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A Bolder Arata Fujiwara Talks About the Training and Pyschology Behind His Return From Olympic Breakdown

translated by Brett Larner
photo by Dr. Helmut Winter

Running the London Olympics marathon as the ace man on the Japanese team, he crossed the finish line a hollow and defeated 45th in 2:19:11. Now, four months later, 2:07:48 man Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) is readying himself for a return to racing at the Dec. 2 Fukuoka International Marathon. Seiichi Yoshida talked to Fujiwara in-depth about what has been inside him as he has focused on Fukuoka.

You've said that at the Aug. 12 London Olympics marathon your form broke down, but one more time, could you analyze that failure and talk about how you interpret it and rationalize it to yourself?

When I went to St. Moritz in Switzerland to do altitude training (at 1700 m) my body got very strong, but I couldn't get into the kind of motion I have when I'm in one of my good cycles.  The London course had an extremely large number of curves, abundant in variation, and it was hard to get into a steady rhythm.  Normally once I get into a good rhythm I never lose it, but I knew the London course would be one where there was a good chance that I would.  You should always try to run in a good rhythm.  There are athletes who can still hammer it out even if they can't lock in, but I'm not that kind of guy.  As I've said before, if you wanted to level a criticism on me for something I should have worked on more you could probably say that I wasn't strong enough.

But even before that, right from when I got to London I felt that I was having trouble getting into the right form.  I was in great shape, so even though my form was off I was in a situation where I could run off my strength, and as a result of that it was hard to be maniacally focused on my form.  The people around me were telling me, "You're running nice and smoothly," so that also contributed to a false sense of security.  Inside a voice was saying, "Not ready, not ready," but at the same time I think I was working hard on getting into a calm and reassured state of mind.  Regardless of the reason, ultimately I declined from peak readiness.

After the race started, would you attribute it having been hard right from the early stages to your form having been off?

That's really the only way to think about it.  I was just clomping along, feeling like the edge on my running had gone dull.  I haven't watched the video of the Olympics after getting back.  I never watch videos of the bad times.

Even the Kenyans and the Ethiopians couldn't win gold.  The marathon is tough.

I intend to show everyone that "The marathon is easy," some day.  But right now I'd still have to agree with the people who say, "The marathon is tough."

What kind of comeback plan did you have after the Olympics?

The usual way of thinking would be to target the Tokyo Marathon in February, which would leave me with a lot of time on my hands.  Even if I didn't start serious training right away I had enough time to get ready, and I knew that after the Olympics Tokyo would be another big one, so I just ended up being lazy.  I didn't have any kind of training plan put together, and before I realized it two months had gone by.  I had been travelling around and it was already October.  When I looked at what kind of condition my body was in I thought, "Whoa, what is this?"

At that point I suddenly thought of it.  If I jumped into Fukuoka, how would I do?  That was when I put it on my calendar.  My motivation turned on as if blood had suddenly started flowing to a part of my brain that hadn't been getting any.  I thought, "Alright, let's do it," and then jumped into training serious enough to make my eyes change color.

I think the way I train is outside common sense.  It's really chaotic and mixed-up.  I'm doing some kind of workout (the kind of high-intensity training normally done two or three times a week) probably every day.

What specifically have you been doing since October?

It started with doing 16000 m on the track at 3:30~40 / km pace.  Once I was doing that regularly I switched to 12 km cross-country.  XC is a little higher intensity, so I did it at about 3:50 / km pace.  I built up the distance bit by bit, 14 km, 16 km, 18 km, 20 km, then 20 km again the next day.

After that I took two days off, then went into interval training.  12 x 1000 m at 3:05 pace.  Next 6 x 2000 m in 6:10.  Then I went back to XC, doing three days straight of 20 km runs, this time raising the pace to 3:30~40 / km.  At that point I could feel that my body was back to normal.

Next it was time for full-effort XC runs.  3 km + 2 km + 1 km sets with 5 minutes recovery, then 3 km X 5.  I tried to do 6 km x 3 but couldn't finish it.  I did two more days of 20 km runs and then was feeling strong and focused, so I went after the 6 km x 3 workout again and this time I could do it.

After that I did a 1 km x 14 session starting at 2:55 / km pace.  After the fifth one I picked it up to 2:50 pace.  It was a really windy day, so I felt very confident after hitting all my targets in that workout.  I thought that I was ready for longer runs then, so I did 15 km targeting 3:00 / km pace.  Even though that was a windy day too I cleared 45 minutes.

After two days of recovery, on Nov. 15 I ran 20 km, getting perfectly into my rhythm and comfortably doing it in 59:30.  Before I started doing this specific training my condition had fallen so low that I could barely break 16 minutes for 5000 m, but I got to where I am now in only a month.  I'm in shape to run a marathon under 2:10.

Cramming all of your training in like that is something you can only do if you can get away with it, isn't it?

It has its risks, so I'd never do something like this before the Olympics.  There's a playful spirit in this kind of training menu, so it's a lot more interesting and fun for me right now.  I think in my case it's always better when I'm halfway screwing around.  When there's not enough time to get ready for a race and I'm standing there with my back against the wall thinking, "Oh man, this looks bad...." and I'm forced to make radical changes to the way I train in order to deal with the race, that's when I tend to get my best results.

When I do that kind of thing I have to wonder what this thing people call talent is.  Anyone who thinks, "Alright, let's do it," can go after the hard workouts.  There are people who are going to get hurt and people who aren't up for it mentally or emotionally, people whose physiology doesn't improve even when they do the training.  To put it simply, athletes whose results never manifest themselves.  I think talented athletes are the ones whose bodies are able to transform in a positive way in reaction to the stresses put on them in training.

Overall this probably sounds like I'm saying I think I'm talented.  Well, if I'm going to be honest, I guess if I didn't think that I had any talent then I wouldn't feel like doing these kinds of hard workouts, but what I ultimately want to say is that no matter how much talent you have, it's not going to be all laughs when you're going after results.

If my line of thinking is right then it's wrong when coaches say, "You don't have much talent, so you have to work harder."  You can see a lot of athletes with that kind of old-fashioned spirit who honestly believe talk like that.  Let me tell you, the me I am right now is happy to be out there killing myself.  I am having pure, unadulterated fun when I'm doing these hard workouts.

Does that mean you weren't enjoying it before the Olympics?

I was the honor-roll student on the team so I didn't have a lot of choice.....I was chosen as an Olympian so things had to be a certain way.  You have to put out the results.  Needless to say I was under stress before the Olympics.  I felt that something was a little bit wrong.  "Am I too relaxed?"  "Am I thinking too much?"  I didn't really understand my own situation.  If you self-monitor closely you can tell when your strength is on the wane, but I wasn't doing any self-examination.  I figured that thinking too much about little changes was a bad thing.  And then I felt like an idiot when I got the results I did.

So what are your goals for the rest of your marathon career?

Time, of course.  I'm not going for it in Fukuoka, but I want to run 2:05.  2:04 would be nice too.....If Fukuoka is sub-2:10 then I'll consider it a success.

In Fukuoka you'll be up against strong competition like Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei), Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) and Haile Gebreselassie (Ethiopia).  What's your plan?

I haven't thought at all about what kind of race to run yet.  There's a lot of competition, so I'll think about what to do once I get to the 30 km point.

How do you feel that you've changed as a result of your Olympic experience?

I think I'm bolder now.  I was a loser at the Olympics, pure and simple, so there's nothing worse than that left for me. The Olympics were something monumental, something I felt like a touch on my skin. No, in the core of my body.  Now I'm full of enthusiasm about how to write the story of my own post-war reconstruction.  I'm still absorbing the message of the chapter about my Olympic failure.

It seems like it would be easy to get preoccupied with thoughts of, "I should have done this," or "I should have done that."

Emotionally speaking, it is totally unproductive to have remorse about what you should have done.  I stamp out that kind of thinking in a hurry.  But in terms of working toward the future it is necessary to examine what went wrong.  Everything that leads up to a race is one continuous stream of events. There is no chance that it could all be wrong, so you have to examine things closely and search for where there were mistakes and where things could be improved.  That kind of analysis will leave you in a position where you are psychologically ready to compete again.

I feel like there aren't many athletes who make that kind of detailed analysis once things are over and done with.

In the world of competition there is no "if," but I think the "if" that hangs above consideration of whether doing particular things differently might lead to different results is vital.  That's why I carefully analyze things post race, for the benefit of my next opportunity to race.  You see athletes all the time who hang their heads and say, "I'm very sorry.  I did badly."  But if that's all there is then it's just a negation of the self, a reinforcing of a negative mindset and a negation of any real self-examination.  When you say, "I wasn't strong enough.  I need to start over from the beginning," it's nothing more than some kind of formal greeting, something you have to say because you haven't understood yourself.  If the extent of your self-analysis is "I did badly" then you will never move forward.

photo (c) 2012 Dr. Helmut Winter
all rights reserved


Scott Brown said…
Very interesting interview! Something there for anyone, at any level, to apply to bettering themselves. I may just try! Thanks for posting it.
CK said…
Fascinating read as we head into next weekend. Thanks for translating it.
Anonymous said…
I think he is displaying a self defeating attitude,saying I had this or that wrong is really an escape from the real world of not performing for what ever reason,now the reverse psycolology kicks in with the murderous sessions playing even more into the negative ,as a famous boxer once said "you only get paid to take the punches in the fight" how true. Iain
Really great interview. Very interesting and insightful. Thanks for your work!
Anonymous said…
Reminds me of Mark Nenow w/ haphazard training & 'jumping' into shape

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