Two days to Kobe – 神戸マラソンまで後二日間

Two days until #kobemarathon – raring(?) to go!
#神戸マラソン 後二日 楽しみ(?)になっています。

Kobe Marathon next month! ー 来月、神戸マラソン

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. 




Feels like I ran a full marathon!

Today my wife went into hospital ahead of a special delivery tomorrow: yes, that’s right… Child number three!

Finally, the kids are asleep. And I feel like I ran an ultramarathon today, when my Fitbit tells me I walked a measly 9 kilometres (12,000 steps).

While my wife was getting settled in and hooked up to the baby monitor, I took the kids over the road to Denny’s. Denny’s is no longer what it was. I think they are trying to go upmarket, positioning themselves above Gusto and Jonathan’s, somewhere around Royal Host. Not that I’m a connoisseur of Japanese family restaurants. But I was surprised at having to pay more than double what we pay at Gusto for my son’s meal. 

I don’t know how my wife even managed it all those times when I went on business trips. I felt like I was being pulled in every direction. My two terrors tag-teamed me – deciding to take turns in playing up, and often giving me the double whammy of misbehaving simultaneously! It took me ten minutes just to get the kids to choose what they wanted off the menu, and even longer to choose my own!

It turned out that they were hungry. As soon as the food came, they were good as gold. For a while anyway. 


“You’re gonna regret letting me drink orange juice!”
This little madam drinks Darjeeling.
My wife said to me this evening: 

I’ll take the physical pain, you take the psychological pain. We should share the pain, right?  

She is the one that’s really going to run a proverbial ultramarathon tomorrow. And the nurses have promised to dutifully wake her up once an hour through the night tonight. 
But for my part, hopefully I will survive the eight to ten days until my wife gets out of the hospital! Then we can both share the joy and the pain of raising three lively… I mean… lovely kids.
I think I’m going to enjoy this paternity leave! 🙂

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.

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. 

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.