Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Naha Marathon

Last Sunday I ran the Naha Marathon. Considering my finish time, "ran" might be too generous of a word. The Naha Marathon wound up being my slowest marathon by 50 minutes (I came in at 5:24)! Yep, 50 minutes. At this point you're probably wondering what went wrong. In all honesty I can say on race day nothing went wrong. The race actually came together quite nicely.
However, about five weeks before the race I started to have hamstring issues. For those of you who don't run marathons yet, that is just about the time you should be getting in your longest long runs. I didn't want to cause lasting damage so I wound up cancelling my 20 mile long run and cutting short the 18 miler the following week. Yeah, when you cut out two of your longer runs it's not going to make for a pretty marathon.
For a few weeks I kept up a debate on if I'd run at all, but after a couple weeks taking it easy the hamstring felt better and I figured I could at least finish. Plus, I had committed to this marathon and people had sponsored me in support of Girls on the Run. I didn't want to let this great organization or my sponsors down.
I knew I was going to be slow, but I still found it funny when I realized the earrings I had decided on were turtles. I didn't even think about it when I put them in at 0530. I really don't have a lot of post earrings and I like turtles. They turned out to be an accurate predictor of the day. There was also a turtle sign beside me when I got in the corral. Hmmm...
This race was huge. There were over 26,000 runners and it felt like it for the first 40km (a marathon has 42 kilometers for those of you mile folks). Here I am looking nervous before the race start and with crowds like this there's no wonder I was feeling a little anxious.
It took me over 7 minutes to reach the starting line after the race began. It was packed!
This race might have had the best crowd support that I've ever seen. People of all ages were out there cheering, beating on drums, passing out salt, sugar, water, and snacks. I think I ate at least 6 or 7 mikan (local, sweet, delicious, mini oranges) during the run. While I loved the crowd support I really did not like having that many runners around me. I think in the future I'll have to find smaller races.
My race plan was to run the first 5K until things thinned out and then use the Galloway Method the rest of the run. Galloway is a run/walk system that new runners, runners getting over injuries, or just people who like having little breaks implement. I used a 7:1 ratio where I ran for 7 minutes and walked (or stretched) for 1 minute. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. There was no way I could stop at the 5K - it was just too crowded. I wound up running the first 13-14K and then switched over to the Galloway. It still hadn't cleared up at 14K, but I just started moving over to the opposite sidewalk and running there.
I did have some good distractions as I ran slooooowly with the mob. There were lots of costumes:

(Yes, the third picture is of a person dressed up as a poop head and no, the cow was not passing out milk, just water).

Cute animals:
And ridiculously tall Americans with extra petite locals:
I've got to say physically I felt pretty good. The mental aspect of this race was a whole different story. I really struggled through the first half. I kept questioning why I was out there. I didn't have anything to prove, I didn't really want to be racing, and I'm pretty sure my sponsors wouldn't have minded if I postponed the marathon until the one in February. I was definitely in a funk. I really didn't enjoy running in such a tight crowd and felt like I could never find my groove. It was frustrating. I've never run that slow and my brain did not like it. Here are some pictures showing how crowded the race stayed. Here's the 15K:

And the 20K:
Luckily for my psyche, I got to see Chris around the 23K mark and he told me to keep on going. He did a great job biking around and meeting me at points along the course. It was just the pick me up I needed.

The course was still crowded at this point, but I felt like after seeing Chris I picked up the pace. I know I did because I had a 19 minute negative split. Here we are at 25K:
With some Avatar fans:
The 40K:
Sorry for the blurriness, but I had been running for 5 hours at this point.Trust me there were still a lot of people around.
I saw Chris at the final 2K and that really got me going. I passed tons of people in the last part of the race. When I got to the park entrance (about 1K from the finish) I really picked it up. The path was lined with high-fiving kids and a band playing "Oh When the Saints". I high-fived as many as I could and smiled my way all the way to the finish. The last 2K was definitely my favorite part of the race.
I was glad I had stuck it out because we received sweet glass "medals".
Things I learned from this marathon:
-42K really is a distance you should train for
-the Galloway method works
-you really need to put deodorant under both arms if you don't want to stink. I forgot my right pit and I was ripe!
-I need to work on my core - my hip flexors yelled at me for the last 15K
-ice baths and sports massage work - I was already out running a few, slow miles on Wednesday. I usually take at least a week to recover.
That's 3 endurance events this year: Mongolia trail marathon, Izena Triathlon, and Naha Marathon. That's the most I've done in a 6 month period and I've got to say I'm feeling pretty good. Next up: Okinawa City Marathon in February and a trail 60K in New Zealand in March. Bring it on!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Izena 88

Sunday was the big day. The day I had been training for for months. OK, not really. I had registered months ago with the intent of training consistently, but then got distracted with things like a trail marathon in Mongolia and going back to the states to visit family and friends. Now don't get me wrong. I wasn't just sitting around doing nothing for the last few months. I actually exercised a lot, just not for a long distance triathlon.
Exactly how long, you ask? Izena 88 consists of a 2K (1.2 mile) swim, a 66K (41 mile) bike, and a 20K (12.4 mile) run. With those distances you can understand why I was getting a little nervous. Before the race I completed exactly 5 bike rides with my clip-in pedals and 2 recent open water swims. I just had this belief that I would finish the race. My friend Kathleen and I joked that no matter how hard it was that nothing could be harder than Mongolia. She had completed Izena multiple times and I just kept hoping she was right.
Along with general nerves for the race, I was also nervous about the ferry ride between islands. It's not like the ferries I took in the Philippines that were so overloaded I was nervous the boat would sink, but a ferry that was out in the ocean where the rolling waves would be mocking my tendency towards motion sickness. Seriously, I could get sick on the backyard swing if Monica pushed it crooked.

So it was with some trepidation and a dose of Bonine that I boarded the ferry. I was actually feeling pretty confident because every time I get on a boat I am able to convince myself that something has changed and I won't get sick (I also convince myself that I'm totally going to win the lottery every time I buy at ticket). Well, we're still not lottery winners and I still chum the waters on ferry rides. The water was not rough, but there were big, rolling waves that had me running starboard. Luckily, as soon as I'm on solid ground I'm good to go again. Plus, I had the bonus of a great reception when we reached the Izena port.

I know it's obvious, but triathlons take a lot more planning than a road or trail race. There are three events to plan for and when you're going to a tiny island in the middle of nowhere you really can't afford to forget anything.

Like I mentioned in the last post, I had made a list and obsessed over it for days. It absolutely worked! I had everything I needed and all of my transitions went smoothly on race day. The only thing I would have done differently is I should have applied more sunscreen to my shoulders before the run portion. Live and learn.
After the ferry ride and packet pick up Saturday was spent relaxing. I rode one lap of the bike course, attended a friendship ceremony with local kids at the gym, drove the run course, and ate a fantastic pasta dinner. I hit the hay early because Sunday's wake up call was at 0430!

My bike's slot in the transition area.

We woke up and had a great breakfast, took our second transition bag (everything we would need for the run portion) down to T2 (transition 2), got dressed and took our bikes and T1 bags down to the swim start.
After racking my bike and laying out some of the gear I would need to go from being a swimmer to a biker I headed to the check in. In triathlons you get your number drawn on your arms. So 242 was written on both biceps, I handed in my questionnaire stating I was healthy, and received my timing chip that I attached to my ankle.
Amazingly, I was pretty calm before the race. I don't know if it's because I realized there was nothing I could do at that point or if I am just getting more comfortable racing, but I love the feeling of calm that I've had lately.

All race photos are courtesy of my friend Christian who cheered, supported, and made the race so much easier!
For the 2K swim we did two 1K laps. I found a rhythm right away and had a great count going on in my head. The water was calm and I felt very even. I was one of the few without a wet suit and while I know it helps your buoyancy I really like the freedom of just wearing a suit (and I don't know if I'm into tris enough to make that monetary commitment). The course was like a big triangle and it was pretty good except on the turns. At the turns things would get congested and people started running into me, over me, onto me. It was crazy and it made me want to kick someone in the face, but Kathleen had told me to conserve my legs for the bike and run so I just mentally let them have it.
I was more than happy with my swim time. When I'm on my own swimming in the pool I usually swim 1600m in around 40 minutes. Somehow I swam the open water 2K (really more than that because I got way off course the second lap) in 42 minutes and change! Yeehaw!

My transition times were a little slow because I was trying to be thorough and didn't want to forget anything. I think T1 was about 6 minutes and T2 was about 5. I'm still pretty happy with that though because on the course there was never anything I wish I had taken (besides sunscreen).
The bike was the scariest part for me. I am pretty inexperienced. I was scared of falling, but maybe even more scared of getting a flat tire. I know that sounds crazy and Chris had given me multiple tutorials, but it wasn't something I wanted to face on race day. Luck was with me. I had a pretty perfect ride.
The 66K ride consisted of 5 loops around the island. The views were spectacular, but I really tried to focus on riding. I was told by more experienced triathletes that the bike is the place where I should focus on getting some calories in. During the 41 mile ride I ate 3/4 of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and 2 fig newmans. I also drank over a liter and a half of water and about 32 ounces of the G2 Gatorade. I loved the grape flavor and was impressed at my ability to drink and ride at the same time.

The bike was the most painful portion for me. While I've ridden a little over 30 miles before, I usually stop midway and look at the scenery. I've never ridden 41 miles at a good clip with no breaks. My lower back and in between my shoulder blades definitely felt it. I finished the bike in about 2:33 and averaged 16.4mph. Again, I was happy because I was planning on closer to 3 hours.
At this point I might have started to get a little cocky. You know, not out loud, but in my head. Izena has a 7 hour time limit. Originally, I was just hoping to finish before the cut off and if I had to I planned on being an unofficial finisher if it took me more than 7, but then something amazing happened. Even with my slow transitions, I was starting the run at about the 3.5 hour mark. Officially finishing was in the bag. Instead of accepting that, my mind started calculating a 6 hour finish. Why not? I had 2.5 hours to complete a 20K. That distance usually takes me 2 hours or under and I figured even with tired legs I could do it in 2:15 or 2:20. Sounds good, right?
The run is two 10K laps. The first 2K of each lap is uphill. I've got to say when you get off your bike after 41 miles that is a pretty rude introduction to the run course. However, it wasn't the hills that got me. My legs felt ridiculously strong. What got me was the heat. Holy moley, the heat was brutal! The temps were around 90 degrees and the humidity was high as well. I've never run in heat like that. The only thing I could think of to compare it to was when Chris and I played a frisbee tournament in Savannah and the temps were over 100. It just knocks the fight right out of you.
Somehow, despite the heat, I still felt good mentally. I knew I would make it through, even if it involved some walking. The folks of Izena know how to run a race. They had aid stations every 2K stocked with bananas, oranges, salt, snackies, water, cola, and Aquarius (Japanese Gatorade). I don't know how many times I said "mizu o kudasai" (water please). The best part of the aid stations were the water buckets. Each station had huge trash cans filled with ice and water. They were manned by kids with huge ladles who would pour beautiful, glorious, life-saving, icy water over your head. It really did keep me going. They also passed out sponges dipped in ice water to take with you. I traded out a new one at every station and kept it tucked in the back collar of my shirt.
Speckled throughout the bike and run course were spectators. Izena is a small island and this is a big event for them. I would bet that 90% of the locals were out cheering on the course at some point. They especially love seeing American women competing so I got many enthusiastic "Ganbatte!s" (You can do it!). I absolutely loved the spirit of Izena.
The running course was inland and a lot of it wound through fields of crops. Wind and shade were limited. I was a little frustrated that my legs felt so good, but I was still limited by the heat. I actually ran more of the second lap than the first. Every once in a while there would be a few seconds of cloud cover and a little breeze. It made a huge difference.
Just as my energy started to dip, it was boosted when "You Know I Like My Chicken Fried" came on my mp3 player around the 16K mark. This song has special meaning for me and my running partner Tiffany. Just hearing that song put her there with me and I could hear her say "shuffle if you have to". It kept me going for the next couple K.
Then just as I made the final turn that would take me into the track to the finish line Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine" came on. My running partner from England, Mandy, is the world's biggest Bon Jovi fan and I could feel her there next to me helping me push out the last couple hundred meters.

By running a 2:38 20K I missed my secondary time goal by 5 minutes and came in at 6:05! I am completely satisfied with that! Booyah!
It was hard, but I finished and more importantly I stayed positive the whole time. Somehow I knew I could get it done.
Anyone wondering what your feet might look like if you dump water on your head every 2 kilometers for 20 kilometers? Well, here's your answer:

Pretty, huh?
Besides a couple minor blisters, sunburned shoulders, and mild underarm chafing from the swim, I feel incredibly good. I took Monday off, but Tuesday I took Rana out for a slow 2 miles and everything seems to be holding together.

I got some sweet tan lines and I'm pretty sure that 4th toenail is going to fall off, but it was completely worth it.
I know I look slightly crazed in the next picture, but I'd like to remind you that I had just competed for 6 hours. I really just wanted to point out that, according to the poster, I had competed in the 23th Izena. I love Engrish!

I'm also happy to report that the ferry ride back was smooth like butter! So smooth that these guys were sleeping like babies:

I think Chris telling me to approach the day as "Amy's Big Day of Adventure" really helped. I was calm. I was focused. I knew I had the best husband in the world to come home to. He proved it once again. When I got home he surprised me with some gorgeous flowers and an ipod nano! Woohoo - marathon training here I come!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

Well, I've finished packing for Izena and thought I'd write some thoughts that have been going around my head the last couple weeks. For those of you who don't know Izena is a triathlon a ferry ride away from Okinawa. It consists of a 2K swim, 66K bike, and 20K run.

- I've been at my job for about a month and I like it. That's hard for me to admit because I always thought I was meant to be doing something in science. I mean I got my B.S. and Master's in the biological fields and now I'm doing admin work. Technically, I don't think I needed anything past high school to get this job.

- I find my job strangely fulfilling. I like that we're getting kids active, that I can help people, and that I get to organize large events (sport seasons). Most of the time I'm busy and I like that.

- I discovered that my "post allowance" (basically the cost of living allowance for being overseas) covers weekly massages and weekly maid service. This doesn't really mean I'm making a lot, just that you can get a cheap mama-san in Okinawa.

- I love our mama-san Emilia. She is sweet, speaks Spanish, and makes our home ridiculously clean. Chris asked why we didn't do this sooner. I told him it was because I didn't have a J-O-B! And when I say ridiculously clean I'm talking scrubbing out the sliding glass door track with a toothbrush.

On to thoughts about Izena.

- Izena has me scared. I am way under prepared and we're talking real distances here.

- I've ridden my bike with my clip-in shoes exactly 4 times.

- I've completed 3 bricks (back to back workouts with tri components).

- The idea of the hour long ferry ride after the storms we've had all week makes me want to vomit.

- Deep down I really believe that, despite the fact that I am under trained, I can finish this race.

- I figure nothing can be as bad as Mongolia. I loved Mongolia after the first climb, even with the food poisoning, but it was a hard race.

- I'm mostly worried about the 7 hour time limit.

- I thought the rain was over after 5 days, but as I sit hear typing it has started pouring again. I don't really know how to bike on wet streets. Hmmmm.

- I have the best husband in the world who told me to approach it as "Amy's Day of Adventure". That sounds way better than an 88K tri.

- Despite all my worrying over Izena, a sick part of my brain was already figuring out that if we could push back our expected departure date by 60-90 days I could sign up for Izena again. Really? What's wrong with me?

Alright, I feel better! Thanks for reading. You know I can't have a blog without a single picture so here we go:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Sunshine State and the Windy City

At the beginning of the month I headed to Gainesville to surprise my dad for his 70th birthday. Despite a couple slip ups on the phone, the surprise was a great success. I really wish I had taken a picture of his face when he opened the door and realized it was me.
I was in Gainesville for a couple weeks and it was awesome! Sadly, I didn't take many pictures. I did a whole lot of nothing. You know, the good kind of nothing that is absolutely priceless? I hung out with friends and family, watched the Gators, shopped with my mom, ate fantastic meals, and celebrated my dad's birthday.
We do have some pictures from my dad's birthday party. We had a family canoe trip down the Santa Fe River. It was a gorgeous day. Someone came up with the idea of taking family pictures before we started canoeing. I got there a little early with the Brasingtons and took some shots of their family.
I think these shots actually turned out better than when the whole family showed up. I had more time and by the time everyone was gathered it was getting hot and we were getting cranky. It was nice though that my dad had all his daughters, grandkids, and great grandson with him to help celebrate.
Yep, I look just like my dad.
The canoeing was fun and the setting was beautiful. I don't have pictures because our family has a reputation of tipping canoes and I didn't want to ruin my camera. We saw tons of turtles and a couple alligators. Going down the Santa Fe made me remember how much I miss Spanish moss hanging from the cypress trees.
After the canoe trip we headed to Monica's for a feast that ended with homemade ice cream and apple pie. Delicious!
During my time in Florida I went to Niceville for a super fast trip to catch up with a lot of the friends I had made in England. I stayed with Jessica and her twins and Katie drove all the way from Albuquerque with her son Owen just to see me. Ok, she probably wanted to see Jessica too, but either way it was awesome! Jess put together a dinner where I got to see about 6 more friends from England. The crazy thing was when we were in England we were all kid free. Now I am the only one holding strong. Yikes!
I did quite a bit of running while in Gainesville. Most of it was from Monica's house, but one Saturday I met up with high school friend Faun and we did a 10.5 mile run. She's preparing for Chicago in October. She's going to do great. I also ran with my best friend from middle school, Kristina. It was so fun! She's marathon and tri training as well. One weekend I dragged mom and Monica to some trails out at San Felasco. They did great, but mentally I was fried as soon as I saw the soft sand. Luckily, they pulled me through.
I got to hang out with Mary multiple times and all I can say is that she is B-FAB! I love that we can hang out and act like no time has passed even when we're apart for a long time. When we're old and our husbands die, Mary and I will be roommates again. We'll probably have a lot of dogs.
One of the last nights I was there I met up with my best friend from high school, Nichole, and her family. I absolutely love the Arringtons! They might be the closest family I know. Nichole and her sister, Christi, live together. I know Monica and I love each other, but I think it could get ugly if we lived together full time.
Brother John was also at dinner, but I forgot to take the picture until afterwards.
And then, way too quickly, my time in Gainesville was up and I was on to Chicago to visit my friend Tiffany. She was my running partner in Okinawa and I still haven't found anyone to replace her. She's great!
She picked me up and we drove north to Rockford because we had a couple trail races to run. What? You're trying to tell me that not every vacation has to involve running? Hmmm, I'll keep that in mind.
The races were at Rock Cut State Park. This is an absolutely gorgeous park and huge! Our first race was at 8pm on Friday. It was a 10K trail run. It was dark and awesome! We had just our headlights. It was so much fun.
Since it's in the dark it is really hard to tell how far you've gone. You just run and feel one with nature. Earlier that afternoon we had done some recon. The trails seemed nice and firm so I decided to wear my new shoes I had bought in Gainesville. That was fine until about mile 5.75 where we encountered this:
Yep, a long, dark culvert filled with enough water to reach my ankles. After a minute of whining I bit the bullet and sloshed my way through. It was pretty cool with the glow sticks.
My shoes definitely weren't new anymore. Oh well, you've got to break them in sometime.
The next race was a 25K trail run at 8am the next day. That's right, over 21 miles less than 12 hours apart.
I know you all are used to my pictures on the run, but this is all I've got.
I actually put my camera away and ran! That's a first in a long time for me. It felt good (in a really painful way) to push myself again. The 25K course was gorgeous and besides a few thunderstorms the weather was great too. I was pretty pooped so I told Tiffany to go on without me. She came in right at 3 hours and I was 4 minutes behind her. We basically rocked it.
We got back to the hotel, took quick showers, and headed to the big city. Tiffany did a great job planning this trip. I gave her no input and she came up with a great itinerary.
We stayed at Hotel 71 right on the Chicago River. The views were awesome! These shots are from our 27th floor window. We had a corner room so the views were even better.
We decided we hadn't exercised enough today so we walked a couple miles to Sprinkles. If you've never been to a gourmet cupcakery, GO!
Sprinkles started in California and now has multiple locations. There was a line that was about 15 minutes long and it was so worth the wait.
We both got the red velvet, she also got a dark chocolate, and I got a peanut butter chocolate. Despite having run 15.5 miles we only indulged in one that day. The red velvet was heavenly.
Here are our room views at night:
That view was only beaten the next morning as the sun was rising giving the buildings a fantastic glow.
We had booked a kayak tour for that morning, but the company cancelled because the weather was threatening thunderstorms. Too bad it was a gorgeous day! So instead of kayaking we went on a bike tour.
The total ride was 22 miles. We rode along Lake Michigan (my first Great Lake) and saw Obama's old apartment and house. We also went past Soldier Field and Buckingham Fountain. It's hard to take pictures on a bike (and against the rules) so take what you can get. It really was a beautiful day and there were tons of runners along Lake Michigan preparing for the marathon in October.
I am such a rule breaker!
The skyline was stunning and Tiffany and the tour guide said it was one of the clearest days they've seen (we could see Gary, IN).
We went to a Japanese garden (funny, I know):
And that's where I fell in love with Jack:
He's a labradoodle and so stinking cute. By the way, if I was naming that hybrid I totally would have gone with poodador.
After the bike tour we went back to the hotel and devoured our second cupcake. My peanut butter chocolate was amazing. It was so moist and just melted on my tongue. It was kind of like peanut butter cookie dough, but better. And it had rich, creamy, dark chocolate icing. Mmmm.
That afternoon we went and saw Blue Man Group. It was so cool. I can't really explain it. There's music, paint, and audience participation. If you have a chance to see them, definitely do.
On our walk home we went by the famous Chicago theater and had to snap a shot:
The next day we did a double decker bus tour. The guide was great and very informative.
Before the tour we ate lunch at Gino's and had a little deep dish. It was delicious. I like the sauce on top because then you can really taste it. Yummy.
That evening, what did we see from our hotel window down on the Chicago River?
Taiko drummers, of course! I wonder if they are from Okinawa.
My last morning before getting on the plane, we decided a final run was in order. We went to Millennium Park (I think where Obama gave his acceptance speech) and got to see the "bean". It's a pretty sweet sculpture and with the sun rising I got some good photos.
We then turned and headed towards the water to run. I know you can barely see Tiffany (on the right side), but I love this shot.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump later I was back home in Okinawa.
I start my new job tomorrow. I will be Kadena's Youth Sports and Fitness Coordinator. I will basically be doing registrations, creating rosters, coordinating with refs, parents, and coaches for all the sports that Kadena offers. To give you an idea, we just did soccer (I was on loan from the Youth Center). We have close to 700 kids between 5 and 15 and I had to create over 40 rosters taking into consideration preferred practice days, when siblings are playing, and special requests. It's like a huge logic puzzle and I love it!
In other news, my toes are really loving the increased mileage due to marathon training.