Yesterday I ran the Sakura Half Marathon on Amami Island, a race than Amami holds every February in the north. The marathon bears its name because the course stretches around a dam that is lined with Amami’s early-blooming sakura trees. Since Amami is so far south, we get to enjoy hanami (flower viewing) almost two months earlier than the rest of Japan.
At the start of 2016, the longest distance I had ever run was only 10.5 k (a little more than 6 miles.) Once vacation was over, it was safe to say I was terribly nervous with my half looming over me in just five short weeks. On top of my usual 5ks about every other day before work in the morning, I increased my longest distance by an extra mile for four consecutive weekends. Last Sunday I ran my longest distance–10 miles. Afterwards, my knees hurt, I felt dehydrated, and I was drained of all my energy entirely. How was I going to do the same thing next weekend plus 3.1 more miles? I never doubted I would finish, but I imagined myself limping across the finish line.
Hours before the half marathon, I was in a bad mood because my Weather Puppy App said it was going to be rainy and windy all day. But as we drove towards the north, the sky was blue and the only clouds in sight were puffy and white. A good sign.
By the time I had checked in and received my bib number, all of my anger had dissipated like the gray clouds. Everywhere I turned, there was someone dressed as something amazing that only Japan could have created. The first people I spotted were a group of Obachans dressed as the Sailor Scouts. Then I saw Mario, Gudetama, Doraemon, and a group of young people dressed as different kinds of SUSHI.
The sky sprinkled on us a couple times before the race, but once we left the start line, it was nothing but blue skies for days. The first part of the race was a lap around a track, and I made sure to look at the faces of all the people who were there to cheer on family and friends from the sidelines. I didn’t recognize anyone, but it inspired me to see their smiling, happy faces. Even if they weren’t there for me, seeing them set my head right. I thought, I can do this.
As we exited the track, we were greeted by a long line of Amamians banging on taiko drums, and then we were off!. Ganbarimasu!
I am truly glad that the Amami Sakura was my first ever half marathon. There is something magical about running a race in Japan, on a southern island where you reside as a local English teacher no less. At every water and kokuto (Amami black sugar) station I saw the faces of my students and they all encouraged me. One of them said to me, “Fight, Becca, fight!” There was also a hilarious small child who would thrust himself backwards and scream “GANBATTE! GANBATTE!” He was my favorite. He and his dad kept moving locations so I saw him twice. I think the only time there weren’t people standing on the sidewalks to cheer on the runners was when we looped around the dam. That’s okay because we had the beautiful sakura blossoms to encourage us as we ran around.
I thought I was going to be running 13.1 miles in the pouring rain, but I had sunshine and blue skies until my last kilometer. I was worried about finishing my half in a timeframe that I was proud of, but I ended up finishing it in 2 hours, 7 minutes, and 38 seconds, and placing 5th in my age group. I thought I’d be hobbling across the finish line, but I sprinted my last 100 meters with the power and gusto I only wish I had during high school track and field club. I am the first to admit that I make things out to be so much worse in my head. I ran the entire 21 kilometers with the Hamlet soundtrack blaring in my ears, only slowing down when I needed to grab a drink at the water stations.
As I mentioned in another post, we’ve had a dreary winter on Amami this year. So much of my mood is dependent on the weather. As the Simon and Garfunkel song goes, “I can gather all the news I need on the weather report.” Needless to say, the roaring winds and buckets of cold rain have bummed me out recently. But it was sunny all morning and once the rain came, it brought the most beautiful rainbows along with it.
Micah and I spent most of Sunday afternoon chasing rainbows in my car. The sky was so interesting yesterday. If I looked left, the sky was sunny and beautiful, and if I looked right, it was gray and rainy but with gorgeous, fleeting rainbows. The rain wasn’t heavy though. It was light and refreshing. It was so incredible to experience the island sky split in two by mother nature.
My soul needed a day like yesterday. It was rejuvinating. And now I can cross “Run a Half Marathon in Japan” off my bucket list.