What I talk about when I talk about running

After consuming 5 million calories or so at an American-styled/-portioned breakfast place in Kitanakagusuku yesterday (each), we waddled outside to greet the runners of the Okinawa Marathon, who upon passing the restaurant were on kilometer 35 of 42.195. Seeing the combination of earnest determination and sheer exhaustion on their faces brought me back to last July, when I ran my first race worth mentioning, the San Francisco (Half) Marathon. Never having been into running until about two years ago, I definitely consider that race to be both one of my life’s greatest challenges and accomplishments. As such, I cheered for the people passing by on their last stretch (while simultaneously patting my over-satiated belly, of course), because I know and respect how hard runners work.

I have a love-hate relationship with running. First off, I’ve never been an athlete, period. Competitive running, in general, reminds me of freshman year P.E.—a high school experience I’d rather forget. I hate how out-of-breath, sweaty, and unattractive I get when I run. I’ve never been fast; for the most part, I prefer to run on my own at a leisurely pace. When I first started running regularly, I encountered annoyingly painful shin splints and blisters; later, with even the most steadfast of stretching and icing habits, I had issues with my hamstrings and right knee. Even now, literally almost every time I get out there, I reach a point where I ask myself in one way or another, this hurts… why am I doing this again? So in spite of the odds in favor of me being led to a different fate, I’m grateful for whatever inspired me to train for my first long-distance race last year, as well as for the payoff, which was realizing, hey, I can sort of run.

I’ve decided that while I’m here, one of my goals is to become a more serious runner. Okinawa does and does not do a great job facilitating this—while there are a TON of races here year-round ranging from 3 kilometers to all-out triathlons (haha, maybe in my next lifetime), for the majority of the time it is HOT AND HUMID AS BLOODY FUCK. For instance, since I’ve gotten here, with the weather we’ve been having I’ve discovered that I can only withstand running in the evenings, because it’s too muggy to run when the sun is out. And it’s only early March! The humidity will be at least quadruple this come summer time. I’m not sure how successful my training will be later in the year because of this—but, I’m willing to try.

So far, I absolutely love running at night; it works for me in terms of my schedule (I’m awake, and I’ve already eaten a couple hours prior), plus it’s incredibly liberating to run in the dark (and Japan is safer overall… not that I shouldn’t take care to avoid being assaulted in the sugar cane fields). I’m signed up for a 5K this weekend, and a 10K next month… hopefully working my way up to my next half sometime this year.

And who knows, Naha Marathon 2011?

We’ll see.

***Random reverie: When I interviewed for JET in February 2009, at some point I mentioned that I liked to run,  and that I liked to read Haruki Murakami (separately). The JET alumni interviewer asked me if I had ever read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Murakami, and I was a little embarrassed to have not known about the author’s running memoir. Well, I read it while I was training last year, and this is one of my favorite quotes from it:

“Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. If pain weren’t involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It’s precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive.”


One thought on “What I talk about when I talk about running

  1. If you’ve trained for and tackled a half marathon, you’re a runner. Soak up that wonderful humid weather! Think how fast and tolerant to weather you’ll be when you get back to cloudy, misty SF!

    I enjoyed your post. Wish I was there to share in a jog with you.

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