Shinya. He and fellow stem cell researcher, John Gurdon from the UK were awarded in 2012. Yamanaka himself will apparently be running the race in 2015.

Kyoto University really will be the sign for runners that the end is nigh. They will squeeze the last ounces of energy out of their legs and fresh positive thoughts of “I can do it” will enter their minds again as they head towards the crowds waiting to greet them in the environs of Heian-jingu (平安神宮).

Now past the finish line, they will feel the relief and pride of having made it to the end of the Kyoto Marathon and will be thanking you for all the support you gave along the way!!!

My Recommendation to Supporters: Seven more kilometres… Six… Five… Four… Three… Two… One… At last, the runner is thinking, this race is coming to an end. These last few kilometres are the longest in the race. The runner is wondering whether they will make it over the line without collapsing, or whether their leg muscles will hold out, or how big is that blister that is really stinging my left foot… For some runners, these last kilometres will feel endless and their pace may slow to not much faster than walking. Many will even succumb to walking. Support at this stage of the race really does serve to push the runners over the line. Most supporters would really like to be at the finish line to congratulate their hero. This makes it difficult to look at places along the route in the last seven kilometres and then also be there at the finish straight. For this reason, I recommend saving the sights around this area for another day and focusing your efforts on cheering outside Heian-jingu. If you are around City Hall for the 35k turning point, you can jump on the train for a few stops to Higashiyama and then wait by the finish line. In the very least you can either take a quick look with all the other crowds at the beautiful red shrine while you wait. Alternatively, you could suggest taking a look with your runner friend right after the race if they feel up to it…

Thank you for reading through these entries about Kyoto Marathon The city really is full of wondrous temples and shrines, large and small – many in places where you’d least expect them. If you’re not visiting for the marathon in February 2015, I hope that you will come to one of the most beautiful cities in the world either as a tourist or a runner (or both) in the near future.

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 4): 30 – 35 kilometres

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th. 

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.

Read Part 2.

Read Part 3.

30KM — 35KM

Access: Kuramaguchi Station, Subway Karasuma Line

By the 30-kilometre mark, the athletes will have been running off the road, along the riverside for about two kilometres. Right as they reach the 30-k point, they will pass the ornate Shimogamo-jinja (下鴨神社) on their left (to the east over the other side of the Kamo River). Shimogamo is the sister to Kamigamo. Shimo literally means ‘lower’, while Kami is ‘higher’, and Gamo is simply taken from the river’s name but with a soft vowel as often happens when two words are merged in Japanese. Shimogamo-jinja was first built in the sixth century long before Kyoto became the capital of Japan. While its name might suggest it is the younger of the two sisters, it actually predates its sister Kamigamo-jinja by about a hundred years.

Access: Marutamachi Station, Subway Karasuma Line or Jingu-marutamachi, Keihan Main Line

The runners come off the riverside somewhere near 33 kilometres and turn right towards the Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所). Unlike its cousin in Tokyo which is inhabited by the current emperor, this palace is open to the public. However, you can only enter on a guided tour and you must book in advance. The park grounds that surround the palace are completely open to the public and are a really nice place for a stroll when the weather is good. The runners pass along the front of the Imperial Palace twice as they turn back on themselves and then turn right (south) towards the Kyoto City Hall just after the 35-km mark.

My Recommendation to Supporters: Due to its proximity to the finish line (not for the runners themselves who have to loop around and back on themselves) the area around the Imperial Palace and City Hall will be very popular with supporters. You can cheer your friends or loved ones twice as they turn just after the Imperial Palace and come back along the same road. Moreover, it is this section (30-35km) and arguably the previous one (25-30km) where the runners will be most thankful for the support as they fight the mental urge to throw in the towel.

Being very central, both of these places are very accessible via the subway lines. Once the runners have passed, spectators will either take the subway or walk to the finish line near Heian-jingu.

Part 5 (35 to 42.195 kilometres) will cover the last part of the race as the runners double back on themselves as they turn in front of City Hall, head out towards my personal favourite temple, Ginkakuji, past Kyoto University and towards the finish line right by Heian-jingu.

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 3): 20 – 30 kilometres

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th.

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.
Read Part 2.

20KM — 25KM

Access: Kitayama Station, Subway Karasuma Line

The runners head south after passing Kamigamo-jinja and make a left turn at Kitayama-dori to start heading east again.

Just before the halfway mark, the race passes the Kyoto Botanical Garden (京都府立植物園). The majority of people coming to Kyoto don’t come here for flora and fauna, but it is fairly large at 240,000 sq. m. with over 12,000 plant species. It is divided into a number of sections including a bamboo forest and bonsai. If you find yourself in need of a break from temples and shrines, this could be the place for you.

There are no major sights further along the road here, though of course Kyoto is never lacking the odd small or relatively unknown shrine and temple where you least expect it. The runners make their way out east until approximately 23k and then turn back along the same road.

My Recommendation to Supporters: This is the first part of the race since Arashiyama that is directly accessible by train (in this case the subway). If you are staying in the Kyoto Station or Shijo-Kawaramachi areas (most popular for hotels) you can simply take the Karasuma Line north. Depending on the pace of the runner you are supporting, you could take a quick look at the gardens in the 40-60 minutes between them passing for the first time and then passing again after the turning point in the course. Or come early if this is the first point along the course where you will be supporting. Combined with Kamigamo further back up the road, you can kill a few hours.

25KM — 30KM

Access: Kitayama, Kitaoji or Kuramaguchi Stations, Subway Karasuma Line

The runners spend a lot of time in a fairly contained area as they run two open loops — one by Kyoto Concert Hall (京都コンサートホール) and one through the gardens. So this makes the perfect spot to see your friends or loved ones.

If you prefer watching down by the river, the race runs down along the Kamo River from around the 27-kilometre mark.

My Recommendation to Supporters: Runners often hit the famous wall around 30k, though I have experienced it as early as 24-26k. While the main causes of the wall are physiological (due to a loss of glycogen in the body), there are also some psychological aspects to it. That little bit of extra support could just make the difference for someone starting to doubt their ability to finish the race.

Part 4 (30 to 35 kilometres) will cover the stretch from Shimogamo-jinja, along the river past the Imperial Palace and towards Kyoto City Hall.

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 2): 10 – 20 kilometres

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th.

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.

10KM — 15KM

The course reaches its highest point in this part of Kyoto. Many runners really appreciate support when the lungs are screaming and the legs are stinging. Not only is this a great place for cheering, but there are also a number of wonderful and very diverse temples all within walking distance of one another.

At around the 11km mark on the left-hand / north side of the road, the runners will first pass Ninna-ji (仁和寺). Ninna-ji is known for its five-storey pagoda. It is another World Heritage site – there are seventeen in total in the city – and dates back to 888.

About a kilometre further up the road, we pass Ryoan-ji (龍安寺). This temple is home to the best-known rock garden in Japan. You can spend ages musing at what it all means. Nobody knows, but that’s part of the fun!

The race passes Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺), the famous Golden Pavilion seen in every Japan guide book, just before it reaches the 15K point. Yet another reason to make it up to this part of Kyoto if you are there to support a runner.

My Recommendation to Supporters: With a number of famous temples along a five-kilometre stretch, this is a good place to offer your support. However, buses are the best way to reach this part of the city and are affected by the race. Might be worth visiting these temples on a different day.

15KM — 20KM

This stretch is the furthest north in the city that the race goes. The main sites it passes are Daitoku-ji (大徳寺), Imamiya-jinja (今宮神社) and Kamigamo-jinja (上賀茂神社).

Daitoku-ji has around twenty Zen sub-temples and a number of Zen gardens. The temple dates back to the fourteenth century.

Next up is Imamiya-jinga. Built in 1001 to protect against an epidemic in the Murasakino area, this is a very beautiful and ornate shrine.

Kamigamo-jinja is one of the oldest shrines in all Japan. It was built in 678. Along with its sister shrine, Shimogamo-jinja, it is said to protect Kyoto from evil influences.

My Recommendation to Supporters: Some very nice shrines and temples in this northern district of Kyoto. Like the area around Kinkaku-ji, this area is well served by buses, but these will be affected by the race.

After a diversion out to the east, Part 3 (20 to 30 kilometres) will cover the part of the course where the race turns back south towards the city centre. Runners and supporters are greeted by the botanical gardens, the concert hall, a nice stretch along the river and Kamigamo’s sister.

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 1): Start – 10 kilometres

On February 15th, I will run the Kyoto Marathon. Kyoto brings me many wonderful memories as I think back on the hundreds of times I went there. First as a tourist: with friends, or showing my visiting relatives around; then as an English Language Teaching consultant helping schools and programme coordinators to decide on the right materials for their classes; but most of all the place where I got married. Kyoto is former capital of Japan and exemplifies the quintessence of of this country’s rich history and culture.

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.


Start – 9:00am Nishikyogoku Stadium (西京極総陸上競技場). Access: Nishikyogoku Station, Hankyu Line
This is a large sporting complex with an athletic stadium at its centre. It is best-known throughout Japan as the start and finish for the All-Japan High Schools Ekiden. The girls’ athletic team from my former school Hanamaki Higashi were perennial qualifiers in the days when I was teaching there. The stadium is also the home of Kyoto Purple Sanga, the local J-League football team. Runners will pass two large shrines – Umenomiya Taisha (梅宮大社) [around 3km from start] and Matsu-no-o Taisha (松尾大社) [around 4km from start]

The start will be very crowded. 15,900 runners have entered the full marathon, plus about 200 “pair ekiden” entrants and 20 wheelchair athletes. Judging by other races, depending on where in the crowd you are, it could take quite a while to even cross the start line.

My Recommendation to Supporters: Save it for later! Unless you have a very prominent flag or costume, it is impossible to pick someone out of the crowd whether you are a spectator or you are a runner looking out for a friend or loved one, it may be better to steer clear of the start and choose a more picturesque part of Kyoto to wait for him/her to pass. Moreover, all runners are pumped on adrenalin at the start and don’t really need the extra kick that a cheer from a husband, wife or child provides. They will do later!

5KM — 10KM

Saga/Arashiyama District (嵯峨・嵐山). Access: Saga-Arashiyama Station, Sagano Line

Just as the runners are getting into their rhythm and the field begins to stretch out slightly, the marathon cuts right through the hilly Arashiyama and Saga, one of the most popular and beautiful districts of Kyoto. There are lots of places to see in this area. There is a fairly large hill after the runners pass Daikaku-ji, so for runners who need a little extra support before, during or just after, this may be a good place to stand with a flag!

Tenryu-ji (天龍寺) is a World Heritage Site and the first of Kyoto’s five great Zen temples. The temple dates back to the 14th Century though it has been rebuilt many times. The garden, which includes a pond, pine trees and a bamboo grove, remains in its original form. If you have travelled from overseas for this marathon, this temple is one of the must-see places. So you might want to reserve it for a rest day.

Among the many other sights in the area, Seiryo-ji (清凉寺) and Daikakuji (大覚寺) – both with a history of over 1000 years are well worth a visit.

My Recommendation to Supporters: This is a great setting for cheering and sightseeing at the same time. While the runners are getting changed and gearing up for the start, head out to Arashiyama and take a few pictures while staking out a cheering spot. Arashiyama is in the north-west of the city and is usually reached by the JR Sanin Line from Kyoto Station. A number of buses also serve the area, but these will be affected by the race.

Part 2 (10 to 20 kilometres) will take in the famous temples of Ninna-ji, Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji as well as the shrines of Imamiya-jinja and Kamigamo-jinja.