Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Running (and other) Numbers

From the marathon:

heart rate average: 170bpm (that's beats per minute)
HR range: 86-184
time spent above 160: 3 hours and 6 minutes
time spent below 140: 1 minute and 10 seconds
ascent: 1050 feet (descent is the same)
high point: 384 feet
low point: 20 feet

heart rate average at the 1 hour mark: 163
2 hours: 167
3 hours: 170

Kume Marathon time: 3:49.33
Naha Marathon [official] time: 3:34.07
Okinawa City [official] time: 3:22.08

kilometers run:
between arrival in August and Kume Marathon (October 28th): 584km
between Kume and Naha Marathon (December 2): 307km
between Naha and Okinawa City Marathon (February 24): 670km

total kilometers run in Japan: 1687km, plus or minus a few
that distance in miles: 1048

month with the least kilometers, excluding August: December (162)
month with the most kilometers: October (334, just 7km more than January)

longest week: 99km (January 29 - February 3)

time taken the first time I ran my 13k route: 1:17.05 (September 26)
time taken the last time I ran my 13k route: 1:06.47 (February 14)
fastest time on the 13k route: 1:00.35 (February 9)

highest point above sea level I have been since last August: 440' (Zamami)
lowest point below sea level I have been since last August: -90' (Zamami, diving)

fastest heart rate since August: 191 (5k race on November 3)
slowest heart rate since August: 32 (many times)

My resting heart rate in the weeks leading up to this last marathon.
(This is the same as what Lance Armstrong's resting HR was. Unfortunately, my heart has neither gained me a hot wife nor multi-million dollar race purses and sponsorships.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

2008 Okinawa City Marathon

The only cold I experienced on marathon day was the temperature, which remained pleasantly in the low 60's. My coughing cold went away with a full day's rest on Saturday and only provided reminders by way of a steady stream of snot, which gave me something to do. I stuck to my game plan of not looking at my watch and instead just held a pace I felt comfortable with. It worked; I ran really well. My official time was 3:22.08, but my chip time was 3:21.37. The chip time is my actual time, which begins when I cross the start line (and my chip registers) and ends at the finish line. The reason there is a 31 second difference is because not everyone can be standing on the start line when the gun goes - and I was 75 meters back. Some people probably didn't cross the start line until 8-10 minutes after the gun - and that would've been me if I'd followed directions and lined up with my seed number (6900). But obviously something went awry with my seeding as I entered a predicted time of 3:25.

My first 10k was challenging. I had trouble settling into a comfortable pace. I didn't succumb to the pace pressure of those around me, but I had stomach aches and snot and huge headwinds and I imagine my 1k times varied by 10 or more seconds. The hills started at 11k and oddly enough, that's where things started clicking. At 15k I hooked up with an Okinawan girl who held a beautiful pace the rest of the race. For the next 15k I never got further than 20 meters from her and spent most of my time close enough for drafting.

I allowed myself to see the clock at the halfway point and it read 1:39.21. This was fast, considering I still had another 21.1k to go. I felt really strong, but I knew better than to let it go to my head. I had my mind set on the hills at 26k and 32k. But at 30k there was a huge uplifting surprise: the course went through a military base and the support was magnificent! I was only the third white person through at that point so you can imagine the yelling I got from the hundreds of military personnel. It was surreal to see Caucasian [and black and Hispanic] families, with little blonde girls yelling for me in English. They're the first non-Japanese children I've seen since leaving the United States.

I took the lead from the Japanese girl at that point, using my adrenaline to allow a surge and take my turn as pacesetter. I made it through the 32k hill fine, but then at 34k life went downhill. That's a mild literal reference, but much more figurative. I'd put all my concentration into that 32k hill and left myself with nothing to think about for the last 8k. And 8k is 40 minutes. A long way. I suddenly started to feel my quads and then my hamstrings. I noticed my breathing was more labored. My heart rate was settled in at 180 (my average during the first 10k hovered in the low 160's). My lips got sticky - and kept sticking together at the edges. I finally decided to eat the two slices of mandarin orange I'd been holding in my left hand for 17k. My body started to hurt and my concentration slipped to 4-second thoughts.

I just worked at it 1k at a time, pretending I was running my 8k route on Zamami. At 35k I passed Jaimee, a fellow JET who ran the 10k and also gave me a ride to the race (she's awesome!). At 36k I set a new goal of 40k, where I knew a big downhill existed. At about 37k the girl passed me at a pretty good clip. I reached in and found something somewhere and after nearly losing it, I got back up to her pace. Fortunately I was wrong about the hill - it actually showed up at 39k. This was huge. At the bottom there was only 1.6k or so to go. At 1k I checked my watch and noticed I had a shot at breaking 3:22. I put quite a lot of effort into the final kilometer, sticking right on another guy who was pushing hard. I am sure I ran it in less than 5 minutes, but somehow I finished with 3:22.08. I came in 202nd place overall (out of just under 10,000), four places and 15 seconds behind the girl, whom I congratulated. My first half was 1:39.21 and the second half was 1:42.47. My 10k averages were about 48:12 (I think). I am really pleased with all of those splits.

The next hour proved that I done an excellent job of using all my energy in the race. My life turned to slow motion, going from the chip removal station to the lunch/drink ticket station to the medal putter-onner (I chose the most attractive girl I could find for this, pleased to still have my instincts) to the certificate printer. The 24 hours after a marathon are all about hobbling, but that first hour is a messy struggle. For some reason, my sole purpose became food. I asked everybody (in Japanese) where to get food and they all directed me to the gym. The people at the gym stared blankly and directed me back to the finish line. I was not amused so I settled for carnival fare (which nearly made me sick but, as I found out later, wasn't much better than the free food which was Cup 'O Noodles).

I had awhile to wait for Jaimee so I managed to get my body to the floor of the gym (sitting down took planning and a lot of arm effort). Then I think I fell asleep for 40 minutes (or passed out?). The rest of the day is just more of the same, but with gradual improvement. I eventually met up with Jaimee and we got back to her car and I drank and ate slowly and by nighttime was in pretty good shape again, especially after my friend Laura made me dinner.

Today I'm fine, but full of contemplation about the race and my training regimen and where to go from here. I've promised myself to take six months completely off of running. Obviously that won't happen and never when I made that promise did I believe it. It's 10:15pm right now - the latest I've been up in a long time - and already I miss my 9pm bedtime. Ask me in a week if I miss waking up at 5am.

I am happy with the result of the race. A 3:30 marathon has been a brewing goal for years. I obviously finished well under that and, barring sickness, I knew I would. The last month has been full of curiosity about breaking 3:20. Surely I could have shaved 1.5 minutes somewhere yesterday, but nowhere comes to mind. There was weakness, but there was also a lot of strength. I trained well and it payed off. I know I am capable of more, but not much more right now with the training I've done. If I want to go faster I'll have to step it up and that'll be at least next winter if it happens.

But tomorrow, I'm going to sleep in.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cheer Up, Dave!

Zamami offered a free whale watching trip this afternoon for locals, so I joined. We went straight to the whales and had many close sightings, but they were only getting air. Then, armed with my camera at the ready.. a breach! Time to go run 42k!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fading Hopes

I have been training for Sunday's Okinawa City Marathon for six months. I ran two marathons in the fall, but this one has been the real goal since August. So when I woke up with a cold Monday morning I panicked. I've overcome shoe and leg issues, powered through sheets of rain and driving winds, and made a habit of a 9pm bedtime for all of my time in Japan. I've been astounded by my discipline in sticking to the goal and especially excited to see the results of a faster training plan.

But soreness, stuffiness, and weakness have not left my body. I've resigned to the fact that I will not be running at 100% 36 hours from now. It's hugely disappointing in a way that it feels out of my hands. Like the boats being canceled. I've trained hard and my body is in spectacular running condition; it's unfortunate that my average one sickness per year chose this week.

It's not all bad, however. Yesterday morning at daybreak I was circling past the last observatory on my 8k route and something funny happened. I snorted a nice mucous wad(?) into my mouth and spat it out over my right shoulder. But it didn't make it past my shoulder. Just as I tried to unwind it all with my left hand I caught movement of people - the first people I've seen on my running route in months (exception: cat feeders)! And they were the Olympians! Walking up to check out the wind conditions, I presume. The moment of passing lasted just 3-4 seconds and I only mustered an 'ohao gozaimasu', but it felt great to be in their presence, if fleetingly. I spent the rest of my run contemplating their staying in borrowed accommodations and teaching Zamami's little kids sailing while their competition is sleeping in altitude tents, eating scientifically designed meals, and sailing on Lake Placid.

I received clarification on their credentials and plans later in the day. The two women race as a pair and are currently ranked second in the world. They've been training on Zamami for a couple winters now and their rank has improved from the 60's to 16 to a second place finish at last year's world championships. They are leaving Monday and heading to Europe for a 12-race spring season before the Olympics. Their hope (obviously) is to go into the Olympics seeded as the favorites. I really hope they win.

And I hope 3:30 is in the cards for me Sunday.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Diary of My Running

For the last six months I have spent most days of the week waking up and running. I give myself 20 minutes for some water and stretching and schedule my run to be back an hour prior to work. I have two running routes: the 13k out-and-back to the east end of the island and the western 8k loop (this loop also has a cutoff road that allows it to double as a 6k route).

The 13k is easily my most worn route. It passes through Asa, a small village of 40 people on the east side of Zamami, and then winds another 5k past a northerly observatory to some faraway beaches. The 8k begins immediately with a non-stop climb to the highest point on the island at 420' above sea level. This road then wraps around the high ridges and observatories to the West and makes for a stunningly beautiful (when it's light..) run.

I run when it's dark. The level of darkness depends on cloud cover, but usually I can safely guide my route by the white guard rails or a stripe on the edge of the road. The darkest nights still have enough ambient light for the white to faintly glow. When the clouds are few I can see lights from the surrounding islands and even Naha (25 miles away).

[What it looks like when I run]

Something really unique to my 13k route is a huge cat population that survives at the end of the road. And the couple who drive out pre-dawn every day to feed them. I ran the route a few times in daylight in August so I knew of all the cats, but imagine my surprise when a light came along the road during my first early run! (The end of the road is 5k - 3.2 miles - past Asa, so as far from people as is possible on Zamami.) I thought my death was imminent. But it's become a ritual to pass each other every morning, miles away from anything.

Do you remember this commercial about cat herding? As the feeding guy nears the road's end it resembles scenes from that commercial. His car's glow from the lights reveal dozens of cats that slow him down because they crowd the road. I have to be really careful with my steps, both when he and I near each other and when I'm alone. The cats come from the surrounding forest and congregate on the road for feeding time. I have only kicked two cats. The white ones stand out and the black cats often move when my foot is only inches away, giving me vertigo.

The funny thing about this feeding guy and his wife is that I have no idea who they are! I've passed them probably 50 times and I don't know what they look like or even where they live. We've never passed each other on the first half of the road - only in the distant reaches. Our relationship is like one you develop with someone driving at the same speed on an interstate for a couple hours. Then somebody has to exit...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Training for Beijing

These sailors are representing Japan at the Beijing Olympics this summer. They have been training on Zamami all winter and apparently found out recently that they will be Olympians. Today was their farewell exhibition and party. I guess they are moving on to windier seas?

I went fishing in my kayak on Sunday, which turned out to be a windy day once I got far away from Zamami. The sailboats were swirling around me and once I saw the pair in a boat both extended off the side to balance out the boat (like in the picture above). A sudden lapse in wind sent them both into the ocean. I'm betting I was the only one laughing.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Valentine's Day in Japan

I was torn between posting about my 5000th picture or Valentine's Day, but Naomi's querying comment has encouraged me to follow up.

I actually forgot it was Valentine's until I got to work at Zamami and pulled out my chair which had a little red bag on it. I soon learned it was from 'all' of my female co-workers. But every morning around 8:20am the nutrition girl (school lunch menu planner), who is 25ish and single, comes into the teachers room to use the common computer next to my desk. I always talk to her (she speaks enough English that we get by fine), encouraging creative pleasantries beyond "I'm fine, thank you, and you?" I also put in my two cents on the previous day's meal, and ask "Is today pizza toast?" (We've had pizza toast once since August.)

Well, I think some of the other teachers take note of our conversations and they think I am hitting on her. I am fairly sure I'm not interested, but I figured what better day to take it to the next level? So I thanked her for the chocolate present. She stuttered that it was a gift from all of the female teachers. I responded by telling her they said it was from her. I gave her 5-6 seconds to stammer before using the Japanese word for "joke, joke!" But enough of the surrounding teachers realized what I'd done that it became quite amusing.

On February 13th I had baked a loaf of bread to split as a gift (non-VD related) to two of the women who work in the Board of Education. So I delivered that and got more chocolate in return. One of the women happened to be in a neighboring restaurant where The Most Beautiful Woman on Zamami works and she gave me chocolate, too! (Unfortunately she's married and has a son I teach.) Then, three girls from the 9th grade came by my house to drop more chocolate off.

The 'cool' thing about VD in Japan is that it's actually celebrated twice. On February 14, women give men chocolate and on March 14, White Day, men return the favor. My friend Wren was nice enough to send me this link, which informs me that I have to repay the effort by a factor of three!

Friday, February 15, 2008

That's A Whole Lotta Photographs!

Today I took my 5000th picture in Japan. Here it is:

I agree it's not a very spectacular photo, but that's exactly why I have taken 5000 pictures. At the very beginning of my photography career there was a photo contest in Palau that I entered (got a sympathetic honorable mention!). At the awards ceremony one of the winners said something that I will never forget, "The difference between professionals and amateurs is that I (a professional) take a lot more pictures." I was shooting film in Palau and ended up taking around 3000 photos in two years. I thought that was a lot.

If I see a scene I like I try to take as many photos as possible. Chances are good the angle I first 'saw the shot' from is not the best, so I alter that and height and exposure and distance/lens length. This is a reason that switching to digital was so attractive.

Today I took 160 pictures in about 10 minutes with the kindergartners. Most will just end up sitting in a folder on my computer, but here are a few I liked:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Little More from Geruma

These kids are studying harder than it appears.

The two fifth and two sixth grade students sorting out the dates and tenses.

I was playing in the hall with some of the kindergartners who were learning to wind and throw tops (and they were way better than me). One of the girls came out of the kindergarten room with this card. I'm not sure what the front says (a-ke-ne-?), but bonus points are definitely awarded for the arrow pointing me inside...

This says, "Demito-sensei [star, star, heart] asonde kudete arigatou." I don't know where the spaces go in those middle words so I can't look them up, but I'm told this card says "David-sensei, Thank you for playing with us." This was an "I love my job" moment.

Geruma's teachers' room. I sit at that oval table in the middle.

The lunchroom.

This is a lunch I was glad to get on Geruma: a ricy/jumblayaey main dish, mashed potatoes with corn, and an apple piey dessert. Of course I was still hungry and so I got seconds.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Better Day

The winds have pretty consistently blown on weekends this winter, keeping me and my kayak homebound. The wind didn't get a 2008 calendar, however, and wasn't aware that today was part of a three-day weekend. I jumped on the lapse and went out kayaking, taking my fishing pole but not really having any goals for the trip.

I ended up on a beach on the north shore of Aka. I could see Zamami and even hear the noon bells, but this beach isn't accessible by any roads so I was as remote as could be. I explored for about two hours, discovering a trail up to one of Aka's dams and sneaking up on some endangered Kerama deer. No real beach treasures, but it was fun looking.

This is the beach. My kayak is out there on the far end.

It has been so long since someone has been on this beach that the sand has weathered into ripples from the wind and rain.

Zamami village is straight ahead.

I thought this was pretty cool how the water washed this coral up into a wall.

Endangered Kerama deer.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tokashiki Half-Marathon

Yesterday I did my laundry and paid close attention to what I ate. I stretched last night and woke up at 5:40am this morning to stretch again, eat early, and shower. All in preparation for today's Tokashiki half-marathon. Tokashiki is the big island in the Kerama chain and there aren't many opportunities for me to see it. I was annoyed at the exorbitant entry fee of 4000 yen (just under $40) but entered because I knew I would be in shape and Tokashiki is just so close.

I met the first grade teacher at the port at 7am, when the boat was supposed to leave. Three of us were going from Zamami and we were picking up 10 others from Geruma. A lady came running up a few minutes later to tell us that the boat was canceled due to high winds. The excuse given was that they thought it would be dangerous for the children (what?). I was not amused in the least because while last night's winds were rather strong, this morning's were not (I checked online prior to leaving). Boat decisions are always made the morning-of, but it appears this decision was made last night.

There are few times when I get frustrated with small island life. Very few. I like being separated from the mainland and I appreciate the reminders we get with boat cancellations. But I don't want the cancellations to affect me! My frustration was only amplified by my belief that the winds were not in fact strong. Losing the $40 entry fee (that I thought was a rip-off to begin with) didn't help, but the worst of it all was that I still had to run 26k today as part of my training plan for the Okinawa City Marathon in two weeks.

In an attempt to channel my frustration, I began the run as quickly as possible. It worked; I ran the 26k in 2:08.

Now I'm sitting here while the Tokashiki half-marathon is taking place only 3-4 miles away. On the other side of a channel with calmish water (I could see it from my running route). The only conclusion I can come to is that a boat driver (or the village office paying him) was not excited about spending the day on Tokashiki. Perhaps understandable, but 13 people were affected by this decision, including people who have been training. Also, some $400 in entry fees were wasted.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

And... Geruma!

Geruma is amazing because it's an entire school that is still half the size of the classes most ALTs teach. There are 11 elementary students, three junior high students, and seven pre-schoolers. There are no fourth graders nor any ninth graders. There are 14 staff for 14 elementary and junior high students.

I arrive via speedboat to the Aka port at about 8am and get picked up by the woman who runs the cafeteria. We drive 4-5 minutes across the bridge and to the village on the other end of Geruma. She also gives me a ride back at 3:20 for the 3:30 boat. Some days, like tomorrow, I have a sixth period class which ends at 3:50. If I hurry we can just barely make the 4pm departure of the Queen Zamami (fast catamaran passenger ferry) to Zamami. But it's incredibly windy tonight so chances are good the Queen will be canceled and I will have to wait at the Aka port until the last speedboat at 5:30. What do I do for 1.5 hours? Nap. Study Japanese. Stare blankly.

The school is on the right and the gym on the left, with the library, cafeteria, and nurse's room on the first floor. We even have a full 200m track!

The view from the classrooms. Yesterday a flock of boats off the point prompted many of the staff and students to break out the binoculars in hopes of seeing whales. No dice, though.

This is a picture I took before Geruma's late September sports day. Note how turquoise the water is - probably due to the 5% summer cloud cover instead of February's 95%.

Me teaching the 7th grader, Karen. Is this a posed picture? Perhaps.

The three first graders during music practice. The second grader, Hana, is standing.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Pictures from Aka

The Aka elementary students gathered in the library. There isn't enough space in the teachers' room, so I spend my down time split between here and the computer room.

There are three boys in the first grade class. Takahiro is following 'left, right, up, and down' instructions from his cohorts to dress his stick figure. He's also winking at you.

Setsubun was a holiday that fell this past week. All I know of it is that the 9th grade students go to the pre-school class dressed as evil spirits and the pre-schoolers throw beans to fend away the spirits. When the spirits get extra spiritual, all of the little boys gather behind me and cry. White man, beacon of comfort.

Throwing beans before crying.

The cafeteria with all of the students and teachers. A bonus of Aka and Geruma is that the food is prepared on Zamami for all three schools. So they send extra to Aka and Geruma. Which means I can get seconds. Which is great.

But only great if the food is good. This day it wasn't. There is something worthy of seconds about half the time. I agree with my friend Amy's recent post that Japanese food, for the most part, is terrible. It might be unfair for me to make my judgments on cafeteria experiences, but restaurants haven't been much better. It should be noted that I have really only experienced Japanese food in Okinawa. The ramen I had in Tokyo was awesome, but ramen doesn't really count as cultural fare.