…on delectable turkey, corn, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie and the like, my students were engaging in an activity that still, three days later, boggles my mind: Marathon Day. If you are thinking that the title of the event seems pretty self-explanatory you are both right and wrong. Allow me to explain:
Schools in Japan all follow a rigid schedule across the country and each school has very similar events held at very similar times throughout the year. One of these nationwide events is Marathon day, typically held during the middle or end of November. However, every running event in Japan is labeled a marathon, so the term can be somewhat misleading. For almost all schools in Japan, the marathon day consists of a mandatory 10 km race for the boys, a 5 km race for the girls. There is, however, one notable exception: Tenryu Ringyo Koko, a forestry school found in the hills above Hamamatsu where a certain blonde haired, blue eyed cherub teaches English.
What does Tenryu Ringyo do for their marathon day, you ask? Oh, nothing big, just a 47 kilometer (29 miles) jog for the male students and a 23 kilometer (14.5 mile) jog for the female students. In case you missed it the first time, I said 29 MILES FOR THE BOYS or roughly 10 times longer than I have ever run at one time in my life. The other facts? You get 6.5 hours to finish it. If you don’t, you are required to do it again…in the middle of February…by yourself…on roads that are “typically covered with a layer of ice” (according to one of my teachers). Oh, and the entire first half of the race consists of running up the side of the mountain, whose elevation was high enough that my ears popped while driving up.
Now to say that I was impressed, inspired, awe-struck, etc. by all this would be a vast understatement. Oddly enough, it wasn’t even the physical demands they overcame as much as the attitudes they had towards the event. When I hopped on the bus at 6:30 on Friday I groggily asked two of the students who were sitting with me “running…happy?” Their response immediately knocked the sleep out of my eyes: “Yes, very very happy! Woo hoo! Yeah!!!” they shouted as they ran in place and punched the air. From that moment, I knew that I was witnessing something special.
My wide-eyed amazement at their attitude continued throughout the entire day (and in fact, continues even now). Watching them run around playing tag pre-race (when I would have been busy praying I didn’t die), tape each other up at the half-way point, run with each other shouting encouragement and jokes, bow to me and say thank you when I handed them water, cheer each time someone crossed the finish line, and tell me at the end “today hurt but tomorrow ok” with such a big smile on their face was enough to make even the most slothful of human beings promise the students that he would give it a go next year (shhh…I’m banking on them forgetting).
Even if I do run, I can assure you I will be nowhere near the winner, who this year cruised home in 3 hours and 21 minutes. For those non-math inclined, that comes out to an average of a 6:55 mile…for 29 miles…through the mountains.
But no worries because “today hurt but tomorrow ok!”