Here’s the honest truth:
I suck at running and I’m not a natural athlete.
But at 10am on October 2nd 2016, I lined up with over 1000 other folks for the Pilot Marathon in Betsukai, Japan.
Why the “Pilot Marathon”?
Well, not because you had to be dressed like one (although Yukako and Tomohisa chose to)…
…but because the roads around Betsukai look like runways.
Man, those things go on forever…
Just seeing that part of the marathon course freaked me out after an epic drive across Hokkaido the day before the race.
And it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up at 3:30am on race day in the $90-per-night luxury of the Honeybee Hostel (みつばちの宿)…
(I kid you not, Betsukai is a small town and prices get jacked up big time come Pilot Marathon weekend)
That, and the 1001 other things that were going through my mind at hyper speed:
• Did I train too much/too little?
• Was my taper too long/too short?
• Why can I hear every sound from the folks next door?
(Answer: because the walls were so fricking thin that we were effectively in the same room)
And that insanity went on for the next 6½ hours, fueled by Powerbars, rice balls and a lot of black coffee from the 7-11 down the street.
(OK, so maybe I was paying a few bucks more for the view)
But come 10am, I was at the start with 1403 other people, wondering what the hell I’d let myself in for…
I was scared.
Would I be able to make the notoriously tight cut-off times they had every 10km (6.2 miles)?
Was I carrying enough food?
What would it feel like to hit the dreaded “wall” around the 32-km (20-mile) mark?
As soon as we started out, my legs felt tired and sore, and I began to think that I wouldn’t even make it through the first 10km (6.2 miles).
My game plan went out the window – forget all that “maybe I can do a sub-4 hour” bravado.
This was pure survival…
So, how did it all pan out?
Well, I managed to bring it home in a slow and steady 4h50m.
While I did get tired in the last 6 miles, I never really hit the wall (I don’t think I was going hard enough to).
But the fear of hitting the wall was mental torture that lasted throughout the entire race.
(Amazingly, I felt no muscle soreness in the days after and even managed to squat and deadlift just 48 hours post-race)
I guess that shows how little I’d actually pushed it.
And then came the best part:
Relaxing in the onsen (Japanese hot spring) and no-holds-barred eating and drinking at the post-race BBQ…
Let me tell you, draft Asahi Super Dry has never tasted better!
I won a salmon and the chance to have my caricature on the poster for next year’s race!
(Apparently, that means I’m honor bound to run it again in 2017…)
And here’s the happy winner with two girls dressed as cows that had just been on stage singing milk-themed songs.
After all, Betsukai is dairy country </shrug>
And just when you think it couldn’t get any stranger than that:
A draft Asahi fan from Saitama insisted on showing us her biceps…
…then hanging from the arm of my buddy, Ben, then me.
Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
So, what did I learn from the experience?
(The marathon, not the arm hanging)
1. My taper was way too long – my strongest training run came only 1 week after my longest training run (34km/21 miles)
2. Caffeine and a good playlist on my iPhone saved my ass on those long, straight roads
3. Fear of pain can be just as debilitating as pain itself
4. I needed to eat more and drink more (both during the race and at the BBQ)
5. A big part of fatigue is mental – how else could my fastest pace over 26.2 miles come in the last 200 yards?
Ultimately, the 3-day trip was an unforgettable experience and a real blast.
Now I can understand why endurance athletes do what they do – it’s not about running 26.2 miles, riding 112 miles or whatever.
It’s about being part of an event that’s much bigger than yourself with a bunch of like-minded people.
As big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton put it:
There’s only one thing better than having a great experience, and that’s sharing a great experience
Which is precisely why I intend to head back to Betsukai and run the marathon again next year.
And if that makes me crazy…
…so be it!
P.S. Want the first section of the blueprint to my 27-week transformation?
Free PDF download, no sign up required – just click here :)
Photo credit: Fumiko Harding