Skip to main content

A Group Overflowing With Individuality

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.

http://ameblo.jp/senbatuyk/entry-11332814229.html

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.

Comments

Christian said…
thanks for this wonderful post, and for translating it
Brett Larner said…
My pleasure, Christian. This was a pleasure to translate. It reads like a political manifesto. Refreshing to see an influential Japanese athlete publicly calling out questionable decisions by the higher-ups in the system, even if he couldn't put his name to it.

Most-Read This Week

Morita Goes Sub-32 in 10000 m Debut

Running her track 10000 m debut of a 32:27 road 10 km in the spring, Kaori Morita (Panasonic) closed hard off a slow opening pace to win the National Corporate Federation Women's Long Distance Time Trials 10000 m Friday afternoon in Yamaguchi.

A new filler meet to take up space on the calendar following the National Corporate Women's Ekiden's move to November, the Corporate Time Trials meet featured one heat of 3000 m and three 5000 m heats before its main focus, the 10000 m. After a 3:19 first 1000 m Morita's teammate Yuka Hori, winner of the 10.9 km Third Stage at Nationals, took over, leading the field at 3:12 to 3:14 / km pace through 7000 m. Morita, who won the 7.0 km First Stage, went to the front at that point with a 3:14 to 8000 m before taking off.

Clocking her fastest split up to that point with a 3:07 between 8 and 9000 m, Morita closed impressively with a 3:01 final km to dip under 32 minutes as she won in 31:59.94. Steepler Chikako Mori (Sekisui Kagaku) w…

Saitama International Marathon Top Two's Times Annulled Due to Last-Minute Misdirection by Race Officials

At the Nov. 12 Saitama International Marathon, Kenyan Flomena Cheyech Daniel won a sprint finish over Bahraini Shitaye Habtegebrel by 3 seconds to take her second-straight Saitama title in 2:28:39. On Dec. 11 race organizers announced that both runners' times had been annulled.

In the midst of the pair's battle for the win, race officials misdirected the pair into the righthand lane on the final corner instead of the lefthand lane in which the finish line was located. Both ran over the curb dividing the two lanes and returned to the original course before finishing.

At the time JAAF executive director Mitsugi Ogata said, "This was a mistake by the organizers and the athletes did nothing wrong. There was no effect on the finishing order and no advantage gained in terms of the distance run." After later consultation with JAAF officials, race organizers decided that Cheyech and Habtegebrel had not covered the complete distance and that their times should be annulled. N…

Tokyo Marathon to Move to March Date Beginning in 2019

At a press conference in Tokyo on Dec. 12, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation announced that beginning in 2019, the Tokyo Marathon will move from its current date on the last Sunday of February to the first Sunday of March. The next Imperial succession is set to take place in 2019, meaning that February 23 will become the Emperor's Birthday national holiday starting in 2020. The race date is being preemptively moved to avoid any potential overlap.

According to the Foundation, setting up and breaking down the facilities necessary to hold the Tokyo Marathon takes several days. With the finish area being positioned in front of the Imperial Palace there were concerns that problems would arise due to the large number of people who would gather in the area to celebrate the Emperor's birthday.

Translator's note: The Tokyo Marathon previously experimented with a March race date in 2009 but abandoned it to return to February the next year. Since 1994 the first Sunday of March has been t…