Teaching In Socks

White Boy Can Run
April 20, 2009, 4:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A few months ago, banking on the confidence I gained from running a half-marathon last year, I persuaded my girlfriend to sign us up for a run this year. Actually the process was more of a negotiation. Despite overwhelming photographic evidence to the contrary, I don’t think she was ever fully convinced I even ran more than 2K. Thus after convincing her I am capable of athletic activity, and finding a suitable race in the countryside, I signed up to run a 10K and she the preceding 5K.

She bought shoes, I discussed training methods, and we proudly boasted to people that we were real athletes. I should say though that said training methods never really materialized.

After months of procrastination, broken promises, and fear of cardio, we raced this weekend .

To begin, I had hopes to improve upon my race day preparation routine of last year–which included an early morning fajitas-and margarita-induced yak.

While I kept things quit the night before he race, the morning commute was more rigorous. The race was in Shisho City (City is a bit of an exaggeration in my opinion), which required us to get up at 6:30, take the 7am train a few stops to meet a friend and navigate an hour drive to the race. I know, it sounds daunting.

However, with the help of modern technologies such as alarm clocks, car navigation, and virtual reality these travel logistics were conquered with ease. Despite a kilometer long walk (oh yes, the boy thinks in metrics these days!) from the car to the race, we arrived at the  registration tent with plenty of time to spare.

My quick survey of the crowd and the race roster confirmed an earlier suspicion and fear; I was the only foreigner there. Now, there’s a certain amount of pressure one undergoes when running any race; you want to finish, you to make a respectable time etc… However, to run a race where you also are representing an entire…well, race, provides additional and entirely unnecessary ocean of pressure–not only do you have to finish, but you have to do respectably–something I was not prepared to do.

While living in the countryside has given me experience of being a representative of my homeland, I have great distaste when this role is combined with some sort of athletic event that I am not awesome at (which rules out everything except darts after a few beers and ping-pong). Basically, I like eating Frosted Flakes, but I’ve never wanted to be on the box, I leave that job to freaks of nature like Michael Phelps and Tony, because he is a tiger and tigers can do whatever they want in my book.

So back in Shisho City, we headed in the gym to drop off our s.w.a.g,  and the other non-race items. Also, this past weekend  happened to be the hottest of the year so far, so we sought shelter from the sun and the heat.

We entered in the gym, and with an hour to spare we sat in our socks (only in Japan would you have to take off your shoes to enter a basketball court) pretended to be really serious about stretching and I ate an energy-bar breakfast. This would be a mistake.

An hour later we gathered at the starting line. I noticed towards the rear of the pack there was an array of costumed folk gathered. My initial surprised and shock was subdued by the realization that I was in Japan, and here costumes are as mundane as the five-day forecast. There were some wild ones, but amongst the crazy hats and the Winnie the Pooh costumes I resolved that it was my duty to make sure I finished before all five of the Power Rangers, even the red one, who is clearly the strongest. If they all combined to make some sort of super running robot, then I was just going to have to sprint, or try and trip the robot as often as could while dodging whatever form of blazing sword it would obviously have.

I’m happy to say the race began well as I followed the pack and our zen-like soundtrack of a thousand feet marching for the first 3 kilometers.  However, after that,  the decision to eat just an hour before the race began to haunt me. I found myself bumbling along with the crowd fighting my gag reflex with each step. Again, it’s one thing to "ralph" in race (unpleasant, but acceptable) but it’s another thing to be the only white guy in race, and be "ralphing".  It didn’t help that most of the course was in residential, and many of the resident were out in their yards cheering on the racers. While I’m not expert on all of the intricacies of the Japanese code of etiquette, vomiting in someone’s yard, no matter the circumstances, probably violates a few essential rules.

Invoking a British grittiness, and Japanese zen mentality and the American work ethic, I trudged on. I gave child spectators the high-fives they requested, I said "arigato" when I took water, and while I  was passed by one guy in a silly hat I finished comfortably ahead of all the Power Rangers and a few other undetermined anime. It was a semi-proud moment.

nb: In defiance of traditional s.w.a.g custom not t-shirt was made or given out to commemorate the marathon/race. Instead we were given rather large embroidered fanny packs (which incidentally look as though they were a bit more expensive than a t-shirt). Only in Japan would they give away free fanny-packs in lieu of t-shirts.


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Incidentally, for those interested, your prior pre-race regime actually involved fajitas and margaritas, whatever yakking you did, and then 15 minutes of “"ralphingquot” (as you so quaintly put it) retchedly and noisily for the benefit of good folk trying to sleep. I vas dere, Charlie. Might I suggest that you try this regime again for the next race; and skip the energy bar.

Comment by Greyfox

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