The Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden is the largest event in the Japanese sports world, a two day Kanto-region university men's road relay with a TV audience in the tens of millions. In a typical year nineteen university teams of ten men each run Hakone, along with a twentieth team, the Kanto Region University Select Team, made up of individual runners from schools without teams strong enough to make the Hakone cut.
The Kanto Region University Athletics Association recently announced its decision to do away with the Select Team following the 2014 Hakone Ekiden. In response, a famously individualistic Japanese runner, the most famous runner to have gone from the Select Team to the world level, started a blog to protest the decision, posting the following earlier this week. The athlete has chosen not to directly put his name forward, but his identity should be immediately obvious to even casual JRN readers. As a hint, the URL linked below includes the Japanese word for select team, senbatsu/senbatu, followed by two initials.
translated by Brett Larner
Yesterday and today we had a training camp in Nikko. Members of the group included graduates of Waseda University, Meiji University, Nihon University, Chuo Gakuin University and others, all of them overflowing with motivation and exciting potential for the future, guys with strong personalities who have the confidence to say, "We can do this without a coach," and, "Let's follow our own routes to getting stronger," and who just radiate that message. Last week it was a group of students and graduates from Dokkyo University, Takasaki Keizai University and Gakushuin University, and in July a group including Komazawa University graduates and students at Tokyo Denki University and Seikei University did a training camp together at altitude at Mt. Zao.
When I look around at people graduating from the powerful high school teams, most of them think that their choices are just, "Should I go to a strong university team, a corporate team, or quit?" If they feel like, "I can't handle harder training than this," and give up on their running after high school I think it is a waste of potential. When the same people graduate from university they think their only choices are, "Should I go to a corporate team or quit?" If they give up on their running at this stage I think it is a waste of potential.
But there are many athletes who have found their own way, their own route to becoming stronger. These days more and more as I train together with different people I see it all around me. At our training camps, at our group practice sessions I look around, I look around and see a lot of new faces, bringing new ways of thinking, new relationships, and from this I think we can stimulate each other to learn and grow. There are more athletes like this than you can imagine, everywhere, pursuing their athletic dreams in their own style without having to answer to a coach or leader, and I have the impression that they are looking for that stimulus, that connection of training with a like-minded group.
For those who like a one-on-one relationship a coach is necessary. But for athletes overflowing with individuality what they need is not a coach but a training group. The people in my training group have different goals, different backgrounds, different training environments, so it is difficult to answer the question, "Who are your training partners?" If I presume to try to answer that, I find that I can only describe my relationship to many of them as something like, "He went to school with this runner who met another runner online who had talked to me at this time trial meet." For every guy who comes each time there is someone who only shows up once, and if there are those who come occasionally there are others who show up religiously in particular seasons. All these different people are only getting together in search of training partners and a training group to help them achieve their own personal goals. Some of them I meet for the first time at the meeting point for the workout, others I'm meeting again after having run together in a race somewhere a long time ago.
Whoever they are, there is no absolute hierarchical relationship like that between coach and athlete, rather an unconnected group (?) of individuals looking to find a win-win relationship, a collective of people who come when they feel that, "I need this to help me achieve what I want," and don't come when they feel that, "I don't need this to help me achieve what I want," and we are all perfectly clear on that point. Most of us, including me, belong to other clubs. Sometimes there are two of us including me, and sometimes eighteen people come, so compared to the kind of paid-membership amateur running clubs that are around these days we are shapeless, decentralized, remote. It's so loose that it's a puzzle whether you can even call us a group.
But since we can't try to recruit new members or hang on to those we have, I think it's fine to pursue the style we have so far, getting stimulation from a wide variety of different athletes. And if someone from the training group emerges to go on to bigger things than now I would be happier than anything, someone we've all run together with up til now and who has been spurred on by the group's intense motivation. That would be pretty interesting.
When I walked out from under a coach two years ago I thought, "Now that I'm alone I'm no longer alone," and I really believe that the benefits of having done this have been huge. Now I'm in a position where I can train with a highly-motivated group, and when I think that wherever I go, if our workouts and schedules coincide I can meet up with other lone wolf athletes, I think, "What a great time to be alive." I feel thankful to be living in this era, and while I'm heatedly pursuing my own dreams and athletic style I want to use myself as a guinea pig, trying out all sorts of ideas to find out whether the common sense of the running world is really any kind of sense at all.
I haven't become a "superstar" like all the "Hakone stars," but if you think about what it means to be a "superstar," it seems to me that it is something like the realization of a beginning, and that's what I want to become. I want my own life as an athlete to be the start for someone else, and I want to work as hard as I can in as many different ways as possible to try to broaden the possibilities within the running world.
From the point of view of trying to feel out the possibilities within the running world, I ask the executive board of the Kanto Region University Athletics Association not to say that the Kanto Region University Select Team has fulfilled its role. For the sake of the future of Japan's running world I ask that they maintain the highest target for athletes at small schools without powerful running programs, that which provides tremendous stimulation for them to aim at competing against the best athletes at the biggest, strongest schools, the Kanto Region University Select Team. I would like to ask the very highest people in the Kanto Region University Athletics Association to reconsider from this standpoint whether the decision to do away with the Select Team is in the best interests of the majority of college athletes, whether it will be in the best interests of the next generation, whether it will be in the best interests of the future of the Japanese running world.
In this one team are embodied the dreams, the hopes, the ambitions of countless schools and the innumerable athletes running at them. Even for the athletes who can't make it to the Select Team, the existence of the Select Team gives them a goal, a dream through which to strive to improve themselves and their competitive abilities, and in that way it is critical that the Select Team be preserved. If the executive board of the Kanto Region University Athletics Association is able to consider what is right for the future of the Japanese running world, to transcend the concept of the Hakone Ekiden, I ask that they keep the place where athletes who want to become world-class without giving up their individuality find their start, and preserve the Kanto Region University Select Team.