More than 10 to 15 years ago, Kaburaki Tsuyoshi, 47, had been simply another anonymous face living in Japan and holding down a comfortable job as a civil servant for the Japanese government.
But he gave all that up in 2009 at the age of 40 to become a professional trail runner – and shocked his family and close friends.
Unimaginable to quit a secure civil servant job in Japan
Said Tsuyoshi, through a translator, “In Japan, being a civil servant is considered as a very secure job, with a stable income as well as a comfortable pension after retirement. So by quitting that, it is unimaginable. Everyone I knew was very shocked and surprised. Also, trail running was very new in Japan and people didn’t think it was possible to make a living from it.”
He continued, “My wife had also felt slightly insecure with this arrangement at the beginning and had objected to it slightly. But eventually she came round to it and agreed with my decision – she felt that if I was not happy working as a civil servant, then she would support what I wanted.”
No regrets about his unconventional decision
Today though, Tsuyoshi (who lives in Tokyo), has no regrets about his unconventional decision. In fact, he has risen to become the most famous face in Japan for trail running, with many wins to his name, including victories in The North Face (TNF) Beijing (100km) in 2009 and 2010 and OSJ Ontake Ultra Trail (100 miles) in 2012.
Besides these, he has also chalked up several other podium finishes, including 2nd position in the Western State 100 miles (2009), 3rd place in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in 2009 and also 3rd place in TNF Beijing’s 100km race in 2011.
Says Tsuyoshi, “Trail running is a very self-satisfactory kind of sport and I find that it matches my interests and characteristics very well.”
Most memorable victories
And what are his most memorable victories? To Tsuyoshi, this would probably be the 3rd position at UTMB in 2009 – because it was his first-ever podium finish since he turned professional, so he cherishes this and holds it close to his heart.
At the same time, another reason why this race was memorable, was because it was during this very race – that Tsuyoshi injured his left Achilles tendon. It subsequently bothered him for the next three years. However, as a professional, he could not simply sit back and recuperate.
Said Tsuyoshi, “Being a professional trail runner, I was still required to take part in races even though I was injured. So I had to keep taking painkillers and injections. Those three years were really hell to me, but now I have fully recovered from it.”
He added, “And when I was suffering from injury, I was still required to perform at least once or twice a year. Of course, it is good to be a winner too, but sports is not like that – it is not true that you will win when you want to. I have to always give my best performance, even though I cannot win sometimes. Winning is not everything, after all.”
Tsuyoshi added that those three years had also taught him more about his body and keeping injuries at bay, and since then, he has not sustained any more serious injuries.
The recent The North Face 100 Singapore was challenging
Besides battling injuries, a professional trail runner also faces challenging and difficult races. For instance, one of his more challenging races in his career so far, was the recent TNF 50km race in Singapore, which had taken place last weekend. This had been a race that Tsuyoshi didn’t really train specifically for, as he had agreed to come at the last minute, when he was invited to participate in the run.
Why did he decide to run in the Singapore race anyway? Said Tsuyoshi, “Singapore does not have mountains, so as such, I had wanted to find out how a trail race would be conducted here.”
And he has learnt many things. Said Tsuyoshi, “By running this race, I found out that Singapore runners are very perseverant. The Singapore 50km race was tougher than many of the other races I have taken part in, because of the heat. I also found out that Singapore runners are also very passionate and perseverant. To many Japanese, it is unbelievable that Singaporeans want to run in such a harsh environment. And although Singapore does not have mountains, Singaporeans have the heart to want to run in the mountains.”
While the race may have been Tsuyoshi’s main objective of coming to Singapore though, he also took some time out of his running schedule to do some sightseeing together with his family and try some of the local hawker foods. For example, he had just spent the day taking his wife and his adorable two-year-old daughter to the Singapore Zoo – before meeting up for this interview.
Clocks up to 1,000km per month in training
To train for his races, Tsuyoshi does mainly running but he does not have a regular training schedule that he abides by. But he clocks about 1,000km per month during big training periods when he is preparing for races and about 200km a month when he does not have any races coming up. During bad weather days, he will run on his treadmill at home with an incline.
But apart from running, he also does plenty of cross training, such as swimming, stationary cycling, aerobics and rowing. Added Tsuyoshi, “This helps to train up the cardio without putting too much pressure on the legs.” As well, after the Singapore race on Saturday, Tsuyoshi has been doing recovery sessions such as swimming and cycling, to help his muscles recuperate after the race.
While there may be no particular race on Tsuyoshi’s bucket list, he admitted though, that he would still like to go to other places that he has not seen before, such as parts of South America and other areas in Asia – such as the Southern parts. He added, “Being a professional trail runner, I get sponsors for my races, but it also means that I have to perform. At the same time though, I want to personally take part in races that I get excited about, besides living up to expectations as a professional runner.”
Advice for trail runners out there
What advice does Tsuyoshi have to share, on trail running?
He said, “For road running, we are looking to break a time goal, for example, a sub-4 marathon. So you are always fighting with timing and that can be very stressful. But trail running is more fun. So I would recommend runners to simply go out there, relax and have some fun. Even though there is a time limit for trail races too, running in the mountains tends to loosen up stress and tension and you would simply enjoy the running a lot better.”
Continued Tsuyoshi, “Before I took up trail running, I thought that running up and down slopes was very challenging, but now I usually tell beginners to the sport, to simply enjoy the downslopes, but start walking when you reach the uphills. Road running is very repetitive but in trail running, there is more freedom of movement. Spending eight hours running a trail race, to me, is similar to hiking in the mountains for eight hours. The chance to see the changing scenery and the beauty of nature are also very rewarding, at the same time. So if you haven’t done so yet, do join a trail race.”
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