Saturday, apparently gripped by a fit of madness, I participated in the town's 42.195 kilometer walking competition. In miles, that's 26 and change, or in other words, marathon distance. Turns out that's how far it is from the Oita Prefectural HQ in Oita City to Ono Machi's town hall. Convenient, right? That's definitely as far as I've walked in my life. Last year I got out of it because I had tickets to see the TAO taiko drum group on the same day, but no such luck this year. I don't even like making this drive, let alone walk it. But I'm in Japan to do stuff, so let's go!
So yep, 42.195 kilometers. Or to but it another way, 42,195 meters (right?). How did it turn out? Here's the breakdown:
First 10 kilometers were just fine. The sun is shining, everyone is in a good mood, there are lots of drink vending machines along the course, everything is swell.
The next 10k or so, the course turned off the main road, on to a narrow street that followed along a river. Nice scenery, feet starting to hurt a little but still going strong, taking plenty of pictures with the camera, but boy this sure seems to be taking a long time, sun is starting to go down, the shade is a bit cold. I walk with Mishiro-sensei and have a nice chat, but it becomes clear that he's going to have to retire at the next checkpoint. I'll need to change into my jacket and gloves soon.
Next 10- from about the 20k mark to 30k- somehow I ended up with a group of elementary school kids, walking on a twisty two way street without any sidewalks. I make sure everybody has their reflective bands on, but the kids are singing silly songs, I try to teach them Old MacDonald had a Farm, but they just want to say E-I-E-I-O over and over. The sun is defintely down now.
The last 10k- suddenly it becomes a real test of endurance. I could have fun before but now this is no joke. I see some of my middle school kids and try to walk with them, but I can't keep up. It seems like my legs' range of motion has diminished, that I can't move them far or fast enough, and the kids are just going too fast. I walk a little, fall behind, run a little to catch up, and then fall behind again. It's not a pleasant situation and I'm wondering how long I can keep it up. The students don't seem to care. Again, we go through a part with no sidewalks, and a bus going at least 60k/h flies by no more than two feet away. Not cool.
I spot another checkpoint ahead and stop to get a drink. The middle school kids go on again, and I'm all by myself, struggling to stay on my feet. I think I start to hallucinate a little bit. I just have to remember to put one foot in front of the other. It's well into the evening now, very dark and cold. Hat, jacket, and gloves are needed. Runny nose too. I start to get angry, at myself for doing this, at the organizers for having the event in the first place. Another checkpoint for some tea and chocolate, then on to the last few kms. I give up all pretensions of keeping a good pace and try to just keep moving. It just wont end. The clock creeps toward 9. I run into some other students right before entering the main part of town. The town's 9 oclock siren goes off. We're heading downhill now, somehow the kids have the energy to sing Hello, Goodbye by the Beatles, one last left turn, and 9 hours and 3 minutes later, we're there.
There's tea and udon noodles near the finish, but I just sit down and can't move. I didn't think it was possible for my body to hurt like this. Finally I talk with some students, make it to my feet and walk over to the cafeteria to grab some noodles. They taste good. It's cold outside. I drive home and fall into bed, wearing the same clothes, and sleep most of the next day.
All in all, what's the point? It just seems so dangerous to me, having all those people (mostly kids) walking by the side of the road, it seems like something bad is just waiting to happen. I could take some nice pictures, but after that it's just pitch dark as an endless stream of cars, trucks, and buses whiz by. It it the Japanese obsession with gaman, perservering or toughing out the situation? Some kind of character building exercise? After than first 20k or so, it's just not pleasant and may be in fact downright dangerous. Perhaps it has some physical benefits, but the most common result would seem to be pure exhaustion. Developing appreciation for modern transportation? Possibly. I've made this trip plenty of times by car, but on foot you really start to appreciate how far it is. I'll never look at those same stretches of road again. But this whole thing isn't held next year, well, I don't think I would feel sad at all.