tokyo marathon 2014

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In February (yes, I know it’s April) I ran my second marathon. My friend Caroline came over from New York and we ran it together. If she hadn’t have been coming, I don’t think there’s any way on this earth I would have run. Prior to January, the only training I’d done was the half marathon I ran in Burma/Myanmar…for which I was also incredibly undertrained.

With five weeks to go before the race, I did the best I could to prepare…starting with a 16-miler. Go big or go home, right? My friends, Anne (with whom I’ll be running a marathon this summer in South Africa) and CoyLou joined me for some of my long runs, making them much more enjoyable. And somehow, even with the little training I’d done, I got to the marathon feeling like I was going to survive. And knowing that I’d finish before the cutoff (7 hours from the start time).

It’s an amazing thing to know that your body will be able to complete 26.2 miles, even when you’ve only trained for five weeks. I know I talked about this in my post about running in Burma, but every time I do a long race, I am in awe of what my body can do.

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While Caroline had come over to run the marathon with me, we weren’t exactly going to be running together. She’s much faster than I am (she’s a triathlon-ing nut) so we weren’t even starting in the same gates. I’ve never run in such a large race that there were gates, but with approximately 36,000 people running, gates there were. Seriously. 36,000!!!

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Caroline and I said goodbye to each other and headed off to our respective gates. The beauty of the Tokyo Marathon is that you have two out and back legs, so there was a chance I’d get to at least say hi to Caroline along the way.

This was the first race I was going to be running with my new toy: a Garmin Forerunner XT. I’d just started to do heart rate training and was excited to try this marathon with a focus not on pace, but on heart rate. Unfortunately, I never got my heart rate monitor working (I was so annoyed…the monitor left me both literally and figuratively chaffed!). Fortunately, I’d done enough HR training that I knew roughly the pace I should be running at the beginning.

I did a pretty good job (I thought) keeping my pacing down so I would burn out. As it turns out, though, while my heart was pretty content, my body was not so much by the end. But the happy news is I had my fastest half split I’ve had in over seven years. And my second fastest ever. I was pretty happy about that, even if the second half was pretty pathetic in terms of pacing.

It was an amazing experience. And what really helped me in those last miles was thinking about how lucky I was, as I saw many, many runners along the way at medical aid stations or stopped along the course nursing calves/shines/ankles/feet, just to be able to finish without having to stop and get medical attention.

The other major help was my darling friend Anne (pictured in the collage below)! When I ran the St. George Marathon almost seven years ago, I was doing it with another darling Anne. She was actually running with me, which was a huge boon! But on top of that, her awesome family had traveled down to St. George to cheer her and, by extension, me on.

If you’ve never run a distance race before, it’s hard to explain the support that comes from those cheering you on…the spectators in Tokyo were awesome, but having Anne there along the way made a HUGE difference! She trekked all over the course and I got to see her four times along the way. Every time was like receiving a little shot of energy! (Unfortunately, I busted my phone in Singapore a few weeks ago and in the transition to a new phone, I lost all of my pictures with Anne. Sad face. )

The last three miles were complete torture. While the marathon course in Tokyo is relatively flat for the most part, the last three miles consist of a series of bridges…bridges that are engineered for strength, and therefore are bowed…which means “hills” for a runner. To add insult to injury (or injury to insult, as it were), somewhere along the way I’d developed what I could tell was a ginormous blister on my right big toe in addition to a shooting pain at the base of my second toe due to the chip being too tightly attached. If I walked, I was okay. If I ran, every step hurt. So, there was a lot of walking.

IMG_1517The last miles of a marathon are also mentally challenging for me because I want so badly to be done that I do my best to force myself to go as fast as I can…but I just can’t go that fast. And it’s so difficult to not just give up. But, somehow I pushed through and the it was over. My goal was to finish under six hours (chip time), which is not fast at all…but was going to be a good finish for me given my lack of training and that I weighed about 20 lbs more than when I ran my last marathon. I came in at 5:58:20.

IMG_1513Of course, with a half split that would have put me in at around 5:30 had I maintained it, I was slightly disappointed, but then I remembered that I had set my goal based on reality and managed to feel pretty awesome about it when I thought, yet again, at how amazing it was that my body could do what it did.

Post marathon, I went through the finishers area and met up with Caroline for the most amazing foot soak ever (I wish every marathon had this!) and then met up with Anne, who was patiently waiting to congratulate me. Because of where the finish is, she wasn’t able to be at the finish line, but it was awesome that she had come all the way out to the end!

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Soaking my feet…this might be how my blister got infected and why I had to see a doctor for antibiotics, but at the time, it was worth it.

And that was that. Marathon #2 on continent #2 completed. And now I’ve begun training for marathon #3 on continent #3 which will happen on June 21st. Not sure what I was thinking signing up for two marathon’s in one year, but now the bug has bitten and the goal is to run a marathon on every continent, culminating in Antarctica in 2017! I’m both terrified and super excited!

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Elevator selfie with our medals after dinner and a movie.

nageire

And the ikebana classes continue. I LOVE them! Since my first introductory lesson, though, I’ve been so excited to get to the lesson on the nageire upright style. My sensei demonstrated it in that first lesson and it was just so delicate. And whimsical. And elegant.

In the moribana style, one uses a kenzan (or “frog” as my grandmother called them) to position the flowers. In nageire, the stems are fixed without a kenzan using one of three methods. The first lesson, the vertical type fixture (called tate-no-soegi-dome in Japanese) was demonstrated. For my lesson yesterday, I learned the cross-bar fixture (jumonji-dome in Japanese). And the third type of fixture is just called direct fixing (jika-dome) which is typically use with and kind of transparent container or vase.

**Please excuse the quality of the photos…I was using my old iPhone (my other battery died) and apparently, the camera on it has some issues.

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So, the cross-bar fixture is pretty amazing. Using just two thick stems or thin branches, you can create a fixture strong enough to lift the vase itself. In fact, that’s the way to test whether your cross-bar fixture is secure. You actually grab onto it and lift the vase. And once it’s secure, you get on with the arranging, which requires quite a bit more precision in cuts and attention to the weights of the flowers when compared with the moribana style.

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One of my other favorite things about my classes is finding out what materials my sensei has for me. I never know what’s going to be there. Well, this week I was absolutely delighted both because I learned nageire and because I loved the materials (well, two out of three, anyway): dragon willow and roses. The feverfew I could have lived without and, as it turned out, I ended up hardly using when I recreated the arrangement at home. They don’t travel very well.

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o hanami

So, I took a lot of photos of the cherry blossoms. A lot. This isn’t even a quarter of them. I would love to write some brilliant post to go along with these about just how beautiful the whole celebration of cherry blossoms (hanami) is, both literally and figuratively. I have the post inside of my brain somewhere. But honestly, I have a lot of other things on my mind right now, none of which have anything to do with sakura or hanami, or which I’m prepared to blog about. (It’s been a bit of a rough week.) So, until I figure out how to get the thoughts in my head out, I hope you’ll just enjoy these photos. Already it’s taken me over a week to post these, so I hope you’ll also forgive my lack of editing (other than a crop or straighten here and there). Maybe someday I’ll get around to it…

DSC_0001 The canal by my apartment was an amazing place to take a bike and view the blossoms. And because I’m an early riser, I was out and about before most people had awoken from their drunken escapades of Friday night.

DSC_0005 DSC_0009 So amazing.

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Everyone takes photos of the blossoms.

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Seriously, how did I get so lucky?

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There are other flowers out as it is spring. And they are also stunning.

DSC_0084 DSC_0088 DSC_0092 DSC_0109 DSC_0126 DSC_0143 DSC_0145 DSC_0149 DSC_0154 DSC_0165 DSC_0180 My new favorite scent. Daphne (above) is this lovely little flowering shrub that smells like heaven. I wish I could bottle it.

DSC_0191 DSC_0209 A beautiful path I came across as I was riding through Shinjuku. This is part of Waseda University. My alma-mater didn’t have anything like this.

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This is the big park in Shinjuku (not the one right by my apartment…although I took a lot of photos in that park, as well). It was pretty dang crowded, and absolutely stunning.

DSC_0219 DSC_0259 DSC_0264 DSC_0265 DSC_0274 DSC_0277 DSC_0284 DSC_0310 DSC_0325 DSC_0340 DSC_0344 I loved this little girl taking a photo the couple. She’s pretty much adorable.

DSC_0357 DSC_0359 DSC_0366 DSC_0371 I wish even one of these photos accurately captured just how magnificent the cherry blossoms really are. And the feeling you get walking under them.

DSC_0375 DSC_0381 DSC_0393 DSC_0398 DSC_0402 DSC_0419 My little part of Tokyo. I might have pinched myself multiple times this day, wondering if my life was a dream.

DSC_0436 Shinjuku Gyoen (Park) is pretty big. No Central Park, but still impressive. This was my first time inside and I am smitten. It has different areas classified by the type of gardens. The one above is the French section. I can’t wait to go see this in the summer.

DSC_0438 So. Many. People.

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DSC_0453 O hanami.

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I took this on Sunday after church. I love that I get to go to church right next to the temple.
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staying in tokyo

For those of you who don’t know (I can’t remember if I put on the blog or not), about a month ago, I got an offer to stay in Tokyo. When I headed over on this six month assignment, that was my goal, but actually having the offer in hand drove home the reality of what I was about to do. But, after a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to go for it for many many reasons.IMG_2188

And, just like that, my life became chaos. I signed the offer on January 8th and went right into high gear transition and moving mode. It’s a new job (same company, same function, supporting a different business) and I needed to find permanent housing. I’ve been in a “serviced apartment” for the past six months, and as nice as it has been to have people changing my sheets and washing my dishes, six months is long enough. I’m ready to have my stuff!

Because the transition needed to happen rather quickly (the last day for the woman I’m replacing is Feb. 15th), I set out to find a new apartment right away. Thankfully, I was provided with a realtor as part of my relocation package. Having been in Tokyo for almost six months, and spoken to a number of people about and helped a number of people with their own relocations, I had a little bit of an idea about how this apartment hunting might be a little different from the experience in the U.S.

For starters, I needed to be prepared to take my shoes off at every place, which meant being thoughtful about what I was wearing. Then there was mentally preparing myself for the tradeoffs. More space means farther out (that’s the same in NYC). Ovens basically don’t exist. Convenience over amenities. And so on and so forth.

19110_10152428753635389_115210120_nWhat I didn’t expect was how snobby I would start to feel. As I started touring apartments that were quite nice and my list of wants slowly became needs, I realized that I was becoming “that” girl. The one who “needs” a gym with a pool, a view, a big kitchen, a big closet, a Japanese style bathroom, a high floor, a view, AND a great location. And, unlike New York, there aren’t really buildings with pre-war charm, so it’s all post-war, and anything post-war that was built before 1995 is pretty dark. Why didn’t we like windows in the last half of last century?397495_10152428761245389_21014628_nAnyway, that first day I looked at about 10 apartments I think and they were all over the city. It was a LONG day. Then, on Sunday afternoon, we went and looked at a few more. It was so interesting to see different parts of the city and to get a sense for what is totally “Japanese” when it comes to housing. Shoe closets by the front door: brilliant. Washer/dryer in every apartment: amazing. No ovens: clearly they are not big bakers. No light fixtures…not sure what that one is about. Oh, and no window coverings. Also weird. And finally, no refrigerator. You really can learn so much about a culture going apartment hunting. I still need to ask about the light fixture, fridge, and curtains…

And the realization that three-pronged outlets (American style as opposed to Japanese style) were actually available? Not going to lie, this was a big deal. And from a cultural perspective, something as little as this might be indicative of the amount of influence foreigners can have on a culture over time.554533_10152435553680389_1508194277_n

Oh, and then there were the “seismic resistance models”…nothing like that to remind a girl where she’s living. IMG_2231

So, at the end of the weekend, there were two front runners. Neither one was exactly perfect, but both were way better than my previous apartment in NY. It was such an interesting experience to be fully aware that I was being kind of ridiculous, and yet not being able to kick the feeling that I was somehow getting “cheated” because neither one was perfect. Yes, totally ridiculous. But it’s like the kid who gets a candy bar and he’s so excited to get a candy bar, especially since he didn’t do anything to earn it. But then he sees his brother get two and suddenly the world is unfair! The point is…I maybe got a little bit crazy in the whole process.

208273_10152441239740389_1917678493_nAnd then, later that week, my darling friend Jennifer made the comment that whatever apartment I choose, it will become home and I knew she was right. So, as I thought about it more and more, I thought about which place I liked the most in terms of where I think I would feel the best hanging out in the apartment and there was a clear winner. But, the other one had this amazing pool (and I love swimming) with an amazing view and an amazing gym. Basically, the amenities were amazing! (Can you tell I loved it?) But the apartment, not as amazing. (Are you totally bored yet?)

528876_10152434612215389_43486645_nThe next Saturday, I went out with the realtor again to see a few more apartments and visit my top three (there was one more…most because it had this great deck–like awesome party deck–and was close to my church). It was totally clear which one was my favorite. Plus, that one is close to my friend CoyLou and it’s nice to have a friend close by. But most importantly, upon second visit, it just “felt” like my apartment. I was still nervous I was making the wrong decision, but when I told the realtor on Monday that I wanted it, I knew I was making a good decision. Oh, and it’s close to my favorite gyoza place. That really should have been enough, right?

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And now, I’m back in the states and my things are going to be packed up tomorrow (including a massive stack of IKEA boxes from my little shopping spree yesterday–I bought a sectional!). I head back to Japan in five days and move into that new apartment the next weekend (I’ll have rental furniture for a while) and I am SO excited!

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seeing the emperor

Up until a week ago, I worked in a beautiful right by the Imperial Palace and I had a lovely view of the palace grounds. I have wandered over that direction more than a few times during a lunch break, but you can only access so much of the area for 363 days out of the year. However, on two days each year, the palace grounds open and it is possible to visit the interior AND actually get a glimpse of the Emperor himself, along with the rest of the Imperial Family: the 2nd of January (New Year) and the 23rd of December (the Emperor’s birthday).

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Yes, those are all people to the left of the mote.

Not sure whether I would be here for either in future years and having been in Hong Kong on the Emperor’s birthday, I decided I would visit the grounds on the 2nd of January this year. I actually went into work that day (normally a holiday) and was astounded by the number people lined up to go into the grounds.

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Appearances happen four times throughout the morning (from 9-2) and, like any good, Japanese event, people wait patiently in line and then move right along when the time comes. My friends, CoyLou and Ian,  met me by my office and we headed over around 11 am. And in true Japanese form, we were ushered right along, no time to waste.

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It really was to amazing to see all of these people gathered to see the Emperor (who was behind a wall of bullet proof glass). It was fun to be a part of this and to see all of the flags waving (which they handed out as we went in) and to be waving a flag myself.

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And then, it was over. A little anti-climatic perhaps, but still worth going.