With one day left until my marathon, I enjoy reflecting on the hundreds of miles that I have run in preparation for the race. Most have been before sunrise, starting as early as 4:30 AM and going as far as 18 miles. This time I reduced my mileage and long runs as I am recovering from achilles tendon issues. My last marathon was in Boston in fall 2021 and ended in a time of 3 hours and 25 minutes.
To get hyped up, I like to listen to the story of the Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei before I run. There is a book on the topic as well as a documentary that was made about the book. NHK, Japan’s national television channel, also recently made a documentary about the mountain.
The marathon monks of Mt. Hiei are a group of Japanese Buddhist monks who are known for their practice of running long distances as part of their spiritual training. They are members of the Tendai sect of Buddhism and are based at the Enryaku-ji temple complex on Mt. Hiei, near Kyoto. The monks’ training includes running a marathon (42.195 km) every day for 100 consecutive days, as well as other physical and mental disciplines such as fasting and meditation. The practice is believed to purify the mind and body, and ultimately lead to enlightenment.
The number of marathon monks of Mt. Hiei is not publicly disclosed. But It’s a small group of monks who undertake this rigorous training. It is considered a very difficult and demanding practice, both physically and mentally, and not all monks who begin the training are able to complete it. Only a select few are chosen to become marathon monks each year, and the number of monks who are currently undertaking the training or have completed it in the past is not widely available.
Marathon monks of Mt. Hiei typically follow a vegetarian diet, which is in line with the Buddhist principle of non-harm and compassion for all living beings. Their diet is simple and minimalistic, consisting mostly of grains, vegetables and fruits. They may also consume some soy-based products such as tofu, and small amounts of fish.
During the training period, they have to follow strict dietary restrictions, including fasting for certain periods of time. They also may have to eat only one meal a day, and this meal is typically served in the evening. The food is often prepared in a way that is easy to digest and not too heavy, as the monks need to be able to run the marathon the next day.
Phrase of the Day:
- Enryaku-ji (延暦寺): This is the name of the temple complex on Mt. Hiei where the marathon monks are based.
- Tendai Buddhism (天台宗): This is the sect of Buddhism to which the marathon monks of Mt. Hiei belong.
- Sennichi Kaihogyo (千日回峰行): This is the name of the marathon training that the monks undertake, which involves running a marathon every day for 100 consecutive days.
- Shugendo (修験道): This is a Japanese religious practice that combines elements of Buddhism, Shintoism, and animism and is associated with Mt. Hiei.
- Hieizan (比叡山): This is another name for Mt. Hiei
- Sennin (仙人): This is a term used to describe the marathon monks who have completed the Sennichi Kaihogyo
- Kaihōgyō (回峰行): It’s a term that means “Circuit of the Mountain” which refers to the marathon training.