My friend Michlle and I went up to Iheya Island this weekend to run the Moonlight Marathon (well, the half) on Saturday night. I was not looking forward to this race. At all. The longest training run I'd done was eight miles and even shorter runs were sometimes feeling pretty rough. Michelle had gotten sick and had to take a few weeks off training toward the end, meaning we weren't running the same pace anymore, so I was also looking at having to run a lot of it alone, which I was afraid would end up meaning that I'd walk even more of it than my lack of training dictated I needed to. Or, at the very least, would spend all of that alone time thinking how miserable I was and how much I hated running.
You guys. I ran pretty much the whole thing. And I enjoyed myself.
We caught the 11am ferry over from the north part of the island, where a bus took us to the gym where we'd be spending the night on the floor. Not ideal, but after 13 miles, I'm pretty much a champion sleeper, so I wasn't too worried. Until I saw the huge stockpile of alcohol a group near us had brought. Uh oh.
I wasn't sure how to eat to prepare for a night race, so I just focused on building up salt stores. Peanut butter sandwich and roasted salted pumpkin seeds. And a Nalgene of water with chia seeds. (Yes "a Nalgene" is a unit of measure. It says so on the Internet. Right here.) Around 4:00, we walked over to the start area, where they were doing group aerobics to warm up.
The start was a huge bottleneck, which was a real bummer since we were going down a ginormous hill and using more energy to go real slow than we would have to let gravity take us down. At one point, I told Michelle I thought we could walk as fast as we were running. She started walking and yup, exact same pace.
Things spread out eventually though. We were passed by the University of the Ryukyus rugby team, passing a ball back and forth. (They had announced before the race that they'd be doing this the entire way. By the time I passed them around mile 7, they were certainly not. And were looking real exhausted.) We stayed ahead of the firefighter cadets for quite some time and got to enjoy their cadences. They were running in formation in boots and orange pants with their race shirts.
Michelle and I stayed together until about mile five, when she said she wanted to keep jogging, but needed to slow down, so I should go ahead. Which I did. The race website had said it was an "almost flat" course, which was LIES. But the nice thing was that each uphill was immediately followed by a downhill. (Duh, Lori you may be thinking, but this was not the case in Pensacola, where each uphill was followed by flat and then another uphill through about mile 6.) So every time I started hating running, I'd realize I was going uphill and know that I was going to not hate running again as soon as I reached the crest.
There were water stops about every two miles with water, Aquarius (sports drink), cut bananas and oranges, and plates with brown sugar and salt (separately). I'd take a cup of water at each and as much salt as my index fingertip picked up at every other. At mile 7, I ate a couple bites of banana, which was perfect. Recently, GU and other energy foods engineered for running have been bothering my stomach, but it's hard to figure out what else is so portable. I had some energy chews with me, but didn't need them, thanks to the power of real fruit. There was also spray at the stops, which I put on after eating my banana, assuming it was bug spray (it was dusk by then) but Michelle later told me it's something that's supposed to help your muscles. Maybe that was the secret to my surprisingly good run?
At some water stops, there were people with water dippers offering to douse you. I think it was around mile 9 that these were held by two little boys. I stopped in front of them and said "Hai!" (yes) and they were pretty excited to splash me. A third, even littler, boy was between them holding a cup of water, which he went ahead and tossed at me too. A little bit of adorable can really buoy your spirits, I find. Also, the beauty part of a night race turns out to be that the further you run, the cooler it gets. This is very helpful.
Around mile 10, I took a picture of the moon over the water, which came out about as well as can be expected for a photo taken with my phone while I tried to not lose any running time.
Soon after, I came to the big hill we'd seen on the elevation chart, with a gain of 30 meters (98.4 feet) over a relatively short distance. Recalling the puke stop necessitated by the very big hill in the Pensacola half, I decided I'd walk up this one. It was lit by blue and white Christmas lights along the ground. I decided I could use some music to get me through the last few miles and finally started my iTunes, then ran down the big hill all Phoebe Buffay-esque with the flailing limbs and big smile. I do so recommend you get yourself to the top of a big hill and then just lean forward and go as fast as your legs take you. Good times.
The whole way, I kept waiting to start feeling awful, to feel like I just couldn't run another step or at least very much didn't want to, but it never happened. Sure, I had various aches and pains along the way, but it never felt nearly so hard as it had in previous half marathons. I kept being surprised by my phone announcing another half mile completed.
When I turned onto the big steep hill we'd started down, my phone was just telling me I was at 12 miles. I knew the start was the same as the finish, so I wasn't sure if they were going to make us do laps around the track we'd started on or what. I attempted to charge the big steep hill, sprinting up it until my legs gave out after maybe 50 yards. So I walked up the rest of that, did manage to charge the next, smaller hill, then finished at what my phone said was 12.2 miles. I'm inclined to believe it since it lined up pretty well with what the race had marked as 5k and 10k. Also, I'm not sure I was running fast enough to finish a full 13.1 in 2:30, which is what my officially certified time turned out to be.
"THIS IS TO CERTIFY THAT YOU HAVE SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED 19TH IHEYA MOONLIGHT MARATHON IN THE TIME STATED" Certified! Also, all wet from being shoved into my bag with my sweaty clothes, thus, photographed and trashed.
Looking back, I'm pretty sure I could have pushed harder and finished at least a few minutes faster. But after feeling incredibly sick after my last two half marathons, I think it may have been worth the slower time to finish this one feeling good.
I picked up my medal and certificate, then got some Aquarius and my checked bag so I could change into flip flops. Ahhhhhhh. I took a couple of terrible pictures of Michelle finishing, then we got some stew and boozy punch. Then I got some Fanta with which to dilute my boozy punch because HOLY STRONG, BATMAN.
Then we went and waited for showers. There weren't any at the gym where we were staying, just in the building near the start/finish. Only two women could go in at a time and (per Michelle, married to a Japanese man) the Japanese love their long showers, so we waited about 90 minutes while the salt formed a solid layer on our skin.
Then we walked back to the gym where we lay awake while a few people partied until about 2am, apparently just not caring that they were keeping the other hundred people awake. It wouldn't have been such a big problem if other people's phone alarms hadn't started going off at 5am. And one of the partiers was snoring so loudly by then, it was difficult to get back to sleep. So we got our breakfast when they arrived around 7.
I walked around the neighborhood to see if there might be a vending machine that had coffee drinks and of course there was. Even on small outlying islands, Japan has your canned coffee needs covered. God bless you, Japan.
Then we got a ferry home and I took a very long shower and an even longer nap. The end.