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Money, Motivation and the System - Arata Fujiwara Part 5 of 5

interview by Brett Larner
translated by Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin

Running in miserable conditions at the 2010 Tokyo Marathon, Arata Fujiwara came 2nd for the second time in his career. The next day, a badly limping Fujiwara generously met with JRN at a favorite bar of his to talk about the race, training, future, and what went wrong and right. Part one of the post-race interview focused on this year's race. Part two, below, talks about Fujiwara's motivations, his training for Tokyo, and the Japanese corporate running system compared with the situation in Africa, Europe and the United States. Click here for Fujiwara's three-part pre-race interview.

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In 2008 Tokyo didn’t have prize money, so this was your first time really running for it. Did it make a difference?

Yeah, when there’s prize money you have more guts. This time, in the last 2 km there was a negotiation between my legs and the prize money. (laughs) I got the ‘go’ sign. Having prize money encourages you to try harder. I don’t know if it’s good to talk about money because it’s not really our culture to talk that way, so if I say something like this people will think I just run for money. But it’s true that under these circumstances, sure, I’ll get extra guts out of the fact that there’s prize money. That one second between me and Atsushi Sato was really big. [2,000, 000 yen] But for me, it’s not so much running for prize money as that the prize money helps.

In the States and Europe you sometimes hear people talk about how for Kenyans and Ethiopians prize money is a strong motivation because they are really coming from zero and with a big win can guarantee their families some stability, while for Americans and Europeans they already have a relatively comfortable life and don’t have the same fundamentally strong motivation. How do you think Japanese runners fit into this?

It’s true that even without prize money we can make a living, and I’m not under an obligation to send money to my parents or anything, so it’s not such a strong motivation. For example, if we go run races in the States like Kenyans who are doing it to get enough money to support their families, for Japanese runners, like Americans and people from other developed countries, we can’t have that same kind of motivation. We’re already living in a reasonably well-off society and we’ve never experienced starvation, so from the beginning it’s not about running for money.

There are a lot of different motivations, incentives and reasons to run. Some people run for fame, some for self-realization, there are many incentives, aren’t there? Prize money is one of them. It’s not like “Choose Money or Fame.” There’s no conflict between them. But at some point your motivation is going to run low. The money is really helpful as a safety net to get you through those times, lessening the difference between the times when your motivation is at a peak and at its lowest. As a human being I’m not always 100% full of motivation. Sometimes my motivation goes down, so when it does this kind of outside incentive factor is a great help. I don’t know if ‘safety net’ is the right word, but it really helps.

Having prize money like at Tokyo is something new in Japanese racing. Do you think it’s going to help raise the level of Japanese marathoning?

The prize money has the effect on motivation I was just talking about, and the prize money races also get more attention from the public. Ryo Ishikawa, the teenaged golfer, became the king of prize money last year and he gets lots of attention for it. Maybe it’s not really a good thing, but in the professional baseball world when they renew the contract at the end of the season the media always makes big news out of how much each player gets. It’s always front-page news in the sports papers. I think in that sense the marathon can get more public attention this way. Some people will take it as a good thing and some as a bad thing, but getting attention is basically a good thing. It can only help increase the demand for marathon runners.

At the beginning of November there are the East Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden and the other regional qualifying ekidens for the New Year Ekiden. Those are a big part of the reason you don’t see many Japanese marathoners in overseas races in the fall.

Yes, one of the reasons I want to run New York is to raise the issue of this problem with the jitsugyodan system.

You didn’t run East Japan last fall, but JR still qualified without you.

Yes, at that point I was feeling really bad so I told them it was impossible for me to run. There’s not really any question of the team not qualifying without one particular runner, but what’s important in that system is that you try hard together and give it your best as a team. Even if the team is certain that they are going to qualify it’s unthinkable that the ace runner wouldn’t run. That’s the team policy.

It’s more of an issue of loyalty towards the company than a publicity issue. The purpose of a team is to unite the workers in supporting their company by cheering for its team. That’s the company strategy, so it’s unacceptable if you take it easy in the race just because it’s easy to qualify. We have to show that we’re working really hard as a team, so individual activity outside of that is not really an acceptable decision for coaches to make. That’s the situation. It’s not just a team policy but also a company policy. Because we’re told to follow this policy it’s difficult to ask them to change it.

Before you ran Fukuoka I read an interview where you said that you chose a new team like JR over one of the established teams so that you’d have more freedom to pursue your own training. Do you design your own marathon training or does your coach have a lot of input?

The normal choice as a university runner is to go to a top jitsugyodan team and to try to become its top runner, but when I tried that the team told me they didn’t need me. Instead of going on to number two, I decided to go the weakest team instead because a place where I could challenge myself seemed like it would be a better choice. In high school and university I belonged to very strict teams and I didn’t think I could take that anymore, the kind of team where the coach has absolute power. I didn’t want to belong to that kind of team anymore, so I decided not to go to one like that. I was called by Honda but the coach there was a typical guy of that type and I didn’t think I could bear it. The coach had a policy that it didn’t matter how fast someone was, if they wouldn’t follow his decisions without question then he didn’t want them. I didn’t think it was possible for me to work with someone like that. When I talked to the JR coach he wasn’t that type of guy, so I decided to join JR.

In my training I wouldn’t say I’m doing anything really original. What I think is most important is not so much “What should I do?” as “How should I go about doing it?” For example, let’s say I have to do 30 km today but I don’t feel good. I’ll want to postpone it to tomorrow. If I do it when I feel bad then all my 30 km runs after that will have the same kind of bad rhythm. If you force yourself through it when you’re feeling bad then you are ingraining that bad feeling into your running. I don’t want that. I’d like to avoid that kind of thing. More than doing a completely original training menu I want to tweak the details myself according to my own evaluation of my condition. That’s where I want to put in my methods, and to me that’s the most important.

Looking at what to do, just about anything can be good. If you run more you’ll get strong, but that shouldn’t be it. More than just running you have to be thinking “What’s the best way to do this?” The thing I want to avoid the most is, again, if you run 30 km when you are feeling bad and force yourself through it, sure it’s training, but in my opinion even though you might feel great afterwards that you got through it, it is training to become slower. When you’re not feeling good you can’t bring out all your speed or your most efficient form, so you are teaching your body to run with slow form. Over 30 km of that the motion becomes ingrained. Of course the people around you would say you did a good job even though you’re not feeling great, but that’s the thing that should be avoided the most. To avoid that kind of situation I need to be able to decide things myself. So again, rather than making an overall grand design, I want to arrange the parts myself.

What I do that I think of as my own original idea is something like biometric training. I haven’t heard of anyone else doing that. In that sense I can call it my own method. That type of training is something I can do at the same time as my running, so there’s no real conflict. I don’t know if that’s a very good explanation, but that’s my attitude toward making my training plan.

This time you did altitude training in Kunming. Was that the first time?

No, I’ve been there a lot, like 10 times or so. I usually go to Kunming before a marathon. Before the World Championships it was St. Moritz.

Was there anything different in your training this time?

This time there wasn’t anything really special or new. I looked at the training I’ve done up til now and tried to do the average of all of that. I was very cautious and tried to pick what was best and lowest-risk in planning what I was going to do. Low-risk, but doing it as seriously as I could. Looking back at my training log now I can see it was kind of the average of what I had done before.

I don’t know when I could do it, but I’d like to experiment a bit more, like see what happens if I run 600 km a month instead of 1000 and then run a marathon, that sort of thing. If it’s successful then I think that’s a much better way to train. If it doesn’t work then I’ll go back to doing 1000 km a month. It depends on the type of runner you are, but I have the feeling that I’m the kind who can do well on 600 or 700 km a month.

There are athletes who have speed and those who have stamina depending on the type of muscle they have. You have to do lots of mileage to build up stamina, but in my case probably 90% of my muscle is slow-twitch. I’m extremely slow at the 50 m sprint and very weak at arm wrestling. (laughs) For athletes like me, more than building their stamina it’s important to learn to become comfortable running fast. Not just how much I run, but how much margin I have while running fast. That’s my main focus: training to become comfortable at speed, like 3:00/km pace. Even at 600 or 700 km a month I think it’s possible to succeed with that kind of focus. I don’t know for sure yet because I haven’t tried, but that’s what I’m thinking.

This time I did three 40 km runs, and I’m not sure how many 30 km ones. One? Yes, since New Year’s three 40 km runs and one 30 km run, that’s about it. Before New Year’s another 30 km run. That’s not much, is it? (laughs) The thing that gives me a lot of confidence this time is that I don’t have much muscle soreness now. I’m always really sore afterwards in my quads, my hamstrings, my butt, like to the point where I would jump if I touched them, but this time it’s just my calves, where I might have almost pulled something. I think that had to do with the coldness. What limited my performance this time was just this leg pain, this pulled muscle. Looking at it from the other direction, that means the other parts of legs were in good shape this time and the only reason they didn’t give their full performance was because the calf wasn’t working properly. That’s due to the cold, so you can’t really prevent it. It’s impossible to do anything about that kind of extreme cold. So, bad luck this time. If I’d had different conditions my legs would have had a wider margin to go ahead. I didn’t do many long runs, but considering that, how good my legs feel now gives me a lot of confidence.

After the New Year and National Men's Ekidens you didn’t really run any specific tune-up races this time.

I ran pretty badly at the National Men's Ekiden, so I thought it would be better not to do anything else. (laughs) Yuki Sato ruined me. (laughs) He’s just in a different class of horsepower.

One question I often get from overseas is why at the big ekidens like the New Year Ekiden and Hakone where the distances are roughly a half marathon you often see performances that are faster than people’s PBs or even the national record. For example, at the New Year Ekiden this year Atsushi Sato’s time for the 22.3 km Second Stage was equivalent to a 59:47 half marathon, and your time was equivalent to faster than Sato’s half marathon national record.

Well, there are a lot of factors. One is that in an ekiden the adrenaline and tension are much higher than in a normal race and this pushes you to the kinds of performances you can’t usually reach. Another is that the courses are mostly one-way, so there can be tailwind effects. A third is that ekiden organizers don’t have an obligation to be completely accurate in measuring the distance. They just measure it on their own responsibility. I think that might be the biggest factor. (laughs) I don’t know if I should disclose that secret or not…I’m sure they’re measuring it.

One that was definitely suspicious was on the old New Year Ekiden course. The stages have changed now, but on the old Second Stage (22.0 km) the record set by Kenichi Takahashi from Fujitsu was about 1:01 flat. That was definitely wrong! (laughs) If it was a half marathon that means he would have run a national record.

That would be 58 something. A world record.

Right, way faster than the Japanese record. (laughs) Definitely wrong. There are others that are pretty suspicious too. There aren’t really any rules for that because races are measuring the distances themselves. The oversight isn’t coming from the JAAF, but from the Jitsugyodan federation. Hakone is overseen by the Kanto Gakuren. I don’t know if it’s OK to say this. (laughs) Could mean trouble.

At Tokyo this year the top five men were all Japanese, with Joseph Mwaniki in 6th as the top foreigner. It was also the first win by a Japanese man in one of Japan’s big three marathons since Toshinari Takaoka in 2005. What do you think this means?

Well, of course Kenyans are weaker in really cold weather. The real question is why are they weak? Japanese tend to make full use of their muscles. That means you burn more energy. In races like this one, using energy equals higher body temperature, so the weather hit the Kenyans a bit harder. Their bodies are thinner, especially their calves, so they get cold more easily. Structure-wise they aren’t very strong at handling the change in temperature because their surface area is larger relative to the enclosed space. In that sense Japanese runners have an advantage in my opinion.

I don’t know for a fact, but I think that in really cold weather your tendons are weaker. Not in the normal sense like where you might have Achilles tendon problems, but for example this time what hurt was in my calf between the muscle and the tendon. That has never bothered me before. It’s not something you’d normally imagine would be a problem. Looking at it from the other direction this was the first time for me to run in such cold conditions, so putting them together it seems like the tendons might be very sensitive to cold. Kenyans, Ethiopians and the other Africans tend to use their tendons a lot more when they are running. You know how the men usually have a springy forefoot stride. In the cold maybe they can’t run that way as well because their tendons become too weak. That’s what I thought this time. I think if you researched this thing about tendons you’d probably find out whether it’s true or not pretty quickly, but I haven’t looked it up yet. I’m planning to, though.

The part that hurt me this time is one I usually use a lot from day to day, so I think that indicates it’s a focal part of my body’s strength. If I’m in good shape or feeling good that means I’m using this part really well. If I’m not feeling right then I’m not using it well. After this race I think that if I monitor this it can help me to control my overall condition. In that sense this marathon gave me good learning material for future study.

text and photo © 2010 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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