Article: How the joy of running came back to Takasumi Senoo
In October, Takasumi Senoo became the first Japanese runner to complete the 3100 Mile Race, a feat that attracted considerable media attention in his native Japan. Mainichi Shimbun, the 3rd biggest national newspaper, published a very nice article titled Remarkable Achievement by Former Hakone Dropout: First Japanese to Complete 4989 km Ultramarathon. The title refers to ekiden, which is a relay style long distance run extremely popular in Japan. Hakone is considered the pinnacle race for university ekiden runners; it takes place on January 2 and 3 every year, right after the New Year’s Day, during the nation’s biggest holidays. The whole race is broadcast nationwide. Its prestige and popularity is discussed in detail in Adharanand Finn’s The Way of the Runner: A Journey into the Fabled World of Japanese Running.
This newspaper article came out shortly after this year’s Hakone Ekiden, surely a (nicely) tactful scheduling on Mainichi Shimbun’s part.
The world’s longest-level ultramarathon, which requires runners to complete approximately 4989 km within 52 days, just produced the first Japanese finisher. The distance is more than double the straight line between Sapporo (Hokkaido) and Naha (Okinawa) (2250 km), and is equivalent of running a full marathon (42.195 km) 118 times. The one who cemented his name in history is a former student-runner who once gave up running because he could not make it to Hakone Ekiden.
The race is called The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, and took place in New York, USA, during September and October, 2021. At 6:50pm, October 26, Senoo Takasumi (38 years old) of Midori Ward, Yokohama City, smilingly broke through the finishing tape, holding aloft Japan’s national flag and the race flag. His time was 51 days, 12 hours, 50 minutes and 52 seconds. People at the finish gave him a great cheer, celebrating this 51st finisher in the race’s 25-year history.
He had always loved running since childhood. In autumn of his first year in junior high school, he joined the track and field club, and by his third year, he entered Kanagawa Marathon’s 5 km run open to all age groups, and made it to one of the top runners. He came to aspire to enter Kanagawa University, which won Hakone Ekiden twice in those days. He began envisioning himself in the Ekiden. With his satisfactory results in high school, he was successfully admitted upon recommendation, to one of Hakone Ekiden giants Tokai University.
The level of the prestigious team was beyond his imagination, however. He could run longer distances, but lacked speed. He realized that there was no way to compete with his teammates there; he was wanting the necessary talent. Only after 3 months, he left the team and also gave up running. He became an ‘ordinary student’ thereafter.
Across America ~ Turning Point
A year and a half after that, he one day thought: “I have gained some weight. Let me run again.” He put on his shoes that he had been unable to throw away, and began running in the neighborhood. The joy of running started coming back to him. “Yes, I left the team but that does not mean I should quit running.” Later, in his junior year in university in 2004, with the hope to overcome his setback, Senoo joined Run Across America (3080 miles = 4957 km), which turned out to be a big turning point for him. The huge sense of accomplishment after the finish prompted him to get deeply involved in long distance races.
While he participated in numerous races around the world, a new goal emerged: it is a race that started in 1997, named after the India-born philosopher and runner Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). The race is invitation only, for those who have significant past achievements. Furthermore, out of all the world’s ultrarunners, only about 10 people can take part in it. Senoo actively entered various races, won in more than one of them, and for the first time got their invitation to be in the race.
For the Sri Chinmoy race, the cost amounts to about ¥1 million including the race fee, travel, and accommodation; there will be no prize money even after you complete the race. The race will last close to two months, so he made the decision to leave his work, the hospital he had worked for since he had registered as a nurse in 2013.
The runners of the race run around a high school in a suburb in New York City, about 883 meters of it, again and again. In order to finish, they need to run close to 100 km a day. They have to keep running in the same scenery, on hard concrete with inclines and declines. Because of his swelled feet, he had to cut the toe areas of his shoes, and in the end wore out 19 pairs.
To keep up with the high level of energy consumption, the runners are required to take about 10,000 kcal per day. In Senoo’s case, he managed by (sometimes) forcefully putting food, such as pie, into his mouth as he continued running. Every day from 6 am to midnight he ran, and went to bed at a nearby accommodation. The average hours of sleep was 4.5 hours. Once he was attacked by a severe headache and began vomiting. Finally, only short of 11 hours before the cutoff, he completed the race as the 5th finisher.
“Next Time, as Husband and Wife”
What supported him through all this was the presence of his wife, Yang Huang Lan (43 years old). They met as runners in 2019. Throughout this race, she assisted Senoo in handing out food etc.. He admits: “If I had tried on my own, I could not have completed it.” Toward the end of the race, he ran in ‘Mu’ (= Zen’s notion of nothingness).
The feeling of accomplishment this time exceeded that he had felt after the Run Across America. “I always remembered that feeling at age 21. And I kept running in quest of experiencing the same feeling once again. Now, finally, I have transcended it.” Hakone was a lost dream for young Senoo 20 years ago. Now, he has become the person who has run longer than anybody else in Japan.
And what is their new goal now? To run and complete the next Sri Chinmoy Race together.
- By Makino Daisuke
- Newspaper Name: Mainichi Shimbun, nationwide edition
- Page, Date: p.23 (Society Section); January 6, 2022
- Interviewed by: Yokohama Bureau of Mainichi Shimbun [Yokohama City in Kanagawa Prefecture is Takasumi’s hometown]
Translation from Japanese by Harashita Sunaoshi. As well as being an assistant to 3100 runner Harita Davies, she was also the liason for Japanese media; you can read about her experiences here...