I came to The Way of the Runner really wanting to gain an insight into the world of Japanese ekiden. I’d heard Adharanand Finn taking about the depth of Japanese running on the brilliant Marathon Talk podcast. He seemed sold on the idea that there was something unique about the ways in which the Japanese trained that helped to account for their undoubted depth, particularly in the marathon and half marathon distances.
In this respect the book failed. The text offers nothing beyond some bland statements about the fact that high school and university coaches can be incredibly tough; that runners train hard at a relatively young age (and subsequently burn out); and that it is possible to earn a decent living from running even at a sub-national level.
The main issue is the fact that we never really get to know any of the runners that pop in and out of the narrative. Whether it’s the language barrier or the reserve that many of the coaches have for a foreign journalist is not particularly salient. What is evident is the fact that we don’t journey into the psyche of any of the runners. We are none the wiser about what makes them capable of running such good times in such large numbers. This is the real shame. Finn is, undoubtedly, a good writer. He is capable of evoking the ennui of an overland train journey, and at times he movingly captures the essence of what running means to him. He would have been onto something much more captivating if he’d been able to gain any significant insight into the psychology of the Japanese runners. He is a natural storyteller, but he’s stuck with a narrative that refuses to be told in any meaningful depth.