Talking About Japan – A Conversation with Foreign Residents – Long-distance running in Japan
Spring is the perfect season to step outside to stretch those rusty legs and get back in shape before summer. Whatever sport you do, you’ll always need either specific gears, tools, a ground, a pool or a partner. However, running is the only sport that needs none of those. You just go out and you run. But running long distances in fast times takes some shape et mostly takes some guts! Japan has a particular love for running. Would it be for marathons or relays, people travel the country to go cheer runners. Schools have compulsory marathon days. TV channels have their 24h running challenges. But how is it for foreigners to run in this country? JQR has met with three hard-core adrenaline-addicted men…
From London, UK, and living in Japan since 10 years ago, he has been running all his life but really got into trail-running in thanks to Japan.
From NY, USA, he has lived 3 years in Tokyo 10 years ago and has been back here for 6 months. He started to run to get fit again 4 years ago.
From Alabama, USA, Ron has lived in Japan for 8 years. He started to run seriously 3 years ago.
JQR : How did you get into running?
Ron : I was running when I was at high school but stopped when I started working and 25 years later, that would be 3 years ago, a friend of mine invited me back to it. I turned up injured after 2km so I realized it was time for me to take care of myself. So I have been running since and today I now weigh less than my high school days.
Andrew : I was playing soccer at high school but me too, I didn’t do anything for 25 years and 4 years ago, I thought I should be as well taking care of myself and I asked my brother about it. I discovered then that he was running a marathon a year for years!
ALL : Really ?!!!
Andrew : Yep. Big family and we don’t tell each other everything! But he taught me the bare-foot running technique.
Simon : I used to play soccer and tennis too when I was younger. I kept running for years but not seriously. Mostly at the weekend around the park near the place I was living. But it’s about three years ago that I got more into running in high mountains and it was actually here in Japan.
JQR : Where?
Simon : The first time was with an OXFAM charity trail event. You have to walk-up 100km from Odawara through Mt. Hakone to Yamanakako at Mt. Fuji within 48hrs. I started to get into that but then in the trails I saw trail-runners and found myself very attracted to that and tried it out. I can still remember my first time coming down a mountain and being very scared and excited at the same time! And ever since then I’ve been addicted to the trails.
JQR : But why running out of any other sport?
Andrew : It’s the most natural thing that a human can do!
JQR : Walking is!
Andrew : But it is not as exciting!
Ron : You can’t go as far!
Simon : There is something about running that you can’t get when you walk. It’s a trance. It’s almost hypnotic for me. Your blood runs faster obviously so there must be something caused by that.
JQR : You guys are talking about “runner’s high” right?
ALL : Yes.
Ron : There is a beat when your feet touch the ground continuously for… we run long-distances. I run more than 30km every saturday morning. That’s about 2 or 3 hours of that beat and adrenaline.
JQR : But you can get that when you do any kind of sport…
Andrew : You are more isolated when you run.
Ron : There’s something primitive about running. But it is also a great way to cut out from your daily stress. Mentally it is helping me. I have a very complicated job and three kids when I come home. So when I run, I just focus on running and take a break from all those complicated factors of my life.
Andrew : Some people take that time to do some sort of meditation, others work out problems while they run. No-one’s going to be bothering you.
Ron : And it takes nothing to run. You just put on shoes and get out of the door.
Andrew : For Simon you need a little more though!
Simon : Yes! When you run in the mountains you have to be self-sufficient, so you have to carry a little more things. You can’t stop at a convenience store or a vending machine! And it could rain, snow, you have to be prepared!
Andrew : Food as well…
Simon : The first time I went to the mountains I carried diet biscuits and after 4 hours I realized that these were not going to give me enough calories to run! So I learned the hard way!
ALL : LOL !
Andrew : Actually “Calory-mate” bars in Japan are really good for that.
Simon : With those, it’s a good indicator to see if you’re dehydrated. When they start sticking in your mouth and get hard to swallow, that’s the sign that you’ve not taken enough water.
Andrew : I don’t think they were made for that purpose though!
ALL : LOL !
JQR : And you always run alone?
Simon : Well in the mountains it’s always best to have someone with you.
Andrew : Ahah! But when I go with him, we talk on the train, but then he’s so fast that we actually “are” together but don’t “run” together!
ALL : LOL !
Ron : But generally I prefer to run alone. It is the only time I can be by myself. If I go with somebody I have to talk and entertain a conversation. So, especially when complicated issues at work come up and I can’t go to sleep at night, I just run out the door in the middle of the night, alone, and come back all refreshed.
Simon : I’ve run home from the office. It’s only 10km so it takes less than an hour but still it’s such a great stress relief.
Andrew : And the type of running that we do is not the same as the people you see for example in parks running and chatting along. That is more “social running.”
JQR : So to get to your level of running, do you need some specific training?
Andrew : You build up slowly with a certain amount of km you do within a certain amount of time. You must you keep at it and each week you add a little bit more. There is no special magic stretch that will help you get faster or better.
JQR : So you don’t need to build up your body with other kinds of exercise?
Simon : I do cycling.
JQR : To get better at running?
Simon : No. To get from A to B.
ALL : LOL !
Andrew : Elite professional runners certainly do special workouts and undergo specific diets to achieve better performance and reduce their times. But otherwise, all you need is your core strength.
JQR : But to learn for example the bare-foot technique, did you need to do some specific practice?
Andrew : No, you just start slowly and it is the most natural way of running.
Ron : I naturally discovered bare-foot running. I run 120km or so a month so I sort of figured out very quickly how not to put stress into my knees.
JQR : Is there a big difference compared to traditional running style?
Simon : It’s the difference between straining your joints or straining your muscles. I use the 5-fingers 2mm thin shoes and with this technique you use mainly your calves, which the theory says where originally naturally building up to running, before the invention of the Nike-cushion running shoe.
Andrew : Those cushions feel good because you don’t feel the ground, and the pushing-back elasticity actually does more damage to the knee without you realizing it.
JQR : How is running in Japan any different from other countries?
Andrew : When I was in New York I used to run in the well-established running route of central park. As I came to Japan just a few months ago I only did one race but I also started trail-running which is fantastic.
Simon : Well for me that’s the big thing about Tokyo. You get trains that bring people from 200km away into the city each morning and you can take that same train during the weekend and be in the mountain within an hour! And half an hour more, you can’t hear any signs of civilization! That would have been hard to do back in the flat London.
Andrew : In Japan the trails network is very well developed. You have km and km of trails and they are all well mapped.
JQR : Do you also run in the city?
ALL : Yes.
Ron : One thing is very different here: the traffic rule!
JQR : Why?
Ron : I joined a running group recently and everyone was stopping at every traffic light. And there are traffic lights here, at every corner…
ALL : LOL !
Ron : Even at small alleys where there’s nobody. People stop and idle. I would never do that in the States! But it’s safer. So it took 6 and a half hour to finish around 20km…
ALL : LOL !
Ron : But there are lots of clubs and it’s a great way to discover very nice courses, like the seven Temples, the Yamanote, or the Tokyo Marathon ones.
Andrew : Tokyo has a lot of rivers and they always have a path on their side, so it’s great.
Simon : When you run in the mountains you can see more scenery. On a road you do around 20 km but with trail-running you can easily do about more than 30km. Hiking up and running down surrounded by all that beautiful scenery is fantastic. That’s why it is a great thing to do it in Japan.
JQR : How do you get into Tokyo Marathon?
Andrew : We don’t!
ALL : LOL !
Simon : You have to be good, or lucky, or… donate! We take part in a charity run, so we donate a certain amount to get places.
Ron : I was so busy I forgot to apply so I had to pitch in as well in the charity team!
Andrew : They do give priority to foreign nationals who want to enter. But this time unfortunately I did not get into this year’s Tokyo Marathon, because I didn’t apply in time. But to compensate last week I did a technically “Ultra-marathon.” In reality it is longer than a marathon by… maybe 2km! But it was kind of fun.
Simon : I’ve just signed up for a 160km run around Mt. Fuji!
ALL : Wow!
Ron : But Tokyo Marathon is just great. There are a lot people wearing costumes, it’s not taken too seriously, it’s like a big festival. I’ve seen one runner dressed as a religious figure and running the entire marathon bare-feet! You can also see Tokyo Towers or Sky Trees…
Simon : But we both will have to wear the charity t-shirt…
ALL : LOL !