The increase in disparity between the name of this blog and the frequency of posts I get out is testament to two things: Twitter is a lot more sustainable than blogging b) I’ve never been so busy before!
When I returned to Japan from the UK back in mid-January, I found myself faced with a backlog of work. A fairly major project that I’d undertaken for the Tokyo-based childhood cancer charity The Tyler Foundation turned out to be more of a challenge than I’d initially anticipated. Not a bad thing, as in order to bring the required functionality to the new site I had to dive right in and learn about the inner workings of WordPress. Before this I’d never really ventured beyond html, CSS and relatively simple PHP. (Looking at the front end of the site you wouldn’t know it, but I’ve needed to make substantial changes to core files in order to extend the capabilities of WordPress whilst maintaining a simple admin interface).
My other client projects have continued alongside this, along with training for the Tokyo Marathon, meaning there’s been very little downtime.
The Tokyo marathon project is turning out to be quite an emotional experience, bringing about real change in my outlook upon life and what I’m doing here. I find it hard to clearly explain the process I’ve been going through in logical coherent paragraphs: there’s just this huge collection of interconnected thoughts relating to different aspects of the project. I’m in the thick of it right now – it’s hard to step back and get a clear view of where I am and what direction I’m really heading in.
Having said that, I feel the need to document some of these things, even if only for the sake of the film I’d like to make in the future. So here goes.
Running has come to mean much more to me than the pain-in-the-arse exercise that’s good for you, that it was before. Whilst I enjoyed running with Tom or in Ekidens, the training was a bit of a chore, and I had to force myself to put my shoes on and get out there.
Over the past few months however I’ve become fitter, and whilst I’m still relatively slow (5mins 30 seconds per km is comfortable over longer distances) I can now run 10km without much effort – it kind of feels like a warm-up. Not only that, it’s really fun! It’s only once I near the 30km mark that I start manifesting walls. Bear in mind that all of these distances assume that I’m not carrying a crazy broadcast contraption, which starts to hurt after about 10km!
I’ve been quite taken aback by the positive reaction to my 45km Hello Kitty run in Shinjuku-ku last month. (for example, Runkeeper were delighted with it, and invited me to write a guest blog for them on the subject which resulted in over 3000 hits in the following few hours).
Regardless of the fact that I painted a pretty picture with my GPS trail, the run itself was a real achievement for me. Never before have I run 47km / 28 miles (45km + the bits where I had to turn tracking off to do the eyes and nose), and never before have I actually dared think I could run that far. Google told me my planned route would take me up to about 38km: had I known it was going to actually take me beyond a marathon and require about 5 hours of running, I probably wouldn’t have attempted to do it.
It was soon clear to me that the key factor in enabling me to run that distance was the technology. I’m not talking fancy shoes or robotic legs, I’m talking about the iPhone in my hand which I must have consulted hundreds if not thousands of times over the course of the morning. I’d previously plotted my route in Google Maps, and had to refer to that constantly to stay on course. With my mind focused on the image I was drawing, I wasn’t (for example) running along Nakano Road – I was running along the bottom of Hello Kitty’s chin. During the final 5km, had I not been so focused on her bow I’m sure I would have come to a standstill before reaching my goal. I had no choice but to run.
Having broken that psychological barrier (‘I can run further than a marathon!’) I’m much more confident about the actual marathon itself. ‘Oh, it’s only a marathon!’ (The reality next week will I’m sure be somewhat different, given that I’ll be carrying a fair bit of weight and talking non-stop for the duration).
Something else that has had quite an impact upon me is the book Born to Run.
Born to Run is… a book about the love of running – it is a book about regaining the joy that running can bring to your life, and about why running is more than just a way to keep your weight down and your muscles toned. It is a book about why we all should run, and why those of us who enjoy running what many consider to be insane distances love doing so. It is a book about why running is a part of our history as a species, and why running is truly a gift that was bestowed upon us as human beings….
Reading this book puts a whole new spin on long-distance running, and really encourages me to pursue it. The key seems to be to enjoy it, to have fun with your running – and that’s what I’m doing. I’m not particularly interested in running official ultra-marathons. Instead I’d rather find my own way to use this sport in a creative, exciting and original way. I have some ideas – they can wait until after the Tokyo Marathon is over.
So back to the marathon then: I must say I’m a little nervous. Somewhat ironically, actually running the distance is the least of my concerns. Even if I walk some of it I’ll get there in the end! (I’m more worried about the politics that accompany doing something so unusual at such a big event).
The press have been enjoying the story, with coverage in the Japan Times, on TUAW (which spawned a whole load of translations on other European sites), BBC Radio 5 Live’s Outriders and local TV station Tokyo MX.
[EDIT] The video has since been featured by Engadget.
[EDIT 3] We’ve truly gone global – CNN are documenting the project – look out for that video after the marathon!
This show went out live, so no chance to re-record if I got it wrong. I must admit I was pretty nervous – but despite that it was still a lot of fun. The presenters and crew were great, showing a genuine interest in what I’m doing.
I smile when I think of this, as I’ve been joking for about 10 years now about wanting to be on live Japanese TV – and therefore this week have realised one of my dreams! It’s never been a burning desire by any means, but I do enjoy performing / entertaining, and whilst (somewhat ironically) I dislike Japanese TV, I still see it as a good way to help spread amusement and laughter. Whilst a bit daft, I feel I stayed true to myself, which is important.
Moving on… The promo video we made in Shibuya has had over 10,000 views so far, which is pretty groovy. Doing far better than Susan Boyle!
I hope we have a bit more coverage on the way. Fingers crossed.
I also have a hope that the huge amount of effort that’s going in to the project by myself, Steve Nagata and a group of friends pays off in some way. It would be wonderful if we can somehow carry the project forward to beyond the marathon, that it doesn’t just become a one-off that was a fun thing to do. Without any paying sponsors all of this is being funded out of my own pocket, and through the generosity of volunteers. (Nike Japan have however kindly provided my running clothes and Wahoo Fitness my heart monitor and ANT+ iPhone receivers. Virgin Earth Inc are generously allowing us to use their Aoyama TV studio).
The Tokyo Marathon Project is also serving as a means to learn more, first hand, about the power of social media to start a movement. I also find it beneficial to see the comparative influence of social media vs. mainstream media (TV, national newspapers). The interaction between the two is very interesting, with each jockeying for position in the struggle for public attention.
There’s another struggle going on behind all this – that of balancing time for myself/family with that of time for my clients / personal projects. It’s something that dominates my days, and has brought with it some tough lessons. I’m trying hard to get a grip on it, but it’s not easy (the lack of blog updates is a manifestation of this).
Overall though, there’s been a lot of positive developments over the past month. Let’s see where we can take things next.