On Running (and a book review of Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage)
It’s September and that means one thing - CMT Awareness Month. During the month of September I will be using my blog to play a part in raising Awareness with an “alphabet challenge” - blogging a letter / key word almost every day. Today is brought to you by the letter R. I hope my blogging will help you to learn more about CMT - the most common but least well known hereditary nerve disorder - and me. And I hope this will also help to raise funds for the Charcot Marie Tooth Association to support its efforts to find a treatment for CMT. You can join me in learning more about CMT by clicking onto www.cmtausa.org and of course a donation would be wonderful too!
So today I landed in Japan for a work trip. I will be here essentially for four days, with unknown access to good fitness facilities. When I landed this afternoon I got to the hotel, changed, and then ventured to the gym. I am staying right by the Imperial Palace and that route is one of my favourite running routes in the world - a perfect 5k. But I am really conscience and not wanting to hurt my knee by running distance full body weight at the moment. So I headed to the gym treadmill for a short 15 minute run. That’s all my knee can take at the moment.
Until just a few years ago I could never run on a treadmill. Now it is my go-to for a quick post flight get the blood flowing run.
And I still - after all of these years training and learning to run - have a hard time considering myself a runner. I guess that’s because I struggle to improve. CMT means that I am genetically a slow plodding runner. But hey - I still got to the gym and got a bit of running in today, slow or not, CMT or not. So I guess if you are as you do, then today - TODAY - I am a runner.
Here’s kind of a neat thing about me and running on Tokyo treadmills. A few years back I came to Japan for Christmas, and while here I had a twitter conversation with Chris Russell, the host of Run Run Live. RRL was one of the very first podcasts I listened to. I still love the stories, the rhythm, and the people Chris interviews.
Anyway, Chris suggested that I look up Amy Chavez and get a hold of her book, Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage. So I did both.
I couldn’t resist getting Amy’s book. Way back when, when I lived in Japan, I walked I think the first 13 out of the 88 temples on the Shikoku pilgrimage. On the recommendation of a friend I had read Oliver Stadtler’s book called “The Shikoku Pilgrimage” and decided to take a week off work and explore a new-to-me part of Japan while also learning about Buddhism and hoping to learn a bit about myself too.
Me and my friend Allyson, way back when, in front of temple number one
I’ve always wanted to go back to finish the pilgrimage…
Chris interviewed Amy on his podcast. I listened to that podcast on January 1st 2013 - while doing a 5k around my local fields to mark the new year.
It was after that run that my knee became a significant issue for me, so significant that the doctors told me I needed to stop running. But I wasn’t ready to hang up my shoes yet, nor was I ready to give up the dream of becoming a runner.
I really enjoyed reading Amy’s book. It was a great introduction to Japan, to Buddhism, and also to how people go about learning who they are and what they are made.
Throughout the book Amy’s stories give insight into what pilgrimage revealed to her, about herself and others.
One of the lessons that resonated with me was her discovery that pilgrimage is not just about learning to be able to receive and appreciate, but also to give and accept. This is talked about in the context of o-settai, the small token gifts of assistance pilgrims receive from others along their journey (pieces of fruit, lodging for the night, a hand towel, a ride). But it is more than just related to o-settai - it truly is a life lesson.
Another part that made me stop and think was Amy’s discussion with her doctor about her knee injuries. The doctor had asked Amy if she honestly expected to keep climbing mountains as she got older. His question pushed the concept of accepting age and physical condition. Instead of trying to prolong decline, Amy marvels at the way the Japanese culture accepts it gracefully, without fight. It is definitely something for me to think about more - how I can accept my decline from CMT gracefully, while managing to hold onto and adapt the aspects of my active healthy lifestyle that I love in ways that show that I love my body.
The book - with its tales of pilgrimage and running, of success in beating mental and physical limits, is well worth a read.
Anyway, I enjoyed it so much that I looked Amy up and “friended her” on Facebook. Yes, I admit to being one of “those people”. I gotta admit, it’s kind of cool to see the photos of sunset from her island in Japan, to read her latest articles (especially her series on the Hiei Running Monks) and to chat about running and travel.
And in that weird and wonderful way that the internet can connect people, and knowing that I have a spare Saturday in Japan, I reached out. I messaged Amy - in a complete fangirl moment - and asked if I could venture to her island, to meet her, and to hike along one of her local temple paths.
So yeah, that’s what I’m doing this weekend.
Running. Not something I’m sure I will ever be comfortable with. But a community that has some of the best stories, and that can create the most incredible connections.
It’s CMT Awareness Month. Today’s post was brought to you by the letter “R” - running, and a review of “Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage” by Amy Chavez. You can learn more about CMT and donate to support the search for a treatment for this (at present) incurable progressive degenerative nerve disease at www.cmtausa.org — Thank you!