Monday, July 23, 2012

The agony of de feet

Or, Going out for a jog with 700 of my closest friends

Part 2 of the weekend. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, click here

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After getting off the ferry, I made my way over to the train station and got on a train headed south (the only direction trains go from Wakkanai Station). On the way, I ate this:

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It was delicious, but the cocoa powder on top got everywhere!

My first stop was in the town of Nayoro. It’s a similar size to Wakkanai, but they have more stores. I met my friend, her husband, and their cute daughter and stayed at their house overnight. They are preparing to head back to the US this week, so I was grateful that they offered to let me stay over.

We had a good time just chatting and catching up. We all got to sleep a little later than planned, but it wasn’t too bad. The next morning, everyone was up pretty early. We had breakfast, and a game of Go Fish, and then headed to the station. We said our goodbyes (waah! boo!) and then it was time for the train.

Once in Shibetsu, I looked around for where I was supposed to be going, but I couldn’t find it. So, I took the diva option and hired a taxi and got exactly where I needed to be. I registered and got my numbers, chip, race information, and T-shirt. The Shibetsu race is great, because you can hang out in the gym. There is luggage storage, a place to chill, and a nice bathroom. What more could you want?

Once I was tagged and my luggage was bagged, I made my way to the party zone. There was lots of food for sale, and running apparel. Those two things are kind of funny together, now that I think about it. Tons of people were there – I saw so many marathon shirts and towels. Talk about intimidating. “Oh, you finished the Honolulu Marathon? I finished a 5K once. Don’t like to brag, but I did come in 39th.” I wandered over to the road to watch the start of the half marathon. It was very exciting – there was a brass band and everything. At the front of the pack were two cars. And then, the thundering herd. It’s kind of fun to watch the herd go by.

The very end is interesting, because when the video stops, a bunch of runners are airborne

Now, there was an hour to go before the 10K start. I wandered some more, did a very lame warmup, and got rid of my jacket and headphones. Everyone’s race tag had their name, age division, start time, and T-shirt size printed, so I enjoyed looking for the 59 runners in my group. I followed one to the starting area, where we had to check in a 2nd time. While we were waiting, the half marathoners started to come by on their 2nd round. First behind the timer car was a very well-formed pack of about six runners. More and more runners trickled past, some in packs, and some more spread out.

I walked around a little bit, and to my surprise, I found my heroes from the gym! They are two ladies who are slim and fit and excellent runners on the treadmill. I’ll call them Gazelle-san and Deer-san because that’s how they look when they run. They are kind of my fitness role models. And thanks to the informative tags, I learned that they were in the 51+ age group. We chatted a bit – especially about how hot the day was. Then, it was time to line up. I knew they were going to finish way before me, and I knew I should start at the back of the pack, but they beckoned to me. I thought it would be kind of fun to start with them, so against my better judgment, I started with them. Plus, I like to start out slow and then pick up the pace. We were probably about a third of the way back.

My goal for the race was to finish in 1:05. The best training time I’ve had that I can remember was 1:05:56, so I hoped that racing would speed me up a little. 

IMG_1952What you can’t see here is the pack of 500 people behind me ready to charge forth

The brass band also played for us before we started, which made me giggle. Then suddenly, we were off and running. Gazelle-san took off, but Deer-san seemed to be going at a pace that felt similar to what I run, so I decided to stick to her like glue for as long as possible.

Well, runners started sweeping past us like a river. And the fickle half of my brain said “Go! Run with them!” But the trained half of my brain told me to just stick to Deer-san. So, I stuck, and tried to ignore the river.

We ran through the city, and past lots of houses. Many people were sitting outside and watching the runners go by. One man even had a hose. Bless him.

Pretty early on in the race, I found myself flooded by a bunch of negative thoughts. I had to keep reminding myself that I had trained for this distance and there was nothing new. But yikes! Negativity make it hard to keep going.

I continued to stick to Deer-san as we ran out of town. We came to our first water stop, and I decided that I didn’t need any. I never drink during my training runs, so I just whooshed around the outside and lost Deer-san for a few minutes. I found her again though, and I kept following her. Around the 2 or 3K mark, we caught and passed Gazelle-san. I was super surprised!

The Shibetsu course is absolutely beautiful. There are lush green hills in the distance, and lots of picturesque veggies growing. Even the runners looked pretty - all sprinkled out along the road ahead like confetti.

IMG_1953Wait for me, fellas!

We pounded along the road – passing and being passed – and came to another water stop. By this time, I was starting to feel a little rough, so I decided to get a drink. I moved left and snatched a cup as I ran past. As I learned from the internet, I bent the cup and took a drink. I was surprised to find out that I’d accidentally grabbed sports drink, but other than that, it went pretty well. I briefly considered tossing the remainder in my face, but decided that wasn’t the best idea.

Finally, we came to the 5K mark. Soon after, we came to the 6K mark. I thought it was pretty fast. In my head, I started mentally counting back and kind of preparing. Ages later, we came to the real 6K mark. Boy, was I discouraged! I wasn’t timing, but I had to reset my head. Somewhere around here, I lost Deer-san. And I really started to heat up. I kept pounding along, singing songs in my head to keep my pace going. I also tried to distract myself with the view. It didn’t work too well.

Another water stop came on the horizon, and I was so thankful! This time, I read the signs and headed for the water. Someone handed me a full cup. I took a drink, and then threw the rest right in my face. It was a lot of water.

Along the way, I met an older gent who was listening to enka – a traditional style of music. It was pretty stirring and a welcome distraction. He was nice, but eventually he also disappeared into the distance.

By this time, I was feeling like I’d been run down by that half marathon car. I had to keep telling myself that this was a do-able feat, I just had to hang on a little longer. I told myself that it didn’t matter if my time was awful, or even if I came in dead last behind every 10K-er and half marathoner. Whenever I’d start feeling like I was at the back of the whole pack, another group would come thundering by. OK, maybe they weren’t actually thundering by this point, but it sort of felt that way!

Finally, we started to head back into the city. I looked ahead for the goal line, but it was still out of sight. People were back out cheering (bless them, too). Some of them seemed excited when I came by. My exhausted brain was pretty sure it was because I was a random foreign girl running by, but a section of it wondered if it was because I was indeed the last runner. I didn’t want to look back! But the cheers were really nice. Some people yelled in English, too.

I was so happy when we passed the 1Km mark. I kept looking for the finish line, but I still couldn’t see it. I didn’t see it until I was super close, and suddenly, I was in the chute and done!

I cannot tell a lie – this was the hardest 10K run of my life! As I came through the chute and out into the grass, I was aching, hot, and slightly woozy. I stumbled my way over to the water station and drank a glass. It was probably 20 minutes before I started feeling human again.

The post race time was fun. I ate some junk food (cherry shaved ice!) and got some free race goodies – a sports drink and some instant noodles. Every last bit of me was utterly wrung out, but I was pretty happy that I finished the race. I saw Deer-san at one point. She finished the race in just under an hour (my dream goal).

Speaking of times, I got my official time…1:03:30! I was thrilled! The way I’d been feeling, I had no idea I would actually beat my training time. And for those of you wondering, I actually didn’t come in last, either! I was 34th out of 52. And I was fine with that.

After the race, I made my achy way back to Wakkanai. Had a nice nap on the train. When I got back to Wakkanai, I had to take my pictures for my new resident card. Surprisingly, they aren’t awful!

Weirdly enough, I’m still aching today! And I’m never sore like this after running 10K!

Island Festival

This past Saturday, one of my island high schools held their school festival. I hadn’t been to one of their festivals yet, so I wanted to go. I can usually make 1 or 2 school festivals a year, since they are all held close to the same time.

School festivals in Japan are kind of the big event of the year. The students do a lot of work to put the event together. There are lots of decorations, exhibits, games, and performances. Sometimes even parades and fireworks. Usually, there’s also lots of food.

Saturday morning, I got up early, hopped on my bike, and rode to the ferry terminal. I bought a ticket for me and my bike, and headed over to the vehicle boarding area. I waited for directions, and then took my bike into the huge cavern in the bottom of the ferry. It’s kind of an intimidating space – like a huge garage with buses and trucks and cars…and a few bikes and scooters.IMG_1850

The Saturday morning ferry ride was lovely. I was wearing warm clothes, so I headed out to sit on the deck. I love sitting on the deck, especially when the inside is packed like a can of sardines. But it has been too cold so far on my trips this year.

Once on the island, I hopped on my bike and pedaled off. The ride to the high school was just lovely. I love the rocky coastline and the sheer green hills. I had plenty of time to get to school, so I enjoyed frequent picture stops. I even got two souvenir bruises on my knee and leg. One was when my overloaded bike fell over onto my leg, and the other was when I was leaping over a ravine and landed on my knee on the road

Eventually, I made it to the festival. The students had worked really hard on decorations, and everything looked fantastic.

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Do you recognize the second character in the above decoration??

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First was a taiko (drum) performance and a random student dance. Then, the eating contests began. In groups of 4, people competed to see who could be the first to finish a bottle of cola, cup noodles, shaved ice, or fruit. I did not participate in these events! Some of the shaved ice racers looked like they were in pain! I saw the English teacher and two students in line for the next event, so I sat down near the front to watch and take pictures. One of the students ran over to me and asked if I would play Russian Roulette (no, not that one!). I said OK, and followed him over to join the group.

Here is how the game goes:

A team of 4 takes the stage and sits facing the audience.

Each player chooses a cream puff from a plate

Three of the cream puffs are normal, and one is filled with wasabi cream

Together, the players eat their puffs

The other team tries to guess which person got the wasabi puff

Each member reveals which puff they got

So, our group took the stage, and I was really hoping to not get the wasabi puff. I figured that I was pretty safe, since I had a 75% chance of getting a yummy cream puff. So, the plate came down the row, and I examined the remaining two puffs before making my choice. One was deflated, so I didn’t pick it (it kind of looked like it might have been tampered with).

Together, we popped our cream puffs into our mouths, and it quickly became clear that I had made the wrong decision. My mouth was full of a disgusting mix of pastry, whipped cream, and wasabi. Bleeeah! Well, I tried to make my expression as neutral as possible. Boy, that stuff took forever to go down! I was pretty sure that the other team was going to notice that it was taking me about eight years to chew and swallow a small pastry. Unbeknownst to me, the student next to me was hamming it up. So, most people thought she had it, and I don’t think anyone thought I had it. That made the reveal a bit of a surprise.

I stayed at the festival as long as I could, and left with just under an hour to ferry departure. I pedaled back as quickly as I could. I was going south, so it was faster. Heeheehee.

On the way back, we made a stop by Rishiri to drop off and pick up people.

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Then it was on to the train and on to Nayoro for the next leg of the weekend adventure.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ready to run

Taking on my first 10K today! I'm ready to go! But we still have a whole hour to wait...