Mount Hiei And Its Legendary Marathon Monks

Samuel Reason | September 11th, 2018

When people think of the toughest humans on earth, extreme athletes and marathon runners generally jump to mind. Or maybe a Navy SEAL or an MMA fighter, but few would be caught quoting a Buddhist monk.

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However, the “marathon monks” of Japan are in a whole different class of their own when it comes to be tough if you want to put it into perspective some professional marathon runners have tried to keep up with them and never lasted longer than a week.

You see these monks from Mount Hiei undertake a special test, one which spans over one thousand days, takes seven years to complete and, has them cover over 27,000 miles by foot. If you are wondering how big of a distance that is, it would be the Earth’s circumference and then add on San Diego to New York City.

It starts out quite easy, on the first year the test asks for the monk to complete 18 miles a day for 100 days straight. And for the second year and third year, the test remains the same. Then for year 4 and 5, the monks have to complete 18 miles a day for 200 days. Then year 6 asks them to do 36 miles for 100 days. But the real killer comes at the end in year 7, where they must complete 52 miles a day for 100 days and then 18 miles a day for 100 days.

Of course, don’t forget that during all these pilgrimages they have to stop and pray at over 250 temples or waterfalls all along the way. The monks don’t run, they walk through rough mountain trails and are dressed in very traditional clothing with sandals. And they are not allowed to wear any socks!

It doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Well keep in mind they have to do all these and their own daily duties, so they normally set off at 2 AM and it takes them about 6 hours to complete their 18-mile walk. But the real killer for most athletes that have tried to keep it up like the monks for 100 days, is that they are limited to about 1500 calories a day: a little bit of rice, some soup, tofu, and vegetables.

Once they have embarked on the second year, from this point there is no return. The monks actually carry a rope and dagger because it is either complete the seven years or commit suicide. And don’t forget the part of the test in the 5th year where they don’t eat for seven days. These monks take extreme and hardcore to their limits, being truly the toughest humans on the planet.

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