Saturday, February 27, 2010

Here We Go

[The Expo was big and kinda got me in the mood. It's strange to go from Zamami, where I have seen approximately two other runners since August, to here, where there are 35,000 of us]

[this same woman was here last year running some ungodly distance on a treadmill]

[I've been wanting to run my feet through this fancy Asics tester for more than a year.. finally I made it to the store]

[the results were complex, though I am unsure what the conclusion was]

[the countdown in the Asics store]

[a 2010 Tokyo Marathon tshirt design]

Friday, February 26, 2010


It's an arbitrary goal, really. Two years ago I wanted to break 3:30, then I reset that to 3:20, now I've dropped it to 3:10. It was just the next 10-minute increment.

For this goal I will have to hold a pace of 4:30/k for 42.195 kilometers (26.2 miles). It equates to 22:30 5k's and 45-minute 10k's. That's a pretty fast 10k, and I will be doing four of them consecutively. This is why I am seeded in the top 1500 (of 33,000) runners at Tokyo. I'm not saying I am fast - no, I am definitely not - but relative to the mass, I suppose all my training has earned me something. And I will try to enjoy that hour of special status I receive as part of the B group.

You can follow along on Sunday morning if you'd like at this website:
My number is: 23167

The site will come up Sunday morning at 9am, Tokyo time (Sat. 4pm west coast US time) and will show live 5k updates throughout the race. I will be wearing a chip that will register as I cross reader mats at the 5k marks and those readings will automatically upload to the website.

For some idea of what the times will mean, here are my goal splits:

5k: 22.30
10k: 45.00
15k: 1:07.30
20k: 1:30.00
Half: 1:34.57
25k: 1:52.30
30k: 2:15.00
35k: 2:37.30
40k: 3:00.00
41k: 3:04.30
42k: 3:09.00
42.195k: 3:09.54

I will lose at least a minute just getting across the start line and then about another minute waiting for the runners ahead of me to stretch out, so I will likely have a nice deficit at the first 5k mark. Hopefully I will make up that ground and be slightly ahead of pace by 20k or 25k. But don't get too excited if I'm a couple minutes ahead as I will likely fall off pace for the last 5-10k. But if I hit 40k in 3 hours I'll be optimistic.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Goal and the Journey

All this training for just three hours of running. Sure, all the muscles below my chest are chiseled and my cardiovascular system is in stellar condition and I can run faster than anybody on my island and I could probably place in the top 150 at the Okinawa City Marathon. Nice bonuses. But waking up in the dark six out of seven days of most weeks over the last five months has all been leading toward the 3 hours that begin this Sunday at 9:10am. This year the goal is singular. The investment is huge. And thus, there's pressure. But also confidence. Instead of being nervous about my performance, I will stand at the start line knowing that I've run mock race pieces every Saturday for the last ten weeks. My half-marathon tune-up three weeks ago was flawless. I've built up my Sunday long runs and then tapered down so I know I can handle the 42 kilometer distance without issue. Now I get to find out if I can handle that distance with speed.

The first 30k will just be filler. Like rice. I can run 30k at a 3:10 full marathon pace without issue. The last 12k, though, is where the game begins. Lactic acid will be building and I will surpass a point that I have not reached in training (32k). At 34 or 36k, strange leg muscles will start hurting and, more importantly, breathing will get harder. Everything will be asking me to stop. My heart rate will ascend into the 180's, if it's not already there. I won't hear the crowd much anymore and I'll wonder why the runners around me still look so smooth. I'll debate putting on my mp3 player (in my pocket) for a boost. At 36 and 38k I may start looking towards the finish line and counting down the kilometers (but hopefully not, because this doesn't really work). At 39k it'll become a game of trying to keep my mind occupied. My body is increasing its volume in asking for a reprieve, but with only 14 minutes to the finish line I [kinda] know I can do it. But my thought processes weaken into 3-4 second bursts. It's frustrating because ideas of things to think about quickly devolve into "it really hurts!"

And then, somehow, I make it to the end. The question remains, "will I rock those last 12k or falter?"

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marathon Morning

On Sunday morning I will wake up at about 6am. I'll immediately take a shower to get my muscles warm and my body feeling clean. I'll eat the same thing I've been eating before all my weekend runs for the last month: toast with a wee bit of butter, an Organic Food Bar, and a piece of fruit. I want energy, but not so much as to weigh me down. I'll stretch while I'm eating and also try to induce enough bathroom trips so that's not an issue during the race.

I'm supposed to be at the race start an hour early (they say 1.5 hours, but I don't listen well) so I'll leave the hotel with Mariko around 7:30am. We're only a couple subway stops away, fortunately. Last year finding the start was pretty easy - I only had to board the train and then follow everybody. I'll be wearing my running clothes under a full set of disposable clothes because the temperature is going to be 5-7C (41-45F). I'll carry with me a numbered plastic bag containing everything I will need after the race: food to eat right away, warm, dry clothes, different shoes, camera, etc. I will split off from Mariko at the "runners only beyond this point" sign, where I will make my way to the appropriate truck to drop off my 'finish line' bag. From there I have to get to my starting position.

Runners are designated by lettered group (from A-K) based on expected finish time. I am in group B, which has a 'special' section that requires two checkpoints (they actually check your race number) to reach. Then I get to wait for 45 minutes. I will spend half that time peeing in the bushes (portable toilet lines take too long), then I will enter the assigned section with my fellow B-people. At 9am, 10 minutes before the start, we'll start jockeying our way forward to gain a couple extra meters. With five minutes to go, they'll release the barriers at the front of all the sections so we B people will be able to push up behind the A's. People are pretty cool and there isn't actually any squeezing. With about three minutes left, everybody wearing pants and extra shirts will remove those clothes and throw them to the sides. The sidewalks are staffed with tons of volunteers who walk back and forth with big plastic bags and collect all the clothes. Presumably they donate them to charity. I should note here that the start is incredibly organized. Runners are forbidden from the sidewalks, so there's no unfair 'line cutting' that goes on. You can only get into the starting area for your letter and that's where you stay until you cross the start line. It's important in a serious race to prevent 'line cutting' because our official time is what matters for things like Boston or New York qualification. The official time starts when the gun goes off, so if it takes me a minute to cross the start line (or, in the case of a K person, 15-20 minutes!) that is included in my official time (as opposed to my chip time, which only measures my time between the start and finish lines).

At 9:05am the wheelchair race begins, at 9:10am the 10k and marathon begin and it's a big show with important dudes and pretty girls. Last year it took me exactly a minute to cross the start line, then I figure I lost another minute waiting for the runners ahead to stretch out and the pace to pick up. That'll take about a kilometer, so my first 5k split will show up a little slower (two minutes?) than the pace I want, which means I will have to make up this deficit later. More later in the week on the goal time and the splits necessary to get there.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why I Like Running

I like that running is simple. I wake up, put on my little running wardrobe - with shoes and shorts being the only specialty items - step outside and go. I have nearly maxed out my accessory possibilities by utilizing an mp3 player and a heart rate monitor. And because there isn't much to running, it doesn't have to be expensive.

[my socks don't know that they look bad, they just keep on truckin']

Running can be done anywhere. If it were up to me, I'd show up every morning for a rowing practice, or go cross-country skiing or cycling. But all of those require specialized conditions, equipment, or teammates - none of which I have. But I can always run. Living on a small island in Palau, in the middle of Washington, DC, or here on another small island in Japan, as long as there are roads or trails there is running. (And I will argue that with only 14 kilometers of roads, cycling here is not a sane option.)

[My 2009/2010 shoe casualties. The leftmost pair will be worn in the marathon. I've finished off seven pairs of running shoes in three years. Anybody want some free size 11.5/29cm shoes?]

Running is cardiovascular. I believe strongly that breathing hard and elevating my heart rate is the best exercise I can get. Weightlifting or walking (unless it's 2500 miles at a time) aren't for me. It hurts more to struggle at the high end of a workout, but my day feels better for it. I also like that in running it is so easy to step up the difficulty. I can always run faster or choose steeper hills once my body acclimates to the current pace.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gmaps Pedometer and Measuring Distance

Quick note: Today I signed the paper to stay here a fourth year.

Last week my friend Vaughn sent me a link to Gmaps Pedometer, which is an awesome way to measure runs or rides on roads. I'm not sure how accurate the service is, but I bet it's closer than my guessing.

There are two roads on the island that I can run. Prior to now I have estimated those route distances at 13k (6.5k out-and-back to the far end of the island) and 8k for the western loop. Gmaps tells me the long route is actually 12.23k and the loop is 7.85k. There's also a new route I added this year, as seen in the map below:

The 3k out-and-back (6k) piece has relatively little comparative elevation gain/loss to the very hilly 8k and 13k routes. This makes it an important training run since the Tokyo Marathon is mostly flat.

I've been running the 6k piece for months, only guessing at the distance based on my end time. But recently I had to do a fast pace run on it and I came in at 25 minutes, which seemed too fast for the pace (6k is 4 miles, if you need to do the math). This cast a lot of doubt on my distance estimation abilities. But then Gmaps came along and told me my route was 5.73k. That's not 6k, but it's not as bad as I suspected my error was.

Five more days to Tokyo. I'll be making running-related posts all week so either stay tuned or stay away...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Whale Watching

I went on four whale watching trips this weekend, holding to my promise to go on as many trips as possible to try to get some breach shots this year. It worked. As we were returning from Saturday morning's [breachless] trip, we encountered a lone whale that was going nuts:

He breached somewhere around 17 times (I lost count) in 10 minutes before another boat came onto the scene. Since that boat hadn't yet seen a breach we let them have him:

Upon returning to the port I found another boat leaving on a trip. I took a minute to use the bathroom before hopping on that boat (with no lunch) for the afternoon trip.

I did the same thing today, literally stepping off the morning boat and walking over and back onto an afternoon boat. Not so much breaching today (just one at the very beginning), but I had a better chance of getting good whale photographs from a boat than from my apartment!

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Picture From the Archives

I went fishing last July from my kayak. It was a desolate year on the water fishing for anything but marlin. Mostly I just wanted to be outside; I'd kinda forgotten that a fish might actually strike. Then a barracuda did. It jumped a lot and created much excitement. When I landed the fish I wanted to release it because I don't like barracuda. But the hooks were embedded in a mouth full of long, sharp teeth. So I kept it to give away.

Back at the bike I struggled to figure out how to get the fish back 3km across the island. At about 16 pounds, it was too heavy to just carry. Fortunately the bike is rigged up for such encounters, so I just strapped the barracuda across the back.

I'd stopped taking a camera along on my fishing trips because I'd given up on catching anything. But on my way home another fisherman stopped and took some pictures of me. The next week I gave him my flash drive and asked for copies. I got the pictures back last week.. seven months later.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Next Superbowl Party at School?

A couple weeks ago I wrote about some new electronics all my schools would be getting (and that I was a little frustrated I couldn't get $150 to buy some useful English books). This week the gear arrived:

[Aka's school, which has 27 students, received eight new computers and nine 52" televisions]

[When I walked into the computer room today everything was
set up and the room smelled like a new car]

[Yugo, the only student in his class, is dwarfed both in size and value by his new tv]

Yugo's teacher speaks English pretty well so I was able to have a conversation with her about the new equipment. She started in with "What a waste of tax money!" I asked what she intended to do with the tv and she said she hadn't come up with anything yet. She also told me the televisions cost $5000/apiece and were funded federally. She ended the conversation by pointing at the windows and saying "all I really want is curtains..."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More on the Stuck Deer

These are pretty crummy videos taken with my cell phone, but it gives you an idea of the situation as we first encountered it. The deer was probably under 100 pounds, but he was a force to be reckoned with so long as his body wasn't tied down.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Surprise Whale Watching Trip

We were returning from Tonaki yesterday on the fast boat, most people asleep or sick. Only Emina and I were healthy and not tired, just sitting staring off the back of the boat. Suddenly Emina yelped and pointed - she had seen a whale tale flip out of the water off the back of the boat. Then we saw it again, and again. A worker on the boat ran up to the bridge to let the captain know. My prayers came true and the captain turned the boat around. We arrived after the whales dove, but they came up within about three minutes and this was their first showing:

[I photographed a breach on my first ever whale watching trip two years ago. Since then I have been on 12 consecutive breachless trips, until yesterday]

[there were three whales and they were pretty playful]

I think we saw about five breaches in the fifteen minutes we hung around. It was amazing.

That picture above is almost my dream shot. A sunset in the background would complete it. The framing could be nicer, as well, but I purposely shot this wide angle so that I could achieve my desired result by cropping - I can make a photo smaller, but not bigger:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tonaki Island

Today was a national holiday that unfortunately didn't fall on a Monday or a Friday. Since all the teachers were stuck on the island, they put together a trip to another island some 30km (20mi.) away.

We hired two boats to take us and I was on the sail boat for the outbound trip.

I thought it was cute how my tiny friend Emina made this bench work for a nap. When she woke up I asked her why she didn't just take the extra space on the bed where I slept. She explained that in the captain's pre-departure speech, he said we could sleep in the port berths, but the starboard berths were set up for guests who are coming in tonight. Guess which side I was on?

[They grow seaweed on wide-webbed nets strung between those stakes!]

Tonaki was sort of a treacherous island and I couldn't help but think how different my life would be if I had been placed there instead of Zamami. Marathon training would be miserable.

There was this awesome [free] museum [that prohibited photography] about Tonaki. They even had a half-excavated skeleton! It was here that I started to realize that Tonaki has done a better job than Zamami at appealing to tourists (even though I'm sure our annual tourism numbers dwarf theirs).

All of the road/pathways were immaculately clean. ALL of them. It was such a clean village both in terms of what was seen on the ground, but also in straight corners and well-kept households. Zamami looks like a decrepit ghost town (with people) compared to this place. Tonaki's village was utterly beautiful. Also, they had nearly all of their paths lined with those tall, leafy trees for shade during the hot months. A brilliant idea implemented many years ago and everybody is reaping the benefits now.

[Cleaning every Mon/Wed/Fri at 6:30am. Rakes provided. (No wonder this place is so clean!)]

Most all of the houses in the village were traditional Okinawan style and in good shape. This picture shows four in a row. Those roofs are a unique element of an Okinawan house; another is that all the interior walls are made with nice, exposed wood.

While my time in Tonaki was interesting, the excitement of the boat ride home eclipsed the whole day on the island. See tomorrow's post.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

English Passports

Last April, at the beginning of the Japanese school year, I instituted an English Passport program. Every elementary student at my three schools got a laminated passport with their name on it. If they were able to complete the tasks of their respective grade level, they would get a certificate marking their achievement.

I also gave each class a large piece of paper with a [rough] translation of the passport tasks for their grade.

I've had about seven students complete the program, which is sorta depressing, but I also haven't pushed it as hard as I should have (since they have to complete the tasks outside of class - so during breaks). But this past week saw the first certificates get handed out. I wasn't able to get the principal's signature in time, but I was able to do the presentation in front of the whole school which elated the kids who received certificates.

This boy wrote in his class journal about receiving his certificate and how he wants to learn to speak English really well!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tokashiki Marathon (as a warm-up for Sunday)

Yesterday's Tokashiki half-marathon was my first and only test this year before Tokyo. Tokashiki is a neighboring island in the Kerama chain, so Zamami sent a boat across for the ~20 participants from our side of the islands.

My training plan called for 16k (10 miles) at marathon pace, so I took the first 5k sorta slowish (25 minutes, 2.5 minutes off marathon pace), then stepped it up for the last 16k. I passed somewhere around 40 people to finish in 27th place (of 380, I think). My time was 1:34.57, which is almost exactly marathon pace, which means I ran the last 16k 2.5 minutes too fast.

[my friend Cliff set his half-marathon PR with a 2:15, beating his goal by 15 minutes!]

With the exception of the usual stomach roiling and adjustments in the first 5k, I felt super. I cruised through the finish line with no aches and my heart rate dropped back below 100 within minutes. It was a promising tune-up for Tokyo.

[my certificate]

[the elevation chart for the hilliest run in Okinawa]

Here were my numbers:
Distance: 21.1k/13.1 miles
Time: 1:34.57
Heart Rate Average: 165
Heart Rate Range: 74 - upper 180's
Ascent/Descent: 1500 feet (~480m)
High Point: 682 feet (~310m)
(Just for comparison, the ascent/descent of the FULL Tokyo Marathon from last year was 320'.)


Then today I still had my long run of the week at 32k (20 miles). I woke up to and began running in rain and heavy winds. I didn't run hard, just got the miles in. I put my head down and focused on this being the last big run of the year. It rained for the first 2:20 before clearing up for the final 20 minutes. It felt pretty darn good to finish this run and complete 53k (33 miles) within the last 24 hours).

Distance: 32k/20miles
Time: 2:39.48
HR avg: 144
HR range: 88-166
Ascent/Descent: 1390'
High Point: 259'

Now, the taper: the best three weeks of running this year.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Freeing A Deer

I may have solidified my hunter/wild animal handler reputation today. I was at school on Geruma when I heard about a deer. Some teachers were going to see him so I joined along. When we got there, though, it was not a pretty scene.

It was a buck that got his antlers caught in some netting meant to serve as a crude fence against the deer. He'd managed to wrap the netting around his antlers and neck enough that escape wasn't going to happen and death by suffocation was approaching. The buck was in panic mode and was freaking out.

I was surprised that nobody else saw the situation the same as me - I thought "rescue", they thought "let's get out of here." I plead my case to the vice-principal, citing my work on a cattle ranch in Montana as the experience necessary to work with this deer. The VP said "cowboy?" to which I responded "yes!" because it seemed like the right answer. So he gave me some rope and we went back together. I made crude lariats and we attempted, from opposite sides of the deer, to get him to step in our slipknot circles. I succeeded first in catching a leg, at which point I pulled hard and knocked the deer off his feet. I quickly tied his rear legs together to try to control the kicking, then tied a front leg to the rear to immobilize him. But this meant that he'd lost the elevation which had previously kept him from strangling. Luckily the VP had a knife so I set out going at the thrashing deer's neck with a knife trying not to kill him. Eventually I freed up his wind pipe then went back to tying him up. (The vice-principal insisted on not letting the deer free at this point because he wanted the whole school to see the situation. I wasn't really a fan of this but I kept it to myself.)

After getting the deer securely bound I wrapped my jacket around his head to cover his eyes and hopefully get him to relax. Then we went back to school for lunch and cleaning. After 1.5 hours I finally got the okay to go back and release him (four students went to see the deer, but left before the release).

The VP trimmed all the net from his antlers while I worked on freeing his legs. I expected this to be dangerous, but I was able to contain his legs with relative ease.

The release was actually a bit anticlimactic. He jumped up and tried to sprint, but his bearings were all whacked out and he only went a couple meters before collapsing again. He didn't get far before realizing he was best-served resting first. I knew this was an important stage of what must be a very stressful ordeal for this deer, so I hurried the teachers along to give him alone time.

After my fifth period class the VP reported that the deer was not doing well and he expected him to die. I was pretty disappointed, but not sure if I was surprised. I took one last trip over before I had to catch my boat. The deer was still laying down and obviously alive, so I approached to see what was up. Turns out he had thrashed around some and got his rear legs intertwined in even more loose netting - to the point that he couldn't stand up! So I untangled him and got him standing again. He still acted drunk so I backed off enough that he could just stand there without also trying to get away from me. When I left he had sat back down, but he had his head up and looked alert to me. I expect that if he didn't get much more disruption that he'll survive.