The RunRunLive 3.0 Podcast Episode 3-292 – Amy Chavez and the Marathon Monks Myth


(Audio: link) [audio:]

Link epi3292.mp3

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Introductory Comments:

Well my friends, for the first time in a long time I feel like a runner again.  I feel like I’m training correctly and gaining fitness.  Since the last time we talked I’ve brought my running up to around 30 miles a week.  Coach started me out doing two mid-week runs, an easy speedwork session on Saturday and a longish run on Sunday, with core and a bike ride on the other days to build my base. 

The midweek runs are 1:15 zone 2 – which roughly translates to 8ish miles.  

The beginner speedwork sessions aren’t really speedwork in the sense that I’m used to historically but more like a preliminary warm up to get ready for some harder stuff to come.  It’s a good workout that I have put my own spin on and I’ll give you my rendition of it in today’s section two.  

I got Buddy out into the trails with me Tuesday morning for an easy run.  He handled it just fine.  It’s the best time of year to trail run in New England because it’s still cool in the mornings and the deer flies aren’t out yet.  The mosquitoes are as thick as smoke but only bother you if you stand still too long.  

I’ve been using the new Garmin 310XT I bought.  It’s basically a next generation of the Garmin 305 I had before.  In fact, I’m using the old 305 heart rate strap.  It seems to work but I think I need to replace the strap because it’s giving me some odd heart rate data.  

The 310 is a solid device.  I haven’t delved into all the features yet but it seems a bit less clunky than the 305 interface.  It picks up satellites much faster, especially when I move a few hundred miles sideways between my runs.  It has up to 4 data display screen for each sport which I like.  The screens are for the most part readable. 

The interface is called an ANT Stick which is a USB stick about the size of your thumbnail.  I know I’m going to lose this tiny thing.  Maybe I should tether it to a cricket bat or something like they do for the restroom keys at gas stations?  

The interface works well enough.  As soon as you walk within 3 meters of your computer it senses a new workout, uploads it to Garmin connect and resets the watch.  You’re ready for your next workout.  The battery life is stated to be over 10 hours, but I don’t have any plans to workout for over 10 hours any time in the near future.  I did wear the old 305 for a 50 miler and it just made it to 10 hours.  

Somehow I managed to turn off the interface or it turned itself off this week and I had to spend some time diagnosing why my workouts wouldn’t upload.  Somehow the pairing got switched off about 3 menus deep into the setup and I really can’t see how I did that by accident? 

It’s a good device and does what I need it to do.  There is no client software on your computer anymore.  It is all run through the cloud on the Garmin Connect website.  Which of course you have to register for and is a bit proprietary.  You can view your heart rate, distance, time, pace etc on all your workouts there and export them to other logs, etc.  

It’s also much easier to build workouts with the online interface.  At first I found the interface mystifying.  Let’s say you want to build a workout with a 10 minute warm up in zone 2, 7X800 at marathon pace, and a 10 minute cool down.  That sounds pretty straight forward but I had to resort to a youtube video to figure out how to drag and drop the repeats, etc on the Garmin connect site.  Then you export the workouts to the watch.  

When you’re ready to go you hit the ‘Do workout’ menu selection on the watch and it prompts you through your work out.  It has different chimes for when you are over target pace, on pace or under pace and the same for Heart rate.  Which is super helpful for doing interval work.  

Holy cow, I was just going to mention in passing that I have a new watch and then it turned into a review.  

Well today we speak with our old friend from Japan Amy Chavez who makes a habit out of running medieval Japanese pilgrimage routes.  You remember her book on running the Shikoku pilgrimage?  Good read – I quite enjoyed it.  

We talk about the iconic Marathon Monks of Mt. Heie and how there may be some misconceptions in our mythology. 

In section one I’m going to talk about a flow states and in section two I’m going to walk you through a beginner speed and strength work out.  

On with the Show!

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On with the show!

Section one:

Flow States -

Featured Interview:

Amy Chavez

I started researching the Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei in 2011 for my own book " 

"Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment" about my 900 mile run on one of Japan's ancient walking routes (see RunRun Live Episode 239). I wanted to know if any other people had run the Shikoku Pilgrimage or any other pilgrimages in Japan. At that time I came across a book by John Stevens called The Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei" where he suggests the monks are better than Olympic athletes because of the rigorous mental and physical feats they accomplish, among them running 30 to 40 km every day for 100 days in a row. They continue this for seven years, running up to 60 to 84 km a day in some years. I had heard of this book before and found out it had a bit of a cult following in the 90's among runners. 

So I decided to include this in my book to give credit to the marathon monks and to show that I was not the first person to run pilgrimages. I even contacted the author of the Marathon Monks book, and asked him to check the parts of my manuscript that dealt with the monks' running. He said everything was right and only made a suggestion about the wording of one of the sentences. 

After my book was published, (luckily, I had only a few lines about the monks in it) I started doubting some of the things in John Stevens's book. So many things just didn't seem right about these "Running Buddhas" as the author called them. How could they run in robes, wearing (or carrying) a large oblong hat, and carrying a lantern? for example. And why would they run the course when they clearly didn't need to (there was no expectation to run it, nor any time constraints)? Contrast that to the Tarahumara in Mexico, who needed to cover long distances just to get into town, and thus running provided a practical mode of transporting themselves that was faster than walking. But for these Tendai monks, there was no obvious reason or justification for wanting more blisters or wear and tear on their joints than necessary. As a matter of fact, finishing the daily route too quickly was frowned upon. 

I also talked to the Tendai monks on Mt. Hiei myself, and watched documentaries interviewing the marathon monks in Japanese. Nothing really added up to what Stevens had said in his book when it came the running parts. 

In the following 2-part series published in RocketNews24, I bust the myth of the marathon monks. 

Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic Athletes? Part I

busts the myth that they run and explains what the Tendai Buddhist monks are all about.

In Marthon Monks of Mt. Hiei: Better than Olympic Athletes? Part II, I run the monks' 30 km course myself and reveal its secrets. 

You can also read the articles on RocketNews24's site, like them on Facebook and/or follow them on Twitter. 

Amy Chavez lives and runs in Japan and is a writer for the Japan Times, Huffington Post and RocketNews24. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. 

Section two: 

An Entry Level Speed Workout -


It’s been a busy few weeks for me.  I’ve always got a lot going on but with ramping up my training and work travel I’m feeling a bit old and used up! 

I’ll tell you a couple stories from the last couple weeks.  

With work travel I’m usually starting my day by meeting someone at 7:00 or 7:30 for breakfast.  This means my miracle morning mostly consists of rolling into my shoes at 5:00 AM and getting out the hotel door before I have a chance to come to full consciousness and realize how little sense it makes.  

It sucks to get up early and workout on jetlagged legs, little sleep and no nutrition but if you don’t do it in the morning it won’t get done.  It gives you one thing that, even if the rest of the day goes poorly, you got that one thing done.  

I was working in last week in New Jersey - this was the nice part of New Jersey- in Basking Ridge. I got up and into my shoes for a 1:20 run and just headed down the road.  After a mile or so I ran by the entrance to a park.  The sign said “Pleasant Valley”. I went in the park figuring it would just be one of the postage stamp sized urban parks but at least I’d get a ¼ respite from the highway.   

I made my way through the parking area and tennis courts and a pond and came upon the one thing that brightens every road-warrior-runner’s heart and soul – functioning, unlocked park toilets!  After this I was able to lighten the load, so to speak, and continued exploring.  

As I continued a clockwise loop of the pleasant valley I noticed a trail entrance.  Of course I turned into the trail.  That’s a life lesson for you.  Always take the trail.  What’s the worst that can happen? You have to turn around and come back.  

The trail turned out to be a well groomed 8 foot wide bark mulched beauty of a trail.  I continued to follow it up the side of the valley.  The day was going to be warm and humid but at 5 in the morning the valley was indeed pleasant with a slight mist in the air and the sun not yet over the horizon.  The braod mulch trail was overarched with a cathedral of trees.  More like a dark gree misty tunnel than a trail.

As I continued wend my way up the trail  saw a silent figure standing in the middle of the trail ahead.  Some sort of four-legged friend that I could just make out standing in the middle of the trail facing my approach.  As I got closer it resolved into a fawn; a little Bambi, ears twitching, curiously watching this old bear struggle up the trail with NJ story.  I got within 25 feet before Bambi scampered into the underbrush. 

The trail came out on playing fields and I saw worn track in the grass around them so I followed it and entered another trail on the other side. It turned out to be about a mile and a half of groomed trail the cricled the park. I ran the trail loop twice.  I saw bright red cardinals and flushed a great blue heron from the pond and mildly alarmed several rabbits for good measure. 

I ran back to the hotel to finish up my run, but had managed to trade 3 miles of New Jersey highway for a respite in the middle of my run in the pleasant valley.  Why? Because I was curios and took the unknown path. 

This past week Coach threw some real training at me and I had a 7 X 800 at race pace to do on Thursday morning.  I was staying down in Buckhead.  If any of you know Buckhead you know there is not a flat piece of ground to be found anywhere to do a tempo workout on.  

After rolling into my shoes at 5:00 AM and getting out the doors I went in search of somewhere to get some 800 meter repeats in.  I first made my way to the local little league fields in Franky Allen Park but these were carved into the side of the hill and not really conducive for intervals. 

Then I had a brain storm.  I ran back over to the Lennox Mall and climbed to the roof of the parking garage!  I did my final 4 repeats on the roof of the garage.  It turned out to be about a 1/6th of a mile loop.  

I did manage to consolidate my websites all onto one hosting provider.  You may notice some things broken or missing from RunRunLive but I’ll work through it as I have time.  I’m blessed with lots of ambition but seldom the time or focus to actually do anything about it! 

Interesting interview with Amy today.  The marathon monks, it turns out, are a myth.  But they are such a great myth we want to believe it.  We want to believe it because it supports our worldview as runners.  These guys are proof positive that running is a vehicle to transcend. 

But they aren’t.  It’s all a myth.  Since it’s such a good myth and we want it to be true we resist the facts when they come to light.  We believe what we want to believe especially if it supports our world view.  That’s how religions get started.  That’s how people start codifying myth into dogma and soon we’re shooting RPG’s at each other.  

Not me man.  It’s summer time and the livin is easy.  The cat fish are jumpin and the tomatoes are high. 

Cheers, or just search FaceBook for “RunRunLive”. 

And I do have an email list that I shoot the shows out to.  I’ve been writing some extra posts on my website RunRunLive and I may start recording them as a bonus for those of you who are paying attention! 

Happy Mother’s Day people.  

Be good to each other – party on. 


Outro Bumper

Thanks for listening folks I appreciate your support.  RunRunLive is a free service for you because I like writing and telling stories.  

I also love to meet folks so feel free to reach out to me at Gmail or any of the other social networking sites.  I’m CYKTRussell.  And as you know that’s Chris-Yellow-King-Tom-Russell with two Esses and two Ell’s. 

My Website is and most if not all of this content is posted out there.   If you want the show notes to magically show up in your inbox when I publish a show in a beautiful HTML wrapper you can subscribe to the mailing list at my site.  It’s a useful thing if you are moved by something I say and would like to see if what I wrote is the same thing! It also has all the links to everything and everyone I talk to and about. 

Other than that, thank you for your attention, do epic stuff and let me know if I can help. 


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Chris Russell lives and trains in suburban Massachusetts with his family and Border collie Buddy.  Chris is the author of “The Mid-Packer’s Lament”, and “The Mid-Packer’s Guide to the Galaxy”, short stories on running, racing, and the human comedy of the mid-pack.  Chris writes the Runnerati Blog at  Chris’ Podcast, RunRunLive is available on iTunes and at Chris also writes for ( and is a member of the Squannacook River Runners and the Goon Squad. 

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Direct download: epi3292.mp3
Category:Running -- posted at: 2:32pm EDT





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