Surely, you Jest

I have never met Dave Eggers. I do not know his middle name. I cannot tell you how he takes his coffee, or if he even drinks coffee. Perhaps he prefers tea, or cocoa, or abstains from heated beverages altogether. I don’t know.

Dave Eggers and I do not have nicknames for each other. If we are talking, and I say, “Oh, shit man, that is on fuckin point, like I was sayin to Dave last week the same thing,” you will know that I am not referring to Eggers, Dave. If we are in a bar or restaurant, and I am leaning casually against a wall or load-bearing column and chatting offhandedly with a straight-haired young lady of distinguished stock, and you hear me say, “My buddy Egg might come by later, if the McSweeney‘s PR gig finishes early,” please be advised to just keep your trap shut, because her friend thinks you’ve been on the phone with Safran Foer for the last fifteen minutes, so be cool, alright?

But, in spite of all I don’t know about Dave Eggers, I trust his opinion when it comes to the books. Not so much because he’s a good writer–he is, obviously, but so is Philip Roth, and I’m not breaking down any doors for his summer reading list–but because of his specific sensibilities as a writer. Egg’s prose is so funny and poignant and engaging and kinetic and relatable that it seems improbable that his taste as a reader would be limp or inaccessible. Plus, on top of writing, he’s a workaday editor, so you know he’s not so hung up on his own words as to disdain the work of others.

So I was duly intrigued when, on a random pass through a bookstore in Harvard Square a few years back, I picked up a 10th Anniversary copy of Infinite Jest and saw that Egg had written the foreword. At the time, what I knew of Infinite Jest was approximately that (A) It was really long, (B) The guy who wrote it had a footnote fetish, and (C) He was supposedly a genius. Not that I knew anything about him. When I saw the cover, it was actually Eggers’ name–not David Foster Wallace’s–that drew me in. But draw me it did.

Here’s a choice excerpt from that foreword:

“It’s possible, with most contemporary novels, for astute readers, if they are wont, to break it down into its parts, to take it apart as one would a car or Ikea shelving unit. That is, let’s say a reader is a sort of mechanic. And let’s say this particular reader-mechanic has worked on lots of books, and after a few hundred contemporary novels, the mechanic feels like he can take apart just about any book and put it back together again. That is, the mechanic recognizes the components of modern fiction and can say, for example, I’ve seen this part before, so I know why it’s there and what it does. And this one, too — I recognize it… All of this is familiar

But this is not possible with Infinite Jest. This book is like a spaceship with no recognizable components, no rivets or bolts, no entry points, no way to take it apart. It is very shiny, and it has no discernible flaws. If you could somehow smash it into smaller pieces, there would certainly be no way to put it back together again. It simply is.”

Well. Even if you are not an admirer of Dave Eggers, and not possessed of the desire to read the same books as he has (so that you will have a conversation piece in the event that you two should ever meet), even you have to concede–that is some lofty fucking praise. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued. Who wouldn’t want to read a spaceship?

And yet, despite the force of this tribute, my first attempt at reading Infinite Jest, shortly after my encounter at the book store, was a dismal failure. I quit within the first 200 pages, which is a fairly resounding defeat, especially given that I slogged through two courses worth of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky without a single demerit. But like the man said, Infinite Jest is different. It daunts the reader in two distinct ways. The first is obvious: the book is 1,079 pages in the print edition, which means that for most readers, it’s a commitment of six weeks if you are blazing fast and six months if you prefer a leisurely pace. Most readers, however, will have encountered books of similar length, and may not be deterred by the Jest‘s sheer bulk.

But the book is daunting in another way that isn’t fully apparent until you get into it. See, David Foster Wallace is smart. Smarter than you. (Yes, you). Like, way smarter. This seems like stating and restating the obvious, since at this point, the guy’s reputation precedes him. But in this instance it is worth stating the obvious, because when you read Infinite Jest, you will be reminded of this fact constantly. You cannot escape it. It is patent on every page and in every sentence. These reminders are not deliberate–the novel doesn’t belittle the reader (much)–but they are obvious nonetheless. I have read many books, most of which were written by people way smarter than me, but I have never had an experience quite like this before.

Still, it’s not totally unfamiliar. Everyone has that friend who is just obscenely brilliant, the one whose intellectual accomplishments you openly brag about to other friends, not out of jealousy or as if they (the accomplishments) are your own, but as the voicing of sheer fascination, like, Holy shit, we breathe the same air! These friends–with whom every conversation eventually reaches a crossroads where you either change subjects or settle in as a listener, since at this depth, you ain’t contributin nothin, dummy–are both a blessing and a burden. We’re glad they’re around to build spaceships and discover elements and cure diseases, sure. And, in principle, we don’t begrudge them their intelligence. It’s just tough being around them sometimes, because God love ’em, they just ain’t good for the ego of us regular folk. They’re not doing anything vindictive, but just by being who they are, they make the rest of us feel like yokels by comparison.

Reading Infinite Jest is like having a 48-hour conversation with one of these friends. Except you can’t change the subject when it gets to that special depth. And you can’t make egghead or poindexter jokes with your other normal-IQ friends. You just have to read it and marvel that, at one time, David Foster Wallace breathed the same air as you.

So it is a humbling experience, certainly, and one that requires the right mindset to conquer, but don’t get the impression that this book is a chore. It’s quite the opposite. Infinite Jest is an amazing read. It’s hard to characterize it much beyond that, to qualify it as funny or sad or hopeful or gross or anything like that, because it is all these things. Genuinely, the entire dazzling spectrum of the human condition is on display at different moments. And I won’t even try to talk about what happens in the story, because for a book of this size and complexity, summary is a fool’s errand.

The daunting brilliance of this book is, of course, hugely part of its appeal, too. For me, reading Infinite Jest was like standing at the base of a giant, thousand-foot rock face and watching someone walk right up to it and begin, without a rope or harness, to climb. You think to yourself, Oh my god, what is he doing? and How is it possible? As you watch him climb, you can’t help imagining yourself in his place, high up on the rock face, and this vision makes you grateful for the ground beneath your feet but dumbstruck by the climber’s ambition. In this way, you experience Infinite Jest, not in the heart or the mind, but in the pit of your stomach, with a sense of awe and dread. The thrill of Infinite Jest is in watching a prodigious talent push himself to the very margins of his ability, reaching for rocks that seem impossible to grasp. As Eggers says, “At no time while reading Infinite Jest are you unaware that this is a work of complete obsession, of a stretching of the mind of a young writer to the point of, we assume, near madness.”

And then, just below the lip of the cliff a thousand feet up, the climber disappears. He doesn’t fall–the ending of Infinite Jest is no failure–but we never get to see him stand on the edge and wave down at us. There is no moment of triumph, no celebration of the accomplishment. We on the ground are left to wonder and speculate but can never know the climber’s true fate.

In some ways, this is dissatisfying. Dammit, I am owed, the reader thinks. After a thousand pages, I’ve earned an ending, haven’t I? Infinite Jest has an end, but alas, no ending. A day later, I’m still grappling with this feeling, unsure whether I’ve been cheated or whether I’m just cheating myself, since every lingering ambiguity is as much an opportunity as it is a frustration. And, of course, there’s the fear of a superior intellect: in a book this smart, this massive and intricate, what did I miss?

Eggers, asked whether it is our “duty” to read Infinite Jest, replies,

“Maybe. Sort of. Probably, in some way. If we think it’s our duty to read this book, it’s because we’re interested in genius… We have an obligation, to ourselves, chiefly, to see what a brain, and particularly a brain like our own — that is, using the same effluvium we, too, swim through — is capable of.”

Agreed. But the dirty secret, the part that Ol’ Egg leaves conveniently out, is that if you read Infinite Jest once, you’ll find yourself obligated to read it again. Infinite, indeed.

On gravity and gratitude

During college, after long evenings at the library, I often stopped on my walk home to appreciate the empty darkness of the campus. There’s something sort of magical about a busy place gone quiet, like the glassy stillness of a beach at low-tide. On autumn nights, with the campus silent, half-lit by the high amber glow of lights upon the quad fading to grays and blues and blacks against the brick and stone and dirt, standing hands in pockets, messenger bag slung heavily over my shoulder, the strap digging with the pleasing weight of books and pads of paper, watching the vapor trails leave my lips as my breath disappears into the New England night, I would often marvel at where I found myself, as if for the first time: college. And this continued long after the novelty and newness of the institution should have worn off. Even at the time, I recognized this whole scene–the crisp, autumn air, the venerable New England campus, the ephebic student alone with his thoughts–as rather trite, cribbed indelicately from the pages of John Knowles or some such author. And yet, in spite of myself, it was not in class or at parties or at graduation but during these moments in passing that I felt most collegiate, the word practically welling up inside me as if inflated by my surroundings.

These memories fairly reek of the pretentious navel-gazing of schoolboy narcissism–and, certainly, there is a strong element of that–but I bring them up here because I now see in them something less indulgent or deplorable: gratitude. There are certain things in life that we–as a society and as individuals–endow with tremendous gravity. College, for me and probably for many of you, was planetary in this respect. In the (disappearing) world of middle-class America, college is such a wildly ballyhooed concept, one so laden with cultural touchstones and connotations, that amidst all the noise it takes a full four years and then some to sieve through it all, let alone learn something.

But no matter who you are and what your connotations may be, college was probably important to you, not in a value-judgmental, “College was objectively worthwhile because thus and such” way, but rather in a self-constructed way. We, many of us, obsessed to one degree or another about getting into college. We made it the climax of our childhood, the goal to end all pubescent goals, the light at the end of a long hallway lined with combination lockers. In August, when we anxiously packed the car with Mom and Dad, our dreams and expectations were the heaviest baggage, aside from the tub full of industrial-strength cleaning solvents that weighed like a thousand pounds.

Did it meet those dreams and expectations? Maybe some. Definitely not all. But it doesn’t matter, because you refashion those dreams as you go along. The mind-blowing thing for some–for me, anyway–was just to be there, in this place that had existed in so many ways in my imagination for so long. In those few, quiet moments between one building and the next, when the noise recedes and the waveless ocean laps wordlessly at the shore, there is a sense both of presence and being present in that place, and the lightness of being suspended there by a gravity of your own design. And gratitude at having arrived there, finally, at long last.

For me, Japan has this same gravitational quality, and inspires–at times–the same sense of gratitude. It has been almost exactly a year now since I applied to the JET Program, and in that year, I imagined myself here countless times without any idea what that really meant. I poured the best of my dreams and expectations into Japan on speculation alone. And now, four months in, the days have developed the comfortable rhythms of routine. Only–every so often–when I am riding through the streets alone at night, I cross the river and see the light of a vending machine reflecting dully off the kanji stop sign on the other side, it occurs to me where I am, and how surreal it is to be in a place so long imagined, and I get the familiar rush of presence at being present in a moment, pregnant with the gravity of my dreams and expectations, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude as the spokes of my bike click on into the darkness.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

A weekend in Sasebo (unlike any other)

Friday, November 18th. Resol Hotel, Sasebo City.

Huis Ten Bosch (pronounced HOUSE-TEN-BOSH) is, by all accounts, a strange and wonderful place. Named after one of the official residences of the Dutch Royal Family, and reputedly modeled brick for brick after actual places in Holland, Huis Ten Bosch bills itself as a resort, amusement park, and multicultural destination all rolled into one.

The Japanese, and especially those in Nagasaki, have a curious relationship with the Dutch. They were among the first Europeans to visit Japan and establish trade relations with the Japanese. As such, they were also partly responsible for introducing Christianity to Japan, where it gained enough of a following that during the 1630s, the Tokugawa shogunate implemented the policy of sakoku, or “locked country,” closing Japan’s borders to foreigners for some 200 years. Not only were foreigners forbidden to enter, but Japanese were forbidden to leave, under penalty of death. Though there were a multitude of reasons for this decision, it was at least partly a response to the spread of Christianity, which was interpreted as a possible threat to the shogun’s hegemony. The one exception to this policy was in Nagasaki City, where the port remained open to Dutch ships.

Of course, this limited trade was strictly regulated, and it wasn’t as if Dutch sailors could drunkenly wander ashore as they pleased. In 1634, an artificial island was built in Nagasaki Bay specifically for use by Dutch traders. Throughout sakoku, this island–known as “Dejima” (exit island)–was the only place in all of Japan that foreigners were allowed to live. Today, “Dejima Wharf” is a rather trendy waterfront district in downtown Nagasaki City, where cafes, bars and restaurants sit beside notices commemorating the city’s cosmopolitan history. The irony in this is, I believe, lost on many of the city’s residents.

But, sufficed to say, there is a rather considerable Dutch influence in Nagasaki, much more so than any other European culture. And nowhere is that plainer than Huis Ten Bosch, the pinnacle of Japanese interest in Dutch culture. Like the present-day Dejima, this is sort of ironic, in that it is a carefully constructed replica of a Dutch town wanting only for realism a Dutch inhabitant or two. As far as I could tell, there are no Dutch people in the employ of Huis Ten Bosch Co., Ltd. And it is somehow very Japanese to honor a foreign culture through mimicry and imitation. Huis Ten Bosch is quite a popular attraction within Japan, drawing visitors from around the country, but it’s funny to think that, for many Japanese, a fascination with Dutch culture takes inquisitive travelers to Sasebo instead of Amsterdam. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see enough of the place today to decide whether it comes off as silly and counterfeit or as a genuine homage to the Netherlands. My guess is that it’s probably somewhere in between.

But no matter how you feel about the authenticity of Huis Ten Bosch, everyone seems to agree that it is absolutely beautiful–ordinarily. I wouldn’t know, though, because every time I tried to look at a castle or windmill today, the image was distorted by light being refracted through the sheets of water that fell continuously from the sky. The forecast for tomorrow’s race is, unfortunately, more of the same. During a typical trip to Huis Ten Bosch, this would be disappointing, and kind of a buzzkill. During this particular trip to Huis Ten Bosch, the weather is of slightly greater concern, since–you know–I have to run 26.2 miles in it tomorrow.

The majesty of Huis Ten Bosch Hotel, diminished somewhat by the rain.

As far as the running goes, I’m a little worried about the weather, but otherwise I think my head is in the right place. I’m a team-sports guy at heart, so running still feels a little odd to me as a competitive endeavor. I expect to be nervous, but I’m not–there are no teammates to be let down, no family watching in the stands. This race feels especially weird because it is in every way the biggest I’ve run–and yet nobody (literally, nobody) I know is here to see it. On the one hand, that’s a shame, but at the same time, it’s kind of exhilarating to do something totally on your own as an individual. It’s somewhat liberating to know that, no matter what happens tomorrow, I’m the only one who will remember it.

Saturday, November 19th. Resol Hotel, Sasebo City.

First impression: I don’t care who you are–it is harder than you think it will be. Now, admittedly, I came into this race a little overconfident, cocky even. I’d run well in my previous races and assumed this wouldn’t be that different. This was a bad assumption. Running a marathon, I can now attest, is a different species of race. I’d had this notion, coming in, that running a marathon would be twice as hard as running a half-marathon. Twice as long, twice as hard. A year ago, I finished a half-marathon in 1:37 with plenty left in the tank, so I had a vision of a marathon as an extended version of that. Who knows, I might even have some fun with it? (HA!) I was wrong.

The weather, which had been forecast as awful, turned out to be excellent for running, cloudy but only the occasional drizzle of rain. Instead, it was the organization of the race that proved challenging. The Japanese are famous for their efficiency, but you wouldn’t have thought so being at the first ever Nagasaki International Marathon at Huis Ten Bosch. One basic necessity of any race site is a designated area for participants to put their things while they are running. And, foreseeing this need, the race organizers had set one up–a room on the third floor of a building, away from the starting line. This is already a puzzling choice from an efficiency standpoint, but it gets so much worse. Rather than having, say, separate rooms for men and women, or separate rooms for 10K and marathon participants, the race organizers had decided that everyone’s bags would go in the same room, three floors up. This, too, is baffling, but wait–there’s more! For an event of this size, you would expect there to be a dozen or more people checking in bags, so that multiple people can be processed at once. Shockingly–and, truly, if you’ve ever been present at a road race, this is shocking–the organizers decided to have everyone stand in a single-file line en route to the bag-check room. When I arrived, fully half-an-hour before the start of the race, the line snaked all the way around the floor, with some three-to-four-hundred people already waiting and dozens more showing up every minute. Now, single-file lines appeal to the Japanese because they are orderly, but remember: this race had over 5,000 entrants, and every single one of them had a bag.

So, dutifully, I did what everyone else did and got in line. And five minutes passed. And ten minutes passed. And twenty-five minutes passed. And here I am, still standing behind at least 50 to 60 people, with untold others standing calmly in line behind me, with the starting gun only minutes away. Finally, in my best Japanese, I raise this issue to the man in front of me. He, too, is running the marathon, and like me, is concerned that we will miss the starting gun. But despite sharing my concerns, he stands placidly in front of me, knowing full well that waiting to check his bag properly will mean missing the start of the race. I asked him if it was okay to just drop my bag in the corner of the hallway, as I had seen a few others do. “Maybe,” was his measured reply. Such is the power of the Japanese commitment to order and following directions. Although acknowledging that the single-file line was poorly planned, and realizing that it will be detrimental to his very purpose for being here (running the race), and conceding that there is “maybe” another, unsanctioned alternative that will not prove detrimental, still my Japanese associate continued to stand in line, alongside at least a hundred or more of his countrymen.

But I’m not Japanese. With four minutes to the gun, I excused myself, stuck my bag behind a trash can, and sprinted down three flights of stairs. I had to ask directions to the starting line, because, you know, it’s obviously not near the bag-check building. I arrive with barely a minute to spare, stuck behind thousands of racers and without any time to stretch properly or warm up. (I had done some stretching in line, but it isn’t the same). Luckily, the IcyHot had been amply applied, and I felt loose enough not to worry. I believe, however, that the absence of a real warm-up contributed to what happened later on in the day.

The gun blew, but I didn’t hear it with my earbuds in. Didn’t matter–it had only taken me a minute to get in the zone. I shot out of the gate confident, feeling good, and running well. As in my previous races, I made a beeline to the edge of the road, since that is the only way to cut through the throngs early on. I took the first mile fast by design to establish some forward position, and my plan had been to taper off to my target pace after that. But I was feeling strong–too strong–and the adrenaline was pumping, so I made the decision to keep cooking along ahead of my projected splits. I say “decision,” but really, it was the absence of a decision. I was running fast and just kept running fast–only slowing down would’ve constituted a (smart) decision.

At the time, even as I was not-making-a-decision, this seemed a little ballsy, a gamble that my conditioning was good enough to push the pace early without cutting my legs out from under me during the home stretch. In retrospect, for a first-time marathoner with exactly zero training runs of over 20 miles, this was unbelievably stupid. And, while overestimating my fitness was my own damn fault, I do believe that the location of the race played a role in stoking my zeal. See, I’m used to running in miles, and pacing myself accordingly. In Japan, though, you don’t have mile markers–you have kilo markers. This may seem a semantic difference, but the fact is, if you aren’t used to running kilos, it alters your perception of the distance. Not only does it fuck with your splits–“Let’s see, I just ran a 5K in 25:09, which translates to a mile split of…”–but just from a visual standpoint, the markers come too quickly, and you think you’ve gone farther than you actually have.

At first, my gutsy strategy seemed to be working just fine. I cruised through the first 10K, taking it down in 48 minutes and change. (That’s about 7:50 per mile. And, see, isn’t that a much more useful way to think about it? Harder to do the math and make adjustments mid-run, though). I got to the half-way point in 1:45, just eight minutes off my half-marathon time from the year before (mile split about 8:02). This, finally, sent up some warning signs, and I slowed my pace a bit, but I still felt good. Halfway done in 1:45! I was on a 3:30 pace, which was beyond my wildest aspirations. And, even if I slowed down, I’d bought myself an extra half-hour to play with for the back end. I could run 2:15 on the second trip and still make it in under four hours.

Except, although I didn’t know it yet, the damage was already done. I slowed down, first to my target pace, then lagging a bit behind. My legs got heavy, my hamstrings tightened, my neck–who knew your neck hurt so much during a marathon?–began to spasm. Still, I was peeling off the mileage, though less effortlessly than before. I crossed the 32 kilometer mark (20 miles) at almost exactly 3:00, putting me right on the nine-minute mile split I’d targeted in advance. I was still on pace for a sub-4:00 race.

But I wasn’t, not really. That nine-minute pace was an illusion. I hadn’t run a sub-nine mile in over an hour. In fact, I’d spent the last hour giving back the extra time I’d fought for during my opening gamble, and now I’d exhausted it entirely. With 6.2 miles left to go.

And then, right on cue, I hit the wall. My longest training run had been 20 miles, and I’d felt pretty shitty at the end, but had rationalized that on race day, I’d be better fueled, and have extra adrenaline to keep me going. My body did not buy into this rationalization. I struggled up to the aid station at 32.5 kilometers, slowing to basically a walk as I got badly needed water. I drank the water standing still, and when I finished it, found that my legs didn’t want to start again.

You hear about “hitting the wall” a lot in reference to endurance sports, but in team sports, it’s pretty rare. I can remember hitting the wall once at a frisbee tournament, a grueling Sunday at Southerns junior year. It was brutally hot, and early in the day, one of our best players suffered a serious injury, leaving the rest of us to pick up the slack. By the final game of the tournament–the championship, against a strong Dartmouth team–I felt nauseous and disoriented going in. I could only play one point at a time, and when I did, I got absolutely run through by the guy I was covering. I clanged a wide-open score, reaching for a throw over my head with one hand because it seemed too difficult to lift both. Afterwards, at the team dinner, I was too nauseous to eat, and sat staring at my food for 15 minutes before taking a bite.

But even then, during that Dartmouth game, I could take a break after each point, or rely on my teammates to pick me up on the field. In a race, when you hit the wall, nobody picks you up. It happened with breathtaking swiftness. I’d been plugging along, slowly but surely, and then my body shutdown. Every muscle in both legs locked simultaneously, everything not-working suddenly and at once with watch-like precision. It was as if every muscle in my body had been plotting clandestinely against me.

“Hey, calves?”

“Yeah, thighs?”

“What would you guess, just for shits, was his longest training run?”

“Oh, I dunno… I’d have to say around 20 miles, for shits.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right, doesn’t it? Yo, hamstrings–how far you think he’s gone right now?”

“I would, ah, have to say, you know, in the neighborhood of somewheres around 20.3 miles.”

“Whaddaya say, boys? Wanna teach him we’re not to be fucked with?”

Apparently, the consensus was yes, because I stood on the side of road for about three minutes stretching and trying to gather myself. Though no one was watching, and plenty of people were walking or worse by this point in the race, this was embarrassing for me. I had subscribed to the idea that I could make my body subordinate to my will if I absolutely had to. If my training could get me close, I would be able to will myself not to stop. I was less than 6 miles from the tape! The hard part, I thought–the tedious, endless middle mileage–was behind me. This was the glory part, the push for the finish line.

I was wrong. The hardest part of a marathon is the last few miles because–and this seems intuitive, doesn’t it?–to get to those, you have to have finished all the tedious, endless middle mileage. And I was wrong in believing that I could will myself not to stop. I had, however, put myself in the unenviable position of having to prove that I could will myself to keep going.

If you think about it, this all makes sense, but during a marathon, you don’t think. At least I didn’t. This came as a surprise to me. I expected my mind to wander, to note little aspects of the course or scenery or my state of mind, and to be able to transcribe them afterwards. No. By the 17th mile or so, all I could think about was the pain, and how much my body wanted this to be over, and how I had to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. That is all I thought about–these thoughts crushed any other incipient notions about scenery or state of mind. During a marathon, if you are in the state I was in, there is nothing to divert your attention from the pain, and the pain of knowing it isn’t over yet.

At the end of the my three meditative minutes, I resolved myself to start running again, and I did, albeit slowly. I’m proud to say I ran just about every one of the 42,195 meters, minus a few pulling in and out of aid stations down the stretch. The last three miles were an absolute war, my body demanding with each step that I stop, my mind telling me that stopping would only make things worse. At this point, I was technically still running, although at a pace barely faster than a normal person’s walk. I passed some people who were actually walking and people who were kneeling on the side of the road. I was passed by savvier runners who had something left in the tank. At the start of a marathon, every other runner feels like an adversary, an opponent who doesn’t actually oppose you but somehow stands between you and your goal. That changes mid-race and by the end you empathize with everyone on the course.

In the last three miles, when you know the end is coming but are too ravaged to take pleasure in it, you mount these little, feeble charges, where you resolve to finish strong, dammit, but they only last 50 meters or so before your body intervenes. At the aid stations, you drink the water because your body demands it to function, even though it will slosh about your stomach as you run and make you nauseous. The music in your headphones, carefully chosen to pump you up and rally your strength, feels obnoxious and mocking, because there is no strength left and nothing to rally. You are driven only by the desire to finish and have it all come crashingly to an end.

At the 40 kilometer marker, with just over a mile to go and already on the wrong side of 4:00, I muster whatever reserves I had hidden in the remote and recessed parts of my body and redirect it all to my legs. For the first time in almost 10 miles, I manage to increase my pace, though dropping from a 12:30 mile to a 10:45 mile hardly feels like a victory. Inside of 1,000 meters, I try to sprint and nearly collapse. Finally, mercifully, after 4:18:37, I crossed the finish line. (My gun time is listed as 4:20:36, although that’s less accurate, since it includes the time it takes you to reach the starting line. Which, for those of us stuck in single-file, third-floor lines, was considerable).

Ultimately, I’m glad to have done it, although I’m a little disappointed with my time because I know I ran an ugly and ill-conceived race. But I learned some valuable lessons to apply next time, and in spite of the account you’ve just read, there will be a next time, if only to prove to myself that I can run a sub-4:00 with adequate training (ie. more than 7 weeks of it), and a smarter approach to the race.

PS. Thanks to everyone who wrote-in with suggestions on how to avoid nipple-chafing! Although vaseline is apparently hard to acquire in Japan, athletic turned tape out to be sufficient by itself.

Make ready the nips, Admiral.