Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei

I've Been reading Born to Run recently, the whole time I was reading the book I came across names that I wanted to google, One thing that I google were the Marathon Monks that were mentioned in the book.

When reading about the Marathon Monks I was shocked, the amount of running seems impossible.... not the case tho.

Here's the full Story..

The monks, known as Kaihigyo, are spiritual athletes from the Tendai Sect of Buddhism, based at Mount Hiei, which overlooks the ancient capital city of Kyoto.

The ultimate achievement is the completion of the 1,000-day challenge, which must surely be the most demanding physical and mental challenge in the world. Forget ultra-marathons and so-called iron-man events, this endurance challenge surpasses all others.

Only 46 men have completed the 1,000-day challenge since 1885. It takes seven years to complete, as the monks must undergo other Buddhist training in meditation and calligraphy, and perform general duties within the temple.

The first 300 days are basic training, during which the monks run 40km per day for 100 consecutive days. In the fourth and fifth years they run 40km each day for 200 consecutive days. That's more or less a full marathon every day for more than six months.

The final two years of the 1000-day challenge are even more daunting. In the sixth year they run 60km each day for 100 consecutive days and in the seventh year they run 84km each day for 100 consecutive days. This is the equivalent of running two Olympic marathons back-to-back every day for 100 days.

Author John Stevens, in his book, The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei describes the running style which dates back over a thousand years. 'Eyes focused about 100 feet ahead while moving in a steady rhythm, keeping the head level, the shoulders relaxed, the back straight, and the nose aligned with the navel.'
What makes all these distances even more amazing is the manner and the conditions in which the monks run. These runs are usually begun at night and are over mountain paths that are uneven and poorly marked.

 During the winter months the low temperatures and snow are a great hindrance to the runners. These monks do not wear the latest in footwear and clothing, but run in straw sandals, an all-white outfit and a straw hat. They also run on a diet of vegetables, tofu and miso soup, which modern athletes and nutritionists would deem to be unsuitable for endurance events.

Not only do they wear clothes and shoes unsuited to running, but they have to carry books with directions and mantras to chant, food to offer along the way, candles for illumination, as well as a sheathed knife and a rope, known as the 'cord of death'. These remind the monk of his duty to take his life if he fails, by hanging or self-disembowelment. The course is littered with unmarked graves, marking the spot where monks have taken their own lives. However, there have been no cases of monks' suicides since the nineteenth century.

During theses long runs the monks must make stops at temples of worship that can number up to 260. This means that the 86km run can take up to 20 hours to complete leaving the monk with very little time for recovery or rest, but as an old saying goes: 'Ten minutes' sleep for a marathon monk is worth five hours of ordinary rest.' They also learn to rest sections of their body while running, such as their arms or shoulders.
And then there is the doiri, where the monk faces seven days without food, water or sleep or rest. During this time the monk will spend his entire day reciting Buddhist chants and mantras - perhaps up to 100,000 each day. The only time the monk will leave the temple is at 2am to walk the 200m to a well and return with water to make an offering. He is not allowed to drink any himself and the 200m walk can take up to two hours in the final days of the fast. During his time spent meditating there are two monks who are in constant attention to ensure that he does not fall asleep.

For several weeks before doiri, the monk will reduce his food intake so his body can cope with the fast. The first day is no problem, but there is some nausea on the second and third days. By the fourth and fifth days the hunger pangs have disappeared, but the monk has become so dehydrated that there is no saliva in his mouth and he will begin to taste blood.

The purpose of doiri is to bring the monk face-to-face with death. During this fast, the monks develop extraordinary powers of sense. They talk of being able to hear the ashes of incense sticks fall to the ground and, perhaps unsurprisingly, of the ability to smell food being prepared miles away.

I hope this inspires you to get out there and run...

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