After travelling to Japan several times to compete in various Ekiden relays with the Canadian team, I’ve learned a bit about the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese personality.
I should start by saying that it’s wonderful to race in Japan, because the Japanese practically worship long-distance runners. I remember being in Japan for the Chiba Ekiden in 1999. The whole country got a work holiday on the day the relay was held (I think it was a Tuesday.) The entire 42.2-km course was lined with spectators, and those who weren’t out on the course watching could follow the race live on TV. However, that’s another story.
As hosts, the Japanese are gracious, polite, and generous to visiting runners. On every trip, my teammates and I were showered with beautifully-wrapped gifts. To the Japanese, appearance and presentation are of critical importance. So is the related notion of “saving face,” using words and ritual expressions that are designed to avoid embarrassing others or injuring their status.
To the Japanese, it is a grave offense to disobey rules, even ones that to Canadians would seem trivial and harmlessly broken under some circumstances. This unwillingness to make exceptions to rules that I’ve observed in Japanese people seems to extend to their exercise machines. I discovered this when I went to Japan with the Canadian Olympic team in 1988 and tried to use a stationary bike in our hotel’s well-equipped gym.
I couldn’t find the Lifecycles that I was familiar with, but I manage to find a bike that fit me and felt comfortable. The only remaining challenge was to figure out the controls so I could do a workout of the correct intensity.
The bike first instructed me to enter a number of parameters about myself, such as age, sex, weight, and fitness level. I entered all the information and then started pedaling. The program I chose was one that was supposed to increase gradually in difficulty over a period of several minutes.
I was only about two minutes into my workout when the bike turned itself off. Frustrated, but assuming it was just a freak mechanical difficulty, I went through the whole process of entering my stats and began again. The bike stopped after the same amount of time. This time, I was somehow able to figure out that it had decided I was in a “danger zone”—my heartrate had gotten to a level that was unacceptably high.
I had an “aha” moment. This time, when I entered the data, I claimed to be a 20-year-old male, 200 lbs., in excellent condition. Now I was certain the bike would let me push as hard as I wanted.
But it was not to be. There was an improvement—this time the bike allowed me to ride for about 10 minutes. Just at the point when I was starting to break out into a light sweat, it stopped again.
I gave up and decided to do a weight workout instead.