Archive for December, 2008
Happy Holidays from Arizona. As you can imagine, Bill and I are thrilled to get out of the snow of Washington and visit his mom in Sunny Peoria (where the Mariners have their Spring Training facilities). It’s only been between 55 and 65 degrees, but I’ll take what I can get given what everyone in the Seattle area is wading through just now.
We flew out of Bellingham into Las Vegas on Friday. Then we rented a car and drove to Peoria on Saturday.
Before we left home, Bill located a 30K for us to run while we were here as one of our final training runs before we do the Wakashio Marathon in Tateyama, Japan. Sunday morning we woke up early and traveled about 20 minutes to Surprise, a town to the West of Peoria. This race was sponsored by the Arizona Road Racers, a large running club in the area.
Mornings aren’t my favorite time of the day. I usually feel cranky and groggy until about noon. As I stood in line at the port-o-johns at about 7:30 am, I eavesdropped on some of the local club members talking about the race we were about to run. The woman in front of me said, “I’m just using this as a training run. I won’t be racing this one.” Then she added, “I’ll probably do it in nines.”
Since I can hardly run one mile at nine minutes, let alone 18.6 miles, and since it was 7:30 in the morning and I felt irritated, I silently rolled my eyes and thought, “Show off.” Glancing around at the small cluster of runners congregating at the starting line, I guessed there were only about fifty runners (turns out there were 95 people in the 30K). I’d be at the tail end, as usual.
Fortunately, there was absolutely no chance of my getting lost in this race as I have so many other times when I bring up the rear. This race was to be an out and back route. And I mean we’d go OUT in a straight line, turn around, come BACK. The whole course was on the Bell Road, a street that sprawls with malls, gas stations and mini-marts for miles on end through Peoria, Sun City and Surprise.
When Bill first told me where the race was going to take place I wasn’t thrilled to run for more than three hours along this exhaust-filled path of retirement suburbia. We’ve spent the holidays in this area of the country before, and Bell Road is one of those avenues concentrated with outrageous congestion during the holiday season.
Once we were at the starting line, however, I was surprised and delighted to discover that the Bell Road hasn’t been developed past the town of Surprise and that our route was going to take us parallel to the White Tank Mountains, right through the best of the desert. There were no shopping centers or housing projects on our route whatsoever, just pristine red soil and Saguaro cacti looking on as we made our way out to the turn-around point.
Indulge me as I relive it. I know I’ll be home next week, and I’ll try to do a 22-mile run in the slush and the mud and the cold. I know I’ll cry when I’m finished and then stand in the shower for an hour trying to warm my bones, so I want to keep this little 30K with the Arizona Road Racers in my memory and my heart as long as I can.
When the foghorn went off and I heard my chip beep as I crossed the official starting line, I noticed right off the bat that the road was at an incline. The first nine miles rose very gradually. The grade was so slight it was undetectable at certain points. The sun lit up the White Tank Mountains and their sienna hues were a perfect contrast to the cloudless blue of the sky. I squinted up into the brightness and visualized vitamin D wafting in through my nostrils and spreading through my limbs and into my bones. I breathed in dry, warm air and heard my lungs cheer, “Yes!”
Absolutely nothing eventful happened during this race. The temperature was perfect (about 60 after 9:00). The view was soothing and filled me with reminders that spring will come even to Western Washington. And the course was simple. My body felt light, buoyed by the knowledge that if we ran UP hill the whole way out, we’d be running DOWN hill on the way back.
I waved to Bill as he was running in the opposite direction at about mile eight (for me) and reached the turn-around at approximately an hour and thirty-seven minutes after the gun had gone off. Once again, as I have noted of late, my pace was faster than I expected it to be. Somehow, I’m stronger and faster without being miserable and without pushing myself much harder than I’ve ever pushed.
The way back was just as full of meditative ease as the way out had been. The sun was in my eyes, low in the sky. I noticed shadows from the mountains smile their blessings on the succulents over which they kept watch, and I let gravity pull me forward down the gradual decline. There were two inclines on the way back I hadn’t remembered the first time through, but I had the energy to push up them without much complaint from my quads.
I crossed the finish line at 3:13:07. I think I ran negative splits in the last nine miles.
Bill wasn’t there to cheer me over the finish line as he usually is. I knew this meant he wasn’t expecting me yet, so I went in search of him and found him waiting to receive his first-place award in his age group.
Just before we packed up to come home, we spent a little time chatting with a man Bill had run with for the first half of the race. “Joel” won third in his very competitive age group and fourteenth overall. As we walked with him back to his car he told us how he had tried and failed to finish the marathon distance nine times. We listened to him recount his disappointments (each a gruesome tale of ending up on the side of the road in ignominy and grief) and wondered at how such a strong runner could get so stuck and so discouraged. Bill and I waved good-bye to him and agreed, as we got into our car, that Joel was a victim of Perfectionism.
Once again, I’m reminded that the best way to run (or to love or bake a pie or write a blog) is imperfectly. My philosophy only strengthens with experiences like these: Run only as hard as you want to and let gravity help when you can.
Well, Bill and I are getting ready to pack our carry-on suitcases and make our way to the international wing of the airport once again. This time, we’re traveling to Japan for the Wakashio Marathon in Tateyama. We leave in mid-January. This will be the fourth continent on which we’ve run a marathon! Sometimes I can hardly believe this dream is coming true.
Every international trip requires research and then specific preparations. For example, you may have to get shots to protect against tropical diseases or buy special clothing for unusual weather conditions. For warm-weather trips, I make sure to purchase extra-potent insect repellent because bugs love me. If there’s a mosquito in the hotel, or the town we’re visiting, it’ll find me. Fortunately mosquitoes will not be a problem on this trip to Japan. That’s one advantage of traveling in the winter.
This time, I’m grappling with how to prepare for a different type of problem. You see, I don’t like Japanese food. I know, I know! I can hear your shock! I am the only person in the world who does not like Japanese food. Everyone, Japanese or otherwise, loves sashimi, tempura, miso soup, noodles and those little triangular rice balls with a surprise inside. I can appreciate the occasional yaki soba or California roll, but I’m not a big fan of the soy flavor in most Japanese food. Rice makes me bloated and constipated. And raw fish does nothing for me. I know it’s unusual and maybe even a sin, but it’s just how I feel.
Bill and I have traveled to Japan before and food was a huge problem for me. We went there on our honeymoon in 2005. Bill had a series of business meetings he needed to attend in Tokyo, so we decided we’d add a couple of weeks onto his trip and make a vacation out of it. We arranged an exciting itinerary that took us to Nagoya for the World’s Fair and to Kyoto to see the ancient temples. Then we made our way to Tokyo where Bill spent between about 8:00am and 4:00pm in meetings while I wandered through the city. This suited me fine. I was able to shop and catch up with a few friends who lived within a short train ride. Each night, Bill and I planned to meet back at the hotel room around 4:30 and go out together for dinner. I’d discovered this one tolerable curry dish that was available at most restaurants.
But on our third evening in Tokyo, I had a full-on food crisis one night.
Bill was in his meeting, expected back at the hotel sometime after 4:30. I was there waiting for him, flipping channels on the TV. Nothing kept my attention (it was in Japanese, after all). There was three-quarters of a bottle of Australian wine on the night stand from the evening before. I poured myself a glass and settled on the bed to wait for Bill. At 5:00, he wasn’t back and I was getting hungry. By 5:30, I knew I’d have to get something to tide me over in case his meetings ran much longer. I had a vague memory from our conversation in the morning, while I was still in bed, that a late meeting was a possibility.
I decided I’d take a walk to the grocery store on the corner. We’d had some trouble with grocery stores in the first part of our trip. We had to rely on the images on the packaging to figure out what we were buying. Usually we guessed right and ended up with the yogurt or tuna we meant to buy, but at least a few times we’d been wrong. Once we opened a container and found some kind of margarine spread when we’d meant to buy cheese. Even though it was a gamble, I hoped I’d be able to find some kind of small snack to get me through till dinner. And anyhow, grocery stores are interesting, great places from which to observe a culture close up.
I scoped one out across the road from the main entrance of the hotel. On my way over, I noticed I was just a bit tipsy from my glass of wine, so I crossed the street carefully. I walked in through the automatic sliding doors and breathed in the fishy soy smell that I was getting used to in the supermarkets. I started on the right side of the store and wandered each aisle, looking for something I recognized. I finally located a tiny jar of peanut butter. That sounded good. A piece of bread with creamy peanut butter smoothed on its surface would go perfectly with cheap Australian wine, I thought. I looked at the price on the shelf below it, listed in yen and then picked it up and headed to the check out. On second thought, I decided I’d better dig the calculator out of my pocket and make the change from Yen to American dollars, so I knew what I was spending. $6.39!!! There was no way I was paying more than six dollars for two ounces of peanut butter. I put the jar back in its spot and kept moving down the aisle.
I walked past packages of dry noodles, jars of mayonnaise, cans of shrimp, bags of chips and numerous objects I could not identify by their packaging, though I picked them up and studied them from all vantage points. Finally, I retreated to the back of the store and the meat section. I stood, staring down at raw meat and sea food I’d never seen before. The “deli” section had pre-prepared food ready to eat on the run, but I couldn’t figure out what most of it was. There was a shrink wrapped bowl of teriyaki chicken, but I didn’t have a microwave back in the hotel room to heat it up.
Finally, I decided that some fresh produce would be an easy answer. With my calculator in hand, I returned to the front of the store and faced down the fruit section. There, like an apparition from heaven, was a Fuji apple! I picked it up and squeezed it. It was firm and my mouth watered for its juice. I made the translations from kilos to pounds and then Yen to dollars and estimated that it was more expensive than I’d pay at home, but not as bad as the little jar of peanut butter. It would have to do. I stuck my calculator in the back pocket of my jeans and reached in my front pocket to pull out my Yen as I walked toward the check-out counter.
Standing at the back of the line, holding my apple in one hand and my money in the other, I watched the people in front of me. Each had a little basket full of items I could not identify. They did not talk to one another or to me, though several of them glanced tentatively in my direction and then averted eye contact quickly when I tried to smile at them. I looked down at the apple in my hand. And I waited.
The checker was slow. I observed her carefully. There was no way to know for sure, but she seemed honest. This was crucial because I took note that there was no little screen next to the cash register displaying the price of the purchase. Once she weighed my apple and figured out the exact price, I would be at her mercy. I would hold my money out to her and trust her to pick out the right coins and give me the correct change.
I felt how dependent I was on others in this country. I pulled out my calculator again and tried to guess at the right change to offer so I wouldn’t look like an illiterate idiot, which of course, I was here. The woman directly in front of me in line gave me a suspicious once-over (I thought) while the woman who had lined up behind me looked at me with pity (I thought). God, this was ridiculous. It shouldn’t be so hard to buy a stupid apple without looking like an imbecile. I made a promise to myself to always be helpful to foreigners in grocery stores when I got home.
I looked down at my apple again. Suddenly, although my stomach was gurgling, I was repulsed by this apple. It was nothing but a representation of my shame and ignorance, my cultural ineptitude. It would do nothing but expose me. I couldn’t imagine anything worse in the world than eating this apple. This apple disgusted me! Suddenly, I decided I’d had too many apples in my life. For all I knew this Fuji apple was grown in Washington State, anyway, right across the mountains from me, maybe on my uncle’s farm.
I stormed back to the produce section and replaced the Fuji apple in the perfect pyramid from which I’d plucked it. Then I left the grocery store.
As I crossed the busy street and made my way back to the hotel, I hoped Bill was there waiting for me in the room. I was agitated now. My hotel room was empty. The clock read 6:00. Bill couldn’t be far behind me at this point. I settled in in front of an unintelligible TV show with another glass of wine.
One hour, two more unsuccessful trips to the grocery store and the rest of the bottle of Australian wine later I began to decompose. By this time, I was drunk. I hadn’t eaten since noon, and I was embarrassed by my incompetence and fear of being mocked by the other shoppers. I started to cry.
I cried so hard that I began to convulse. My mascara ran down my face and my nose plugged with mucus. My shoulders shook, and I even had a touch of the dry heaves. All by myself alone in a hotel room on my honeymoon starving, I sobbed.
At 7:13, Bill walked through the door and found me thus. I managed to open my puffy eyes a little in his direction and I saw his alarm. “Oh my god, what happened? Are you okay? Did something happen?” Poor Bill was frantic.
I tried to speak, inhaling sharply between each word, “I – can’t – shop.” Sniff. “I’m – totally – illiterate – and – so – hungry.” Bill sat down on the bed and held me. I wiped my nose on his collar. He stroked my hair. Then he caught sight of the empty wine bottle by the bed.
“Did you drink all of that?”
I nodded. “I – tried – to – buy – food. The grocery – store didn’t – have any.” We were silent while he held me and I wound down a little. Like a mother with a very small child, he brushed the hair off my forehead and lifted my face so I had to look him in the eye.
“Are you drunk?” he asked me. I nodded. “And you’ve eaten nothing?” I nodded. He studied me earnestly and then stood, lifting me to my feet by my shoulders. Then he swatted me on the bum and said, “Get your shoes on. We’re going to McDonald’s to get you some French fries.”
I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of McDonald’s. It was kitty-corner across from the grocery store, but I’d been so focused on wanting to conquer the supermarket, that it never dawned on me to look for something familiar and comforting. I stumbled, heavily supported by Bill, down the elevator, across the street and into McDonald’s. I was struck immediately by that wonderful thick scent of grease. Bill sat me down at a booth and in a few minutes came back with a fish burger, fries and a milkshake. I ate quickly and then sent him back for another round.
We learned a lot from that experience. So as I get ready for this, my second trip to Japan, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and have realized the most important advanced preparation I can do is come up with an eating plan. Here it is:
- Forego my recently espoused vegetarianism while in Japan. This will open options for me.
- Try everything, even if it doesn’t smell good.
- Locate all fast food restaurants in our vicinity upon arrival and do not be embarrassed to eat what is familiar
- Bring snacks from Costco to tide me over in a pinch
- Do not drink alone.