Friday, March 09, 2012

Solar System Project

It's March, which means my English classes are wrapping up for the school year. At the end of the 3rd semester, I have my kids do a "final project". I select an interesting, yet arguably non-practical topic, have the kids do a bit of research, then make them give a presentation on it in English. In the past, I've done bugs and dinosaurs, this year I went with the solar system.

What kid doesn't like space? Last week I taught them the names of the planets. This week, they selected a "home planet" and did research (in English) on it.

I first gave them a blank fact sheet and had them make notes in Japanese as to the meaning of each line. Then I gave them a piece of paper with data on it that looked like this:

(data taken from

The goal was to fill in the appropriate data onto their fact sheet, then draw a picture. It turned into something like this:

The Japanese characters under the drawing describes the Roman deity. So in the case of Venus, this girl wrote "The Goddess of Love, Beauty, and Harvest". Yes, I am an English teacher who also teaches Science and Humanities!

The key to this lesson was the presentation. I had to give out the worksheets and give step-by-step instructions in a way that they wouldn't freak out on me. I think I succeeded because even my "slower" kids were able to complete the lesson.

The class I did today has 18 students, and I gave free reign in the choosing of their own planet. I think what deity each planet represented had a huge influence. Here are the stats:

Mercury - 1 boy, 1 girl
Venus - 8 girls
Jupiter - 3 boys
Saturn - 2 boys
Uranus - 1 boy
Neptune - 1 boy, 1 girl

Nice to see some originality coming from the boys. Not so much with the girls. I did a similar project when I was in 5th grade and I went with Neptune. Why? Because my favorite color was blue.

Next week for the final lesson, each kid will stand in front of the class and give an alien self-introduction along with some facts on their "home planet". For example, if the student's name is "Ryuta", he will reverse his name to create an "alien name". Then he will say things like:

"My name is Taryu."
"I'm from Uranus." (cue immature laughter)
"Uranus is a gas planet."
"Uranus has 27 moons."

I still have to come up with a list of things for them to say, though. I'll work on that next week.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Okinawa Marathon 2012

I read somewhere that one shouldn't do another marathon until they have forgotten their last one. Well, I had 3 months to forget the Kawaguchiko Marathon, and on Sunday, I joined 13,000 others and ran the Okinawa Marathon in Okinawa City. 

(From Ryukyushimpo)
My goal for the race was to run it under 4:30:00, with a back-up goal of just beating my Kawaguchiko time (4:42:39).

The race started at 9, so I woke up at 6:30 to eat breakfast. I usually eat a bag of ramen before a long run, but during the Kawaguchiko marathon, I became ravenous around the 30km mark and ate every orange slice and piece of chocolate that was handed to me. To avoid that, I ate two bags of ramen. That turned out to be the winning formula, because even though I finished around 1:30pm, I wasn't hungry at all.

I arrived at the park where the race began with my sports bag ready to make some final decisions on clothing. I was debating whether or not to wear long sleeves, but then the sun came out and made my decision for me. A lot of people were complaining that it was too cold, but I found it to be the perfect temperature. The clouds came out and I figured I didn't need to apply sunscreen. That turned out to be a mistake, because today my face is red and my kindergartner's laughed at me.

The race began great. I start off faster than most people, so I usually end up running on the sidewalk dodging in and out of spectators while the crowd runs in the road. I did the same here, but the sidewalk was wide with few spectators. I had a whole lane to myself until I caught up with the crowd that was running at my pace.

My strategy for keeping pace was simple: run 5k under 30 minutes. This is easy enough in the beginning, but I knew as I got near the end that my time would start dropping. I tried to think of ways to conserve energy while also taking advantage of the energy I did have early on.

To conserve energy, I decided to walk up the hills I couldn't see the top of. This course had a lot of them, and I think it is one of the main reasons my legs still hurt today. There was a big hill at around the 11km mark, and as I started walking up that, I got passed a lot. It hurt my pride, but I figured it was for the best. Then when I got to the top, I picked up speed and ended up passing a lot of the same people. I excel at downhill running!


When I train, I usually give myself a 1.5 to 2 minute walk break every 25 minutes. But because I chose to walk uphill, I decided to do away with those and give myself a walk break for every hill, figuring I should take advantage of the energy I did have early in the race.

I passed the half-way point at around 2:01:00, which gives me hope for running a half marathon in under 2 hours eventually. When I got a similar time at Kawaguchiko, I naively thought I could finish the race in around 4 hours. This time, I knew that wasn't going to happen and instead just focused on keeping my pace of under 30 minutes for every 5k. Since I was at about 2 hours for 21k, I knew I was doing well.

Then I hit the 25k (15.5 mi) mark and I started hurting. This happens every race as my body reaches it's limit and starts to break down. I spent a lot of time thinking about why this was happening. When I train, my long runs gradually climb from 19k to 24k to 27k to 32k, then back down again. I do this, because it's what Hal says. He also says if one trains for 32k, doing the final 10k isn't a big deal.

He's wrong. It's a big deal.

By training for 32k, 32k becomes my limit and I am able to complete that with little struggle. After 32k, I am going past my limit, which in training is a good thing. It makes me stronger. The problem is, I'm not doing this in my training, and it just causes pain and misery the day of the race. I think for future marathons, I'm going to start making my own training schedule with longer distances.

So at the 25k mark, I started walking a bit more. The muscle behind my right knee started tightening up and I kept wanting to stop and stretch it. I would tell myself to run, but it would hurt to start. I would wobble and limp for the first 10 seconds before my legs warmed up again. I could keep a slow pace for several minutes before tiring out and walking again. I intend to google this problem in hopes of fixing it, because it happens every marathon. It's obviously a strained muscle, but I need to figure out how to strengthen it so it doesn't give out in future races.

At the 32k (19.9 mi) mark, I had a time of 3:16:00. It's already obvious I was slowing down. With a 5k-30min pace, I wanted to pass the 35k mark by 3:30:00, and there was no way I was could run 3k in 14 minutes at that point. I can't even do that fresh. I began calculating the pace I would need to get me to the finish line in under 4:30:00. I figured if I could get to 38k before the 4 hour mark, that would give me 30 minutes to do the final 4k. 

Typing that sounds easy to do, but having to do that after having ran 32k is really hard. My body was dead. I was reduced to walking at this point, then every now and then I would find a little energy to shuffle my feet for a minute or two. When I say I was reduced to walking, it wasn't like I was the only one. Everyone breaks down. It's kind of interested seeing people around you collapse. A lot of people just sit on the side of the road and stretch or pass out on the grass. As long as I was moving forward, I knew I was making progress.

I passed the 38k (23.6 mi) mark at around 4:05:00. I knew I wasn't going to get under 4:30:00, but I had faith I could get under 4:40:00, which would beat my Kawaguchiko time. Luckily, at around the 39k (24.2 mi) point, there was a huge hill where the race went down hill. As I said, I excel at downhill running, so I picked up my pace and passed a lot of stragglers. 

At the 41k (25.5 mi) mark, my time was about 4:30:00. I had 1k to go in under 10 minutes. It was possible, but not guarenteed. I couldn't run, so I tried walking fast, but even that was hard. That's how far gone my body was: it hurt to walk fast. Then, somewhere behind me, I heard chanting. Loud chanting. It was the Japanese equivalent of "Hut, one, two, three, four." As the sound approached me, I saw that people had formed a square, marching troop-like formation around two Japanese military guys. They were singing their way to the finish line, giving me and others a final energy boost, like some kind of deus ex machina. 

I joined the group, and even though it hurt, I kept pace. We passed through the giant gate that was the entrance to the park and approached the stadium for the final lap. When we entered the stadium, the finish line was in site, but we still had to run another 400m around the track. At this point, the troop collapsed around the two chanters as eveyrone decided it was too far. Everyone, but me.

I crossed the finish line with two singing military guys with a chip time of 4:36:17.

(The time showed is when the gun went off, not when I crossed the start line)
Even though this marathon is technically no different than any other, it feels like the hardest one I have done yet. Usually, I limp around after the race, but am fine the next morning. As of Day Three, I'm still limping. I blame the hills. Also, I gave myself a difficult goal. In previous races, I knew I would get to the finish line, but this time, I wanted to get to the finish line in under a certain time. That's a lot of mental fatigue when your body is screaming for you to stop.

For future races, I'm going to focus on strength training to avoid strained muscles and longer runs to get my body in true marathon shape. I'm looking forward to the day when I can keep my 5k-30min pace for an entire marathon.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Final Run Log

Total Distance: 903.3 km
Total Duration: 3 days, 22 hours, 37 minutes, 10 seconds
Total Average Pace: 6:17

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Lake Kawaguchiko Marathon 2011

Going into marathon week, I was worried about my overall fitness. My calf was still hurting, and because of that, I wasn't running that much. The day before my flight, I went to visit my Japanese chiropractor. He's not a chiropractor in the American sense of cracking backs. This guy pokes around, finds sore muscles, then makes them better. After three weeks of walking on a bad leg, my calf was cured in less than an hour.

The next day, Friday, I flew to Tokyo, then took a two hour bus ride to Lake Kawaguchi in Yamanashi Prefecture.

On Saturday, the day before the marathon, I ran a 3k forest trail that conveniently was right next to my hotel. It was nice to test out my leg (fine) and see what it was like running in 45 F weather (awesome).

(view from hotel balcony)
I spent that afternoon playing tourist. I started off with a traditional Yamanashi meal called houtou.

Then I went to visit the Ice Cave (氷穴) and the Wind Cave (風穴). These are caves formed by lava from Mt. Fuji a long, long time ago.

The Wind Cave wasn't very windy...

(entrance to the Wind Cave)
(Wind Cave map)
...and the Ice Cave wasn't very icy.

(entrance to the Ice Cave)
(Ice Cave map)
But both were cold and low-ceilinged.

(the Man in the Yellow Coat made a good size-reference model)
After my little adventure, I went home and fell asleep around 9.

Marathon Day
I woke up at 5 and started my pre-run routine, which consists of eating ramen, checking reddit, and using the bathroom. The start time was 8:00, so I caught a shuttle bus and arrived on the scene around 7:15.

(Wearing my Gator gear. A lot of good that did.)
The first thing I noticed was the lack of portable toilets. I counted about 10, which is not enough for 13,000 people. The start line was parallel to a long tourist road full of souvenir shops which also had restrooms. People were lined up there also, but behind the shops were trees, so I started searching for an area that would allow me to climb into there. I found one, and as soon as I had scrambled up to the top, a couple of other people apparently liked my idea and joined me.

Then it was time for the race. I changed, stretched, and ran it in 4:42:39. The course went around Lake Kawaguchi twice. I thought that I would get bored having to run the same roads twice, but I didn't at all. The course was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and overall it was a lot of fun. Way better than Naha.

The Race
My goal was to finish under 5 hours. I kept my pace in check by trying to run every 5k in under 30 minutes. I remember passing the half-way point with a time of 2:06:00, which is a PR for me. Then, I think around the 27k mark, I started slowing down. No cramping, but my body was hurting, mainly the joints (knees, hips, ankles). I hit the 32k mark at around 3:15:00 (another PR), which is about 30 minutes faster than I ran in training. I think the cold weather had a lot to do with it. After that, my body started giving out, so I would run as far as I could (usually about 5-10 min) then walk and stretch for another 5-10 min. I knew I was going to get under 5 hours, but I kept pushing to see how close to the 4:30:00 mark I could get.

Last year at the Naha Marathon, I cramped before I even hit the half-way point. This year, I cramped at the 40k mark, and I know exactly why. My body was hungering for sugar and at some table around 38k, there was a station with tables loaded with chocolates. I couldn't resist and I grabbed a whole handful thinking it wouldn't do anything in the last few km. Well, I was wrong, but I was still able to finish the race at a run.

(the ネットタイム is the important one)
(Sweat salt. Notice my watch time exactly matches my recorded time.)
What I liked about this race was noticing the difference between this year and last year. I am obviously in a lot better shape, and I hope when I do this training again, I will be in even better shape and get to the point where I can keep a 30 min/5k pace the entire time.

Week of Nov. 21 - Nov. 27
11/22: 5k, 27:09
11/26: 3k, 16:47
11/27: 42.2k, 4:42:39 (pace - 6:41)

Total: 50.2k, 5:26:35
Average Pace: 06:30

Friday, November 18, 2011

Running Log: Week 17

My left calf has been bugging me since my 32k run three weeks ago. Even when I walk on it, as my heel comes up, there is a sharp pain that had me limping for the first couple of days. When I run on it now, the first 5k or so is weird, but then the pain numbs away. I don't think it is anything serious, but with my running schedule, it certainly hasn't had time to heal.

As a result, I took off a couple of days in an effort to heal the muscle as much as I could. When I ran 5k last Saturday, the pain was not there at all. Then it came back after my 13k run the following day.

Even though I ran three days instead of five this week, my body feels like it isn't running and I have this voice in the back of my head telling me I'm not going to be in shape come marathon day. I sure hope I am.

This is the part where I say, 1 week to marathon, but as I am posting late, I will instead say:

2 days to marathon.

Week of Nov. 14 - Nov. 20
11/15: 6.5k, 36:45
11/19: 5k, 27:36
11/20: 13k, 1:17:14 (pace - 5:56)

Total: 24k, 2:21:35
Average Pace: 05:54

Friday, November 18, 2011

Running Log: Week 16

On the 9th, 3 days after running 32k, I decided to see how fast I could run 10k. 3 years ago I struggled and failed to finish under an hour. Progress!

2 weeks to marathon.

Week of Nov. 7 - Nov. 13
11/8: 8k, 44:49
11/9: 10k, 53:40
11/10: 8k, 48:58
11/12: 6.5k, 36:03
11/13: 19.5k, 2:03:33 (pace - 6:20)

Total: 52k, 5:07:03
Average Pace: 05:54

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Running Log: Week 15

I ran the first 19k at around 2:03:00 (pace 6:28). At around the 24k mark, my body was just exhausted and I ended up walking more than I wanted to. Ended up doing the final 13k in about 1:40:00 (pace 7:41)

It is safe to assume I will run the first 32k at Kawaguchiko in 3:40:00. My goal for this year is to run a sub 5 hour marathon, which means I will need to find the energy to run the final 10k in less than 1:20:00. This sounds easy, but I really surprised myself with that final 13k this morning, so we'll see.

Fun stat: this week's run was the same as Week 13, which had a total time of 7:20:23. This week was only 4 seconds slower.

3 weeks to marathon.

Week of Oct. 31 - Nov. 6
11/01: 8k, 44:44
11/02: 13k, 1:19:57
11/03: 8k, 47:18
11/05: 8k, 45:47
11/06: 32k, 3:42:41 (pace - 6:57)

Total: 69k, 7:20:27
Average Pace: 06:23