Strong Arms for Kids


Puche Puche onegaishimasu.  I couldn’t wait to walk into the store and say “Puche Puche onegaishimasu” which means “Bubble wrap, please”.  Its just so much fun to say “Puche Puche.” I needed to buy bubble wrap to wrap my bike so that it arrived safely with me to Izena Island.  I practiced my Japanese all the way to the store and then in my best possible Japanese, I asked the lady for some bubble wrap.  She showed me a huge roll of it and asked how much bubble wrap do I want to buy.  How much bubble wrap does one need in order to securely wrap a bicycle?  I have no idea, so I just threw out a number… 10 meters!  She looked at me and automatically thought I didn’t know my Japanese numbers and she held up five fingers and said “go” (5 in Japanese), “no, ten please”, I said.  Once again she repeated “go”.  It took quite some convincing for her to finally sell me 10 meters of bubble wrap.  So the answer to the question – How many meters of bubble wrap do you need to securely wrap a bicycle?  10 meters was perfect!

Two weeks before the triathlon, I decided to do a long run of 20km since I hadn’t done that distance in a very long time and wanted to make sure that I still could run for that long.  It didn't go that well.  I needed to walk a lot and I had some pain in the foot that was giving me problems the month before and some pain in my other leg.  Of course, I iced and stretched afterwards but the pain persisted and so did my fear that I was not going to be able to complete the race that I had worked so hard training for these last six months.  So I made the executive decision that it would be better to rest the two weeks before the race and risk losing some muscle but having my foot heal, than not give myself time to heal and just continue to hurt myself.  Of course, that seems like a logical decision, but for me, that took a lot of time and convincing to just sit on my ass and do nothing for the two weeks before the race.  It was not easy, either, I get VERY bored and VERY depressed when I can’t spend time on my bicycle or swimming or running in Ishigaki. 

For almost two weeks, which felt like an eternity, I did nothing but watch news broadcasts on the elections and the stock market plummeting and watch the Daily Show daily.  But it was now about four days before the race and my foot was not feeling any better.  This is when the panic set in, what if I can’t run in the race or what if I run and hurt myself even more and am not able to run again for a very very long time.  I was literally almost in tears the Wednesday before the race because I was convinced I was not going to be able to run on that Sunday. 

I decided the best thing to do would be to see a doctor, find out what’s wrong with me and then see if its worth taking the risk of participating.  Of course, once again, that seems like a very logical thing to do, but seeing a doctor in Japan is not that simple.  First of all, most doctors here don’t speak English and honestly I was lucky to speak enough Japanese to ask for bubble wrap (I really need to study more instead of watching the same thing on The Daily Show every night).  But with the help of my wonderful co-worker Kurara-sensei, I was able to get an appointment with a Sports Medicine doctor on the mainland of Okinawa.  Actually, it wasn’t really an appointment because appointments don’t exist in Japan.  I had to show up about an hour before the doctor’s office opened in order to be first in line for when they began taking down names.  And good thing I did, because there was a huge line by the time the place opened.  Kurara-sensei was nice enough to write down the answers, in Japanese, to all the preliminary questions the doctor needed before seeing me.  So I had an x-ray and an MRI and the doctor diagnosed me as having tendinitis, which in my opinion is a lot better than having something torn or broken.

The doctor didn’t speak much English but he seemed to understand and read English well.  After I was done meeting with the doctor and was sitting out in the waiting room, waiting, one of the nurses approached me with a clipboard and a pen.  She explained that if I had any questions for the doctor I should write them down.  So I did as I was told, even though I was a bit confused about why I was doing this.  After a few minutes, the nurse returned with the answers, written by the doctor, next to my questions.  Whatever works, right?  So, of course, I asked the doctor about the triathlon that I was planning on doing.  He said that swimming and cycling were fine and he even said that running was fine, until I told him the distance that I was running, then he wasn’t so sure and we left it at that.

It was now two days before the race, it had been about two weeks since I had done any exercise and I had no idea if I was going to be able to complete the race or not.  This race has been a really important milestone on my road towards a healthy lifestyle and failure is usually not an option for me.  It was really frustrating and stressful for me to think that there was a possibility that I may not be able to complete the race and there was nothing I could do about it.  That is when TEAM SUZY! came to the rescue!  Two of the best friends a girl could have Shu Lan and Caroline created Team Suzy! and even with the possibility of not finishing the race there was no way that I could be in a bad mood.

Caroline flew all the way from mainland Japan to come watch and cheer me on for the triathlon (and maybe do some sight-seeing in Okinawa, as well), and Shu Lan the amazing driver that she is, made sure we got everywhere we needed to go, all the while being her hilarious spunky self.  The two of them were so great and so excited about the weekend and I was so excited just to be hanging out with them, that it really kept my spirits up and I almost didn’t care how the outcome of the race turned out.  I can’t thank them enough for such a great weekend. 

Saturday morning came and it was time to head to the ferry to take us to Izena Island.  This weekend was all about being two or three hours early for things and then waiting around for a really long time.  We arrived at 8am for a ferry that was leaving at 11am.  The ferry was packed with really fit looking people with really cool looking bicycles.  I was thoroughly impressed.  When we arrived, our gracious host Roy, another English teacher greeted us, as well as, some of his students who performed some traditional dances for everyone.  This is the most exciting event of the year for the people on Izena Island.  Roy was also participating in the triathlon, so we were both a little nervous about what was going to happen in the next two days. 

We started by dropping my stuff off at his house and then headed to the supermarket for some last minute supplies, which included water and for me, lots and lots of ice.  Then we went to the swim course area, where I did a lap around the 2 lap course.  It felt good to do a little exercise.  Then we were off for a quick lunch.  I had some of the best tofu champuru (tofu and vegetable stir fry) I have had in Japan.  It was a huge amount of food, but I figured that would be pretty much all I was going to eat for the rest of the day.   They say that you should eat your final big meal pretty early the day before a big race.  Then I really wanted to do the cycling course once before the big day, but there was a Friendship meeting all foreigners were asked to attend, followed by the Race Information meeting, so I didn’t know if there would be time to do the course before the sun went down.  The Friendship Meeting is a meeting set up for foreigners to meet the locals, especially the children in the community.  It was really cute, they sang two songs for us and then, in groups, we played Pictionary, which just reminded me how bad I was at drawing.  Following the Friendship meeting was the Race Information meeting, which explained (in English!) basically everything that was going to happen the next day.  It was now about 5:30pm, I had about 40 minutes before it was dark, so I hopped on my bike and did one lap of the course.  The complete bike course is basically doing five laps around the whole island.  AND, if you miss count and pass the turn-off after you finish your 5th lap, you have to go around the whole island again.  I think that's a bit unfair, don’t you?  So now I knew the swim course, I knew the bike course, and my friend Justin walked the run course and told me “Its not so bad”, which I found out later was a complete lie, but we will talk about that later.

It was only Saturday night and I was already exhausted after traveling, doctors’ visits, boat rides and doing exercise for the first time in two weeks.  Roy, our host, with the help of Team Suzy! cooked up an awesome carb filled dinner of pasta and garlic bread.  I was still full from lunch, but couldn’t help eating a big bowl of pasta because the pasta sauce was awesome.   Then it was straight to bed for me, which was around 9pm, but Roy and Shu Lan watched a bit of the new Rocky to pump them up for the following day. 

Sunday came and I woke up pretty early from nerves and the fact that I went to bed at 9pm.  I actually wasn’t too nervous.  Since I knew that I couldn’t push myself and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to finish the race, I wasn’t that nervous.  I had some muscle soreness from the exercise I did the day before, but my foot was feeling pretty good.  This was a good sign.  Roy and I collected all our stuff, left Team Suzy! sleeping and headed to the swim course on our bicycles. 

The morning was not as hectic as I thought it was going to be.  Once again we arrived about an hour and a half before the race was going to begin, which gave us plenty of time to do everything we needed to do.  The time finally came for all the swimmers to gather on the beach for the opening ceremonies and the start of what was going to be a very long day.  But where was Team Suzy!?  And then with about five minutes before the start, they appeared in all their glory, Shu Lan in her duck costume and Caroline the frog.  Their energy was awesome and I fed off their energy for the entire day. 

The swim went pretty well, during the long stretches I was able to actually swim, but on the turns and the short part of the course, it was basically just a matter of being able to breathe.  “Just keep taking breaths, just keep taking breaths” was all I kept telling myself.  I finished in what I thought was a pretty good time.  And by the way, the swim that I do during training, I now know is one hundred meters each way.  I decided not to wear my wetsuit during the swim, it was a bit too restricting for me, which meant that I had to change out of my bathing suit before beginning the bike.  In the bathroom, it took me like ten minutes to change into my unitard.  They are quite tricky.  All I could hear as I am fighting with the spandex is Team Suzy! outside screaming their frog and duck heads off.  I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time.  But I got myself together, shoved down a SoyJoy bar and headed out with my bike. 

The cycling was hard.  That's about all I have to say for that part.  I didn’t push myself, knowing that I wanted to try and do the run without doing any more damage to myself than I have already done, so I just went along at a comfortable pace.  All sorts of people were passing me left and right.  I probably had the same people pass me more than once on some of their super fancy bicycles.  I was so jealous of their bikes.  But each time I went around the island, I couldn’t wait to see what Shu Lan and Caroline were up to.  Man, can those girls scream.  I love ‘em. 

Finally the last lap was done, I hoped, anyway.  Each lap on the bike, I made sure to count very carefully, but I always had a tiny doubt in my mind that I had somehow counted wrong.  Whether I counted wrong or not, I was done, I couldn’t go another lap, so I pulled in for the run.  But, like I said, I was exhausted, I thought there was no way that I could now run a half marathon.  But, I got myself together, taped up my ankle, put on my running shoes, got my IPOD, and headed to the bathroom.  Then finally made my way to the run course (I gotta work on these transition things).

Once I started running, even though the first part of the course was a huge hill, I was starting to feel good again.  I think the change of muscle groups and some Guns ‘N’ Roses really helped.  I was so hungry and so thirsty that I kept stopping at every aid station, I couldn’t help it.  It was lunchtime.  I decided that my strategy would be to walk up all the hills and run the rest of the course, and since my friend Justin told me “its not so bad”  I didn’t think I would have to walk too much.  But, after the first lap I realized that Justin was “on crack” because the whole course was pretty much up hill.  At this point, though, I didn’t really care.  I knew that I was going to finish the race one way or another so that made me really happy.  I trekked through the pouring rain and just went as fast as my body would let me, knowing that, eventually, I would cross the finish line. 

I made it down the last hill and entered the stadium, which, unfortunately had a dirt track which was now flooded, and there in all their glory, once again, was Team Suzy!  The troopers that they are, ran with me through the finish line.  I had to drag them by the end because the finish was one gigantic puddle, but I figured that they made it this far, what’s a few more wet feet.  And I was done…

The next day, I felt like I got hit by a Mac truck, and I couldn’t for the life of me, satiate my appetite.  I still can’t, even without doing any exercise for the past few days.  But, now I am starting to feel good again and I’m ready for my next big challenge. 

I really want to say thank you to everyone who donated to the orphanage.  I would also like to thank all of my teachers at Yaeyama High School.  Baan Unrak sent me a huge box of woven goods and I was able to raise $450 by selling bags and such at my school.  Thank you to Roy for being such an awesome host and great job, as well, on the triathlon.  And, of course, Caroline and Shu Lan, you guys are the true ROCKSTARS!!!  And Justin, I still think you are on crack, but I will forgive you ; -)

So, Would I do it again?  Of course, this is only the beginning.  I just spent a million dollars on equipment for this race, I can’t stop now.  No, just kidding, I had so much fun, I can’t wait for the next race.  I will keep updating my site with my upcoming races, lots of new recipes and things that make me happy, as well as, updates on my blog.  So please keep checking in every once in a while. 

My next race is the Ishigaki Marathon on January 25th, followed by the Yamaneko half marathon on February 14th.  Then in April is the Ishigaki Triathlon.  Please, if anyone wants to join with me, let me know and I will get you an application if you need it.  It is always more fun doing these things with friends. 

I, unfortunately, did not take many photos of this weekend, but the wonderful Shu Lan and Caroline took many many photos.  Once they send me CDs with the photos of the triathlon, I will post them. 


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