Lately my kids have been training for their upcoming ‘marathon’ event…marathon being the loose term given to a distance of what I guesstimate to be around 5 kilometres at most. Japanese people are prone to exaggeration (especially where physical exertion and weather are concerned). I have watched the kids traipse out to the sports field every afternoon for the last two weeks to endure the half hour of daily, mandatory practice required of them in preparation for this event. Enthusiasm has been lacking…it’s cold, they (with the exception of the track and field stars) hate running, they have been missing out on their beloved club activity time and it is their least favourite event on the school calendar.
I have been watching all this unfold from the comfort and (relative) warmth of the teachers’ room. Every day my conscience has been nagging me to join the kids and share in their misery in a show of solidarity. Battling with my conscience has been the unfit, out of shape, lazy voice in my head, telling me I wouldn’t survive the task. She is a force to be reckoned with, that voice, and I’d failed to join the kids every day for two weeks…until last Friday my conscience finally won out and I joined in with ‘the running of the kids’…
Kitted out in my running gear, I headed to the track with the first trickle of students at 3pm. I sidled up next to Shiba Sensei (AKA Running Nazi With A Giant Yellow Megaphone) and expressed that I wished to join in with practice…the lazy, unfit, out of shape voice prodding me to say ‘I might die, but I want to try running.’ Greatly amused by this he replied, ‘Please run!’ complete with a grin from ear to ear. He proceeded to explain, with eyebrows condescendingly raised (clearly he was in cohorts with the voice) that I would have to run for thirty minutes without stopping and pointed to the larger-than-life stop clock positioned behind him…a clock I would soon spend thirty long minutes hating.
As Shiba Sensei wrapped up his lecture, the bossiest and loudest girl in school, Ayami, approached. ‘Are you going to run today Ms.Carla?’ she screamed at me from across the field. ‘Yes Ayami, I’m going to try’. A waterfall of excited words came spilling back at me: ‘Greatwhoareyourunningwithyoucanrunwithusthesoftballclubwearethebest’. ‘Errr, ok…’ I replied tentatively (the voice in my head starting to have palpitations) as she grabbed my arm and hauled me over to the group of softball girls already gathered.
The other girls greeted me with an equal display of excitement and enthusiasm about my addition to their running circle. Questions came flying at me from all directions…’Do you like running? Are you on a diet? Is that why you are running? Can you run fast? Do you do marathons in Australia?’ I patiently answered all of their questions as we warmed up together…’itch, ni, san, shi…’ Ayami lead the warm up stretches (of course, being Queen Bee).
Looking around I noticed that the other club teams didn’t seem nearly as organised or methodical in their execution of the stretches. ‘Uh, oh…these kids are serious…you are really going to die’ the unfit little voice in my head warned me. ‘Ahh, girls…we are going to go slow right?’ Ayami: ‘Of course, don’t worry Ms. Carla…well (a cheeky smile stretching across her innocent face)…we’ll go slow for half but fast for half…ok?!’ Gulp…’Errr…ok…I think I might die though’. ‘No, no, no, you’ll be fine Ms. Carla!’ a chorus of reassurances came back at me. The voice was not convinced.
00:00 – 30:00
00:00 – We set off running…the voice in my head deciding my place was at the very back of the neatly arranged double line of softball girls. There was no need to be any more conspicuous than I already was…especially if I was going to keel over of a heart attack three minutes in.
02:00 – We passed the music kids (disturbingly stereotypical) as our group set a cracking pace. ‘You had better hope this is the fast half of the thirty minutes’ pestered that annoying voice in my head, as she started to puff and pant. I had to agree with her, silently hoping we had started on the fast half of our run.
03:00 – We passed the table tennis kids, wheezing and struggling…(Japan tries it’s best to adhere to all social generalisations). The unfit voice politely suggested I might want to join the table tennis kids. I ignored her.
03:30 – I spotted Watahiki Sensei running and felt a little ping of glee that I wasn’t the only teacher out there making a fool of themselves.
03:50 – Watahiki Sensei stopped running and I realised that he had just been jogging to his observation point on the other side of the field. The voice chuckled at me. Hmph.
05:03 – I looked at the stupid larger-than-life stop clock…and realised I had only been running for five minutes. Uh oh. My lungs were already burning and my dodgy knee was screaming at me to ease off the pace. Not to mention the voice in my head getting louder by the minute. This was not a good sign.
07:35 – I shed my hoodie as things heated up…literally and figuratively…more teachers had gathered to watch me run. The pressure of impending shame and humiliation forced me to continue…despite the voice’s increasing protests.
09:42 – Another glance at the clock…not even ten minutes had passed. At least the girls seemed to have settled into a steady pace and we had stopped overtaking other groups.
11:15 – The girls must have heard the voice in my head enjoying the respite and quickened up slightly to overtake the tennis girls. The voice was not happy with me and was unrelenting in her request for me to stop.
11:30 – I overheard mumbles and barely hushed words of surprise and praise from the tennis girls…’Ms.Carla is running, amazing’, ‘Wow, she is fast!’, ‘Ms.Carla is so cute/pretty’ (clearly these girls were not in awe of my running style, but at that point I was taking any complements I could get).
15:00 – Just as I was getting my rhythm and thought I might actually survive to the end of the thirty minutes, Queen Bee yelled out the dreaded words ‘speeeeedo upuuuuu‘ to our group of runners. I groaned audibly…the voice making herself known (much to the shock of poor little Ms Uruno running beside me) but I obediently quickened my pace to keep up with the girls.
15:20 – The voice in my head quickly decided that I really couldn’t keep up this new fast pace and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I slowed up, waved the softball girls goodbye and wished them well for the final half of the run.
15:25 – It dawned on me that I was now fully exposed and at the mercy of any students on the track. By abandoning the softball girls, I had in fact lost my security detail. I was suddenly acutely aware of 150 teenage boys watching me. Gulp. Even the unfit little voice was beginning to think I should have kept up the pace with the softball girls. I continued on…the fear of having my butt grabbed by randy teenage boys, incentive to get moving.
16:47 – I ran past the stupid clock and the Running Nazi With A Giant Yellow Megaphone. Our eyes met and he laughed at the fact I was now running solo. ‘They were too fast’ I sheepishly explained and carried on defiantly.
18:59 – I spotted one of my special needs kids, Norio and ran with him for a while. Then he decided that we were in a race…just the two of us. I should have let him win (you know, given his certain, umm, disadvantages), but I didn’t. I glided past him and got my second wind.
23:25 – The stop clock was no longer taunting me as I realised I might actually make it to the end of the thirty minutes. The unfit, lazy voice was in shock as even she started to think I might survive another seven minutes. With my second wind I started passing more kids, gloating slightly as I did so.
24:00 – The teachers took note of this phenomenon and started using this as motivation for (against?!) the kids…’Carla Sensei is overtaking you, are you going to let her?’…’Carla Sensei is faster than you’…’Here comes Carla Sensei, you better speed up!’.
25:34 – The inner voice started yelling at me again. I looked at the clock for the hundredth time which was now blatantly mocking me. I told my unfit inner voice…’less than five minutes…only a few more laps, you can do this!’ She told me unequivocally to shut up.
28:03 – A silent stand off was taking place in my head as I watched the second hand move in slow motion on the stupid stop clock.
30:00 – The Running Nazi With A Giant Yellow Megaphone finally yelled at us to stop and my legs immediately complied. My knee ached, I struggled to catch my breath and my face was bright red…but I was alive. The unfit, unhealthy, lazy voice in my head sighed with relief.
The kids and teachers congratulated me on having completed my first run and elation flooded through my body. My lungs stopped burning, my knee was silenced and even the inner voice took a breather as the endorphins washed over me. I joined the softball girls again as we started our warm down stretches.
My resolve was building with the high of the adrenalin and I made a pact…’Thirty minutes wasn’t so bad,’ I told myself (and the voice)…’I’m going to join in with the kids again next week!’ Just then Ayami and the other girls let out a cheer as they told me that their nightmare was over…’That was our last running practice, we don’t have to do running again!’
The unfit, out of shape, lazy voice in my head let out a little snigger.