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The Way of the Runner: A Journey into the Fabled World of Japanese Running

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It may come as a surprise to many people, but Japan is the most running-obsessed country on earth. A 135-mile relay race, or "ekiden" is the country's biggest annual sporting event. Thousands of professional runners compete for corporate teams in some of the most competitive races in the world. The legendary "marathon monks" run a thousand marathons in a thousand days to reach spiritual enlightenment.

Yet so much of Japan's running culture remains a mystery to the outside world, on par with many of the unique aspects of contemporary Japan. Adharanand Finn, the award-winning author of Running with the Kenyans, spent six months immersed in this one of a kind running culture to discover what it might teach us about the sport and about Japan.

As an amateur runner about to turn 40, he also hoped to find out whether a Japanese approach to training might help him run faster. What he learns—about competition, team work, form, chasing personal bests, and about himself—will fascinate and surprise anyone keen to explore why we run and how we might do it better.

326 pages, Hardcover

First published September 8, 2015

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About the author

Adharanand Finn

17 books209 followers
Adharanand Finn is the author of Running with the Kenyans, which was the Sunday Times Sports Book of the Year, won Best New Writer at the British Sports Book Awards, and shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book Award. He is an editor at the Guardian and a freelance journalist. He is also a former junior cross-country runner and now competes for Torbay AC in Devon, where he and his family usually live.

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5 stars
521 (20%)
4 stars
1,135 (44%)
3 stars
778 (30%)
2 stars
108 (4%)
1 star
14 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 213 reviews
Profile Image for Ben.
70 reviews2 followers
June 23, 2015
Unfortunately this was nowhere near as interesting as his previous book 'Running with the Kenyans' which is mostly to do with the fact that the book seemed like a long magazine article extended into a book. The only reason he seems to find for the Japanese being good at running is the intense pressurised training they are subjected to in ekiden relays. However this very often leads to burnout and their racing careers are often over by their mid twenties. There are some interesting mentions of Galen Rupp and Alberto Salazar especially given recent events. Whereas 'Running with the Kenyans' had an interesting narrative that the reader could sprint through 'The Way of the Runner' was more of an endurance marathon.
July 2, 2020
I became a fan of Finn's books on running after reading his Running with the Kenyans two years back. I think that people would find it odd that I love Finn's books, or that the fact I enjoy reading books on running since, well, I'm not a runner. I don't participate in any of the fun run activities or marathons.

Well, the reason that I relate so much to his books is because I used to run.

When I was in Standard 4, I participated in 6 running competitions and I won 5 out of 6. I then went on to represent my school to compete in 100 mtr race in Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur level. Since I wasn't professionally trained and rely fully on my natural 'gift', I left running behind and focus on other activities in secondary school.

What's engrossing about reading Finn's books is that his writing contains the 'soul' of running, the meaning of running, and not just the physical or technical aspect of it. Both of his books manages to make me feel something and that's a sign of a good read.

Like his Kenyan book, this book brought the writer (and his family) to Japan to live there for 6 months to do research on how Japan creates marathoners. His experience in Japan wasn't quite as enriching as his experience in Kenya, but still an engaging read.

I am thinking of getting his third book, The Rise of the Ultra Runners later. Who knows, after finishing all his books, I might start running again.
Profile Image for Matt Carl.
132 reviews2 followers
May 13, 2017
Finn does a good job keeping the story engaging, but he is definitely the hero of his own tale. I think he dwells a little too much on his own accomplishments and disappointments rather than the story of the Japanese runners he's supposedly seeking out. I also feel like he was culturally insensitive at times, being the ugly westerner who comes in without learning the language and expecting people to fix things for him. He seems to have had a very narrow snapshot of Japan. Maybe there just wasn't room for it in the context of this book, but he takes one aspect of something he saw or was told and makes generalizations that I think border on racism. Japan is a large country, there is room for a lot more variety and subcultures than he seems aware of...and he lived there! Maybe I'm being unfair, but it really rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't read his previous book on running with the Kenyans, but after this, I don't think I want to, and would be suspicious of anything he said about another culture. Disappointing all around.
Profile Image for Ludwig Reicherstorfer.
96 reviews3 followers
November 23, 2021
Wieder ein tolles Buch von Adharanand Finn, von dem ich fast alles gelesen habe. Man nimmt immer sehr viel mit und nach dem Lesen ist der Text voller Markierungen. Finn versteht es, das "Bigger Picture" aus den kleinen und größeren Erfahrungen seines Läuferlebens zu destillieren und unterhaltsam weiterzugeben.
Profile Image for The Frahorus.
819 reviews83 followers
December 2, 2022
Ho scelto questo libro in biblioteca perché di tanto in tanto mi concedo una lettura riguardante una delle mie passioni: quello della corsa. In questo caso ci troviamo al cospetto di un bravo runner il quale decide di trasferirsi, con tutta la famiglia, per sei mesi in Giappone per un solo scopo: gareggiare nell'ekiden, una sorta di maratona a staffetta e soprattutto va nel Paese del Sol Levante per imparare il segreto della corsa giapponese, visto che sono molto numerosi i giapponesi che gareggiano nelle maratone e che amano proprio questo sport, oltre il baseball e il golf.

Libro quasi tutto biografico, e a me che piace il Giappone non poteva che piacermi. Bella la storia dei monaci che corrono sulla montagna.
Profile Image for Jessie.
426 reviews10 followers
May 13, 2016
For more of my reviews, check out my blog: Http://www.boundtobeme.org

I began reading this book because I have recently rediscovered my love for running. But as I read the words and really thought about what the author was saying, goosebumps spread across my arms. Just thinking about the dedication, love, and commitment to running.. It amazes me. But instead of the author keeping with the excitement, the book (at times) kind of drags out. Although I enjoyed what I read, I found myself putting the book down a lot. Don't get me wrong, it was an enjoyable read. It just wasn't the type of book you read in one sitting.

This book takes an in depth look at Japan's running methods and beliefs. The author plans to travel to Japan and take a critical look at the Ekiden season. I really enjoyed reading about the Japan culture and how runners are somewhat idealized. For example: Japan is unique in that it offers long distance runners a salary to join a team. In Japan, road runners are a big deal. Not only are they faster than my mind can even comprehend, they are an idealistic symbol to the community and certain races bring in comparable rating to the Super Bowl.

As the story continues, my once amazed outlook on these runners turns to pity and sadness. The conditions Japan runners face isn't ideal and the expectation is unrealistic, often leading to the racers burning out. At every point in a Japan runners development/career, they are expected to give maximum effort... All the time, every time. Their coaches expect the highest performance and often their motivation is all the runners have because along the way they have lost their own motivation/enjoyment for running.

This really broke my heart because running is amazing and supposed to be fun. I understand the competitiveness and the aspect that training isn't always fun. But I have a hard time seeing what the point is. The author often asks- 'why do me run?' The author suggests the answer is understanding yourself. And I think I agree with him. Yes, I run for stress relief, escape, enjoyment.. But I run for me and I have learned so much more about who I am since I started.

This book has a bunch of history and fun statistics. The book is well written but longer than I think it needed to be. I am interested in picking up his other book- Running with the Kenyan's and probably will be a book I would prefer via hard copy instead of electronic. If you are a runner, I think you would enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Hira.
22 reviews6 followers
August 8, 2021
I came to this book from my high of re-watching the anime run with the wind multiple times, and I just wanted to read & understand running as it exists in Japan. I am not sure if I can honestly say that it does that well, one thing that put me off about the book was its very outsider perspective, the otherization of what it means to run in japan, & a lack of effort towards going beyond a surface-level overview. One-off personal experiences are converted into generalized platitudes about the country & at most places I was left off wanting more detail.

The marathon monks at Mt. Hiei, the influence of bushido and long-distance running cultures that exist around the Hakone deserved more detail, more time and more of an in-person investigation. There are places where the author does try that, finding people, conducting interviews, but he seemed always to be lost in translation, and that made it all a little half-hearted.

That said, the book does have its moments, it did give me a perspective into how serious running is considered in japan, and the highly rigorous ecosystems that exist around it in schools, universities and beyond, how long-distance running is the holy grail, and how at the start of the new year, Hakone Ekiden becomes that one racing event that draws millions.

I also appreciated the parts where he goes into the culture of overtraining in japan, of how young high school runners are over-trained until they lose their potential (and joy) to burnout and injury, and how younger coaches are trying to question and transform that, but like most places in the book, it doesn’t go deep enough.

For a generally travelogue-ish look, its a nice and gentle read, there are places where he goes into what it means to run, to try to access the flow state that appears as you are lost in it, and I truly loved those parts, which is why I am giving it 3 stars.

I also do want to mention that if you’ve watched Run With the Wind, then you might enjoy this book, I loved the little details of Hakone as it unfolded before the author’s eyes, and many plot points in the anime feel more enriched in my mind now.
Profile Image for MonicaEmme.
367 reviews117 followers
November 16, 2017
Il nostro protagonista va in Giappone perché vuole studiare lo stile di corsa del Sol Levante e fare parte dell' ekiden: una staffetta su strada a cui partecipano tantissime persone, però gli stranieri vengono esclusi. Molti dei più importanti team di ekiden sono stati formati dopo la seconda guerra mondiale come modo per aggregare la popolazione, sollevare il morale promuovere uno spirito di comunità dovuta al conflitto. In quel periodo furono anche create le più famose maratone giapponesi. In un paese dove è più importante l'armonia del gruppo rispetto all'individuo questo tipo di gara è perfetto! Infatti sono tra i migliori fondisti del mondo. Grazie a uno di loro riesce a partecipare agli allenamenti.
Lo stile di corsa dei giapponesi è veramente particolare: non è elegante come quello dei keniani, spesso, con le loro gambette corte, sembra che si trascinano dietro i piedi. Loro si allenano sempre sull'asfalto si alzano tutte le mattine alle 5:30 per la corsetta quotidiana. Sono estremamente costanti, fanno corsi brevi e ripetitive e per loro questo è un punto focale. Fanno questa gara mischiando l'utilità del gruppo con l'utilità del singolo. Hanno raggiunto degli ottimi risultati solo che noi siamo sempre accecati da kenioti ed etiopi e non riusciamo a vedere che subito dopo di loro arriva spesso un gruppetto ben fornito di giapponesi.
Anch'io sono stata una fondista, non per molto, per due anni e per conto mio. Correvo a giorni alterni con un programma di allenamento che mi aveva portato a correre una mezza maratona. Non sono mai stata così a contatto con me stessa come in quel periodo! Un' esperienza intima davvero unica!
Credo che questo libro sia accessibile a tutti, ma che coloro che non hanno mai corso possono trovarlo forse un po' noioso. Io invece mi sono sentita molto coinvolta!
Tre stelle e mezza arrotondate per difetto.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Henri .
105 reviews2 followers
January 11, 2021
5% 的跑者人是亞洲人。
Profile Image for Luke Leighfield.
13 reviews66 followers
August 10, 2016
I had no idea that Japan was so obsessed with running. One of their ekidens – a long-distance relay race that's unique to Japan – gets viewing figures equivalent to the Super Bowl. In this book, Finn moves to Japan to find out more about its obsession with the sport and what we can learn from it. If you're a runner, and even if you're not, it's a fascinating read. And it totally made me want to go back to Japan.

"Running, too, can be a way to self-fulfilment. It has a purity, a power, a way of clearing the mind, of putting you in touch with your essence, that few other activities possess. Sometimes it may seem unlikely, as we creak and struggle along, our legs heavy and tired, but then come those moments when we break through and our bodies begin to feel light, strong, at one with the earth."
Profile Image for Amanda Setasha.
1,425 reviews58 followers
August 22, 2019
I really wanted to love this book.
Honestly, the main reason I rated it 2 stars is all the information and details about Japan are fantastic.

My complaints about this book are that it doesn't actually focus on Japan. He's supposed to be studying Japanese running, but at every event he falls back to talk to Kenyans instead of the Japanese runners.
There's also a 10 page spread where he talks about his children going to school - and it lead to no progress in the Japanese running section.

It took me so long to read this because 60% of it at minimum doesn't even focus on Japan.
Profile Image for Bill.
32 reviews5 followers
February 17, 2016
Quite disappointing, the whole book could have been a very good article. However the writer opted to the book format, which necessitated very long and irrelevant 'detours' that were in the end not offering anything to the final story. The world of Japanese running is exciting, but this book simply does not cut it.
Profile Image for Colin.
1,364 reviews35 followers
February 23, 2021
I read this in audio format while I was running, thinking it would be an inspirational read. Sounds like one, right? And to an extent it is, but it doesn't have a lot of the real ingredients you need: there's no central character struggling to excel themselves. There's no McDougallesque nonsense about secret, forgotten techniques that, once discovered, will let the reader tap into ancient wells of superhuman endurance. In a lot of ways, it's more of a cultural study of the japanese running scene: the grassroots running teams, the corporations who employ professional runners in the same way colleges in the west give scholarships to gifted young athletes.
The good aspects of this are there to see: health benefits and community spirit is boosted by shared commitment to relay races. But there's a dark side too: emphasising team spirit can stifle excellence. More sinister still, coaches are found to bully, browbeat and hit their students, and when this is discovered, it isn't always seen as a problem, either by the authorities or by the students themselves.
But although I wouldn't want to be a japanese athlete, there's always something you can learn from studying another point of view, and the author throws himself into finding out what is going on in the clubs and squads, and gamely tries to apply it in his own racing style back at home. It's very unusual that you come across a book about running that discusses team spirit as opposed to the individual's race against their own PB. So I didn't regret choosing it as a running read at all
Profile Image for Carianne Carleo-Evangelist.
692 reviews13 followers
December 13, 2018
Japan is different. Japanese Runners are different. Finn previously spent time in Kenya learning from and training with their iconic runners and a theme throughought this book is Japanese and Kenyan runners are different. I kind of wanted to slap him and say “no shit. We got it. Move on”, but I also really enjoyed this book.

When landing on a hundredth book, there was no better option than one about two loves given to me by a wonderful Bookcrossing friend. I was living in either Australia or japan when we first “met”, although I wasn’t a runner then. This book made me wish I had been.

Finn is brave, uprooting his family of three young kids so he can travel overland from the UK to Japan and spend sixth months following the ekiden season. I was awed to realize the first team he met with was based and trained right near my first Osaka apartment. With an old friend Max as his translator, Finn made some inroads with a Kansai running group as he tried to lean about the New Years and fabled Hakone ekiden.

I’d hoped for a little more insight into Japanese training and people in the manner of Becky Wade’s book, but this wasn’t that. There was a lot of the author trying to chase his school or post Kenya PRs. I wouldn’t have minded more people, less him, but overall a good read.
February 2, 2019
"The Way of the Runner" reveals a lot of secrets behind the Japanese obsession with running, the mysterious aura of ekidens, and the nation itself. Adharanand Finn's crafty depiction of the environment of the races in Japan (especially Hakone ekiden) pushes you to open YouTube for the visual proof. It was fascinating to follow the author's daily struggles in the foreign country with a rather closed traditional mindset and learn more about the secrets of better performance, do's and dont's. While reading the reflection on the purpose of running I couldn't agree more, mentally nodding at every conclusion. Thanks to Adharanand Finn for this beautiful journey to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Profile Image for Andrew Nierenhausen.
56 reviews8 followers
December 20, 2021

I think Finn has become my favourite running-writer. While he goes in a bit heavy on the pseudo science for my tastes, he loves running and he loves being around runners. Reading his books just makes me want to get outside and run. This book helped me get through a particularly difficult challenge, and I think I will save "Running with the Kenyans" to get me motivated for Spring training.

Besides being a great running book, it's also a great travel book. I've read a lot about Japan, but the personal experiences and slice-of-life style were very fitting.
Profile Image for Maria.
279 reviews18 followers
December 19, 2018
This is a good intro to ekiden running in Japan, what works and what causes problems. The author had an opportunity to examine his running form during the time he visited Japan. It was good to get the perspective of a competitive runner of running competitions.
Profile Image for RensReadingRainbow.
459 reviews7 followers
August 15, 2017
A book about running for runners by a runner. I loved it. I'm not entirely sure people who don't run will find this even remotely enjoyable, so I'll stick to recommending it to fellow runners only.
Profile Image for Neil S W Murray.
39 reviews18 followers
July 28, 2018
An enjoyable read on running and an insightful look at why the Japanese are so good at long-distance running. I also enjoyed learning about ekiden, something that’s incredibly popular in Japan yet I’d never heard of before.
Profile Image for Malin Friess.
675 reviews20 followers
November 26, 2019
4 stars. Fun look at the methodical, pain loving, competitive Japanese Runners.
12 reviews
July 3, 2019
Really lovely sporting tale, even if you don’t like running that much. Fact and opinion given in an unbiased and unprejudiced approach. Was really rooting for the author on his adventure.
Profile Image for Dale Erdmier.
170 reviews11 followers
August 21, 2021
3.5. Really enjoyed getting to learn more about running in Japan. Now I want to run an ekiden.
Profile Image for David Gardiner.
31 reviews2 followers
January 23, 2020
Enjoyable look at running in Japan - and Finn writes well... definitely read Running With The Kenyans first, as it is better.
Profile Image for Amar Pai.
960 reviews101 followers
November 5, 2019
I really enjoyed Running with the Kenyans and Rise of the Ultra Runners.

Didn't like this one quite as much. But salute to Finn for finding an excellent blag (all these books let him move to a foreign country w/ his family, write about running, get paid for it, talk shop with world class athletes, and work on his 10k time)
404 reviews
March 31, 2020
An interesting read about the Japanese phenomenon of long distance relay running - 'ekiden'. Have suggested the running club read this ahead of the Manchester Marathon Relay! Thanks to Chris for the Christmas present.
Profile Image for Cian Aherne.
103 reviews1 follower
August 31, 2021
I loved The Rise of the Ultra Runners and I loved this (I have Running With the Kenyans bought too ... reading them in backwards chronology!). The passion for running jumps off the pages and the stories make it so interesting. In saying that, however, I think I'd have enjoyed it more if the author had!
Profile Image for Telmo Fernandes.
74 reviews5 followers
June 7, 2017
Sim, é um livro sobre corrida, e provavelmente só quem corre se vai interessar por desfolhar as mais de 300 páginas. Mas é também, ou se calhar sobretudo, o relato de um estranho numa terra estranha, e das inúmeras experiências de lost in translation com que se vai deparando. E nesse sentido, fica mais no registo de livro de memórias de viagem (em que a dissonância com o cenário funciona como motor) do que no de reportagem sobre a realidade da corrida de fundo no Japão. Pessoalmente, gosto de objetos híbridos, mas aqui pareceu-me que o registo pessoal, centrado nas peripécias do autor e da sua família, tem muito mais apelo (e daria vontade de ler mais) do que os relatos de corrida (que daria vontade de ler menos). Ainda assim, uma leitura muito recomendável.
1 review
July 20, 2019
I picked this book up at the library with high expectations, but I was left disappointed instead. A few of the issues I had with the author and his writing: (1) While the book is about Japanese running, the author repeatedly insisted on inserting himself and his accomplishments (and failures) throughout the book. I understand needing background information to create a scene, but in his case it was excessive. (2) His sense of entitlement was nauseating. From uprooting his family to train, even though he's a mediocre runner at best, to his lack of civility with fellow runners and thinking he's better than everyone else, he just comes off as a jerk and I had to put down the book because I eventually grew to despise him. (3) The length of the book is ridiculous. It had so many boring details about things that were unnecessary to the story (details about his children's school, the actual move, etc.) that the length could've been decreased by about 40 percent. (4) Culturally he comes across as completely tone deaf. I didn't appreciate his attitude toward the Japanese. His generalizations led me to believe that his other book, about training with the Kenyans, would be equally racist, so I won't be reading any of his future work, especially since there are some many more (way more!) qualified writers who also are excellent runners whose books are on my reading list.
Profile Image for Two Readers in Love.
553 reviews15 followers
May 1, 2018
Travel and reading about travel is my gateway into the other countries and other cultures I'd like to experience more fully if I had a thousand lives to live.

In my limited experience, the travel that I've found most fulfilling is - strangely enough - travel for work rather than travel for pleasure. Having to buy a new router in a Swiss computer store, or navigating renting a German apartment makes me feel like I know a little slice of those cultures better than when I tour cathedrals and museums (though that is certainly wonderful as well.)

By looking at a country through the lens of it's running culture, but also allowing us to tag along 'new journalism' style on his family life, Finn's book on Japanese ekiden running and his previous book on Kenyan running made me really feel like I had learned a little bit of what it is like to be a visitor to these countries in a way that more straightforward travelogues fail to achieve. Plus, along the way, I learn a few things to apply to my own middle-aged running. Nice.
Profile Image for Steve Chilton.
Author 11 books17 followers
April 18, 2016
It is difficult to pin down, but I found this less rewarding and also less engrossing than 'Running with the Kenyans'. There is much about the Japanese lifestyle and also the traditional ekiden relay race, but somehow the individuals he met seem to be represented slightly one-dimensionally. Long-distance running is big business in Japan and they have plenty of young/university athletes, but can't seem to translate it to the world stage and take on the Ethiopians and Kenyans at the marathon, and after experiencing the culture Finn doesn't really have an answer.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 213 reviews

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