Net Time 5:54:56
In the beginning of August 2017 I got a message from my long time friend and fellow Everton supporter Ben asking if I would be interested in running a 55km run with the Knights In White Lycra (KIWL) in December. I guessed that he had seen my report from the Nikko 100km ultra I had run in July and reckoned that I would be up for the job. I jumped at the opportunity and asked him to send me the details. It was only later as I read through the literature that it finally dawned on me that this was a charity run and that I would have to raise 30,000 yen for the Mirai No Mori charity which I knew nothing about. If I am honest my first reaction was – Crap, how do I get out of this. My only experience of being sponsored for an event since I left elementary school was when I ran the 2012 Tokyo Marathon in support of the Dublin hospice that had taken care of my parents in their final weeks. That did not go so well. I had the flu in the preceding week and had to drop out at 23km. I then had to spend the next 2 days trying to find a replacement race which ended up being along the Arakawa in June in 30 degrees heat.
Anyway, I did not give up immediately and with gentle probing from Ben I committed myself and completed all the documentation. I then mailed some of my friends in my running club, Namban Rengo, who like running long distances and have a social conscience. To my surprise they all said yes. There was no backing out now.
In early October we had our first meeting near Tokyo station with the KIWL who were organizing the event. This was the first time that I met the people behind the event – Rob who was the driving force to get people to sign up, Kozue san from Mirai no Mori who was so passionate about the children and what can be done to help them, Roger a soon to be fellow Nambanner and the man who was to go out and map the 55km route and Manfred from International Volunteer Group who was to play such a major role organizing everything and on the day itself. It was also great to catch up with Andy from Namban and Ben who had initially roped me in. Kozue san gave a very clear and impressive presentation about Mirai no Mori and explained the challenges that the children who live in these homes face and what we can do to help them. It was very moving and I came away filled with passion and conviction and more than a little trepidation.
My first challenge was how to raise 30,000 yen. Worst case I could always pay the money myself but I knew that if I did that, word about the good work that Mirai no Mori do or the challenges faced by children who live in homes in Japan would not be known. I decided to set a goal of reaching many people directly via e-mail and asking each of them to contribute 1,000 yen. I contacted about 60 people reasoning that if half of them responded to my request, I would clear my target. So one Friday night I sat down and composed my mail while thinking of myself as the Bernie Sanders of charities, looking for lots of small donations. I sent it out twice. One mail to the people at my company, Colt Data Center Services, who I had supported in the past or who I thought might want to support me, and one to my family and friends.
I went to bed feeling good about myself as I had drunk several craft beers while writing the mail but woke in the middle of the night wondering what had I done. I need not have worried. I woke Saturday morning to lots of messages from colleagues and friends saying that they would support me. I knew that I was on track to meet my target.
The run was scheduled for 9th December and we had one final meeting on the 5th when we received our super cool running shirts and got detailed instructions from Roger and Manfred. And when I say detailed, I mean detailed. There was a 36 page presentation with tons of photos which 4 days later I wished I had paid more attention to as I ran through Kawagoe.
As the meeting time on the day was 6:30am near the Arakawa River in Tokyo and I live on the opposite side of the city near the Tamagawa River, I woke up at 4:30 and was on the road just after 5am. Fortunately I met Ben at the train station and we made our way over to Ojima Komatsugawa Park together. We found the meeting point at the gazebo without much trouble thanks to Ben’s excellent sense of direction. The mood was good as we mingled with the other runners and the weather was fair. We were blessed all day with good weather which is always a good sign for an event like this.
Just before we headed off at 7am, our friend Michael Rayner showed up and he was to run the first 5km with us. It was a beautiful morning and as we headed up the Arakawa River and all seemed good with the world. After Michael turned off for home we were then joined by another Nambanner, Rika Honma, who ran with us for another 5km. It was great to get so much support from the start and before we knew it we were arriving at the first Check Point (CP1) at 17km moving at a smooth 6 min/km. That is all of us except Austin who quickly disappeared off the front into the distance at a space none of the rest of us could match. Just before CP1 we met another Nambanner, Derek Leong, who appeared on his bicycle bearing drinks.
I kept going through CP1. My plan was to make it to CP2 at 27km without stopping and then I would be in the second half of the run. I am the type of person who likes to get things done quickly and then look back. The second section of the run from CP1 to CP2 was tough. Although Austin had gone ahead there were many runners together including Alan, Andrew and Mark from Namban Rengo as well as Paul and Ben. We were all trading places at the front as people took bathroom breaks but we regrouped at CP2 where we found Roger waiting for us. Roger had left at 4:40 that morning to ensure that he finished with us and was looking in good condition when we met him. As were the volunteers who managed each check point. Their support was very encouraging and the CPs were a real oasis of recovery during the run.
I arrived at CP2 right behind Paul and left right after him and I was glad that I did. I was able to focus on keeping up him and I did not have to worry too much about the route. Later on it got a bit confusing but we muddled through it together with the help of the great bicycle support from IVG and made it to CP3 at 41km and lots more friendly faces.
At CP3 Austin and Mark were out in front and Alan, Andrew, Paul and myself regrouped for the last leg to the children’s home at 55km. It was clear from the start that Alan and Andrew were in the best shape and gradually pulled away from Paul and myself. As we were running through the town we were following pink ribbons which were tied to lamp posts and railings. These were real lifesavers but I wished that I had paid more attention to Roger’s and Manfred’s presentation the previous Monday. Eventually Paul dropped me as we made our way through Kawagoe but I did not get lost. At times I felt unsure I was on the right path but I managed to stay on track and make the correct turn to the final leg of the run.
The last 5km along the Iruma River after leaving Kawagoe town were wonderful. I knew that I was on the right track and I knew that there was not much left to run. My only challenge was to complete the run under 6 hours and it soon became clear that was within my reach. As I got closer to the finish there were several people from Mirai no Mori out taking photos and there was a great welcome crossing the line with soup and sports drinks.
But the best was yet to come. After a quick bath and some soba at the local onsen we headed back to the start to meet all the kids from the local home who had gathered to welcome us back. They were all in great form and were genuinely delighted to see so many runners. We gradually made our way back to their home with them where we were greeted with a party and an awards ceremony. Each of us the runners got an individual certification that the children had made. It was a very moving event.
Then we all did the motions to the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” which is no mean feat considering must of us had just run 55km. But the enthusiasm of the children was infectious and we all joined in with as much energy as we had left.
All in all, the event met its target of raising 1 million yen for Mirai no Mori. That may sound like just a number but what it means is that 10 children from the home will be able to attend next year’s summer camp where they will learn skills and have experiences that will help them throughout their lives. I was very honored to be involved in the event and hope that I can contribute more in the future to Knights In White Lycra and Mirai no Mori and all they do to help disadvantaged children.