BY TRACEY TAYLOR
In this issue, Tracey talks about training for a marathon, which she entered at the end of February. In the April issue, she’ll let us know how it went.
I’m running in the Tokyo Marathon 2010. All 42.2 comical kilometres. Of all the lotteries I could win, it would be this one. Sure, I know there are 32,000 other people participating in this insanity from the more than 310,000 applicants. I’d feel lucky if it weren’t such an overwhelming, if not near miraculous, moment for me. Eighteen months ago, I looked like the photo above.
In fact, I had looked like that for over 15 years. To say it out loud still makes me depressed, but I was morbidly obese. That’s a medical term. Not just an overexaggeration. Finally, there was no turning away from the fact that with a BMI of over 40 I had been diagnosed as morbidly obese.
I’d always been big. I went from an overweight teen to an obese adult. I come from a family of elite, Olympic-level athletes, so sport and fitness for me was never for fun, it was always considered something you did at a professional level. I loved watching my family compete, documented it all from behind the lens, and was always the much loved, jovial, happy person in the group cheering everyone on. Why play sport if you’re not playing to win? Why exercise if you’re not training for something? It seemed simple. They did their thing. I did mine.
It’s always baffled me, though, trying to understand how obesity crept into my life. I’m an accomplished woman and never shied away from living my dreams. I’ve travelled the world, started businesses in Japan, am an award-winning photographer and try to live every day out loud. I love my partner, my family, and my friends with a passion, and they know I’d do anything for them. I just never wanted to do this one thing for myself. My battle with obesity was something that I consciously ignored and I never let on to other people that it was something that I ever worried about. I liked my wine and good restaurants, I worked long sedentary hours, and avoided exercise with the excuses: I have no time to get fit, I’m healthy in my own way, this cheese might kill me but at least I’ll die happy. Or, simply, I thought I’d just get around to it some day. Timing was the issue. In fact, coupled with this, my mantra seemed to be: “I’ll do anything to lose weight, but I draw the line at exercise and eating right.” I never thought my weight prevented me from living the life I imagined, but ultimately it did.
Finally, in June 2008 I made the life-changing decision to fight for my life. No more hiding…no more excuses. It was time to get help. Armed with knowledge, I was determined to fight this right here in Japan, out of a cultural comfort zone but committed to facing my old excuses head on. As an expat I always thought I’d maybe one day deal with it when I finally went home. Where things were easier on every level. But it was never going to be easier. There would never be a perfect time, because life was always in the way. My life. So it was time for perhaps the hardest chapter in my ongoing novel of the challenges of living abroad. It was time to face my obesity and battle this terrible disease that’s now been labelled an epidemic in Europe, Australia, and the USA. I was not just overweight but fighting a disease, and no one but me and my own dedication and willpower could beat it. Nothing short of a complete lifestyle change would do that. So began my path to new health. It was not easy; just trying to figure out the nutritional info on food packaging at my local supermarket was a battle in itself. But you get there. You find ways to make it work. I had to work on my body and, most importantly, my mind. Beating obesity is a mental journey. A severe sport of willpower, dedication, and knowledge.
I started to eat well and move. It wasn’t pretty! There were no quick fixes, just hard work.
Then I started to run. Actually, a very loose term. I started to walk—at my weight, even that was uncomfortable. Then I started to shuffle…a little. Then a light jog. And now, just 18 months later, a full marathon. And what better place to tackle this milestone than Tokyo—my adopted home of close to 13 years?
I’m lucky enough to be running the marathon with my partner in crime, Dee Green. It’s been great sharing this experience together, as we can keep each other motivated and work through the down times, especially during the winter months when it has just been so cold. I generally run at night because of my schedule. The lure of my futon has many times surpassed any desire to bundle up for a frigid run, but having someone to train with and encourage me has put me in my Nikes with minimal protest. As it’s the first marathon for both of us we have approached the task by following a beginner’s guide to Marathon training, several of which can easily be found online. We’re both closer to 40 than 30 so things have tended to hurt a lot more, especially the joints, the knees, the back. To accommodate the aches and pains we have done a lot of cross-training; mixing runs with hiking, ocean swimming, and stretching, weight training, and spending time in our local gym. We have tried to move every day in some capacity, taking one day a week off. Following a training schedule has helped us keep on track and focused.
We have the support of our local community, the friends and many strangers whose paths we cross—at all times of the day. One of my happiest training moments was on a late Sunday afternoon slow jog. I met a little Japanese boy, no older than seven, who was so amazed to see me plodding along. He couldn’t quite believe it. He followed directly behind me on his bike for a good two kilometres, shouting “gambatte” at the top of his voice, so earnestly and seriously while jubilantly shaking his fists in triumph. It could have been mortifying, if it weren’t so heartfelt. My very own hopelessly inspirational coach. Then we’ve had the dear elderly couples, who shocked at first to see the two big blonde foreign women barrelling towards them down the Miyamae-ku hills, soon start to bow and clap and encourage us as we huff and puff past them. We’ve also kept the construction crew building the new apartment block up the road thoroughly entertained with our daily blockies and red faces. They just shake their heads. We bow as we run past.
Then of course there have been our attempts at LSD—a long slow distance run. It’s recommended that runners try to do two to three in the months building up to race day. For our last LSD, we decided to run from our station, Saginuma, to Shibuya and back, about 32km. Of course we chose the coldest day of the year to undertake this. Seven kilometres in, I desperately needed the toilet and just happened to find one in, of all places, the food court of the heavenly Takashimaya Department Store at Futako-Tamagawa. Hello, Boons Crème Puffs. Didn’t know there was a new Krispy Kreme there. The swarming crowds parted as we trotted our way through in full running regalia. Now, if only I could be in charge of planning the course. We made it more than half way before my Facebook status said it all: “Had to retire at 21km of our 32km run today due to the fact that I couldn’t have been colder if I was sitting naked on top of an iceberg. In Antarctica.” So for our last run we ended up in Café de Crie, then took the train home.
This marathon journey has featured a cast of colourful characters, experiences, and only-in-Japan-moments.
I’ll probably be crying through most of downtown Ginza, I know I’ll have a meltdown somewhere near Asakusa, and I’ll be staggering over the line on sheer fumes by the time I get to Odaiba (we have seven hours to complete the forty-two kilometres…I hope to do it in six). But it will be worth it. While I am doing my very best to channel Haruki Murakami’s proposed gravestone; “At least (s)he never walked…” my friends really know I’m really in it for the medal and certificate at the end…the pride lasts forever. And I’m sure the pain will also traumatise me into life-long counselling as well. But to find out what can be accomplished when you put the mind and body into motion, well, that’s something that changes a person deep down inside.
I’ve never wanted to live with regrets in my life. Before, my dreams were all travel-inspired, my great love—going on an African safari, exploring Antarctica, horseback riding across the Mongolian plains. Fabulous dreams. I didn’t realise it, but I was a sightseer. But now, thanks to good health I climb mountains, do that triathlon, run a marathon, participate in life. I may not be the fastest or strongest, but I’m not sitting there anymore. I have a choice not to. And hopefully, talking about my experiences openly and honestly might touch a chord with someone else and perhaps help them on their own journey. Yes, you too could be running the Tokyo Marathon this time next year. Anyone tempted?
Obesity doesn’t need to exist in our society. With good education, social measures, support, and available resources everyone has the power to fight this terrible disease. I am passionate about doing anything I can to talk about, educate, and enlighten people on the struggles of obesity. I have lived through it, faced it, and beat it. Just call me Kawasaki’s Biggest Loser.
Throughout this whole process I have learnt to embrace the importance of goal-setting, which ultimately negates any need to obsess about ongoing weight and health maintenance. It naturally propels you forward on your way. Sure, not everyone has to run a marathon at the end of it. But everyone can enjoy the highly emotional side of the process, the joyous outcome, and the ongoing life benefits.
The theme for the 2010 Tokyo Marathon is “the day we unite.” Thousands more stories will all be running through Tokyo together. The marathon itself is a metaphor for life. Fun runners, international athletes, others battling diseases, personal stories, and more. We all have one thing in common. Pushing ourselves to achieve the impossible. Whether pushing for a better time than their last run, or pushing just to cross the finish line, like me. By the end, it’s all mindpower and heart. I know I’ll be towards the back of the pack, if not completely last. Party in BLOCK K…But you know what, I don’t care. Because I’m running a marathon. Yes, me. I’m running a marathon.
Tracey is co-owner of 37 Frames Photography and Off the Planet Language School. She has now lost more than 50 kilograms (over 110 pounds). There are no quick fixes, no miracle diets, just a simple formula of calories in and calories out and moving. That’s it. Plus a lot of dedication. She has now inspired many family members, friends, and even strangers to embark or re-embark on their own journey of good health. She can be contacted at email@example.com, or check out her blogs: http://offtheplanet.typepad.com/37frames and http://offtheplanet.typepad.com/the_soundtracks_09_twj if you’d like to get the real run-down on the marathon fiasco. You’ll soon find her getting ready to take on Oxfam’s Trailwalker Japan in April and generally getting into and rarely out of trouble all over Japan.
For more information on the Tokyo Marathon 2010 visit the website: www.tokyo42195.org/2010/index_en.html.