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.


  1. thank you, enjoyed the run/walk tour..

    I used to be a semi-competitive runner, 60-80 miles per week. Now I am that decade older than you are now, still running, but have worked my way down to a run/walk with a bit of cycling and swimming as well.

    All my road bikes were bought used for not much money, so cycling doesn't need to be expensive.. agree that running is much simpler and easier to implement, though. I took up cycling mostly because accumulated injuries didn't let me run as much as I wanted to (needed to, for mental health).

  2. Congrats! I also started running for the first time with the C25K program, when I was 43. Nearly 4 years later and I'm still running two or three times a week, though I still don't run any more than 5k per day... I just can't persuade my legs to go any further than that, and it's hard to find the time anyway.

  3. I've continued to run, and I now typically run 6-7km on regular runs, and about 10km on long runs. Seems my body has no problem gradually extending the distance so far. It's fun!

  4. Well done! I guess I could probably train to run further if I found it fun... to be honest I pretty much hate it every time I go out, but it's still a lot better than the gym or any of the other alternatives :)

  5. Yes, I really do enjoy it. It's some alone time with my thoughts. I've increased to 4 times a week, and will probably increase to five soon. If I only had a more fun area to run around work.


Comment away. Be nice. I no longer allow anonymous posts to reduce the spam.