Mt. Hiei ultramarathon.
Despite having pretty good success, including some top 5 positions in ultramarathons in the UK, I am pretty nervous!!!
I am not intending to win. I am simply intending to race.
But I have totally jumped out of my comfort zone with this event.
People often talk in the west about 'tripling down on your strengths'.
Meaning - if you are good at something - focus extra hard on that and you will achieve great success.
But I disagree with this notion!
In the UK I always played to my strengths at first. I grew up doing Taekwando, so I am naturally good at kicking sports
I ended up damaging my shoulder very badly and having multiple surgeries. You would think my martial arts career was over, but in fact I was only getting started. Being told that I should 'take it easy' and think about less dangerous sports only fueled my fire.
I decided to get even more serious about martial arts and started training 'Muay Thai' (Thai Kickboxing) or 'The Science of 8 Limbs' as it is known - for its brutal use of both legs, both arms, both elbows, and both knees.
For someone who had 4 shoulders surgeries and could barely move my arms above shoulder height, this may have seemed silly, but I was determined to see how far I could get with this sport and eventually fought in the ring.
I loved it, but it was getting old.
I was always pretty good at shorter distance running in school, so I started off entering 5km events and training for these, before realising that I was in need of a challenge!
So I started increasing the distance every day, and entering progressively longer events. Before I knew it I had ran almost 25 ultramarathons up to 165km, often placing in the top 10, and including positions in the top 5 in the races on two occassions, and in the top 3 on one occassion.
I became a specialist at VERY long and grueling races which are in my view - 20% physical, but 80% mental.
When you have been running for 20 hours continuously through the night, your body would like nothing more than to lie down and sleep. But you have to tell it to be quiet!
This is where I excel.
I have never been the best at sport physically.
In fact I was a very fat child! I didn't start to really lose the weight until I was around 16 years old, but still - my mind was always stronger than the other kids at school.
Sometimes this is all we need.
So to go back to my original point of this column.
Yes - tomorrow is a running race.
Yes - I have done many ultramarathons before.
But having the opportunity when arriving in Japan to enter the long, 165km races on flat terrain that I am used to and excel at seemed boring to me.
I decided to enter shorter, much FASTER races, often on mountains to push myself out of my comfort zone. Living in London, the biggest incline I have to run is when I deliberately run up and down stairs, or a small patch of grass! In Japan these mountains are serious.
Tomorrow's event is said to be in the top 3 hardest races in Japan.
Not only will it be very fast, but I have been told from a previous participant that we will be ascending and descending Mt.Hiei 6 times?!
There are also very strict cut-off times, which if I do not reach in time, will mean that I am pulled out of the race. As someone who starts very SLOW and gets in to my stride after a couple of hours, this means totally changing my strategy.
Mt. Hiei has a lot of significance for me for many reasons.
It was the first mountain that I ever climbed with my girlfriend Ashley, when I took her to Japan 10 years ago.
We have climbed it multiple times since.
I have always had a fascination with the 'Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei' and they have indirectly motivated me to carry on in life when I felt I couldn't continue.
Hieizan is also a place I frequently hiked on my own whilst staying in Kyoto to find peace and solace when I was facing difficulty in life. Sitting and looking over the edge of the mountain, meditating was sheer bliss.
If I ever had a spiritual home, I was say it would be this mountain.
So what better chance to explore it than on this race?
I am definitely pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
I may not even finish the race.
But who cares!?
As I always like to say -
'There is no growth to be found in comfort'
And what's more -
If I don't finish - it's only a race!
It's not like the monks who are supposed to disembowel themselves with the knife they carry whilst on their spiritual journey.
Have a wonderful day everyone, and don't forget to push yourself out of your comfort zone!
There is no failure in life - only in not trying.