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For me, one of the biggest reasons to run is to explore- both places and my limits.

Do you ever take a moment to examine where you are, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and wonder how you got there? I’ve done it all my life. Sometimes it’s in a appreciative way, something like

“Man! How did I get here? Am I really here? This is so great- I am so lucky!” I was running around the Blue Mountains in Australia last week, having that thought often.

I’ve been through life at the other end of the spectrum though, where I find myself fearfully asking,

“Wait- why am I here? What am I doing? What are they doing? This doesn’t feel good or even ok…how do I get out this?” That sort of question happened far too often in my past. I’d be scraping myself out of one undesirable situation only to land in another where I felt equally uncomfortable, never stopping to take a breath and decide where I actually wanted to go, instead of just ruling out where I didn’t want to be.

As an adult, I was diagnosed with major depression, though I had probably had it since I was a teenager. For me, depression is what settles in to that void between where I am and where I want to be. I had gotten so far from the kind of life I dreamed of when I was young that I barely remembered what that was. I wanted to be on my own, seeing the world, learning as much as I could, and hopefully piecing back together to a whole person that had an altogether confusing childhood.

In contrast, what I was doing was going to college, getting married, settling down, working for bosses I couldn’t stand, trying to hit external marks of progress to give answers to who I was while ignoring my inner voice that said

“Holly, you don’t care about any of this.” I would answer myself with

“There will be time for all of it- I can find myself here in this place, even though it feels wrong right now.” I would eventually drown the voice completely with alcohol, choosing to numb out the resistance I felt to what I was doing. In this time, I talked myself into walking down a wedding aisle when I should have been hustling through an airport.

Eventually I scrambled out. Out of the marriage, out of the traditional image of work,, and most importantly out of alcohol abuse, something I got taken up with when I no longer cared what happened with my life. That took outside help, which I’ll work up the courage to write about in more detail some other time. It has not been a pretty process, but it has been worth every fear and tear. I now find myself on a middle road most of the time, far from despair. I am content with my life, and even occassionally blissful! I no longer ignore dreams or sideline goals, with  permission to make mistakes to get where I am going. The irony is that now, just as before, I have no idea what I am doing- but I since this time I am designing the course, I can rearrange it however I want.

Although in life I feel directionally challenged sometimes- I always know this one cue: “Further”. Further from comfort, further from what is known towards what is unknown. I was like this as a kid, and it’s good to be back here again.

I started this blog more than two years ago as a way to practice writing, using easily accessible subject matterrunning. While I want to share my running travels and process, the overarching goal is to use those experiences to develop as an author, and move towards some day being able to write about my broader life and deeper throughts. I have stories outside of running that are wild, somber, joyful and sad, and through it all I relentlessly engage in new experiences so that I keep recovering hope and cultivating wonder. I want to be more consistent about writing here, and to expand on what I cover, with the hope that I will continue to make more connections with people and ideas about life.

Trail-run in Japan: Sapporo

I found a very legit trail (and attached network of trails) while I was in Sapporo, Japan. I had hoped to travel further into the wilderness on island of Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, where Sapporo is located, but time and honestly, my energy stores, would not permit it. In the end, I’m very happy with the trail I did find, and plan to come back here when I can rope in a friend to do the wilder stuff with me.
I had messaged an outdoor store before leaving the USA, Sapporo Experience Base, to find out more about the area’s trails. When I was messaging I found an English speaker on the other end, but when I got to the store in person, no one spoke English. That was fine, I used a translator app and the staff were very helpful in pulling up the Suunto app/map of the area, which gave me some good ideas. The store itself had some good looking gear, especially if you are into Salomon. It was on the other side of a great park to run through, Maruyama Park. There was road and trail running, as well as a shrine and a zoo. Definitely a good option for some combo running & site-seeing, located about two miles from Sapporo Station if you want to skip transit altogether and just hoof it there.

The hardest part is finding out where to go.
Finding trails from afar in this part of the world did prove difficult for me, because none of the mapping/tracking apps I use seem popular in Japan. The REI app, “Trail Run Project” had some routes around Tokyo, but that’s about it. “All Trails” had next to nothing, furthermore, the app uselessly included common site-seeing routes as “trails”. Suunto’s app, “Moves Count” had the most information, at least around Sapporo, in the form of a heat map. I imagine that is because the brand of watch sold at Sapporo Experience Base is, you guessed it, Suunto. I may have to invest in a GPS device for future trips. Lonely Planet published a Japan Hiking Guide at one point, now out of print, and the only copies I could find were selling for US $250+ on EBay and Amazon, so I decided to make do without.

Getting to the Trail: 
Trailhead: Asahiyama Memorial Park

I took a taxi to save time, and it was about US $10 from Sapporo Station area. Many bus lines go to the area, just depends where you are coming from, hopefully you have access to the internet and can figure that part out best for you. However, there is a bus stop right next to the park, that bus line “13” hits. Try to make this stop your drop off, the others stops that are nearby are situated at the bottom of a pretty steep hill, and if you are going to be running/hiking, you’ll want to save your energy for a more scenic climb! There is also a parking lot if you have your own car.
Finding the trail:

This I did pretty much by accident, but see the picture, and you should be able to find where I headed out. After snapping some pics of the city from the main observation area (you can’t miss it), I turned up the hill and ran behind and to the right of the main building structure. From there, I kept on a well groomed path that was even paved in some places. At some point I saw a break in the forest that turned from the main path, and I took it. It was a steep, overgrown climb at first, and the climbing would continue to happen intermittently throughout the run, but overall the path was well groomed and well signed, though not in English. Meters are marked, but keep your bearings so you know which way you are headed.

I generally headed up and east. You may have more time than me and as a result would be able to add more twists and turns on. I would- it gets amazing up there. I managed to do an almost-loop, winding up at another trail head about one mile away from where I started. I really wanted to do more, but this run was at the end of my day, and my inner adult chided as I was heading further up the mountain 45 minutes before sunset- “Hey, Holly, you may get stuck out here in the dark, if we are having enough trouble navigating the terrain with light.” So my inner child sulked but down we went, and we got her Starbucks on the way home as a distraction. (If you look closely at the map of my run, you’ll see a point where I ran just a tad off course and then back- that’s me being cautious, but if I had kept going that way would have taken me to the summit of Mt Moiwa).

It was a great run, and I’ll leave here with some tips:

  • Go the direction I went if you are running (west→ east). I imagine if you are hiking it would be best as well to go from west to east. I passed three other runners & hikers, all going in the opposite direction, but the climbing going up that way would not have been any fun at all going down. (Note- the hiking/climbing was pretty tricky in some areas. I didn’t need a walking stick but I saw an older gentleman using poles).
  • This trail starts out urban, but feels pretty isolated at times. Bring water, wear shoes with good grip/teeth on them. Mind were a little worn down and I slipped at times, as it had been raining the day before.
  • There are kiosks for drinks and bathrooms at both ends of the trail.
  • Wear bugspray, they are out there and they are annoying.
  • There was a guy wearing “bear bells”. These are a thing in Japan,to alert bears that you are approaching, and I read all about them before coming here. If I was going into one of the bigger, wilder parks, I might have invested, but as it was I took my chances and it was fine.

If you don’t have a phone or GPS system, write down the kanji for signs you may come across or destinations you want ot hit. I was half a mile up from Sapporo and saw no signs in English, so I imagine in more isolated areas, whether you head further into this area or into other parks of Hokkaido, there is a chance of no English signage.


Race Recap: Dad’s Day 5k- Dedicated Training = Personal Best. 

Thoughtful & consistent training pays off with a new PR.

Sunday I ran the race I trained for, and though the time I saw when I crossed the finish line marked the achievement of one goal, I took it as a bench mark of two different paths I want to continue on. The two goals are intertwined; I want to become the best competitor in running that I can push myself to be, and I also want to be a useful training coach for fellow amateur athletes who want to push their own boundaries. With training on myself, I hope that I might find good practices to pass on to my fellow athletes, whether they are full of fury for a medal, or just want to feel more confident and comfortable in community races.

Summary of the Race

I’ll write about specifics, including pacing and training, lower in this post, but first I wanted to give an overview of the race. It was the “Dad’s Day 5k” in downtown Houston, Texas. I love these community races- something always chokes me up, and this one got me good. The cause was prostrate cancer, as the race fell Fathers’ Day Weekend. My own father passed away over ten years ago, and it was from him that I got the running genes, so I thought about him a lot. I don’t doubt that soaring emotions helped me get to the finish line faster, I felt pretty inspired to do my best, just in case he was watching.

I found that it was a pretty big race, at least 1000 people running, more volunteering. There were men dressed up as Captain America & Batman, and I grabbed a pic with Batman after the race, while waiting for the times to be posted. It was hot and humid, the stats being 80 degrees Fahrenheit with 80% humidity. I felt it as soon as I opened my car door at the race site. Those guys in the superhero costumes were seriously heroic for donning facemasks and tights in that weather! Once the race got going I felt like I was running through a volcano covered in a wet blanket.

They did a kids 1k race before the 5k started, and it was of course adorable but also inspiring. The bigger kids ran really hard, and I was floored to see that a girl took 3rd place, flying in well ahead of the next kids and the pack.

Running the Race

Start line

I lined up at the front. I finally realize that is where I need to be. Choosing a spot close to the start line is a relatively new move for me. In the past I’ve been scared it would make me go out too fast, but I finally have confidence in my training that I know my pace and can hold it, letting go of my ego, so that the people that rush out in front of me oftentimes drift behind me after a mile or so. There were signs posted from 7 min pace on up, and I marched in between it and the 8 min sign. Even with the weather, I was counting on running at the very least 7:40/mile. My previous pace for a race on about the same course was 7:50, but that was in February when the weather was much more forgiving.

First mile

Never ending. It felt like forever, and I glanced at my watch, reading a 7:25 there. For a long time that would have alarmed me, as getting close to 7:30 too early in the race gasses me. I stopped looking at my watch. Legs felt good, breathing was ok. My only source of discomfort was the heat.

Second mile

The race was out and back, so the one mile mark meant only 1/2 a mile until I got to turn around. My pace quickened, and I didn’t really have to think about it. I was running in a pack that included a few women, and I had no way of knowing if they were hurting like I was and if they would suddenly take off. I would look at my watch, and still see times that were a little fast, 7:18 or so, and just leave the over-analyzing alone and ask the question- “Can I maintain this?”. I did, and I got faster. As I approached and rounded the turn-around, I counted nine women in front of me, making me ten. A little fear set in that I may drop out or I would get passed, which took my adrenaline up a notch.

Like I said, it was bonkers hot. I even saw the photographer, and this grimace was the best I could manage.

Third Mile & Finish Line

Or as I like to think of it, the oh-thank-god-its-almost-over mark. My focus became just running at my threshold. I wasn’t going to leave anything behind. I had passed a few women, and there was one in front of me that I figured would stay there, but something happened in the last 200 meters or so. I looked at my watch, and the time read 21:30. My goal PR right now is a sub-22, and though I really thought I had no more effort left to give, I surged. I got to the finish line with a 22:33, and I was really proud with that. It busted my old PR by 20 seconds, even with me being 5 years older since I set that mark. What a rush!

As I crossed the finish line, I realized just how overheated I had become. I never got water in the race, not wanting to sacrifice time or stop my momentum, and as I came to the stop I realized I wasn’t altogether sure I wasn’t going to pass out. I also had to use the bathroom, and deliberated on the odds of me blacking out inside the Port-o-potty if I even made it there. YOLO, in I went, out I came, and grabbed water.

“Outta my way, kids! My turn!”

The Training

As a starting point for my training, I read Jack Daniels’ Running Formula. I was mainly interested in his VDOT charts, which take performance as an indicator of VO2 max, then provide a comprehensive list of times to aim for in training for 5 different kinds of runs. Once you figure out where you land with your VO2 capabilities, you are only getting started in putting together a training program. I had to identify my strong and weak areas, and prioritize my training to condition myself what I  was worst at- holding a pace through discomfort. I know I’m capable, I just haven’t always been willing!

Lest I get super confusing for newer runners or people whose lexicon is different, here is how I describe and interpret my training. This is taken almost directly from JD Running Formula, I just adapted a few things within my training becuase his book describes a program for people who run way more volume (miles) than I do right now. I give a description of how interpreted and adapted the workouts for my purposes, and the paces I used, which were determined from Daniels’ charts in the book.

Interval Run: 400-1000 meters run at slightly faster than 5k pace with 60-90 seconds of recovery.

  • 7:20 pace for this training cycle

Tempo Run: runs of 20 minutes at hard but comfortable pace

  • 8:00 pace

Reptition Run: short intervals on the track. I used 200 meter sprints, with a 200 meter recovery jog.

  • 50 seconds/200 meters

Easy/Recovery Run: should be self explanatory, but runs of half an hour to an hour a few times a week.

  • 9:30/mile.

I ran maybe 20 miles a week. I was able to get away with relatively low mileage because I  supplemented resistance training in the gym. The resistance training was more or less targeted to not just strength, but endurance, including short to no rest periods between sets targeting different muscles. What I found was that training this way conditioned my mind to push through pain and fatigue, which is just what I needed!

For this race, I went in knowing what I was working with, because I had been training consistently, with progressive paces individualized to my workouts for months. I wasn’t as interested in where I placed in the field for this race. I knew this would be my last 5k for awhile, and I wanted to beat my best time. The big picture: If I placed last and ran faster than my fastest, then the race would be a success. The race was a total win. I ran hard the whole time, held on when it got really rough, and somehow found the grit to rev up even more at the end. I start training for the Houston Marathon next month, and I’m really excited to work out my training details for that race!