Saturday, July 21, 2018


This summer I've started running. For real. On the road. Using my legs.

Selfie at Manko park (no sniggering, Kansai people) in Naha. About 31°, lots of UV radiation and very humid, so a hat, sunglasses, well-covering clothes and sunscreen is necessary. A wet towel around the neck helps with the heat. And oh, but damn my beard is going grey.

I've been running for a couple of months now, but I wanted to make a proper habit of it before I tell other people. I started on the "C25K" program in May, and finished it last week. I intend to continue so I figure it's safe to post about it now.

The Toyomio bridge in Naha, across lake Man.

Why running?

I'm 49 years old, and I'm facing the prime age for heart and circulatory problems. In another decade I'll start worrying about osteoporosis and other medical issues. But we can avoid or reduce a lot of these problems by keeping fit, and the time to do that is now, not by the time the issues appear.

I am healthy (apart from some extra weight) and I used to get plenty of exercise just by walking during my commute. But I drive to work here on Okinawa, and my job at the OIST computing center is sedentary to say the least. A strenuous work day, for me, is when I have to carry both a laptop and a mug of coffee to a meeting room in the building next door.

Watering the plants. I bring a small, crappy camera with me, and treat my running as just another photowalk. When you run you melt into the scenery, and nobody really notices what you do.

But why running?

Why running, though? Surely there must be hundreds of other sports out there to choose from?

It has to be something aerobic (so no chess, no archery, no diving). I should be able to do it almost every day (no kayaking or surfing). I don't have the time or motivation to do anything on my way to or from work, so I need to do it over my lunch hour near OIST (no karate (an obvious choice, otherwise), swimming or climbing). Can't ski without snow, can't skate without ice.

Nothing that needs expensive equipment. Chances are I'll give up after all. Bicycling is really popular here, but a road bike is definitely in the realm of "expensive equipment". Same for rowing and boating, any motorsport, parasailing and so on. And it shouldn't bore me to tears of bitter frustration at the very thought of doing it, so no gym.

In the end, running was the only sport that ticked off all boxes. It's cheap to begin; it doesn't need a lot of instruction or a special place to do it; and it's a good activity for aerobic fitness, circulatory health and bone strength.

Behind Naminoue shrine, Naha. You discover a lot of new places when running.

How to run?

I've never been a runner. At school I loathed running. We had some cheap gym shoes, and our instructions amounted to little more than "run as fast as you can". I'd try, and within a few minutes my shins would go numb, my ankles wobbled, and my sides would start hurting like crazy. No wonder I hated it.

Today it's really easy to find out how to start running properly. Just google "beginner runner" and you'll find a wealth of information. The important points are:

Typhoon. Rain is great! The temperature drops, and the rain water cools you down. The shoes are fine; they'll dry up, and besides they only last for a year or so anyhow. 

Get good shoes. That's not "get expensive shoes" or "get fashionable shoes". Get a pair or running shoes that fit you well and feel comfortable and stable when you try running in them. If your shoes don't fit, you'll hurt. And if you hurt it's no fun and you'll quit. You don't need a lot of equipment to run, but this is the one thing you really want to spend on.

I went to a store (Super Sports Xebio in Ginowan), where they measured my feet and stance. I tried four or five pairs of shoes they suggested, and actually ran around the store with each pair before picking the ones that felt most comfortable. It wasn't the most expensive ones and it certainly wasn't the coolest-looking ones, but they do fit me really well.

I had no idea Naha even had canals.

Look up C25K. It's a program for beginners called "Couch to 5 kilometers", and I can't recommend it enough. There's a bunch of smarthpone apps and things available, but basically it's just a schedule with three runs each week for 9 weeks. Here's Britain's NHS with their podcast version for instance, and here's a nicely laid out weekly schedule.

It starts out very light, with 1-minute jogging followed by 1.5 minutes walking for a total of 20 minutes. It gradually builds up each week until you run for 30 minutes straight at week 9. It works very well. I never felt that I pushed myself too hard, and I never really hurt after a run.

A fellow runner not pushing himself. Naminoue, Naha.

Run slow. As in reeally slow. You run at "easy pace", which is slow enough that you can easily hold a conversation with somebody as you run. Yes, for a beginner that is barely faster than walking, and yes, you feel a little silly shuffling along while pregnant mothers pass you by and old Okinawan obasans overtake you with their walkers.

But it really works; your condition and speed will improve over time, and your "easy pace" will become faster. Also, and I didn't know this at first, even experienced runners spend most of their training time in "easy pace". What matters is the amount you run, not the speed. If you try to run fast you'll wear out and can't run for very long. If you run long and slow, your speed will improve over time.

OIST, Onna. Weekdays I run on my lunch break. There's a fair amount of small roads in the area, though they are all pretty hilly.

What's it like, then?

When I started running — using proper shoes and with the slow jog-walk-jog schedule that's the start of C25K — it didn't hurt at all. It actually felt pretty good. And surprisingly, it was quite fun.

Now, two months later, it feels even better, and I'm enjoying myself immensely. On weekdays I'll run, shower and change before lunch. I feel refreshed and energetic in the afternoon. On weekends I run through Naha in the morning, or we go somewhere along the coast and I have a run before we go swimming in the ocean.

In many ways I treat running like a faster form of a camera walk. I pick an interesting route to explore, bring a small camera, and enjoy the changing scenery as I run. It's a lot of fun.

The sea. Going downhill from the OIST campus will take you to the coast and to views like this. Very tempting to stop and take a swim. Only problem: from here there's a 70 meter vertical climb back up to work. I'd be soaked in sweat again by the time i return.

Thursday, July 5, 2018


It's summer, and OIST gives me more vacation days than I know what to do with. So I took two days off — today, Thursday and tomorrow Friday — for a four-day long summer weekend. And we decided to visit beautiful, scenic Kumejima island west of Okinawa island, just a quick half-hour plane ride away.

Except we didn't go. A weak typhoon passed by over last weekend, and the weather forecast on Wednesday was rainstorms, heavy winds, high seas and thunderstorms. The Wednesday flights to Kumejima were cancelled — Kumejima airport is tiny — so we didn't even know if our flight this morning would even leave. And Kumejima itself is drenched, with all beaches closed, mudslides and general flooding and wetness all around.

So we cancelled the trip last night. The guesthouse was very understanding and didn't even ask for the deposit (we'll definitely book there the next time), and the airline only charged a small fee, so we didn't lose much. Instead we're doing an impromptu rain-themed vacation in Naha. We're taking the opportunity to visit shops and restaurants we normally couldn't on a weekday, and just generally taking it easy. I have a backlog of film I want to scan, and this will be a good opportunity.

Today we went to a steak house for lunch; to a shopping mall, then to a farmer's market for food, and Ritsuko got some solid experience driving in rain and wind while I was busy surfing the web on my phone. We'll definitely visit Kumejima sometime soon; meanwhile this is shaping up to become a decent at-home vacation in its own right.