While sumo is Japan’s national sport and baseball is widely considered its most popular pastime, running is a significant part of Japanese culture. The Japanese did, of course coin the familiar word ekiden, referring to a long distance running relay race. The first ekiden race took place in Japan almost 100 years ago between the old capital, Kyoto and present day capital, Tokyo.
Eager to continue my running routine in Japan, I researched running groups in Tokyo before leaving Melbourne on March 24. The first link that appeared was for Namban Rengo, Tokyo’s international running group. The group comprises approximately 50% Japanese and 50% foreigners. Interval sessions are held every Wednesday night, with a 5km time trial on the last Wednesday of the month. We train at the Oda field track in Yoyogi, also home to Japan’s 1964 Olympic Stadium. As Wednesday is the only night the track can be used for free, athletes flock from all across town. It is not unusual for 150 sprinters, distance runners and walkers to be using the track at once. A testament to Japan’s orderly way of doing things, there are no collisions! The custom of removing your shoes before entering a dwelling is not lost in the athletics community, with running shoes neatly arranged outside the change room.
In Japan, there is no club athletics scene such as you find in Victoria. After graduating from high school, serious athletes will either compete for their university or company. Aforementioned ekiden relays feature heavily between January and March, the most famous race taking place on New Year’s Day. Stakes are high, with the top universities recruiting talented athletes from Kenya on scholarships to bolster their team. September through to November sees a series of graded track races over 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 metres. As many as 30 heats are filled for each distance. The Africans once again make the journey across due to the high quality competition.
The highlight of my running so far in Japan has been my involvement in the Fuji Mountain Race. The race attracts accomplished mountain runners from Japan and abroad, as they attempt to run the gruelling 21km to reach the summit.
My motivation for taking on this challenge was to raise awareness and funds for the battle against Motor Neurone Disease (MND). MND kills two people every day. Sadly, my cousin Mark was diagnosed with this terminal disease earlier this year. He is only 40. With the help of family and friends back home, I have raised over $2,500 to date. I would like to thank the Glenhuntly community for their generous donations and messages of support. While the race is over, my challenge to raise $5,000 for MND Victoria continues.
To donate, please visit https://www.mycause.com.au/page/fujisummitformnd and get behind this great cause!
I continue to follow the progress of the club throughout various competitions. While I do not have a set return date, there are many goals I still wish to achieve with Glenhuntly, such as winning a Winter Division 1 premiership with TV as team manager! If you are in Tokyo, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include a run with Namban Rengo.
Written by: Chris Winter