Running just because
It's true that I'd expressed regret about skipping out on the Diablo 50K, and maybe I would enjoy going out for a long run in the near future. But in the very next breath, I reiterated our need to put in some more cycling miles ahead of Frog Hollow, and reminded Beat that my actual running mileage (as in, not hiking or scrambling or crawling) has been low since I injured my knee during the San Lorenzo 50K in June. My Iceland and European experiences were a different beast entirely, but running has remained on the backburner ever since. I've averaged one run a week, in the six- to eight-mile range. Not one of these runs has gone well. I felt sluggish on the climbs and tentative on the descents, got side-stitches and ITB tightness, became frustrated about my pace. "I'm super slow right now," I warned Beat.
Meanwhile, my cycling efforts have been on an upswing — I'm feeling stronger, climbing faster, descending with more fluidity and confidence. Hiking is still great as well. But for whatever reason, I open up my stride into a run and everything starts to fall apart. While most of my athletic abilities were hard-won over years, running especially seems to just not come naturally. "Running is really hard for me," I've told friends. "I think that's why I want it so much."
On this day, I was comfortable marching fast up the climbs that nearly everyone hiked (after PTL, I've developed a new mantra — If you're not using your hands, it's not steep.) Same with the descents — it's the dry chunder time of year and trails were loose and slippery, but take short, quick steps and it's fine. But the flatter, runnable grades? Argh! My IT band locked up early and knee pain thwarted attempts to open up my stride. It was a gorgeous day, with flawless blue sky, coastal cliffs sparkling in the sunshine, and low fog wafting in from the Pacific. I was thrilled to be out there, and wanted to do this awesome day justice by putting in the best running effort I could. The IT band was grumpy but I found I could break up the tension by rubbing the side of my leg as I walked. This relief didn't last long, but was often enough to earn me several minutes of pure running bliss, prancing along the edge of a cliff high above the shrouded ocean waves in a place that seemed miles away from any notion of pain or fatigue.
The leg was back in lock-up phase as I shuffled into the finish at 6:43, which I found disappointing. I'd run the first 15.5 miles in three hours flat and thought I could even-split this race given how solid my endurance feels right now. But, no, running wouldn't let me, because running is hard. The time doesn't matter, but in racing — even spontaneous "for fun" races — most of us trick ourselves into believing time is important. We do so because this belief motivates us to try our best, which enhances the experience. This is what I love about racing. But sometimes I finish and I'm disappointed. Several of my races this year have been like that. This race was like that.
"Will you still be here when I get back? Will all of this be here?" the Japanese man asked as he gestured at the food on the table.
"I will be here," Wendell said. "I'll even make you a burger when you get back."
"I will do it," the man said. "I will run for hamburger."
"I ran with that guy for a bit," Beat told me. "He directs a race in Japan, called the Eco Slow Marathon. People carry bags to pick up trash along the way, and they're given as long as they want to finish. He has this philosophy of slow running."
|Hahime Nishi. Photo from Dreamcatchers.|
“Because I am free from running for time, I have a wonderful time every time," he told Northwest Asian Weekly." The blood circulation just brightens my mood. It frees me from whatever family issues, personal issues, or work stress I have. That’s the great benefit of slow running.”
Of the Ecomarathon Inba, which disqualifies participants if they arrive by vehicle, gives prizes for those who pick up the most trash, allows only reusable water containers and locally produced food, and isn't timed, he said, "The idea is to lower the bar of the marathon — to make it more inclusive to society —and to increase the winnings of the environment. Before, I thought, 'Winner takes all. It's very important to win.' And now, I realize this is wrong. Everyone has value, not just the winner. Marathons should respect participants, the environment and local culture, and that is what I am trying to do."
He wrote a book, published in Japanese, about his anti-competitive philosophy called "Losing is Winning." It seems Hajime goes to lengths to promote his worldview, which is an intriguing development for a man who admits that, until his wife died, he was committed to accumulating wealth and power, and quite successful in that regard. It's also interesting to consider in a time when the divide in running culture is widening. On one side of the gap you have what many view as "easy," ecologically dubious but hugely successful Color Runs, and on the other there are people who think everyone should be competitive in the same old ways with no consideration of the vast diversity of abilities, values, and passions among runners.
I'm not saying I agree with or disagree with Hajime's message. The dichotomy between competitiveness and anti-competitiveness is something I struggle with myself. And it is problematic to promote eco-sensitivity and minimizing one's footprint while traveling all over the world to run races. But I wholly embrace Hajime's zeal for life and desire to share his passion with others. The world definitely needs more of that — zeal for life.
And this is another reason I love running races — an opportunity to meet, even if only briefly, people like Hajime.