Just when I finished reading The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei (a little complex at first sight but truly a wonderful book), truly impressed to the core, I was looking for more information about them on the internet when I came across this article. Simple in its language and depth in the content, I read all the way through only to find that it is actually taken from a book about Japanese running. Having read about the monks, I thought it would be a good idea to continue reading along the similar theme. So, I started this book with really nothing on my mind except that it would somewhere contain something about the monks.
By the end of this book, there are a lot of things I have learnt that are ongoing in the running world of Japan. I would like to highlight some of them without going much into details (or you can say spoilers)
- Ekiden: These are long-distance relay races in Japan which as I perceived are perhaps THE most famous foot-races, let alone marathons. And why they are more famous than marathons? Because they focus more on the “group-harmony” (Wa) rather than an individual performance solely. Athletes of all levels from high school students to professionals are indulged in running these races. One leg (the distance that an individual runner runs) can vary from short distances to up to 30km. Sometimes, these races continue over more than a single day (of course by taking a break at nights). And the second and perhaps the most important thing that makes them famous is the media. Ekidens, usually running for up to hours, are broadcasted continuously on TVs all over Japan and a mob of enthusiasts appear to witness it firsthand. So, I am really glad that I found this book because it seems that it makes it clear that how running is embedded in the Japanese culture and being a runner, it is awesome to know about such things.
- How to run: In the modern days, there is always a serious conflict about how to run. Books like Born to Run, The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei etc. reassures us that going back to our roots, i.e. running in the most simplistic attire, as well as an approach is the best way to run. This is also highlighted in this book when Finn talks about barefoot running and about his training in Kenya (which promoted me to borrow his earlier book, Running with the Kenyans from my library). On the other hand, there are tonnes of fancy shoe companies who (probably) invest a lot of stuff (money and resources) in running research and comes out with different kinds of shoes for everyone. Better cushioning, firm grip, pronation might be some of the terms you might have come across with when looking for a new pair. After the book, I am slightly more convinced about the natural form of running as Finn talks about his personal experiences and how he manages to get a better running form through training barefoot (minimalistic).
- Over-training: A common theme that I found hovering about the Japanese running is perhaps over and early training, at least for the traditional approaches. Students are pushed into dead-serious levels of competition at an early age which takes the fun out of their running and they tend to retire earlier. However, Finn had bravely discussed his personal views and also, his Kenyan experience to one of the coaches, Kenji Takao who later came to realise that Japanese runners are indeed over-training and are not really enjoying running as it should be. I felt sorry about it because I just got quite a lot of examples of what happens if a talent is not taken proper care of.
All in all:
This is indeed a very good read if you are looking to gain an insight to one of the most hard-working and successful communities of runners. You will get to know about their training methods, their commitment, their style of running etc. etc. It is well-written and follows the mission what he had in mind before coming to Japan. The book also talks about Finn’s life in Japan here and there, about how his family struggles to settle in the Japanese environment, which I think could have been shortened. It sometimes gets too lengthy because it is not much relevant to the content of this book. I definitely recommend it to someone who is interested to know about the Japanese running culture, marathon monks of Mount Hiei, a curious runner.