"I sensed there was another way of training in Japan," says Wakiihuri. "It was not only physical, but training mentally and spiritually."
The chief practitioner of this training was Kiyoshi Nakamura, the coach of the Japanese marathon champion, Toshihiko Seko. Wakiihuri wrote to Nakamura and spilled out his longings. In 1983, Nakamura arranged for the 19-year-old Wakiihuri to meet him in New Zealand, where he and some of his runners were in training. After several weeks of scrutiny, Nakamura arranged for Wakiihuri to train in Japan.
"Would an American coach have accepted me the way Mr. Nakamura did?" muses Wakiihuri now. "A good runner, yes, but not such as I was in '83."
"When my husband first met Douglas, he told him, 'From today, I am your father,' " says Michoko Nakamura, the coach's widow. " 'If you are ever lonely or in pain, come and we will talk.' Douglas had a pure heart. They made a good son and father."
Seldom has there been a father of more parts. Nakamura was born in Seoul in 1913, to very poor, superpatriotic Japanese parents. He first ran, he later said, to hide his tears when he had no lunch. He didn't live in Japan until he went to Tokyo's Waseda University at 18. There he set a Japanese 1,500-meter record that stood for 13 years.
Nakamura ran the 1,500 in the Berlin Olympics in 1936 but didn't make the final, which was won by Jack Lovelock of New Zealand over Glenn Cunningham of the U.S. "I was overwhelmed by the athletic ability of Westerners," Nakamura would write in his autobiography.
Drafted in 1938, Nakamura became an officer in the military police, where he saw action as a sniper. After the war he made a living by selling sake and tobacco on the black market and importing and selling sporting guns. He started coaching runners as well, and became associated with Waseda University.
There he came into his own as a passionate philosopher-disciplinarian. Before workouts the team sat in his trophy-hung parlor and absorbed his lessons on life. From Zen masters, the Bible and his own experience, Nakamura taught that when body and mind are truly one, the ego evaporates. "The important thing is not short hair or long," said one of his pupils, Shinetsu Murao. "The important thing is that when the coach says to go to the barber, the pure mind is obedient."
When Seko arrived at Waseda in 1976, Nakamura, then 63, saw his talent. "I caught my breath," he wrote in his autobiography, "thinking, this young man is God's last great gift to me." When Seko graduated from Waseda, Nakamura, with the financing of a spice company, formed the S & B track club to continue his guidance. It was to this club, to this mikado of a mentor, that Wakiihuri came in the spring of 1983.
"It was rough, at first," the Kenyan says now, over a lunch of fish, chicken soup and mochi, the starchy, glutenous pastry that you chew and chew, and gag on and have to discipline yourself to swallow. "A little mochi gives hours of energy," Wakiihuri continues. "But for me, the food wasn't the problem, or the way they sit cross-legged so your knees go bad. It was the language and the different ways of thinking. Even after I'd gone to Japanese school and I understood the words, there was the vagueness, the indirection."