A few months ago, I wrote about one of my heroes, Japanese marathoner Yuki Kawauchi.  Known as the Citizen Runner, Kawauchi works full time in a government office and trains alone without the support of a coach, a team or a sponsor.  His gutsy performance at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon earned himself a chance to compete at the World Championships in September.  This year he was hoping to do it again and qualify for the Japanese Olympic team.  Unfortunately, this fairy tale does not have a happy ending.  Kawauchi finished in a disappointing 14th place at the Tokyo Marathon last month and did not make the Olympic squad.

As a sign of penance for letting down his many fans and supporters, Kawauchi shaved his head after the race.  This guy’s got some serious samurai spirit going on.  Can you imagine an American sports star, like LeBron James, showing that type of humility?  No way something like that would EVER happen.  I now respect Kawauchi more than ever and am already rooting for him to qualify for the 2018 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The big surprise at the 2012 Tokyo Marathon was Arata Fujiwara’s impressive 2nd place finish.

Fujiwara has shown a lot of promise in the last few years, but has also been highly inconsistent.  He felt the reason for this inconsistency was due to a hip imbalance.  So, to remedy the situation he sought out the help of Hiromi Kashiki, the woman who popularized the sexy exercise craze known as Curvy Dance.

She explained, “When I first saw Fujiwara, I noticed his pelvis was going up and down, left and right–it wasn’t very stable.  I tried to make sure his pelvis area was more relaxed–removing wasted energy to release that explosive power.”  WHOA!  Well, whatever she did seems to have worked because he now has a ticket to London for the 2012 Olympics.

Fujiwara, like Kawauchi, is not affiliated with a corporate team.  Japanese elite runners, unlike their American counterparts, are not sponsored by sportswear companies.  Instead, they are employed by large corporations to compete in the popular ekiden relay races.  For several years, Fujiwara ran for Japan Railways, but got frustrated with the inflexible training and racing schedule.  He quit in 2010 and now trains alone in a Tokyo city park and relies on donated shoes from friends.  For inspiration, he uses a line from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (“Hunger is a good discipline.”) as his mantra.

Because of their unaffiliated status, Kawauchi and Fujiwara are sometimes jokingly referred to as ronin (masterless samurai).  Yet with the success they’ve both had recently, I get the feeling we’re going to be seeing more ronin in the future.  These two guys are a throwback to the golden age of Japanese marathoning, when runners like Toshihiko Seko dominated.  In the 1980’s, Seko won ten world class marathons, including Boston, London, Chicago and Tokyo.  He once summed up his stoic approach to running with the quote, “The marathon is my only girlfriend.  I give her everything I have.”