Marathon Monks
2019 Reading List | Book 43 of 52

The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei

Author: John Stevens
Number of Pages: 133
Date Started: October 5, 2019
Date Finished: October 6, 2019
Suggested By: Poor Bjorn
Reason Book Was Chosen: I love running and love reading about endurance athletes. This book covers an insane group of Japanese monks who have to do amazing running feats.

My Thoughts

My Rating:

Fascinating book about monks in central Japan who run/walk marathons. 1,000 marathons. In consecutive day sets. Oh, and there’s also a 7.5 day fast in the middle of it all where no food, drink, or sleep is allowed. And marathon is a bit of a misnomer because while the first 100 days is a daily 18 mile walk/run, later on, it’s 52.5 miles per day, or roughly two olympic marathons. That usually takes 22 hours (combining the required stops to pray at 200+ shrines), leaving the monk 2 hours at most for sleep.

If it sounds insane, it is. Only two people have completed the 1,000 marathons since WWII. And this isn’t some goal a monk hopes to achieve. They dedicate their life to it. And not life in the sense that we think of it – like giving our all. No, their literal lives! Each monk carries a knife and a rope with them. If they decide they just can’t go on at some point (even at day 893 of 1000), they must either hang themselves or disembowel themselves with their knives.

Not exactly for the faint of heart.

This was the first I learned about these Marathon Monks. They make Navy SEAL hell week seem like a walk in the park with lemonade.

While the content was fascinating, I wasn’t a big fan of the book itself. At 133 pages, half is dedicated to Tendai Buddhism and the second half to the marathon monks. I didn’t really care to learn about Tendai Buddhism. I also could have gotten all of the information about the Marathon Monks from a 5 minute YouTube video or online article instead of reading this book.

I was also hoping for more of an inside look in terms of what the heck is going through these monk’s minds during this ordeal. This book was written from the perspective of – here’s information about them. I wanted to get into their minds.

I did find a few things very interesting –

  • The importance of posture. Any deviation from perfect posture will make itself known in painful ways over that amount of walk/running.
  • These monks seek enlightenment in this life (something not all Buddhists believe possible within one lifetime).
  • Tendai Buddhists divide their lives and training into set time frames. For example, they will study a certain area for 8 years then move onto another level for 5 years. I thought that was a cool way to approach projects or work.

I’d recommend the 5 minute video about the Marathon Monks over this book.

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