Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Kyoto in the fall

We took advantage of the Veterans Day long weekend and I was able to spend some time in Kyoto and Osaka.  This trip is something I've wanted to take for as long as I can remember and it was nice to finally put some of those history classes to good use.

Sadly, it was those same classes that meant the boys had to stay home.  Our goal is to have our student loans finally paid off next year and travel at $800 per person just wasn't doable for the whole family.  (Plus, I'm sure the boys would have loved all the trains, but quietly experiencing Buddhist temples isn't within a very energetic 2 year old's limits.)

西本願寺 (Nishi Hongan-ji, Western Temple of the Original Vow)

伏見稲荷大社 (Fushimi-Inari tori gates)

天龍寺 (Tenryu-ji gardens)

竹林の道 (Arashiyama bamboo forest)

秋 紅葉 (Autumn foliage)

八坂神社  (Yasaka Shrine)


清水寺 (Kiyomizu Temple)

猫カフェ ねこ会議 (Cat Cafe Nekokaigi)

新幹線 (Bullet train)

道頓堀 (Neon in Osaka's Dotonbori)

Not pictured: the maiko dinner (I forgot my camera) and Universal Studios (by that point I was tired of lugging around the camera)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Shouhashi Half 2013

Going from the cozy, well ran Kumejima Half last week to this weekend's overcrowded, chaotic mess at Shouhashi was shocking.

Unless the number of entries are drastically reduced, I would not recommend this race.  The majority of the course is open to traffic (runners in one lane and oncoming cars in the other) with a long section on a narrow bike path.  Trying to squeeze 9000 runners through those tight spaces made for an uncomfortably crowded course.

Here's some lessons learned:

- give yourself plenty of time to get lost and stuck in traffic going to packet pick up.  If at all possible, scout out the parking lot locations before race morning.

- get to the parking lot as early as possible. We arrived at 6:30 and it took an hour to get to the race area and the start had to be delayed by 30 minutes because of runners still stuck in traffic.

- do not bring a stroller.  Maneuvering as a single runner was hard enough, the stroller was nearly impossible to get through the crowds.

- bring your own water and food.  The aid stations were feeding frenzies and some of the later stops ran out of cups.  I didn't see any type of food or sports drinks.

- the finish area was a frustrating mess.  Finding where to return our timing chips and get a medal was like being in a mosh pit.  We didn't even try to get something to eat.

- plan on wasting the entire day at the race.  Getting from the finish line and back onto a bus took over an hour!

The beginning of the killer hill

Runners trying to pass walkers and dodge oncoming cars

Beautiful view


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Kumejima Marathon, part 2: Race day


The boys and our stroller got a lot of attention!

Heading into town

So many spectators!

Ocean and sugarcane

Half way!

Across the bridge


Medals and certificates

We even had a bottle of awamori in our race packets!

A great run!  The course was fairly flat with some gently rolling hills.  There was no end to the cheering spectators handing out all sorts of goodies.  Very similar to the Ayahashi Half with the added bonus of a beautiful vacation.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Kumejima Marathon, part 1: Getting there

With this being our last year in Oki, it's time to make my wish list into a bucket list.  One thing I've wanted to do since arriving here was an off island race.  I thought about doing Iheya's Moonlight Marathon but the lodging situation didn't sound fun with toddlers (I read that most runners end up camping out in the school's gym because there's not enough hotel rooms).  Instead we settled on Kumejima (beautiful pics like this one floating around Pinterest certainly helped the decision!)

The logistics of the Kume trip stressed me out (fly or ferry? how to get tickets? hotel or camping? where to eat?).  I didn't hesitate when I heard IACE travel has a package specifically for the marathon.  With Isaac still considered an infant at 2 years old (no airplane seat, no meals, no bed), we paid about $250 per person.

Landing at Kumejima

We flew from Naha to Kumejima Saturday morning.  Our hotel, the Cypress Resort, was a quick shuttle bus trip from the airport.  I originally wanted to stay at the Eef Beach hotel because it's within walking distance of the start but using the island's bus line was very easy.

View from our hotel room

The bus schedule was mailed with the number card.  Unfortunately, it was all in Japanese but not too difficult to figure out.  (Here's a copy of the schedule to Google translate.) The left column was the pick up location, the departure times were listed in the middle columns (the bus ran about once an hour), and the final column was the fare.  For us, a trip from the Cypress hotel to the packet pick up was 370 yen each and the kids were free.  Although I wasn't entirely sure which stop was packet pick up, I just followed the people in running shoes off the bus  lol

Bus ride along the marathon route

Race morning, there was a free shuttle bus at our hotel.  After we finished the half, the regular bus wasn't schedule to arrive for another 40 minutes so we decided to splurge on taking a taxi back to the hotel (about $25)

Taking our duallie BOB was interesting but not too hard.  We checked it with our bags at the airport and the staff wrapped the stroller in plastic bags before loading it on the plane.  Although the shuttle bus was a little small, Chris was able to bring the BOB on board.  Race day we were able to fit the stroller in the bus's bottom cargo area and it fit into the back of the taxi.  (And we didn't actually ask if strollers were allowed in the race but no one stopped us from running either.)

Sugar cane fields at sunset

Typhoon Francisco cancelled the rest of our island plans, like snorkeling at Hate-no-Hama.  And to make it easy on the kids, we only ate at the hotel's restaurants (both Japanese and American breakfast foods, amazing shabu-shabu!).  I'd love to go back again next spring or summer for a proper sightseeing trip!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Monster Mash Half

Last weekend was the Shogun Warrior's 2nd Annual Monster Mash half marathon.  The course mostly followed the Perimeter Road route with the addition of Fairchild Ave up to the USO and going past Bob Hope, finishing in the back of Risner.

My plan was to run this one at an easy training pace, finishing in the 2:45 range.  I started off in the back of the pack (I think at one point I was DFL), walking the uphills, and generally using the first couple of miles to just warm up.  I focused on keeping my RPE safely in the green zone and not on my watch.  Around mile 6, I realized that I was cruising along very comfortably at a 10 min/mile pace.  My PR pace 9:52 - holy guacamole, was I really in PR range??

I knew we were in the flattest part of the course with some good sized hills over the last miles.  The morning was quickly heating up too.  And with Kumejima and Shouhashi back to back, do I want to go all out now and risk a worse performance later?  But my half marathon record has mocked me since September 2005.  I decided to go for it.

I surged through the last of the flight line and pushed my way up the hills on Fairchild.  Picking off and passing road kill was a nice ego boost while ticking off the last miles.  Then a nasty surprise - another loop.  I could finally see Risner - the end was near! the final push! - when a volunteer directed us to keep running.  Crushed.  We needed to pass through the finish area once (such a tease!) and circle near Outdoor Rec and Jennings housing then back to the actual finish line.


Amazing!  Never thought I'd see a new half PR.  I dropped almost 40 minutes from my springtime halves (and definitely an improvement over my first race on Kadena's Perimeter Road).  Crazy what can happen with some actually training  lol

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hisashiburi desu nee!

Sorry my little spring blog break turned into quite the sabbatical (has it really been since April??).  Nothing exciting behind the break, just enjoying life.

The next few weeks are going to get a little crazy (going for Saturn with the Half Fanatics and my first trip to mainland Japan), but I'll try to get caught up on old posts soon!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Iha Park

The terrible twos have taken over Isaac and I'm ready to call an exorcist.  I'm not sure if I'm taking the tantrums, acting out, and major attitude harder because Isaac is usually such a sweet, mellow little dude, or maybe I've just blocked the memories of when Owen went through this phase.  Either way, I haven't had the energy or the patience to do much exploring with the boys lately.

But the weather was amazing last Saturday and I needed to get out of the house.  When we headed up to Bios on the Hill a few months ago, we spotted construction on a new park just off the 329.  I recently heard that the park was finally open, so we used Saturday's great weather to check it out.

Looking over Iha Park

Iha Park (伊波公園) is so nice!

There's several playgrounds and lots of places for the kids to play.  The main structure (pictured above) has some big slides, an obstacle course, and towers to climb for older children but there's plenty of smaller slides and tunnels for younger toddlers too.  The toddlers even have their own playground.  And of course the boys loved Iha's tall slide!

Owen navigating an obstacle

Toddler play area

Iha's big slide

Swing sets

Besides the great playgrounds, the upper area of the park has several fields, a small baseball diamond, a bull ring, and exercise equipment.  Although I'm not sure on the distance (I'd guess a half mile) and there are some stairs, the path winding through the park is cushioned and wide enough for a double jogging stroller.  Going for a run then turning the boys loose on the playground would be fun.

Pull up bars and cardio equipment
The boys enjoying the reflexology track

To get to Iha Park, travel north on the 329 by-pass.  Just before the intersection for the 6 (and right after an overpass), Iha Park is on the right hand side.  The park is very easy to spot from the 329, so shouldn't be difficult to find.  (Iha Park isn't on Google Maps yet, but here's a map of the general area.)  The park was very busy on Saturday and we didn't get a chance to find the parking lot, but there was plenty of places to park on the small road on the park's perimeter.

There's also the Iha-jo Castle Ruins in the neighborhood.  Next time we might pack a little lunch and do some more exploring after hitting the playground.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ayahashi Half

The Ayahashi half marathon was awesome!  Definitely one of the best races I've ever done.

I had a lot of fun doing the 10k last year but I think the half is much better.  It was much less crowded than the 10k and you get to spend a lot more time taking in the views of the ocean.  Either way, both distances have amazing spectators, wonderful volunteers, tons of water stops, and a beautiful course.

Unfortunately, the weather this year was a bit of a challenge.  Although I was glad to have a breeze to keep me cool, the wind gusts made the last 3 miles tough.  I often felt as if I was running diagonally - moving forward across the bridge while leaning into the wind.

Chris was sick and I didn't want to drag the kids out with iffy weather, so I went alone again this year.  I left McT around 6:45, got to the parking lot around 7am.  Easy peasy!  (I take the 8 and then a left on to the 37, just follow the signs for Henza Island.)  This year I tested out the Okinawan "bag check system" (aka just leave your stuff in the stadium) and can happily report my back pack with warm up gear and iPod was right where I left it.

This year's pictures can be found on this website http://allsports.jp/  Following the instructions that came in the packet were a little confusing for me, so here's the steps to see your Ayahashi pictures:

1. Go to the website, in the upper left hand corner is a box for the event ID, type 201891 and click the brown button
Event ID: 201891
 2. Next, enter your bib number (ナンバーカード) and click the grey button

Password: 9208

Cannot wait to run the Ayahashi half again next year!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lord of Tengan 5k

Last Saturday was the Lord of Tengan races on Camp Courtney.  Last year we did the 10k, but I've been fighting shin splints for the last few weeks so we only did the 5k this year.

This year wasn't too different from last year.  The weather was warm and sunny, the course has a good amount of hills (I'd say on the extreme end of "rolling"), and the race is a cozy but energetic size.  (The Stroller Warriors were definitely out in force too.  And they're always so supportive!)

Even with the fun race, I've kinda been in a funk lately.  I'm finally feeling like my head is back in the game and I've been making amazing improvements, but now my body is failing me by being injured.  I am finally, finally, finally back into pre-pregnancy jeans (yes, they're my old "fat" jeans, but after 4 years I'm out of effs to give).  Although I knew that I was definitely risking injured by not properly building my mileage before the Nago Half, I'm still extremely frustrated by the setback.  Shin splints aren't the end of the world (and I already had planned about 6 weeks of rest after the Ayahashi Half), but I'm disappointed and I don't want to slow down right when I'm starting to see some progress.

Anyways, I'm still going to do Ayahashi Half (I've done fulls with screaming shins and raging ITBs before, an 8k mud run the day after I totaled my car, and swam in the Willamette River with staples in my head.  Shin splints? Baby, that don't phase me). Just have to remember that my body is telling me to go in a different direction for a little bit and I'll come out stronger in a few months.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tsunami signs

Tsunami warning sign

I've noticed some new signs around Okinawa (the one pictured above is at the Tengan post office near Camp Courtney).

Although Okinawa barely felt the effects, the signs were prompted by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.  Red signs are for water levels 5m and below, yellow are 6 to 19m, and blue are for 20m and above (approximately 16ft, 20ft to 62ft, and 66ft respectively.

To give a little perspective, waves were measured at 10m (~33ft) at the Sendai Airport and the highest were almost 38m (~125ft) at Miyako.  Water went up to 6 miles inland.  While the Tohoku earthquake was an unprecedented magnitude, the following tsunami was not the largest in Japanese history.  In fact, Japan averages one tsunami every 7 years.  Being aware of your surroundings and knowing what to do in a tsunami definitely can't hurt (here's a guide from Kadena).

I believe housing agencies are required to tell tenants if they're living in a tsunami zone, but just in case you're not sure what zone you're in, this guide has detailed maps of the island (pages 8-18).

Monday, March 11, 2013

Little differences: Daylight Saving Time

Enjoying a full night of sleep

No springing forward or falling back for us!

Japan doesn't use Daylight Saving Time.  I definitely don't miss changing the clocks, feeling jet lagged, losing an hour of sleep, or getting kiddos on a new schedule.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What's that smell?

Sometime back in November or December we noticed a funky smell in our house.  The smell went away after a couple of days, so we didn't think anything of it.

Well, a couple weeks ago the smell was back.  Big time.  I decided it was time do a little investigating.  I emptied out the yuki-shita (the below floor storage in our kitchen), pulled the plastic tub up, prayed that the chick from The Grudge wasn't down there, and climbed in.

The empty yuki-shita

And discovered at least 2" of standing, skanky water. (Thankfully there's a little wooden platform I could crouch on and I didn't get wet.)  Looking around I spotted a little drain in the wall that was clogged.  Apparently the drain molded over, trapping water in the crawl space and creating a swamp below our feet.  Wonderful.

Foundation vent and drain

See that tiny drain in the picture above?  Yeah, who knew you had to check on that.

At first, I thought the foundation vents had let rainwater in.  Which probably makes you wonder, why would homes have such vents in the first place?  Traditional homes need air flow to keep the house safe and comfortable.  Back in the day, families would build a fire to cook and warm the living space.  A fire means smoke, definitely not something you want building up in your house.  So the vents are designed to draw air up from the crawlspace to keep smoke from accumulating.  Now people use kerosene heaters that can also create fumes.  Plus, Japanese homes usually don't have any insulation or central heating. The vent's second purpose is to help keep the temperature comfortable.  Instead of relying on a/c in the summer, cold air from the crawl space helps to cool the rest of the house.

Later the work crew discovered our bathroom sink had a leak.  The leak must have been slow enough to let mold grow (not a difficult task around here).  Then maybe a combination of rain from the typhoons and water from the sink backed up.

Our foundation/crawl space

The crawlspace is maybe 3 feet at the tallest.  Definitely felt bad for the crew who had to fix the leak and clean the swamp up.  But now our house doesn't smell like an old aquarium, so I'm happy.  And I'm definitely checking that drain from now on!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Baba Urban Green Space

On our way to Kadena or Camp Foster, we've driven past this park hundreds of times.  But we're usually busy and aren't able to stop.  I finally decided to make the trip just to check it out. 

Park sign on the 329
With a name like Baba Urban Green Space*, I wasn't sure what to expect.  But right next to the parking lot was a nice little playground and a picnic area.  The boys loved the swing and the drop slide.

After playing for a bit, we decided to explore some of the trails.  (Although the parking lot was full, we only saw one other person while walking around.)


Owen running down the path

We didn't get to explore too far because the boys found a roller slide.

This is my favorite roller slide yet!  Although I think the one at Yaeshima Park is longer, this slide was much smoother (no cardboard booty protection required).

Unfortunately, the boys loved the slide so much we weren't able to explore the rest of the trails.  Hopefully we can make another trip soon.

Baba park is right off the 329 (across the street from Hotto Motto and near KFC).  Here's a map

* Baba Urban Green Space is clunky but I wasn't able to find a smoother translation of the park's name, 馬場都市緑地 - Baba Toshi Ryokuchi.  And one of my dictionaries translated 馬場 as hippodrome or race track, but we didn't see any horses or stables so I'm just leaving 馬場 as Baba.