Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tokyo Marathon revisited

I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.
--Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Today I ran the Tokyo marathon for the second time. The first time was in 2007, when I had been in Japan for almost a year. I was not ready for it, and had been depressed for several months by the time February 2007 rolled around. But I’m a stubborn sort, and I did it anyway. It took me about 6 hours and 15 minutes from start to finish.

I was in agony for weeks afterwards, and swore I would never run another marathon, that they were crazy things. But last year I started running regularly, and have run most weeks since May last year, sometimes more than once. And I decided to try the Tokyo marathon again. So now it is Sunday night, and I’m at home.

This year was better than 2007 in many ways. Firstly the weather – last time it was cold and rainy, and I ran wearing a disposable raincoat. I ran alone, and I ran fast, then ran out of energy and dragged myself the rest of the way. I ran in a cloud of depression too, as if the actual clouds and rain were not bad enough!

I’d be lying if I said this year’s marathon was a walk in the park, or that this year is when compared to 2007. But it has improved a lot. Today was warm and sunny in Tokyo. Also, I have made some jogging friends and did the marathon with them, at least for the first half, which helped a lot. In the second half I was on my own, and it was tougher going. But I did have a whole city cheering for me.

Many runners wore all kinds of costumes. There were ninjas, samurais, people dressed up as Pikachu or Spiderman. There was even a guy in a full Darth Vader costume, including lightsaber, and his personal stereo system blaring out his own theme music!

And hearing the crowds cheering was really nice. In the second half of the race, when I alternated between running and walking, a good motivator was running along the side of the road high-fiving all the people. Volunteers, kids, men and women, young and old. The shouts and cheers really helped a lot.

I had hoped to finish in around 5 hours, and while my final time was just under five and a half, I’m pretty happy with that. I beat my previous time by around 50 minutes, despite being 4 years older. I’m in pain, and I was in a lot of pain during the race. But that is okay. Life is pain. Much of this pain has no purpose and it is visited on us by things outside of our control.

But today’s pain had a purpose. It took me outside of myself for a while. Like when climbing Mt Fuji, my whole being was focused on one goal, and propelling myself one step at a time towards my destination. The people around me play a role, but in the end it is my strength, my will that makes a difference.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Whenever I think of alternative medicine I always think of an old ad that used to be on TV in Australia in the 90s. It was for an insurance company, and showed a woman lying down on a table, while a man chanted something and banged two large fish together over her back. The gist of the ad was that the company covered everything.. well, almost everything.

Last year I started trying a few different things I never would have thought I would ever try. I went to acupuncture weekly for almost two months. It was very relaxing, but I am not sure that it was anything more than that.

I also went to a chiropractor/masseur, who took one look at me and said I was in terrible shape. He really went to town on me, especially on my feet and legs. I felt something like bread dough probably feels like when it is being kneaded.

Despite this, (or perhaps because of it – I am something of a masochist!) I’ve been back to see him on a regular basis since then, and despite the fact that the sessions can be quite painful, I do seem better afterwards. While what he does doesn’t seem to address my state of mind directly, it does help my body get into slightly less twisted shape. And that can’t help but benefit anyone’s state of mind.

Late last year a friend recommended that I try yoga, saying that it helped them with running. So I decided to give it a go, and went along. It was hard! I wouldn’t have thought that it was so strenuous to go into simple poses, but apparently it is. I have never been the most well coordinated person, but doing some simple yoga seems to help a bit.

I don’t really buy into the spiritual side of it, and one class I went to about chakras made me feel downright uncomfortable. Not physically, but there was just something that felt wrong somehow. I’m not sure if this is just a hangover from the Christian indoctrination of my youth, my innate skepticism about and disdain for religiosity or what, but whatever it was, I just didn’t feel comfortable.

However, the other class I went to was fine. It was basically a long series of different kinds of stretching exercises. I’ve been to the class a number of times now and it seems good for me on a few levels.

It is physically challenging but not dangerous, and there is qualified supervision. It gives me a different type of exercise to running, and is a more active way of putting my body the way it should be than getting kneaded. In addition, it is a peaceful and relaxing environment, and a group activity.

I don’t have any immediate plans to try any other alternative therapies, but I would be interested to hear about the experiences that others have had with alterative treatments.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Goodbye Vic Mackey

Yesterday I finished watching Season 7 of The Shield. I watched the show from the beginning, back when I was in Australia and watched it online as the seasons progressed. But yesterday I finished watching the final season on DVD for the first time, to really mixed emotions.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it tells the story of Vic Mackey and his strike team, a bunch of corrupt cops in the fictional Farmington district of Los Angeles. Mackey was a thug and a murderer, but also a highly intelligent and charismatic operator who closed cases that others could not.

While the show was always dark, in the last few seasons, especially the final one, it was almost entirely bleak. The frenetic action never really slowed down, but it was clear that in many ways there was no point. Mackey and his guys had lost their souls long ago. Without ruining anything for those of you who may watch it some day, they all reap what they have sown.

The show had a lot to say, but it usually didn’t come right out and say it. It usually followed the maxim of “show, don’t tell”, to demonstrate what policework can do to people, the way people can give in to temptation – or not, the futility of the war on drugs. And it showed a little something about the human condition. For the first four seasons we could cheer on the cops, both good and bad, as they tried to close cases by whatever means they could.

But it wasn’t until the fifth season, when an Internal Affairs investigation started, that those methods were used on the characters we had come to know and care for over the previous years. The pressure, lies, threats, and intimidation were now used on the characters we knew and cared about, not on a random suspect-of-the-week. And they looked a lot less clever and a lot more brutal now that we knew those who were being subjected to them.

The writers behind the show did an amazing job of making us care, and they just got better as the years went on. The show became less enjoyable, but not less compelling. The acting was often top-notch as well, and some of Michael Chiklis’ most impressive moments as Vic Mackey were in the last season. Many of them were completely silent, as he was forced to confront what he was, what he had done.

This is the second time I’ve watched the series, and I don’t think I will watch it again for many years. But I’m glad I spent the time I did with Vic, Shane, Lem, Ronnie, Danny, Julian, Dutch, Claudette, Tina, Steve, David, and the countless other characters that made the world of Farmington a very real one.