Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Five tips on running your first marathon.

Rounding the track, I choked back the tears. My body threatened rebellion-- legs were trembling, toes were blistering, feet were aching. I glanced at my watch. 26.1 miles, barely a tenth of a mile to go. The finish line now finally in sight, my throat began to clamp and my eyes started to swell. I knew this was it. In a moment, I’d be crossing the finish line. 


For the next few seconds, I closed my eyes, ignored the pain and then suddenly, felt overcome by a wave of gratefulness. My mind focused on God and silently, I thanked Him for giving me strength. For giving me hope. And for getting me through the longest race of my life.

On February 17, I finished the Okinawa City Marathon, checking off yet another goal on the infamous “baby bucket list.” What began as a lofty intention turned out to be one of my proudest accomplishments to date. Four months of training culminated in four hours and sixteen minutes of racing. At first, 26.2 miles seemed daunting, but through weeks of preparing my mind, body and spirit, on race day, I was ready and there was no looking back. I knew I would finish, whether I had to run, walk, or crawl. And so, it was with this attitude, I crushed every doubt and pounded away 42 kilometers of pavement.

Since the race, various friends have approached me, wanting to know how I did it… how I prepared, how I trained and how I managed to finish. While I could easily elaborate for hours, I’ll keep it simple.  The first step is logging off Facebook, lacing up your kicks and simply lugging one foot in front of the other. Then obviously, getting serious by learning as much as you can. Here are five strategies that worked for me.


Five tips on running your first marathon.

1) Train smart.

“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.” –Alan Armstrong

Perhaps the most important aspect of racing is in the training itself. In order to build strength, endurance and speed, you must train accordingly. For me, it was running hills one day, intervals the next (alternating between sprinting and walking), while also including a tempo run (a shorter run where you focus on the pace you’d like to maintain during the race), and a long run (your longest distance of the week). Combining these workouts with various cross training helped me get faster, stronger, and much more prepared than I would have been only running on a treadmill.

        2) Eat healthy… And enough.

It seems like a no-brainer, but eating healthy is vital to your performance as a runner. If you eat junk, your running will reflect your diet. Moreover, eating enough is just as important. If you think cutting carbs is going to help you run faster, think again. If there was ever a time to eat your spaghetti, this is it. Your muscles need as much glycogen as possible for quick energy, especially during your long runs. Whenever I knew I’d be running 13 miles or longer, I always brought GU gel packets with me to eat every 45 minutes. During the marathon, I consumed six gel packets, as well as plenty of water. This ensured that I would never run out of energy and hit the proverbial ‘wall.’

      3) Listen to music.

Maybe it’s just me, but if there is one thing that motivates me to exercise it is MUSIC. The night before each race, I have a ritual where I listen to hundreds of songs, download my favorites and compile the perfect playlist. I’ve recently acquired a taste for house and club music because it tends to be upbeat and prompts me to run faster. On the other hand, I also like country and 90s alternative. I just don’t listen to it if I’m intending on sprinting… or winning. ;)

4) Find a running buddy.

“The reason we race isn't so much to beat each other... but to be with each other.”-Christopher McDougall

Holding yourself accountable during training can be difficult. Life gets busy, other obligations spring up, and sometimes you just don’t feel like running. I can’t tell you how many times I scheduled a 5:30am run and then later secretly wanted to call it off for the sake of more sleep. But knowing I had a friend who was depending on me to meet her forced me to suck it up and go! Thankfully, I had Laurie and Tamara relying on me.

Another reason to find a running buddy is for the friendship, camaraderie and conversation that develop during these runs. Sometimes, a 14 mile run would become a two-hour venting session, but at the end of it, our minds would be cleared and we’d be ready to tackle the day.

During the marathon, Tamara ran every step of the race with me. Of course, we didn’t chat the full 26 miles, but we did check on each other and it was comforting to know she was there if I needed anything. When we finished, it was an emotional moment. With tears welling up in our eyes, we gave each other the biggest hug and congratulated each other for succeeding. We both knew how many hours we had dedicated towards this achievement and there were no words needed to express how proud we were for each other.

    5) Have faith.

“Your belief determines your action and your action determines your results, but first you have to believe.” -Mark Victor Hansen

In order to run a race of this magnitude, you’ve got to have faith.

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” –Norman Vincent Peale

But for me, faith extended beyond myself and towards a higher power.

“I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as the mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” -Matthew 17:20

I believed that God would calm my fears.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” -Isaiah 41:10

I trusted that He would give me strength.

“Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”
-Psalm 37:5

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31

And I had faith I would finish.

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”  -Hebrews 11:1

In the end, I accomplished what I aspired to do, but not on my own.

“It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” -2 Corinthians 3:5

“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”-Kathrine Switzer

“I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.” -Dean Karnazes

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

a trip to Mainland Japan: black pantyhose, bare fingers & vicious monkeys

Six months in Okinawa barely prepared me for what I was about to encounter during my weeklong trip to mainland Japan. Yes, it's the same country, but aside from the language, the two are nothing alike. Okinawa is to Tokyo as Punxsutawney is to New York City. Think small town versus big city--- similar customs, but a stark contrast in people, culture and scenery. 

Okinawa is about a three-hour flight from Tokyo.

Here's what I noticed the most:

1) Staying in a 4-star hotel doesn't mean drifting off into dreamland comfortably. During our stay at the Universal Port Hotel in Osaka, my bed was harder than a rock and my pillow felt like it was filled with rice. The hotel itself was gorgeous, but the bed was comparable to sleeping on the floor. I've slept in two-star motels that have comfier beds. 
Firmest, most uncomfortable beds I've ever encountered.

2)   Hardly any Japanese women wear engagement rings. No diamonds anywhere! And only some married women wear wedding bands. Turns out, big shiny rocks are not as common in Japan as they are in the U.S. (Another reason I'm lucky to be an American!)

3) Japanese people seem to be very quiet and mannerly on the train. No yelling, no loud talking, no rude pushing/shoving. In fact, no one even pretends to glance at anyone else. A little different than what I've seen in train/subway systems in other countries.

4) Japanese women prefer fashion over warmth.  95% of all women I saw were wearing black tights with shorts and boots... in 40 degree weather. Of course, they don wool peacoats and scarves, but their legs have to be freezing!

Creepy Japanese fashion photography.

5)  Hardly any overweight Asians. The majority of those I saw were very thin. And it's no surprise... while shopping at a Forever21 in Tokyo on Monday, I couldn't find one pair of jeans that were larger than a size 26. Perhaps the females starve themselves to accommodate their shopping needs... Or they've all been blessed with a fortunate set of genes.

6) “Sumimasen” is the magic word.  When it comes to interacting with the Japanese (or anyone for that matter), manners are highly appreciated. Sumimasen means “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me”… and it's the best way to approach a stranger when you're about to ask them a question!

7) Mainland Japanese are different looking than native Okinawans. Some seem to be taller, have larger eyes and have lighter skin. This could be due to the fact that native Okinawans are actually Ryukyuan kingdom descendants who were not Japanese. Okinawa did not officially become annexed into Japan until 1879.

8)  Unique architecture on the mainland…Very different buildings/structures than I've seen in Okinawa. Thatched, extravagantly sloped roofs with cylindrical tiles vs. simple concrete block construction.

Building in Osaka.

Building in Okinawa.

9) Prevalence of rickshaws. These human-drawn carriages originated in Japan and were once the chief form of public transportation here. I noticed quite a few in Kyoto but none in Tokyo or Osaka.

10) Staring at a monkey will get you attacked. Looking at a Japanese macaque monkey in the eye is considered an act of aggression and doing so could be more dangerous than you may think.

 At the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, the monkeys will bite you if you longingly look into their eyes. So please, save your stares for their backsides. At least in the name of safety.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Officially Training for a Marathon!

This morning, Tamara and I ventured off base, running 10 miles to the Sunabe Seawall to Sunset Beach and then back on base. We witnessed the sun rising, the waves crashing and the brand new day beginning for Okinawa. It’s moments like these that help you forget your legs are cramping, your body is aching and you’d rather be sleeping.  

This was the second long run of a 17-week training program I’ve committed to that will prepare me for the Okinawa City Marathon on February 17th. Over the course of the next three and half months, I will gradually work up to 20 miles, then taper off my mileage about two weeks before the race.

I’ve recruited Tamara as my running partner, a friend I’ve been jogging with since June.  If it weren’t for her, I would be way more tempted to hit the snooze button at 5am! Having someone to talk to during a two-hour run makes training something to look forward to. It’s that little slot out of the day where we can share unfiltered conversations, vent our frustrations, and encourage each other’s hopes and aspirations.

(When I’m not running with Tamara, I run with Allison who likes to chat, but prefers to be fast ;))

And what is my plan for conquering this marathon?

Soaking in every second of the scenery, keeping a smile on my face, and taking each run one step at a time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Our Engagement Story

When you meet someone who…

makes your heart flutter,
makes you a better person,
you can’t live without,

you hold onto that person and you  n e v e r.  l e t.  g o.

When I met Kevin, I knew he was unique. He was unlike any other guy I had ever met.  He was gentle with children, friendly to strangers, respectful to the elderly, but most importantly, he was perfect to me. He was charming, chivalrous and selfless... He put me on a pedestal and treated me like a princess. He had a way of making me feel special and I knew from the start he was the man I wanted to marry.

I had a notion he felt the same, but I had no idea when he would propose, if ever. But then one September day, my life changed forever…

We were on a cruise, vacationing in the Caribbean when it happened.  As the sun was rising and the ship was docking, Kevin kissed my forehead, waking me from a deep slumber. It was Friday and we had finally arrived in Belize.

For months leading up to our trip, Kevin had insisted we book a room with a balcony and soon, I would learn why.

I rolled out of bed and followed him to the wooden railing, overlooking the ocean. With his back facing me, he began pouring his heart out, telling me how much I meant to him. At first, I didn’t think anything of it because he was always expressing his feelings for me. But this time was different. He seemed nervous and I didn’t know why.

He turned around and continued telling me how much he loved me and how happy he was to have met me. He said that he could tell I felt the same because I was constantly showing him, especially when he had deployed.

“There was one gift you sent me while I was in Haiti that was very special… those coupons you made,” he said.

He was referring to a tiny box of coupons made out of pink construction paper.  On each coupon I had written a promise, mostly things I would do for him once he returned.

At this point, he had already been home for three months and still hadn’t used any of his coupons, so of course, I was quick to point that out.

“Yes, but you still haven’t used any of them yet!” I said.

He looked at me with a smile and said,  “But there’s really only one I need.”

Then he handed me a small pink heart, on which I could see three small words written in ink… “My Eternal Love.”

Immediately, my eyes welled up with tears and I told him I would always love him.

It was then he bent down on one knee, pulled out the most beautiful ring and said those five words that melted my heart, “Will you marry me, Kim?”

 Of course, I spontaneously burst into uncontrollable tears. In fact, I was so overwhelmed with emotion I couldn’t even respond!

For at least five minutes, we stood there, kissing and hugging each other tightly. Finally, he pulled back and slipped the sparkly princess cut jewel on my finger. We were engaged! And to make it even more special, it was the 17th day of September--exactly 17 months to the day after we met.

Because we were still on a ship, I had to wait THREE days to inform my friends and family of the news. I later found out that a month before our trip, Kevin had called both my mom and my dad, asking for their blessing to marry me. He also spoke to each of my seven siblings, requesting their approval as well.

So now, exactly two years later, we are (obviously) married and life couldn’t be better! 

Tonight, we celebrated the second anniversary of the proposal with a delicious dinner on the Sunabe Seawall. It was romantic and perfect… just like my husband. :)