Monday, October 29, 2007

Kume Marathon

Since arriving on Zamami in August I have been religiously following a running training plan to complete my goal of a marathon finish this year. I timed the regimen around the Naha Marathon on December 2nd but also signed up for this weekend's Kume-jima Marathon just for kicks.

I had to take the Friday afternoon boat from Zamami to Naha, then join three other JETs to go to Kume on Saturday morning via a four-hour boat ride. The marathon started at 7:30am on Sunday and I was delivered to the start line about 15 minutes early. Of the 400-500 marathoners, I only saw four other non-Japanese and they appeared to be military, if haircuts are telling.

I started well and concentrated on going slow, but my heart rate worried me immensely, which probably didn't help the cause. I started at 117 and immediately jumped to the 150's, which is a level usually reserved for the hardest pushes on the steepest hills of Zamami. My HR never settled below the 140's and I can only attribute it to nerves and the bowl of granola and two plain pancakes I'd eaten 1.5 hours earlier.

My first 2k was completed in 12 minutes. I didn't do my math right and immediately thought I was 2 minutes off a pace of one hour 10k's, so I sped up slightly and reeled off two consecutive 10-minute 2k's. This was fine because my body was like that world record giant rubber band ball waiting to be attacked with a razor blade. My muscles wanted to go badly so I had to compromise.

I ran the first half of the marathon (21.1km) in 1:58, which was two minutes ahead of pace for my negotiable goal of a four-hour finish. I still felt extremely strong and argued with myself over when to "go." I took my second salt capsule (heavy sweating and plenty of fluids = loss of electrolytes) at 2:15 and about five minutes later felt like I could just sprint the remaining 16km to the finish. I said okay and went hard - perhaps a 10km pace. I knew it wouldn't last but I also knew not to push it, only to listen to my body. So I gradually slowed a kilometer later, at 27km, but still maintained a really strong pace. I was carrying a handheld water bottle which turned out to be key. There were water stops every 3km and at each I completely refilled the bottle, trying to mix the sports drink and water in a 1:1 ratio. I much preferred to drink at my own pace between stops rather than try to cram.

The last hill was at about 35km and I couldn't wait for it. The hills on Zamami have conditioned me to run almost faster up than down. When I hit the incline I realized another sudden burst of energy and blew by dozens of people, including many who were only competing in the half-marathon. I started to feel cramping in my quads on the downhill but shortened my stride and seemed to fix it. I just kept picking the pace up as the kilometers ticked down to the finish and the small crowds cheered. Many spectators beat on okinawan drums and everybody yelled 'gambate!' (good luck) or, for those learned in English, 'fight, fight, fight!' (and I acknowledged all of them).

I finished in 3:49.33. This is 16 minutes faster than my Pittsburgh and Palau Marathons, but, more importantly, I wasn't fearing death. I was still standing, conscious, and somewhat amiable.

Now, the numbers:
HR average: 159
HR range: 117-183
time spent above 150 beats per minute: 2:52
time spent below 120 beats per minute: 10 seconds
total ascent/descent: 380 feet (it's worth noting that I do 380' of ascent in the first 8 minutes of my Zamami runs)
high point: 82 feet

The picture is from the return boat ride. Our goal was to arrive early enough to get an inside seat. 30 minutes early didn't cut it, so we just sat in the aisles inside and eventually seats opened up (I don't know why?). But the boat was full of 'dead' marathoners and the picture is of uncomfortable people sleeping across rows of four seats outside.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Engrish Shirts

One of the first things I noticed upon immersion into Japanese culture were the awesome English t-shirts. A visitor doesn't often see a shirt with kana or kanji characters, but romajii (roman) is very popular. And about the only time an English shirt is sensible is when it's originally from the States. I would love to meet the editors and see if their English level is higher than my 1st grade elementary students. Look forward to more posts highlighting the best of Japanese Engrish.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Barely Alive

Ever since learning to take my pulse in 4th grade P.E, I've been fascinated with that measurable piece of equipment that keeps me alive. Acquiring a heart rate monitor for proper recording has been an unjustifiable dream for many years. Until. At an REI Garage Sale a couple years back I found what I think was a mismarked Suunto HR watch ($70). I snagged it and have been swaying between keeping it (I already have a Suunto altimeter watch that grew into my wrist during the PCT hike) and Ebaying it.

This weekend I'm running the first of two confirmed (registration fees paid) marathons this winter. I've been keeping track of the statistics of every run, including my heart rate average and range and altitude range and high point. Since my choice in runs varies between two-three choices, the elevations are consistent. But my pace determines the HR average, which is fun to follow.

For example, on August 24th, I ran a route that I have since approximated to be 13km to the east end of the island and back. It took me 1:13.18 with a 149 heart rate average and a range of 73-179. I ran the same route this morning and it took me 1:14.58 with a 123 heart rate average and a range of 65-158.

The other notable comparison is my resting heart rate. When I began training the lowest I could get it to rest consistently was 38 beats/minute, which is not unusually low for me. I think the lowest I measured with a finger on a pulse during my crew years was 37 - and we all know that the finger and the mind increase the pulse slightly. This morning, for the first time ever, I caught a glimpse of my pulse at 34 beats per minute. Tonight I tried to replicate relaxation to get a photograph, but I could only get it to 36 and by the time I'd get the camera up it would jump to 37.

My next two goals are (1) to get a picture of the watch recording my heart rate at 34 and see if it is actually resting that low and (2) to record my heart rate during a night's sleep to see what the low end of the range dips to. I am sketchy on my battery power right now so I'm going to wait until after the race to do this.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lessons in Mud

My JTE (Japanese English Teacher) went to Naha Thursday afternoon for her sister's wedding, so I had no classes Friday. I don't think the other teachers realized this until late afternoon, but I had already scored a day of helping the kindergartners play in the mud, playing dodgeball, and making 12 laminated clocks with movable hands for next week's time lessons.

Dodgeball here has an interesting twist on what I know from America. The game is played on the same gym court, but the players that are 'in' are contained within the lines of the basketball court. When you are hit you go to the outside of the basketball court lines that surround your opponents, but you continue playing for your team. So essentially as a player that is 'in' you are surrounded on all sides by people trying to peg you. The only way you can get the ball is to catch it in the air or on a bounce, but once you have it, you also have access to your own 'out' teammates who are surrounding the opposing players. Like most Japanese games, the super fun part is when I enter the game and am forced to learn really quickly - and without the help of verbal instruction - what's going on. Like when I caught the ball early and hucked it 80mph at the opponents. The game was stopped to explain to me that I had to throw with my left hand for fairness.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Convenient Environmentalism

My Naha friends came out this weekend and reminded me that I haven't been around Americans in awhile.
We went on a long walk/swim/beach exploration Sunday before their departure. We returned midday when it was quite hot. When in the final alley approach to my house, Laura announced she was going to the store to get something to drink and asked if we wanted anything. I declined because (1) water is free and (2) one-time use plastic bottles are wasteful. But Shu said, "yea, get me some water, please." In situations like this, I don't know what to do. I was already being a bit argumentative this weekend, so I tried a less aggressive approach and sparked conversation with Laura about whether she refilled the plastic bottle at my house and returned it to the refrigerator. She had, so there would be over a liter of cold water waiting in my fridge. The conversation changed direction but as we separated Shu reminded Laura to buy her some water. At my house I drank my free cold water while they sipped half their bottle and let the rest warm.

So what's the answer? This little skit angered me some, but frustrated me more. Tactful suggestion of less wasteful behavior didn't work. How do I effect change? I have always thought leading by example to be most effective, but I never feel like my example is reason for anybody to be inspired.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Zamami Matsuri (on Aka Island)

I had two friends come to Zamami this weekend and we went to this festival on Aka last night. There isn't much to say, but this is an excuse to show a couple pictures.

Mottainai (don't waste)

Yesterday I took out my trash for the first time since arriving on this island exactly two months ago. Reducing waste in all facets of my life is something I've been conscious of since my Peace Corps experience. There are still a few areas in which I'm guilty without an excuse, like flying, but I consider this Japan living experience a great opportunity for me to keep track of all my wastes. I receive monthly statements on water, gas, and electricity consumption, so it will be easy to track my usages. I also get a sewer bill, but I didn't think that fell into the 'consumption' sentence.

Garbage is separated into six different bags, as far as I can tell: burnable, paper, plastics, cans, glass, and non-burnables. My predecessor left me a can bag that was 2/3 full and a glass bag, also 2/3 full. I started my own garbage bag on the first day and have been surprised both at how little garbage I am producing and also at how well I can compress my trash into the 30" bags. Really, TWO MONTHS without putting any trash out for the trash man? I would lobby for an award, except when I had a Russian translator of Japanese (yes, she also knows English) tell my supervisor that I had yet to dispose of trash, he first said I was a liar and then accused me of ditching my trash at the school. A rather brilliant idea, but not mine.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mr. July

Just days before saltwater leaked into my dry bag and ruined my previous digital camera, I had walked the western loop of observatories on a Saturday afternoon to take pictures for entry into the 2008 JET calendar photo competition. It was an average day on Zamami, so the pictures were nothing spectacular, but they were nice.

I wrote and asked the photo contest director for permission to submit my entries electronically since my remote locale makes submission of actual prints prohibitive. He obliged and so it was done. And yesterday I received an email back from him informing me that one of my photographs (above) was selected for the calendar. It's a pretty average photo, but now I have a year to take better pictures for next year's contest.

My photo was selected for July.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Case of the Tuesdays

I took the boat from Zamami to Aka this morning, where I was picked up by a woman from Geruma whose name I don't know and who speaks to me only in Japanese. I pass the 5 minute drive by pretending to look up words she says.

My arrival at Geruma was a surprise to Ayano, my English teacher counterpart. She forgot I was coming. She hurriedly put my schedule together. When I saw it, I was pleased to see she had scheduled me for no classes today, but instead had drawn a line through the day. I assumed she must have just given up on troubling herself with asking teachers to reschedule.

In fairness, I was working on lesson planning when the 3rd graders came to get me. It was strange since I had no classes, but I went into the hall with them, thinking they wanted to play. It must have seemed like I was stalling, which, had I known what was going on, I would've been doing. It turns out I had class with them right then. The line through Monday on my schedule was because yesterday was Monday and it was a national holiday. So I quickly grabbed what I could and spent the 1 minute walking to class with them trying to figure out what we'd do for 45 minutes. I decided my main event would be a Battleship-type game I'd just made on the computer, called Bombs Away. The irony of the name of the game didn't hit me until now, but it was a bit of a bomb. The three students understood the 'B-7' concept, but didn't get the 'hit/miss' idea or why they had drawn ships on their paper. Maybe incorporating elements of war into my English lessons is a bad idea here.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

This Is My Life

I live on Zamami-jima, a small island of 1000 people 30 miles west of Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Zamami is located in the Kerama Islands, a chain of about 25 islands (I say 'about' because I think that number varies with the tides). Four of the islands are inhabited and I teach on three of those. The other, Tokashiki, has a JET but is a large island, faces Naha, and has its own boat system so we have no contact with them. Okinawa is the name of our prefecture, which is similar to a US state. The Okinawan prefecture includes the mainland (Naha, the numerous US military bases, and the majority of Okinawa JETs), a couple northerly islands, the Keramas (that's me), three more islands NW of me, two islands waaay SE of the mainland, and two larger islands with 40-50,000 cities way SW of the mainland.

I teach on a three-week rotation, one week each on Zamami, Aka, and Geruma. I take a boat to Aka and Geruma. Zamami's school has about 85 students, excluding kindergarten (four-six-year-olds). Aka has 40ish students and eight in kindergarten. Geruma has 14 students and maybe six in kindergarten? Since the class sizes are so small, elementary is combined into first/second, third/fourth, and fifth/sixth. I am completely responsible for the lesson planning and teaching of those 45 minutes classes. I also accompany the [Japanese] English teacher to the junior high classes, where I range from standing idly to reading aloud or having students read to me. Even if I sleep 8.5 hours the night before, junior high classes always threaten to put me to sleep. Which will be troublesome if it ever happens because I have to stand.

I will use other posts to detail what I do on Zamami aside from teaching, but in short, I love this place. I originally didn't preference a location in Japan on my JET application, but decided during my interview (after looking at the map of Japan in the waiting room and realizing there were southerly islands) that I wanted to preference. They told me I couldn't, just as the application clearly stated in many places that I couldn't change anything after submission. But I tried anyway and my preference was accepted. I think it said something like "I want to be on a small island and I want to teach elementary." After learning of my placement, it was only gradually that I found out how lucky I was (like my predecessor writing, "you have the best JET placement in Japan"). This place is perfect for me: it has diving, Giant Trevally fishing, it's small, beautiful, I'm teaching elementary, and it has a relatively young population. And it certainly helped that so many people at the Tokyo Orientation were jealous because they had specifically requested and been denied an Okinawan placement.