When I lived in Ibaraki, I regularly ran in ekiden (long-distance relay race). I always ran for the same team, a group of runners introduced to me by a history teacher I worked with. For two and a half years, the fear of being too fat to take the team tasuki (sash) round helped keep my belly inside my belt.
A couple of months ago, I realised, after two sedate years in Tokyo, my old belt was struggling to take the strain. Occasional half-hearted jogs around Inokashira Park scared afternoon strollers, but did little else. I needed motivation. So I texted a couple of old ekiden friends, and three weeks ago received a race invite.
Today`s race was at Yomiuiri-rando, an amusement park in the Tama district, perched on the first hills rising at Tokyo`s western edge. A 200 yen gondola ride from the train station up to the park gave an open plain view out towards distant central Tokyo.
The world`s tallest tower, the Skytree, and the skyscrapers of Shinjuku stood rigid, clearly visible out to the east. In the west, autumn coloured hills marked the way up to Mount Fuji.
The race lasted 3 hours. Teams run as many 2km laps as they can within 3 hours. Our team had 6 runners. Together, over the 3 hours, we ran over 25 laps, over 50 km. Overall we came ichii (first/primero). Let me put that another way: my team won (I won).
Fair enough, many other teams competed in fancy dress; and most jogged around in a light-hearted spirit of fun. Contemptible. Far too many people enjoyed the occasion for my liking. I wanted to see pain, but I ended up only feeling it.
Anyway, I will not bother telling you the breakdown of individual contributions. Ekiden is all about the team. And I am big believer in the team – especially when I am in a good one.