We came to the island of Kyushu at twilight, gliding above black offshore rocks, lumpy hills, refineries. It was a jarring landing. The road from the airport was lined with palms in dubious health. Leafless persimmon trees still bore their orange fruit. In hundreds of tiny drained rice fields, stacks of straw shook in the cold wind.
As our taxi approached the city we saw bundled peasant women tending smoky fires on street corners.
"I'm excited," said Frank Shorter. "Partly at being in a strange country, but it's more than that." Frank is given to analyses of his mental states.
"This is the first time I've started a trip knowing I couldn't be any better prepared," he said. "I've done more long runs than ever, I'm effective over shorter distances [he had won the national AAU cross-country championship in San Diego the day before] and my weight is right. I'm not torn down by too much racing like I was last summer."
He paused a moment, flinching as the cab cut off a cement truck. "Of course, it's frightening to feel like this. I've followed the program perfectly. If I run lousy, there's something wrong with the program."
This was last November and Frank and I were in Fukuoka, Japan to test our programs in what amounts to the world marathon championship. Since 1966 the Japanese have invited the cream of the year's marathoners to have at it over a flat course in traditionally cool, fast weather. Derek Clayton of Australia became the first man to run the 26 miles, 385 yards under two hours and 10 minutes (2:09:36.4) in 1967 in Fukuoka. The slowest winning time since was 2:11:12.8 by Jerome Drayton of Canada in the rain in 1969. Six of the eight fastest marathoners of all time have run their best races through the streets of Fukuoka, although Clayton improved his world best—there is no world record in the marathon because of varying terrain—to 2:08:33.6 in Belgium in 1969.
I had been invited on the strength of finishing second in 1970 with 2:11:35.8 and for winning the 1971 national AAU marathon championship. Frank had been second in our nationals with 2:17:44.6 in his first marathon and had won both the 10,000 meters and the marathon in the Pan-American Games.
At the hotel we met Eiichi Shibuya, the official in charge of our arrangements, and handed over two bottles of Johnnie Walker. He bowed. We bowed. His smile was reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt's while standing over the lion.
"Mr. Kenneth Moore [my name was pronounced, as it was all week, "Moo-ah"] remembers the Japanese custom of high import taxes on our favorite whiskey."
While our steaks slowly incinerated upon their heated iron platters, we met the runners from Australia and New Zealand. John Farrington, 29, an administrative officer at Sydney's Macquarie University and fifth here last year, shook hands and looked dourly out the window.