From Heaven to Hell in Under 5 Hours

By Mark Morgan

Mark M. - Ready for Take Off

I had always wanted to run a marathon.  I never really thought about when or where it would happen.  But ever since completing a half marathon a few years ago, the glass just felt half-full.  So, three months ago, whilst watching all the Rocky films, fueled by Red Bull and inspired by boundless energy, I decided to sign up for the 2013 Mount Fuji Marathon.

I woke up on race morning to a snow capped Mount Fuji glistening in the morning sunshine, took the first train to the race course in Kawaguchi-ko and went through my usual pre-race routine.  The atmosphere at the beginning was electric, a feeling that 15,000 crazy individuals are all in this together.  At 9 am fireworks signaled the start and the race began.  I felt pretty good during the opening 5km. My pace was very slow, after all, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Thoughts of an old knee injury were drifting towards the back of my mind.  High shrills of Japanese females and old men that I couldn’t understand roared the runners to life.  Mount Fuji looked on like a proud emblem of Mother Nature guiding us round with her sunny gaze.  This shining aurora feeling would only continue until the 12 km point.  Then, I felt a twinge in my left knee.  I decided to deal with it like I would with annoying small children.  You know they are there, but if you ignore them long enough, then perhaps they will go away.  I wouldn’t recommend this method for kids of your own.  So, I kept running.  The pain in my knee seemed to subdue up until 20 km, but I figured it was just a matter of time.

At 25 km, a shooting pain ran through my knee and a small “pop” signaled that something wasn’t right.  My knee buckled and I fell over, screaming at the old man on the side trying to force feed me chocolates- this was not the time.

This was to be the biggest mental dilemma of the race.  Medically, I should have stopped.  You should realize in a race when to stop.  I sadly lack this sense.  Pride and competitiveness are powerful driving forces, plus I hate being beaten.  When my friend from university beat me in chess, I threw the board out the window (for some reason chess gets me really angry, just ask ex-jet Ross Curran about the time he beat me ).  I lay there on the ground thinking of the sarcastic banter I would have received from friends if I dropped out – “Oh, so you did the Fuji Half Marathon, what happened to the other half?!”

I had to continue.  Time was now no longer an issue.  Sub 4 hours was not going to happen, it was just a case of getting around – man vs mountain.  With a history in track and field, I am used to focusing on times and positions, but in that moment I realized how much a marathon is a personal race, it’s an individuals state of mind against the course in front of you.  My mindset now changed, I would get to the next km marker and take it from there. Drink and food stops became my new best friends; embracing jelly babies here, cream bread there, bananas everywhere- any other day I could have just sat in front of Fuji and had a picnic.

Small children aged anywhere from 6-12  suddenly became miniature generals with their shouts of GANBATTE ringing in my ears.  My left leg seemed to be numb with pain and my right leg simply didn’t know what to do.  I might as well have named the pair Apple and Samsung, two bitter rivals that were trying to work out what the other would do next.  My arms were floating like octopus legs, probably similar to how I dance, with my hips swaying to a badly covered version of Shakira called “My Hips Don’t Align.”

30 km passed by, my new tactic was to walk 200 m, run and limp the other 800 m then complain and groan for one minute, whilst the other runners passed me by like graceful gazelles.  The left knee was considerably bigger than the right.  Suddenly, 40 taiko drummers sent out a war cry, each beat signifying the remaining steps towards the finish line.  I had to do this.  35km, “Mark you are going to do this ,” became my inner monologue.

Mark M. - Big Ass Fuji

Suddenly, that big ass mountain they call Fuji re-emerged, an indication that there were just 4 km to go.  I had gone past the feeling of pain. I had moved on to the following realizations:

  • One leg worked better than the other.
  • The amount of beer I was going to drink after this would make everything alright.
  • This was probably the most beautiful place in the world to get injured.

I reached the finish one hour later than I had planned, but to me, time had stopped.  Finishing a marathon is a great achievement regardless of time, ability, age or place.  I have a new found respect for this huge Japanese running culture.  My advice… If you want to take up running, start small. You are not going to be running marathons straight away, but try a 5k or 10k instead; build your confidence and don’t train too hard.  It’s easy to pick up injuries and feel discouraged.  If you want real marathon advice, ask Erin Frazier!  I don’t recommend my method for finishing!  Good luck!

Edited by, LIz Millership and Carlye Hodel