Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Running in Japan vs. Running the US

So here is a short list of differences and similarities between my experiences running the Yodogawa Osaka Marathon this past November and the Los Angeles Marathon 3 years ago. It's not comprehensive by any means. However, these are the observations that struck me the most.

The Differences:
1. Everything's in Japanese. 
You may say, "Well, obviously. You're in Japan." Seriously, though, if we couldn't speak/read Japanese, this marathon would have been extremely difficult to apply for and figure out the day of. Not that I was really expecting a lot of English since it wasn't an international marathon, but still... it's the little things you notice, like the directions to put on your bib, the route markers, and even the pre-race countdown, are all in Japanese.

2. Japanese love to party. A marathon is just as good as an excuse as any. 
I noticed it at the Himawari Relay in May when I did a fun run, and I remember doing the same during a 12-hour swim relay. I figured it's because they're both for fun, people bring out the grills, have lots of food, and drink up. In both of those cases, though, participants too joined in on the drinking and having fun. Along the marathon route, supporters were there... barbecuing and drinking for their own fun. Not that I have anything against that, but it is sorta disheartening run past a group of people partying and not being able to (read: shouldn't) join in the fun. Unlike other events I went to, it wasn't for the runners. It was for them.

3. Everyone seems to have spent a lot of money than me. 
I've seen it while surfing, snowboarding, and any other activity I've done in Japan. You can't say they skimp out on equipment, whether it's clothes or other products.
A specific example: when I went hiking in Yakushima, I noticed that everyone had nice hiking boots, Gortex rain jackets and rain pants, and backpacking backpacks. It made me wonder, though, how much of it is brand new? How many people know how to use them and how many people are using these items because "it's what you're supposed to do?" I even saw people wearing gators. Do you know what gators are for? They didn't. (Note: They're a sort of cover for your boots so rain or snow so water doesn't get in.) One last thing I want to mention about Yakushima... this was on a sunny day.

Here I am wearing 400 yen basketball shorts and the same shoes I wore for my first marathon 2 years ago...

I know there were people genuinely better prepared for the marathon than I was. There were lots of people who take running a lot more serious than I do. But when everyone is sporting the latest in "running technology," you have to wonder how many of these people bought special clothes, food, or drinks because "it's what you're supposed to do."

OK, enough of my ranting. On to the similarities.

The Similarities:
1. There is an immediate camaraderie between runners before, during, and after.
Everyone knows what everyone else is feeling. The anxiety before. The immense pain during. The exhaustion after. It's these shared experiences that makes it so easy to relate to each other. How can you not interact with others in the same situation as you, whether it's giving (or ignoring) other people's last minute tips or cheering for complete strangers.

And on that note,

2. It's still running.
Or maybe better put--there is a point when it stops being "running in Japan" or "running in the US." It's simply running. There are no more cultural differences at the 40km mark. There are no judgments or cynical observations when you "hit your wall." When your body shuts down, the fatigue becomes all-consuming, and you can't go anymore... all that's left is you. Your race. And when you push past that and cross the finish line, it all becomes worth it. The feeling of accomplishment: that's the same, no matter the continent.

Clearly a "before" picture... there's no way we looked this good after.

And perhaps most importantly,

3. Chicken McNuggets are the perfect post-race meal.
'Nuff said.


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