From Wrestler to Ultra Marathon Runner – Hilo’s Rick Otani
Over the years, covering prep sports for the Trib, I’ve come to realize that wrestlers are one of the best conditioned athletes around.
In my writing for this column I’ve never highlighted a former prep wrestler, at least, until now.
I actually met Richard Otani a few years ago, but never realized he was a four year high school wrestler at 112 pounds and he wrestled in college at 118.
“My normal weight was 145 and I had to jog extra miles and diet completely to make weight,” he said. “It took a lot of self discipline so I ran during dinner hours after school.”
From wrestling Otani learned to control his primal urge of hunger and thirst and the like.
“It helps deal with pain and discomfort, knowing that it is all temporary,” he said. “There is a finite amount of hurt during any event and we just need to condition our minds to accept it.”
The sport of wrestling had taken a toll on his upper body as Otani had a torn rotator cuff and in January of2003 had surgery to repair it.
“I needed a goal to keep from gaining weight after the injury,” Otani said. “My buddy told me to start some cardio and I decided to run a marathon.”
Otani had never run any race prior to his injury, let alone a marathon distance of 26.2 miles, but here he was at the inaugural Akron Marathon in October 2003.
“I trained for a marathon with the idea of only doing it one time,” Otani said. “But since I already had a new pair of shoes I decided to just keep running marathons until it got boring.”
For Otani that first marathon became a life changing experience.
“I hadn’t run a step in over 20 years and when I first started training I couldn’t run around my block which was only 7 tenths of a mile,” Otani said.
To train for his first marathon Otani downloaded the “Fall Beginners Training Plan” from Runners World and followed it exactly.
Otani started training in February and had lots of time to prepare as the race was 8 months away.
“I finished in a time of 4 hours and 44 minutes and I felt great afterwards,” he said. “When I saw that finish line an overwhelming sense of joy and pride welled inside and I shed a tear knowing I’d accomplished my goal.”
In 2007 Otani ran the Cleveland Marathon and he inadvertently made a wrong turn which became a marathon changing experience.
The marathon course co mingled with the half marathon course and Otani ended up running the full 26.2 miles with a few extra miles for good measure.
“There was no one directing runners and only 8 inch cones marking the course,” he said. “I then realized that I’d gone off course and ended up running around 30 miles in a time of 4:52.”
A friend later told Otani that he had run close to 50K, which is considered an Ultra Marathon distance and the rest is history.
“I had no idea there were longer distance races than a marathon and that inadvertent mistake eventually got me into ultra running,” Otani said.
While living in Ohio, Otani also met his running wife, Lee Collins, who was visiting and participating in a running forum.
Otani came to visit the Big Island in 2009 and moved permanently in September of the same year.
“I typically run six days a week,” Otani said. “My low weekly mileage would be 30 miles and my high mileage would be 100 miles during the week.”
As for diet Otani has gotten hooked on salads for dinner.
“My wife Lee always makes sure there are lots of green veggies on my plate,” he said. “We also get banana, papaya, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes from the Hilo Farmers Market.”
Otani has also switched from pastries in the morning for breakfast to the more healthful and satisfying oatmeal.
Otani has since graduated from the marathon to doing ultra marathons and considers his favorite race the Burning River 100 mile run. He finished the race in 28 hours, 48 minutes and 39 seconds.
“I completed Burning River in August 2009 and it changed me forever, just like my first marathon did,” he said.
“My running week is Tuesday to Sunday with Monday being my day of rest,” he said. “I like to get in a long run of at least 15 miles and one hill workout.”
Otani now has his sights set on doing the Tahoe 100 mile ultra.
“The average elevation is 8,200 feet and has some of the most beautiful trails and views in the world,” Otani said. “I couldn’t finish last year as my lungs became too congested from all the dust and I couldn’t breathe at night during my second loop.”
“I firmly believe that if world leaders had to train together to run a marathon there would be no wars,” Otani said. “You never feel worse after a run than before.”
And someday should you happen to see a happy father having his daughter home for the summer remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”