Hey gang. This weekend not only marked the end of September but it also marked my second official month as a resident of Japan. Surprisingly, despite all the paperwork and crazy things that filled my days when I first arrived, I only recently began to feel at home here and it’s all because of my fitness journey. Let me explain.
As you may or may not know, before I came to Japan, I was actively living my life with a certain fitness goal in mind. This meant changing my diet and going Banting for a while; signing up for the gym and attending it every single weekday; and finally, joining a sport that interested me and competing in its competitions. This formula of things worked for me for a while. Heck, I even lost about 10kg’s and managed to finish the 8km 947 MTB challenge after just a year or so of going at it.
But I will admit, things changed a few months before my big milestone (the MTB race). I actually almost didn’t sign up for that race. Having lost my sister-in-law 3 months before the race date, I didn’t feel motivated to do any training. I lost the taste for life and it’s seemingly pointless distractions. I stopped caring about my progress, gym stopped being something I genuinely enjoyed and sticking to a healthy diet became more of a chore than ever before.
Honestly, I wish I remembered what it was that spurred life back into me again but all I remember is deciding that I wouldn’t backtrack on myself. I would sign up for that race even though I was now a few months behind on my training and a few kg’s heavier than I should have been. And that’s how Noni got her groove back… If only that was the end of the story. Unfortunately, as soon as the race passed, I was back in limbo and I guess that’s where I have been until recently when I moved to Japan.
Having watched a million and 3 videos about Japan before coming here, I knew my state of lethargy would be a problem because I was heading to a country that takes their fitness and health very seriously. According to Reddit, I needed to get used to walking around 20 thousand steps a day if I hoped to survive. At my previous workplace, the most I had ever managed to walk was 9 thousand in a day, and that’s with two walks around the building block and 30 minutes on the treadmill. I mean come on, I was working as a writer, I didn’t need legs for that.
Well, I’m in Japan now and the truth is that there aren’t 20 thousand steps to be walked unless you force it. I live in a small city (read that as a town), and unless you like pointlessly walking around for hours on end, you won’t ever really reach that mark on a normal day. I consider my house placement one of the few that demands quite a bit of footwork to stay part of society. I live up on a hill in Omura City with the closest fellow ALTs about a 15-minute downhill walk from me. My nearest grocery store is a good 25-minute downhill walk too and I usually need to go every two or 3 days to replenish my supplies. Yes, I admit, my schools are only 2 and 7 minutes away from my house so I don’t do much walking there but I do still need to go places outside of that.
Anyway, in an effort to try something new, I’ve decided not to sign up for the gym right now. The main reason being that when I left the gym back in South Africa, nothing about it was bringing me joy anymore, and I feel like that was beginning to affect my progress. I started walking every morning instead. It was great in the beginning. I was getting to explore my neighbourhood and also enjoying the silence of the scenery. But as time has passed, I’m in that place again – wondering why I even still bother. The motivation is gone.
I happened to mention this to one of my new friends here in Omura the other day and he reminded me of the value of having goals that motivate you. The challenge of setting a goal is to pick something that isn’t too difficult that it would be impossible to achieve but also not too easy that it wouldn’t be a challenge. Unfortunately, there are no real opportunities to take part in MTB races in the Kyushu area of Japan so I’ve had to find something new to try. Since I’ve been walking here, I have met many people either walking or running on the streets. From the few conversations I’ve managed to have with these people, I’ve gathered that there are a lot of running and walking events around my area. Unfortunately, running isn’t my thing.
And that’s why I’ve decided to work my way up to a point where I can run a marathon. For me, the challenge here is more of a mental one than a physical one. I have never really enjoyed running. The sports I grew up doing (touch rugby and tennis) involved relying on tactics more than endurance and I really enjoyed this as it kept my brain engaged. Mountain biking was probably my first taste of an endurance sport and it gave me a different perspective on endurance. When competing in an endurance sport, you need to be tactical in a very different way. Winning isn’t about figuring out your opponent and outsmarting them but rather about knowing yourself well enough on a physical level to take advantage of your own strengths and weaknesses.
I took part in my first marathon this past weekend. 42,1 kilometers of pure endurance. Luckily, or not so lucky, it was an Ultra Walk event which means no running allowed. I remember hearing about this walk two weeks into my stay here in Omura from an old man training in the slopes (yes slopes because these Omura hills don’t play yal, my calves are going to be fire by the time I leave). So it felt like destiny when that friend who suggested I find a new goal, had to give up his ticket for the race. I said, sign me up, and the rest is history.
I finished the 42km in 9 hours 45 minutes with broken feet but I feel like the race reiterated the lessons I have started to learn about endurance sport and myself. In this race, I learnt that I can currently keep up a fast pace for roughly 20km before my body breaks down and starts aching in places where I didn’t know bodies could ache. I also learnt that whatever condition I am in within the race, the uphill is when I find it easiest to pick up my pace (I hate hills; I don’t know how this is even a thing). And on the inverse of that, the downhill is when my body goes into caution mode (this might have to do with that one hike I did in Hennops once that left me traumed about downhills). And finally, I learnt the value of encouragement. In the last 15km of the race, my internal dialogue was far from healthy. The voice in my head was trying to convince me to tap out at every water station. Now on any normal day, I would have found it easy to say, “F you imaginary voice, I’m doing this shit and you can’t stop me”.
But with 15km still to go, that became hard to believe. I was convinced that I would either tap out or die on the course because of how unhealthy and unprepared I was. Luckily I ran into a group of other walkers who took an interest in encouraging me along the way. I had passed them and then they had passed me and then I had passed them again before we all settled into a rhythm and just started walking together. Turns out they are Highschool teachers from my town and they work with one of the guys that I came to the race with. My Japanese is still at 2% but we had such a great time chatting on that last 10km, that we almost didn’t feel the pain of it all.
So I sit here now with blistered feet and happy memories from my first taste of a real endurance race ready to take on the next challenge. I’ve signed up for a 3km run in November. Hopefully, after that one, I will find a 5km to sign up for, and after that maybe another 5km, and maybe a 10km here and there. Eventually, I’ll work my way up to a full marathon again, this time hopefully with my mind and body fully prepared. Till then, I’ll continue taking this journey one step at a time, learning more about what I am capable of and challenging myself to do better than I think I can.