Before nighty-night time, Vin & I both opted to partake in pre-race お風呂 (ofuro), which is a wicked awesome Japanese style hot bath—OK, stop the snickering, the baths were at separate times—and that really went a long way to loosen the muscles, and just in general relax the mind the night before the big race. Though, I should comment on the two completely different attitudes that were taking place the night before: 1) Vin: yea, there's this thing we're doing tomorrow, maybe you heard of it, it's a marathon. No big deal. 2) Joe: Am I insane for even thinking about trying to attempt to take down this beast? Will I live only long enough to regret ever having tangoed with such a gigantic monster? Good-sweet-sweat-beaded-Christ beard, I'm doomed. And so, with those thoughts akin to visions of sugar plumbs dancing through our heads, we sought sleep.
5am, Vin wakes me up and we start "carb intaking", I want to be careful in the wording here since the night before we literally loaded our bellies with so much pasta & bread it was hard to move; cautious of how full we felt the night before, we didn't want to stuff ourselves past a humanly decent satiated threshold. Our departing time was 7am, so we had 2 hours to kill with nothing much beyond being awake that we needed to do. I think these 2 hours were very crucial to the mental state we left his apartment with. We played Minor Threat songs, joked around, debated the weather predictions from 5 different sources, and sipped on green tea. We basically did the same things we always do when we're together and get pumped up about doing something awesome: in an escalating fashion, we feed off of each others excitement until we're roaring juggernauts of kinetic energy. Perfect for a race day.
7am, we head for the station, which is conveniently on the backside of the apartment. Along the way other marathoners can be seen with their running shoes and clear plastic clothes bags that are sanctioned by the race officials to put your stuff in before the race starts. We picked up a friend along the way who followed us up until the Starbucks where we met people from Vin's running club, Namban Rengyo. We had a good hour or so to kill there, and the baggage despot was in sight across the street, so other than being crazy crowded with runners and an overflowing abundance of consternation from the usual patrons who just wanted latte, but instead were met with a packed parlor of people in various states of dress & undress, it was a perfect location to bide our time. I photo-bombed a few snapshots just for fun and sipped on a small cup of black coffee with faint images of Dale Cooper boasting "damn fine" in the back of my mind.
Twin Peaks Love
Minutes skipped by like Daniel Faraday's description of time travel physics by way of a needle playing on a scratched record, and the loudspeakers were threatening people that if they weren't on their starting blocks in 15 minutes they would be escorted to the end area behind all the runners. I still had to check my baggage, so this was the point I lost Vinnie. He was starting in block B and I was back in block E. We had a loose plan of staying on the left side, I would run fast and he would run slow, and at some point we would meet. It was a madhouse of people slowly shuffling to their starting positions. Though it was morning and cold, the good news was, with so many people around the bodies not only blocked the chilly breeze, but provided an adequate amount of heat. The bad news was, that black coffee I had back at Starbucks was ready to leave me. I followed an arrow that pointed in the general direction of sections C through K. When I got to the top of the ramp, the Freddy Krueger nightmare image of a person holding a sign designating the area I had spent so long shuffling towards as K slapped me in the face like razor fingers. I caught sight of another guy with an E on his number tag that was pushing up the sidelines, and immediately followed behind him. I know it seems like a lot to risk, putting my faith in the fact he knew where he was going, but I also had an ace up my sleeve in the chance he was wrong: since arriving in Japan I have had the good fortune of getting my way in various situations simply because I am gaijin. If, say, we ended up in the wrong block, I was just going to simply say, "I don't understand" repeatedly, and sooner or later they would either let me be, or escort me to the front of the line, which are consistently the only two outcomes that seem to happen in those scenarios: win-win!
9am, the race starts in 10 minutes and the mayor of Tokyo is talking over the loudspeakers about things I can not comprehend, so I just stand there trying to move my legs side to side to get them ready to race. To me, it sounded like they announced the race will start in 3 minutes...then 7 minutes later, it sounded like they said the race will start in 3 minutes. Obviously it's of little importance, because I'm not going anywhere until everyone in front of me starts moving too, but it still seems like a good thing to be aware of. The countdown: boom, confeti bursts over the street ahead, and it's unmistakably start time. I hit play on my nano vegan marathon playlist and off I go. Though, it takes a few minutes to actually cross the start line, about 12 to be exact. When I finally did, I kissed my hand and placed it over my heart patch that I had made for my aunt Nene (who was diagnosed with Schleroderma a little over a year ago), because, despite her being 6,800 miles away, and 14 hours behind, we were doing this thing together. The race starts in front of the government building in Shinjuku, so you pass the mayor of Tokyo and other officials dressed in black waving to you, as you try to avoid getting your legs wrapped up in discarded ponchos people shed like snake skin once the race began. The race starts slow. There's no real room to kick out ahead from where I am, so I cruise, taking advances when they present themselves. There are lots of costumed runners: Pokemon, pandas, Spiderman, Jesus Christ (not me folks, though the beard remains, the hair is gone, but thanks for thinking it) with a real live cross to bear, and crab/sea creatures galore. It was an entertaining lot, but I couldn't imagine how uncomfortable that must be by the end. Even though coffee can't hardly wait to get gone, I skip the first bathroom station because: 1) I need to catch up with Vinnie 2) it looked really crowded.
The first section of the marathon is a bit of an easy tease: it's all downhill. Though it's still hard to get around a lot of the early costumed people, and people running holding hands, I stick to the left and continue to jump ahead. The second bathroom station is huge, so the line seems to move relatively fast, I make an executive decision to stop here. Having found relief in a portable toilet scented with terribleness I make my way back into the stream of the race. I hit it a bit harder this time, feeling that I need to catch up, and indeed when I see some familiar costumes again, I break my stride into a nice easy pace. The streets of Tokyo are nice, even on a normal day, but from my point of view, we are on parade. The first 5km is gone, and I don't even feel like I've started running yet. When 10km rolls around I'm wondering if I missed Vinnie. I knew I had people waiting for me on the sidelines, so I started sticking to the edge of the street that people were standing on. This is when the marathon took on a whole new level. The support from the spectators gathered along the road was amazing! Constant calls of "がんばって” (do your best, hold on!) or my favorite "ファイト" (fight!) were shouted along the way. I quickly discovered that if you get close enough, people hold out their hands for high fives: this became my thing; especially when I saw children lined up holding out their palms, I swooped in for the cheers and encouragement. Spectators were even dressed up along the way. You saw as many pandas and pokemon off the road as on. Truly a great time for all. I ventured into my first water station somewhere after that 10th kilometer, I was running past the imperial palace at that point, which is beautiful, and the 10k racers were pulling off the road to finish out their day to the sounds of taiko drums and geisha dancing on the sidelines.
The course wraps back around at about 15km. I was expecting Yuko & her family somewhere along the sidelines between 10-15km, but never caught sight of them. Ahead of time, I told Yuko & Aki that they could track Vin & I at every 5km checkin, so I was more sure that they could find me easier than I could find them. I continued running the sidelines through the turnaround, and pushed forward until a bright yellow flash lunged towards me from the left. Vinnie had found me. He said he saw me at the drink station but he had already made the turnaround, so he just slow-stepped it for a minute til I caught up. So here we were, as we always planned, since the moment of starting this blog, two vegan buddies from the streets of Oreland running a marathon in Tokyo side by side: it felt great. I took my ipod off immediately, never to put it on again. I decided listening to the world around me was more encouraging than disconnecting from it at that moment: I wanted to soak in every aspect of it. We chatted up the course so far, and sorta debated how much Vin could push his knee; we both agreed he should take it easier than he thought necessary. So I followed Vin's pace, which was no big deal, I didn't care how slow we needed to go, I wasn't worried about my time, it was the experience that I craved more, and I was getting that by the boat load. I told Vin about my high five adventures, and how the crowd really gets you pumped if you swoop in close to them, to which I continued to demonstrate for him repeatedly. Vin wasn't sold on the showmanship I was displaying, he was in survival mode and conserving as much of his energy as possible. We encouraged each other, and continued to joke, and converse casually while we crossed the halfway point. Yes you read that right, we casually conversed through the half marathon point. We just weren't exerting ourselves all that much. After the halfway point, we took a long stroll through the fluid station, ate some vegan bars I had brought from the states, and drank even more fluids. The workers at the station were always helpful and just genuinely enthusiastic about us runners. It's impossible to feel sad in that nurturing environment.
We stopped for a bathroom break at the first place after the half. It took forever, since the mens room only had two urinals. Vin jokingly suggested we share a urinal, or use the sink. I think either one would have blown some Japanese minds. After that, it was uphill for a little while. We stopped under a bridge so Vin could stretch a little. I started to stretch too, but when I bent my leg back and heard my knee make a pop sound, I immediately stopped. If stretching was going to worsen my condition at this point, I was just going to hold out til the end. We saw another fluid area, but Vin didn't want to stop because of his knee, but something was different about this station. I mused aloud "why are so many people fighting to get water at that table, but not the other one?", I swooped in and found that this was the first FOOD station. Bananas and raisons. I grabbed a handful for Vin and myself and shoved them into his hand. Bananas were awesome at that point. Food never tastes better than when you work for it. Vin appreciated the bananas because he was also fighting off leg cramps. We continued on, I did my best to tell Vin anything to keep his spirit going, and he kept saying "It's not a question of if I will finish anymore, it's a question of when". He had resigned to a walk run pattern as his strategy to finish the race, I noticed I was slowly pulling ahead of him despite trying to match his pace, at which point he called to me "I'm just going to walk for a little while", I gave him a thumbs up and nodded to him, and he nodded back, and somewhere around 25k we parted ways.
It was right around 26K that Yuko (with her owl hat) and Yoshie called to me from the sidelines. I was taken by surprise because I had given up on actually seeing anyone I knew from the crowds. Unfortunately I could't really stop, because I noticed back at the fluid station, with Vin, my legs were a wobbly mess and completely off whenever I walked, but if I just kept running I was fine. So I jogged in place for a moment, giving high fives to them both, because that was my thing. Yuko offered a banana, but since I had just ate at the station 1km ago, I didn't want to take on too much food. I told her to look out for Vinnie behind me, because he could probably use a banana due to his leg cramps. I forgot, however, that the night before I jokingly told her Vinnie would be wearing a blue dress with gold sequins, a tiara, and booby tassels. Needless to say, she spent the next 20 minutes looking for a non-existent version of vinnie's race attire, while the real Vinnie probably hobbled past in need of sustenance. I took off, with them saying they would meet me again up ahead. That gave me something to look forward to, besides the finish line.
I was off on my own once again, but you never feel lonely in a marathon, or at least not the Tokyo marathon. Storeowners were holding out baskets of free foods, sodas, water, candy, muscle spray. The crowds here were so thoughtful of the runners, I know I've repeatedly said this, but it's amazing. I'm not sure how people react for other marathons, but I really couldn't picture Philly being this receptive to runners in the least. I love Philly, and I could be wrong, but I just don't see the same level of support for this type of event.
The kilometers were folding fast behind me, and I was seeing some amazing sights at unique vantage piont: from Shinjuku, to Chiyoda, past Tokyo tower, Shinagawa, to Ginza, I passed the Asakusa Kaminarimon gate, all on foot. It's a tour of Tokyo like no other, that's for sure. I wonder how much you'd spend on a metro pass to take in all these sights? If you include the supplied food and beverage, I might have ended up with the best deal on a cheap tour package.
Around 28km, I started hearing new cheers from the crowd; yes "がんばって” and "ファイト" remained the staple shout of encouragement, with a "Good Job" thrown in from time to time, the phrases "終わって!" (Finish!) and "もうちょっと" (just a little more) started ringing in my ears with a pleasing tone of the impending importance of finishing. I had gone far enough, at this point, for the crowd to inform me that I had exceeded expectations, and was indeed on course to accomplish something great. I think a large portion of the marathon distance is how you mentally react to what your body is going through. It is, in simplest terms, an endurance test. But with "fans" as enthusiastic as the ones that line up along the way, it becomes a lot easier. It's like being a professional athlete that can do no wrong: you have a constant stream of people simply there to make you feel better about what you are going through.
Red Beard Refuels after 30km (19 miles)
Around this same time my knee, not the one that made the popping sound, started feeling tinges of pain. They were mild ripples, like a pebble tossed into Pacific Ocean, so I paid them no mind and focused on making it to 30km. Which I excitedly passed with great earnestness, soon to find Yuko, Yoshie, and her family on the sidelines cheering me on. I paused longer for this one than I had been able to before, but I never stopped moving for fear my wobbly walking legs would overtake me, sending my face to meet the pavement. The result is an oddly hyper-optimistic version of me, that floats around like a prize fighter ready to duck a few punches before splitting off to face a bigger fight.
"Just 12 more キロ" (7 miles to go)
So, for those readers unfamiliar with kilometers, what I'm really saying is "I just ran about 19 miles, I only have 7 more to go, No big deal.". I was really glad to see them all there to support me. Yuko's mom was waving an American flag, as everyone began taking photos with their cellphones. I was handed a banana and a sports drink. The above video clip was taken without me even knowing that Yuko was filming anything. Although you can clearly hear her say in the video, "I'm filming", in that moment I really wasn't aware of it. What you see is candid runner's high. You also see everyone texting immediately after I took off, which I find very humorous. My confidence was bolstered as they said we'll see you at the end.
THE END was approaching! But not nearly soon enough. In a way, it was a good thing that this race was in a foreign country, and they were using kilometers to map out the distance, because in my American mind, a kilometer is like nothing compared to a mile, right? So I naively ran along thinking that the worst was behind me and soon enough I'd be moonwalking over the finish line, with the finest MJ, King of Pop, "Woo" crotch-grab in my repertoire. But things weren't that simple. The road plays tricks on you when you've been traveling on it for long enough, and every little bit of elevation is amplified into a leg crushing bout of gravity Vs. momentum.
By 32km, my knee started singing me a sad song of sorrow. I was wincing with each step, but gritted my teeth into a smile, as not to disappoint the spectators. I swooped in like a hawk, starved for attention, for as many high fives as I could procure. I realized that some people weren't trying to high five you, but instead were holding out candy, so on a few occasions when I reached my hand out for contact I almost knocked the sustenance right out of their hand. Still, master of the high fives persisted, and more often than not, I found my encouragement from the faces & palms of those surrounding me.
It was also at this point that "あと十キロだけ" (only ten more kilometers [6.3 miles]) started coming up. This was a handy human countdown, because at any given lot of people they were shouting what was left. At 36Km, the crowd began to dissipate, because we were being filtered onto a bridge that no spectators were allowed on. Luckily, some genius (I'm being very genuine with my designation of this label here), had the brilliant (again sincere) foresight to blast the Rocky theme out of gigantic speakers at the start of the bridge. What could have been a lonely bit of road turned into a sweetly scented victory stride as only runners were privy to this moment of collective bliss. Yep, Philly pride kicked in right when it was needed most. The bridge had sidewalls that were too high to see over, but once we crossed the water, there were people yelling down from the tenement balconies above. At this point, you shouldn't even have to guess, but I waved to them, along with other runners around me, glad to see & hear more encouragement.
37km was the point my mind had been hanging onto for quite sometime. 5km was all that was left. I could handle that, right? Despite any pain I was feeling, the distance required of me to finish now was a mere 3.1 miles away. In the course of my training in the previous 18 weeks leading up to this moment 5km had become a joke. 5km was not even a warm up. 5km would not be enough to stop me now. I ran on, as I had been doing all along, as was the only thing that was going to carry me to the finish properly. I passed other runners stretching alongside the road, laid out on the ground with medical staff attending to their needs, others in front of me (and apparently behind me, Vin) were just walking to the end. I'm not saying I was fast, speed was never my goal, speed was never even mentioned in the Higdon Novice 1 training program, but I knew I had to keep running: this was a race, after all. The other looming factor that kept me running was the knowledge that if I stopped now, my knee, which was already on fire, was going to be relentlessly cruel to me, and I'd be faced with walking a semi-defeated and painful final 5km, or attempting to run again, only to keel over from the pain. So, with a mantra bouncing back and forth in my skull like a pinball game, I ran.
Soon after that first bridge was another bridge, the second of three that are stacked up against you in those final 10kms. Right before the start of the second bridge was a choir of Japanese gospel singers belting out "Go tell it on the mountain...", now, this is a bit of an inside joke for me, since my 3 year old cousin back in America has made this song an integral part of his repertoire thanks to the daycare he attends, and without much goading will fall into a cupped mouthed shouting rendition of this very song, to which he ends with a showman-like bow so deep his head touches his feet. Now, if I was worried about my knee sending me to the ground, this moment was far more likely to double me over, as I burst into laughter with a gleeful smile at what I had just heard. Those around me, mostly Japanese from what I could glean, must have thought I had finally broken from the stress and my mind was maniacally spilling out a misguided emotion, as clearly, now was not an appropriate time for laughter.
The second bridge was shorter than the first one, and unlike the last, people were allowed to line the way. I was alarmed and slightly peeved for a moment as a bicycle went zipping past me on my right, until I realized he was wearing a red jacket, designating "medical staff" and was probably needed up ahead. As we descended down the other side, the 40km signs were clearly being totted at the edge of the road. We were so close to the end, I could see the building—which I was running parallel to—and I knew all I needed to do was get to on the other side of the final bridge. The cheers were louder now. The fluid stations had been running close to dry for a while now, at which point, instead of the orange jacketed helpers handing you amino-value, they instead handed you high fives. This was an acceptable trade in for me, since I had for sometime now regretted all those high fives I had been so eager for earlier on. I had spent a lot of energy on going out of my way to get that extra bit of crowd support, and while it certainly helped, it soon catches up to you. Still, I wouldn't have traded in on any of those high fives at all. No regrets there!
The bend into the final bridge is the last kilometer left to conquer. If you make it across that bridge, you're sitting pretty in the sun as you take a lap around the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition building. I attempted twice here to record video with my ipod nano. Neither time really worked out all that favorably, as I was either holding it the wrong way, or my fingers were blocking the lens. Having never used it before though, I think in the heat of the moment, it captures something of quality.
The start of the End: Entering the Final Kilometer (sideways)
That last .195km around the building is packed, more so than anywhere else along the entire course, with people. I cruised in close for my final chance for high fives and was gladly greeted with excitement over my impending triumph. It makes you really appreciate the staff of this event, that they can take on a marathon themselves, think of all the people they've clapped for and shouted "がんばって" at for over the course of 7 hours, never once showing signs of fatigue, because they know it's what the runners need.
The final turn in the road leads to a straight strip with stadium seating along the sides, and the finishing blocks up ahead. Here again I tried to capture some video with my nano, but my fingers really ruined the scene. I shoved it back into my pocket and just took in the approaching end with elation. A percussive pounding poured from the stands, and I once again kissed my hand and touched it to my heart patch for Nene that clung to my left arm. I had done it! Though, my brim hatted head didn't look up until it was most likely too late to discover there were photographers lining the scaffolding above. So I'm not sure yet what type of finishing photo to expect.
The Finishers Medal
What does it feel like to finish a marathon? As I wobbled with my fellow finishers toward the gift areas ahead, I contemplated what I had just accomplished. For the past 4 months of my life the marathon has been my most important goal. I was consumed with the challenge. As you can read if you look back over my time spent gearing up for this thing, it wasn't an easy thing to work towards. I missed runs from time to time due to weather or sickness that I thought would end me, these past two weeks I had been plagued with stifling doubts over my capability to complete the task at hand, and I've looked at the calendar repeatedly checking off the weeks as the day approached with apprehension and exhilaration. Now, here I stand, fears freshly faced and thoroughly vanquished, as someone that took on something they weren't sure they could handle, and came out on top with nothing but sheer will to drive them there. Quite frankly, finishing a marathon is mystical. I didn't make it here alone, I had loving support at every troubled turn from family and friends, but when it counted most, I made it happen just by wanting it to be so, and that's something more than mildly incredible, because I was never sure I had this in me until it took it on for myself. It's a feeling worth chasing again, and I assure you all, this won't be my last marathon.
The post-race lines were forced to shuffle through "goodie" areas, where everyone hands you stuff saying "おめでとう！やったね" (congratulations, you did it!). As finishers, we were first given a full bottle of amino-value, then a finisher towel, then you trade in your timing chip for a medal (which was difficult because you have to lift your leg onto a fence rail for them to cut of the chip from your shoe, and boy oh boy, did that ever hurt), then you're given water, muscle spray, bananas (for some reason the guy gave me two, the girl next to him gave me one, but he stopped me and said "もうひとつどうぞ" (take one more banana), which makes me wonder how bad off I looked at that moment where I was the only runner given an extra banana.) & mikan, and an un-vegan soyjoy bar (though you would think soyjoy targets a vegan market, no such luck, because unfathomably there is butter, eggs, and milk in the soyjoy bar they gave me). I further gimped down the parking lot towards the baggage claim area, my truck #29 was way off down toward the middle, so I stopped about halfway to lean against a wall and stretch while drinking some water and eating one of my bananas. The stretching hurt. My knees were very tender, so I didn't want to spend too much time doing something that, although my body probably needed, was going to make it more difficult to get home. Zombie strutting into the baggage area, the girls at the checkin knew my number and had my bag ready for me before I even got close enough to say anything to them: that's efficiency!
The dressing room area was just a warehouse floor. The same event floor that had been packed with vendors the day before at the expo. I saw another stand for sports drink samples and shuffled over to it. You could either buy a bottle for ¥300 or take a sample cup for free. If you guessed free as the option I took, you are 100% correct my friends. With no place really to sit except for the floor, I had a hard time locating a spot to lounge out in while I tried to collect my belongings from my plastic bag and sift through the most important items for the train ride home. Cellphone, money, and pants were what came out as priorities. If you ever want to try something fun, in a crowded room, with tons of people of either sex splayed out around you, try putting your pants on without bending your knees. It most assuredly looks ridiculous, but I had no other choice, my knees were just trashed. I shuffled outside to the waterfont, and looked out at the choppy waves, trying once again to stretch to limited success. I called Aki to find out about Vinnie, to which I was immediately greeted with congratulations, because she had been following us on the website along the way and knew I had finished. Felicia had grabbed the phone and wanted to congratulate me too. They had gone down to the race at one point, but couldn't see us, but she was really excited at the costumes she did get to see, just like a parade. Aki then told me that Vinnie had just finished too, meaning it had taken me over an hour to get from the finish line to the point of standing by the waterfront making this phone call. So I knew how to calculate when I should expect to see Vinnie.
Vin and I reunited, post-race chatting began immediately, though after a brief bout of sitting, our minds quickly turned to food. We headed home. Though the closest train station was packed beyond belief, to the point station attendants were kindly saying over crackling megaphones how it would be a better idea for people to go to the next station down the road. Fair enough, so we hobbled our way there, across a concourse of food trucks trying to pick off freshly phased athletes hungry for anything put in front of them. This, of course, doesn't jibe well for vegans, but we also knew pasta was readymade and waiting at Vin's house, so we shuffled on. Only we found at the Rinkai line station, more than a few people heeded the advice of the attendants, and it turned out to be more crowded than our previous option, in addition to having to walk much farther for it. Curses!
The trains were packed, as is the Japanese way I suppose. But as much as I wanted to sit, it was probably for the best that the option wasn't available, because it just would have been that much more difficult to stand up again. We made it back to Vin's by avoiding as many steps as possible. Whereupon we teen wolfed down, for pretty much the 5th meal in a row, pasta. Vin, incredibly, went to work at his office soon after, while I hung around on the couch talking to Aki, and playing with the kids, as much as I could without moving my legs. It basically consisted of reading them stories, and doing a homework assign in Japanese that Felicia had made for me to help with kanji. Felicia had also made a card congratulating me for "winning" the marathon, and beating her dad (I finished ahead of him, though he walked the majority of the final third). I'll just let those sentiments speak for themselves.
I headed back home after a fond bit of sitting around. The trains at this time of night were far less crowded compared to earlier, so I did find a seat, and just as I feared, it hurt like hell breaking open when I tried to stand up. I used the straps that hung above and relied more on upper body strength than my legs to lift me into position. Yuko & her brother picked me up at the station so I wouldn't have walk the (less than) 10 minutes it usually takes. I got home, to household greetings of a job well done, and immediately began icing my knees.
I won't lie, once I got home I greedily ate a second dinner, something that wasn't pasta for the first time in 3 days, for which I was very thankful for. I then was treated to a freshly waiting ofuro, to which I set myself in and just disolved like ice cubes tossed over the rim of a live volcano. It was heaven, I'm sure of it. Afterwards I sipped on an Yebisu beer, and when I laid down on my bed the relief my body felt was astounding. My eyelids held heavily open trying to talk to Yuko and her mom, but there was no hope for my continued state of alertness. The last thing I was awake for was the gentle nod of yes as I was asked, "do you want the light off?", I heard the click of the switch and the door close behind it. It was as if that switch was connected to my mind, and we both shut off in the same fell swishing movement. I slept the deeply sound slumber of well deserving champions. I had become a Vegan Marathon Runner.