Hamanasu Hijinks: Or, “When Did I Become a Runner?!”

My years in seventh and eighth grades were extremely dark ones, filled with lots of physical pain and feelings of “can’t I just stay in bed all day?” And it wasn’t because I got hit with the triple adolescent whammy of braces, glasses, and an overly active affinity for refined carbs. Nope, I hate looking back upon that period because those were the years of my ill-advised cross country and track career.

I use the term “career” in the most ironic sense possible. I may have run every day, but I was hardly a runner. I was woefully slow, I refused to adapt a diet that aided me (see above love for all things baked, buttered, and frosted), and my attitude towards running was largely “meh” with a side of “nah, I’ll just stay inside and read, thanks very much.” Once I hit high school, I wizened up and become a stat for the track team. In my eyes, it was the best of both worlds; I got out of school early to attend all of the meets, and I didn’t have to run.

Fast forward to the present day; I don’t think my eighth grade self would recognize me at all. Now, I run between four and five miles a day, hauling myself out of bed when my alarm goes off, bright and early at 5:15 a.m. (Admittedly, though, I’ve been slacking this past week since I returned from my friend’s wedding in America…jet lag has not been kind to my energy levels.) I still may not be very fast, but maintaining a steady nine-minute mile pace for five miles is leaps and bounds above what I’ve been capable in the past few years.

A few weeks ago, some other JETs from around Aomori prefecture gathered for the Hamanasu Marathon in the seaside town of Ajigasawa (famous for being the hometown of Aomori’s resident movie star).

...and squid curtains. Yeah, Ajigasawa's other claim to fame is squid curtains. If you've never smelled squid, hung up to air dry, consider yourself lucky.
…and squid curtains. Yeah, Ajigasawa’s other claim to fame is squid curtains. If you’ve never smelled squid, hung up to air dry, consider yourself lucky.

Lest you think my five-mile-a-day habit magically let me run twenty-three miles and live to be cheery about it, a “marathon” in Japan is basically any running race longer than a sprint. So the fact that my race was a measly 3K/1.8M makes the Hamanasu Marathon a whole lot less impressive.

Surprising that I look this merry after the race. Probably five minutes before this was taken, I was lying spread-eagle on the ground.
Surprising that I look this merry after the race. Probably five minutes before this was taken, I was lying spread-eagle on the ground.

But nonetheless, it’s the first time I’ve run in a competitive setting in over eight years, and despite having a few pre-race doubts, I was able to eke out a second place finish in the adult women’s division, with a time of 14:41 and an 8:09 mile pace. Not exactly record-setting, but it’s a good start. At the very least, it’s definitely faster than I would run a two-mile race in junior high school. I know it’s a bit pathetic to be proud, but I was still pretty pleased with myself.

Naturally, because this is Japan, there was bowing involved.
Naturally, because this is Japan, there was bowing involved.
The top three finishers got a nice, fancy certificate.
The top three finishers got a nice, fancy certificate. Note: I am a giant even when compared to non-Japanese people.

And if that wasn’t enough, it was also an opportunity to spend some time with other JETs. Two of them even dressed up to bring a level of class to the race. Since there was also a 2K race, populated by loads and loads of junior high speed demons, the costumes were definitely a source of amusement for the kids.

The Gentleman Runners.
The Gentleman Runners.

As I mentioned in this post, I love any chance to hang out with other JETs from around the prefecture. Despite the fact that we were all competing against each other, the atmosphere was still relaxed and leisurely. And it helped that JETs who weren’t running still showed up to cheer us on.

It's much easier to run when you've got signs like this being waved at you from the sidelines.
It’s much easier to run when you’ve got signs like this being waved at you from the sidelines.
The runners of the Hamanasu Marathon.
The runners of the Hamanasu Marathon.

Beside focusing on keeping up with my daily running habit throughout the heat of the summer, the next thing in my sights is the Apple Marathon in October in the nearby city of Hirosaki, where the castle in my previous post about cherry blossoms is located. For now, I’m planning on running the 10K (and posting about it here means that I actually have to sign up for it), but every few days, I’m struck with the crazy and ambitious desire to run the half-marathon instead. My hamstrings are already weeping tears of blood in anticipation.

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