Friday, May 14, 2010

Hajime Nishi, Globe-trotting Ecomarathoner

Hosteller Spotlight: Hajime Nishi, Globe-trotting Ecomarathoner

What's your name and where are you from?
My name is Hajime Nishi and I'm from Tokyo, Japan.

What are you doing in Chicago?
I'm in the United States running marathons. I ran one in Colorado last week, and I am doing two in Illinois week. The Rockford Marathon and the The Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon.

Oh wow! So you run a lot of marathons? Yes, I have run 568 marathons in 72 different countries.
How did you get so into running marathons?In 1990 I started to experience a lot of personal and spiritual growth thanks to a series of workshops at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and I began to run many marathons. By 1997 I was the first person who ran seven marathons on each of seven continents in seven months. I'm in the Guinness Book of World Records!

You're famous! What do you in Tokyo when you're not busy traveling the world running marathons?
Actually, I am the founder of an organization called Ecomarathon International. It's based on the philosophy of the ecomarathon. The idea is to lower the bar of the marathon - to make it more inclusive to society - and to increase the winnings of the environment. Before, I thought, "Winner takes all. It's very important to win." And now, I realize this is wrong. Everyone has value, not just the winner. Marathons should respect it's participants, the environment and local culture, and that is what I am trying to do.

When did you think of this idea?
Well, 1990 was a big turning point in my life. I realized that I did not want to run for competitive reasons, but to feel a connection with the environment. I was attending a personal growth workshop in California. I was also running in the Navajo Tribal Park Marathon, which is a very scenic and sacred race. I realized what a truly sacred place it was, and as I was running, I started to pick up trash as I went along. I wasn't racing to make a certain time and I realized I wanted to give back to the environment as I was running. That's where it started. Before competitive marathons spread like a disease, I want to spread the idea of ecomarathons so that we can live in peace and harmony with each other and the environment.

Have you organized an ecomarathon?
The first official Ecomarathon will be held on April 3, 2011 in Inba Nihon Idai & Lake Inba near the Tokyo International Airport.

What are the rules of an ecomarathon?
If you drop any garbage and don't pick it up - even if it's by accident - you are automatically disqualified. You are also disqualified if you arrive in a vehicle, unless it's electric. Otherwise you must come by foot, on bicycle, or by public transportation. You can only use reusable water containers, and the food served will be from the ground of local farmers. People will race with bags so they can pick up trash along the way. The race is not timed, and there will be three different start times so that the walkers can start early. People can take up to 9 hours to complete the race!

So there will be no winners?
No, we don't need winners. We need an eco-hero!

Eco-hero? Sounds like a superhero!
Yes! People will be encouraged to dress up in costumes too. And instead of getting a number, they will put a nickname on their shirt.

This is definitely a unique concept!
How will you explain this to people who are doubtful?
A marathon, and any sporting event, should be a reason to unite humanity. Sports are a great tool to promote peace, human rights, and the environment. A marathon can be very fulfilling to the runner if they are connected with the environment and humanity while they participate. I hope this concept will expand to many people and places.

Back to you - where are some of the unique places you've run marathons?
Dubai and Pakistan. The whole country knew about me when I came to Pakistan to run the marathon. They thought, who is this crazy Japanese guy running a marathon in Pakistan?!

Where was your favorite marathon?
I give ratings to each marathon based on the level of environmentally friendliness. The best one I ran, which was AAA rated, was in 1995 in Morea, Tahiti. In 2002, the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race was a AAA-. I picked up 25 kg of garbage during the 3 days. This marathon was very scenic and beautiful, and was also good for the local community. It brought a lot of cultural exchange and business.

What marathon has the worst rating?
Well, it's difficult to say. But some of the most famous marathons, in terms of the environmental effect, are very bad. The organizers care about the size and don't care about the bad effects on the environment. So where can people find out more information about you and your mission?They can go to And they can come to Japan in April 2011 to run in the very first Ecomarathon!