Marathon Man

Yesterday in Nara City I completed my first full marathon. It was a really moving experience, one that I think I’ll always regard as a milestone in my life. I trained for months, but in actuality I feel like every jog that I’ve ever done for the first 24 years of my life was a sort of training leading up to this run.

I like the act of running. When you run, you are not running on a road as much as you are running through your own mind. You discover things about yourself on the road and feel things that must be fogged over when you’re at a standstill. When you’re moving, the crud blocking your mind’s vision becomes weakened and dislodged. I’ve always seen running as a form of meditation, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t take the time to put things aside during the weak and hit the road. Shoes, pants, and shirt. That’s it. Simplicity.

Running has always been a personal thing for me, however. I rarely ever ran with other people prior to this race, and to be honest, I never really had any interest in running a legitimate marathon; it seemed sort of egotistic to me. It was just something some friends were doing and I decided “heck, why not, it’s always fun to have something to train for.”

But wow. All of those people out there on that beautiful crisp day. I felt like an Olympian. There were over 8,000 runners, and probably just as many people lining the whole length of the course cheering people on. Brass bands, taiko teams, cute Japanese girls, old people from retirement homes, lines of elementary school baseball teams, whole classes of preschoolers with their hands outstretched for high fives– all cheering to give people energy. It felt like they were cheering for more than this simple footrace; it felt like they were cheering for humanity. There were some points in the race where this passion sort of overtook me and I almost cried.

It was really cool being a foreigner as well. There were only 10 other Americans in the whole race, and this really made the experience for me and all of the people who saw me an international experience. They don’t see Americans run every day. Again, it felt like the Olympics. And this all goes back to the reason why I am here in Japan, as described by the branch of the Japanese government that hired me,  to be a cultural ambassador. To show these people who, for the most part , live with only concepts and TV and Hollywood images of what Americans are, and to show them what an American really is, in the flesh.

I wore a lime-green shirt made by a friend of mine that was warn by all of my fellow teacher-friends. I got every kid at each on of schools and all the members of my Taiko family to sign it, and told them that in the most difficult moments of the race I’d rely on their power. I think it worked. Beside my marathon number that I wore on my shirt, I selected the kanji for the word “hope” to be printed, which reads “kibō”. People along the road were cheering “kibo” as I passed, and this was really beautiful too.

It was a tough run. You see all sorts of people that you are passing, and that you are being passed by, but after a long time of trying to pass everyone you see, you sort of realize that it’s an endless ocean, and really you’re just running with yourself. You realize that trying to compete only brings you more stress and difficulty.

At the most difficult point of my run, maybe around 32k in, something in my mind clicked though. I was overwhelmed with this feeling of not wanting to beat everyone, but wanting everyone to do their best and win, to make it to the end and be happy. I wanted us to win. When this happened, all of my pain and my obstacles evaporated like drops of water beside a blazing sun. It was like I was struck by a lightening bolt of power, the power of dissolving the illusion of the personal self and realizing that you are a part of a greater organism. With this, I was no longer human, I was just energy. And I flew. Pure fire. No pain, finishing with a great time.

Afterwards though, and now as I write, me and my friends are all quite sore. But we are happy, for we have moved deeper into our exploration of ourselves and the space. We hobbled around down the road to a restaurant to refuel, ojiisans and obaasans pointing and laughing at us along the way, but with a tint in their smiles that was greater than just laughing at our soreness, that seemed to say “congratulations, fellow human.”

This year’s Nara Marathon T-shirt, depicting a Buddhist Asura (Titan), particularly the one carved during the Nara period in Japan and held in Kōfuku-ji.  Last year’s shirt depicted the guardian deity Acala. I love Japan.

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