The Marathon Monks of Japan

By Anupum Pant

I saw this on TV a couple years back. Just now when I was going through my archives, I came across the Tarahumara people article and I remembered having watched a documentary about the Marathon Monks of Japan.

Who are they?

Just outside Kyoto there is a mountain that goes by the name, Mt. Hiei. If you happen to spend a holiday there, you might notice a very absurd thing – hundreds of unmarked graves dotting the mountain terrain. These graves are the resting place of those Buddhist monks, who couldn’t complete a spiritual challenge called the Kaihogyo.

This challenge, Kaihogyo, which has killed several monks on Mt. Hiei is an extreme physical challenge that involves an inordinate amount of running and other related endurance activities, which if a monk fails to complete has to die.

How much running?

Well, the challenge lasts for 7 years. For the first 3 years, a monk has to run at least 30 km (18.6 miles) everyday for 100 consecutive days. For the 4th and 5th year, he has to run 30 km everyday for 200 consecutive days. All of this running is done on the mountain terrain, making their way through dense forests and surviving on just rice (or noodles).

It doesn’t end there. Once a monk is able to some how complete these 5 long years of pain, then he has to go 9 straight days without food, water or even sleep. Let me remind you, the world record for the longest span a human being has been awake is 11 days. To make sure that the monk doesn’t sleep accidentally, there are 2 other monks watching him continuously.

If you think that was a lot already, wait, there is more. For the 6th year, the monk has to run for 60 km (37.2 miles) everyday for 100 days.  During the 7th year he has to run 84 km (52 miles) every day for the first 100 days and 30 km per day for the remaining 100 days.

Withdrawing: In the first year, if a monk wishes to withdraw, he can. But, if he moves on to the 101th day, there can be no withdrawal. The only way to withdraw after the 100th day is to commit suicide.

In the last 400 years only 46 monks have been able to complete this. Watch the short documentary below. [Video]

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The Tarahumara People Can Run for 400 Miles Non-Stop

By Anupum Pant

The marathon is one of the most popular long-distance running events and is followed by people from around the world. An athlete, to even finish the ~42 km race, has to go through a training that lasts several months (or years).The training is designed to develop the slow twitch muscle fibers which enables athletes to run for a long distances without getting tired. But, lacking access to all the hi-tech training equipment, there are people who can run fifteen times that in one session.

Tarahumara people or ‘Running people’ are a group of Native American people living in the north-western Mexico who can run 400+ miles in around 50 hours! Sounds impossible, but it is true. Astonishingly, the entire tribe consisting of men, women, old and young, every one of them is capable of running at least 250+ miles in a single run, without shoes. Such extreme feat of endurance has never been seen among humans anywhere else in the world.

They are the kind of people who run to live. They have running events lasting more than 200 miles regularly. They run to send messages and they run for food; Like Michael Stevens from Vsauce says, as hunters humans who can run persistently, can outrun even horses.

In fact, I thought about writing this after I watched a very interesting video on Vsauce and was feeling uneasy that Michael had missed the Tarahumara people. – [Video]

Where do they get the energy? – Unlike athletes who last on energy gained from Gatorade (or other drinks), these people run on copious amounts of a beverage made from corn, to keep up with the amount of calories they burn in a single event – around 43,000 calories. A great workout indeed!

One thing that has confused me: If they can run 400 miles with ease, why don’t they take part in the marathon events? I’m guessing that they run for long but don’t run as fast as a marathon runner. If you know why, tell me in the comments section below.

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