At some point on Sunday my heart stopped. My soul left my body, began floating into the beyond, when it suddenly glimpsed me continuing to pound the pavement because that's my purpose on this Earth. I am a runner. Evidently, I am also a masochist. And I believe the most difficult things in life must be earned through sweat, blood, and guts.
The day started out commonly enough; I awoke in a foreign environment, threw on some thin clothes, and prepared to satisfy my need for speed. My legs felt as useful as two thick pieces of bamboo, a result of my travels the day prior.
I was concerned. My long distance experience was exclusive to the states, and it was in the distant past, still rippling from the effects of the 2006 Boston Marathon. Add to that 17 months of a Japanese diet, a 12 kg loss in muscle mass, and three weeks of inconsistent sleep... out of my mind.
A clear morning. Sunny skies. Junior high school students gawking at me as I picked up my bib number.
1496 runners for a half marathon. I had to beat them all, or die trying.
I blink, and two kilometers have already past, my legs carrying me through the congestion towards a small gap between the heats, just large enough for me to stretch my arms.
The crowds of athletes are dense, the families cheering "gambatte" and "fight" (ファイト) from beyond the barrier of green cones. A grandmother looks directly at my reddened face and claps even louder. A tunnel approaches.
Cruise and cargo ships lie resting on our left, the majestic view of Inasayama (稲佐山) on the right. A world of constancy - shoes hitting the road, sunlight beating down our energy, spectators' voices always passing through the soft wind.
9K. I feel no pain, no thirst, only anger at allowing myself to do this. Why? Why couldn't I have played football in high school, dated that blonde cheerleader, and set myself on the path for a shallow, yet happy, existence? Runners are deep thinkers - how else can you spend three hours by yourself in motion?
A familiar tune forces me to smile, turn my head, and clap in support. I find the strength to put on a show for the junior high school band, letting them see I am moved by "Eye of the Tiger". The thrill of the fight.
"...it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward."
Sage words. The only thoughts present as I continue in a trot up the steepest hill towards the Megamibashi (女神橋). How hard you can get hit... An 8% grade, and I'm still running, still standing, still strong. Thank you Rocky.
15K. The midmorning sun is starting to bake my head, amplified by the metal and concrete structure of Nagasaki's landmark bridge. The ships and finish sit 6 km in the distance, just within sight. The salt flaking off the side of my head comes not from the surrounding seawater, but my own sweat, rubbing against my cheeks now as I trudge, head raised high to the shimbun photographers, in a veneer of courage.
18K. A game has begun. A competition between a fellow distance warrior sporting a black warmup with red stripes. No words. No eye contact. But somehow we are aware of each other, and push.
We push past 19K, where I know I can now finish without stopping. Steady on pace, mo chotto (little more).
Something inside me breaks at 20.7, and I relinquish to the beast inside. Turning to the right, I face my opponent and bellow: "dekimashou!" (let's go!)
He takes the lead. I shove right back. Spectators are ogling, clearly bemused by our plight. Neck and neck, we cross the 21.0975 mark, nearly tripping over our own legs. Enjoying the moment, ignoring the pain - the path for true adventurers.