Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Learning to Ride a Motorcycle: Lesson 6

I woke up early this morning to go to driving school. I had no lesson reserved, but expected to take a spot lesson resulting from cancellation.  I called the school to ask to put my name of their waiting list. When I got to the school. I was the only one on the waiting list, and there was a red stamp over my name that said "Lesson Available".

My teacher was Mr. I. He looked the second youngest among the four teachers that had been assigned to me. Compared with the other teachers, he was directive. He gave me an overall picture of what his lesson was going to cover, and asked me if I had any specific concerns. I told him that I had somewhat contradicting instructions from two teachers as to how to go through the cranks. I answered my question immediately, and I felt relieved. I also told him that I was a bit nervous that there is a specific time requirement with going through a narrow and straight bridge. When he heard that, he suggested doing a practice specifically designed to improve my ability to control the vehicle at an extremely low speed.

<How to Control Vehicle at Low Speed>
Today's lesson with Mr. I gave me enormous confidence with low speed vehicle control. What he told me to do is this. First, you kick the gearshift lever, and get into low gear. Then you release the clutch lever halfway to engage power to the rear wheel. While doing so, you press the foot break, balancing between slowly moving forward and braking if going too fast at all.

Improved balance at low speed has given me confidence in:
1) Going through the crank,
2) Going on a long and narrow bridge.

My next lesson is on Sept. 24. It's computer simulation lesson to learn about potential dangers riders should be aware of. I'm looking forward to learning something new.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Race Report: Kyoho no Oka 20 K Road Race 2017

On Sept. 17 I ran Kyoho no Oka 20 K Road Race 2017 in Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture. The region is well-known for grape orchards and wine production, and the course goes through idyllic and picturesque hills, but for runners these hills present a big challenge.

The gun went off at 9:40 a.m. and I started off from the front line. The first 200 meters is flat, and then you take a quick left and go down a slope about 50 meters long. Once you hit the bottom of the slope, you start going up, and from this point on, you keep going up until around the 4 K mark. In the past races, I would always keep my pace in check, saving my energy for the latter half of the race. But this year I was different. I went with the flow, sticking to the pace that was reasonably challenging. I carefully monitored my heart rates, which I could feel without a digital gadget. There was a water station near the 2 K mark, but I ignored it and pressed on. The upward incline was so steep, and I already felt exhausted. I regretted that I didn't run more slowly. I even felt tight in my stomach. I feared that I might have to slow down already in such an early stage of the race.

But past the 4 K mark the course started going down, and all of a sudden I was freed from the incessant torment of upward inclines. I felt my stomach relaxed. I controlled my pace instead of rushing down the hill in order to ease my breathing. I could feel my heart rates went down, and I felt recharged, just like in interval training I feel ready to go for another lap after a brief rest.

At the next water station which was located shortly past the 5 K mark, I grabbed a cup of water, had a sip, and poured the rest over my arms. It felt cool. But the pleasant feeling quickly went away as I went up a steep hill ahead. I looked down at my feet, trying not to think about how much more I had to go up.

As the next water station, I had a cup of sports drink first to fuel myself, and a cup of water to keep myself from getting dehydrated. A sweet taste of the sports drink lifted my spirit for a second. Soon after that the top runner came running down. He looked focused and so powerful. I yelled, "Nice run!" A second later another yell was heard from behind. More runners came one after another, which signaled that the turning point was near.

A familiar landscape was in sight. The turning point was around the corner. I looked down again, hoping that when I looked up again, the long upward incline would be over and the left turn that led to the turning point would be right in front of me. But the point came a lot faster than I expected, which I realized when the runner before me suddenly took a right. I followed him and in no time a horizontal sensor was visible on the road ahead which marked the halfway point!

I felt so excited that I almost increased the pace. But I carefully stuck to my pace and several seconds later I was on the other side of the sensor. I heard a beep when I crossed it. I pressed a button on my wrist watch, and it said 51:35.98. I was 1:35.98 behind schedule, but I thought it was good enough. Fifty-two seconds later I crossed the 10 K mark. Although the race is 20 K, the precise distance is short of 20 K, so the halfway point is not exactly at the 10 K mark.

There was a water station shortly after the 10 K mark, but I ignored it again, and pressed on. After some twist and turns, I hit the main road again where a bunch of runners were still on their way to the halfway point. My friend, Eiro, found me yelled, "Go, Gakuji!" In less than a minute I found another friend of mine, Yuko. I waved at her, and she waved back at me. I withed them both the best of luck.

For the next two kilometers I picked up the pace and went down the hill like a mad man. Each landing shock was so large that for a moment I was afraid of hurting my knees, but I remembered all the hard training that was a lot harder, so I believed in my ability to withstand the brutal shock of going down the hill.

Near the 12 K mark, the downhill was over, and the course took a left to get off the main road, and went up for about 200 meters. It was the first challenge of the second half of this course. How you run this part significantly affects your performance in the remaining. In the past when I was far less experienced, I would pushed myself too much here. As a result, I thighs and calves got cramped like hell in the last three kilometers and I felt miserable like a sick zombie.

But the few painful lessons had taught me how to run this part. I ran in narrower strides, and made sure my heart rates were steady. Any sudden increase in the heart rate is alarming. It exhausts you more than necessary. I was overtaken by a number of runners, but I didn't care. When the incline was over, and the course started going down, I easily overtook some of the runners who had gone past me in the upward incline only a short while ago. But that didn't even matter. It was not a battle with others. It was a battle with myself.

Soon the upward incline was over, and another descent began. This time it would last nearly 3 kilometers. I picked up the pace again. I felt a tremendous shock on my knee with each step. I thought I was going quite fast, but nevertheless I was overtaken by one runner after another. They all looked like heel-strikers in shoes with thick cushioning. They took advantage of the protection provided by the technology, and took a leap forward with strides much wider than mine. If I had run in the same way, I would have damaged my legs. Though my strides are generally wider than when I'm running a flat surface, my minimalist shoes still wouldn't allow me to take such a reckless form. I grit my teeth, believed in my running form, and stuck with it.

The 15 K mark was in sight. The second last hill, and the toughest one of the race, was soon to present itself. It's at the end of a downhill on the left-hand side. Up ahead one runner after another kept taking a left, disappearing into the invisible side of the corner. Soon I was the one to take that corner, and within seconds I was right in the narrow, and winding agricultural road with a bunch of grape trees on both sides. God knows how many times in the past did I run this part of the race in the wrong way. But I was not what I used to be years before. I was stronger, and wider. Just like in all of the previous hills I ran in far narrower strides, and slowed down the pace if even the small sign was felt of increased heart rates. Again, a few runners overtook me, but I didn't care. They may be simply better runners, or they may be simply ignorant of what may happen to their legs later on.

Once the hill was over, the course went down for a while, but soon saw another upward incline which was not as long as the first incline, but which was equally steep. I stuck with my basic strategy and went past the most hellish point of the race.

I kept on going down for another kilometer or so to finally reach the last hill of the race near the last 2 K point. Seen from the bottom it looked like a wall. The road is wider and easier to run, and the distance is much shorter. A prospect of the approaching goal and an increase in the number of cheerers lifted my spirits. Akiyo, one of the cheer-leaders, found me and yelled my name, "Gak sensei!" Half a minute later the familiar silhouette of my bilingual companion was in sight. I tried to smile at her, but I was just about to kick for a last spurt and wasn't able to. The final downhill and home stretch lay ahead with a big horizontal banner stretched across above. I kicked and kicked, like Eliud Kipchoge when he destroyed the field in the Rio Olympics. Suddenly I felt something a like a small ball pop out from the bottom of the right leg of my pants, dangling right and left as I surged down the home stretch. It was a sake lees ball (酒粕団子) that I kept as emergency food but that I didn't have chance to eat because I was so focused on the race. I was suddenly self-conscious, imagining how I might look from everyone cheering me, dangling a small ball-like object from under one leg of my pants. I quickly tried to tuck that thing into my pants, but it wouldn't, with the pants all sweaty and all. I tried it again, and it barely stayed inside the pants. I pushed on. Two seconds later, I crossed the finish line. I immediately stopped my watch and saw my time. I could hardly believe my eyes. I finished under 1:30:00, way faster than my original target of 1:33:59. I was so glad that all of my hard training paid off. I was also so happy to prove that if you put your mind to it, your mind-body can still respond to the demand that you impose on it.

My next race is Yotsukaido Gas Light 10 K Road Race that takes place on Nov. 19. I am planning to increase the volume of distance-based training, and also increase the distance of each lap from 1 K to 1.3 K in speed-based interval training. I'm excited to get results in the race. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

On Northern Territories

I would like to write about Northern Territories.
They used to belong to Japan. Now they are effectively controlled by Russia.
Russia's official position of course is that they belong to their country. Japan's official stance on the other hand is that they belong to Japan, but that they have been illegally occupied by Russia that invaded the territories in defiance of
The Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact concluded in 1941.

I'm in no position to say anything about bureaucratic technicalities, nor am I interested in simply continuing to say, "Please give them back to Japan." However, I have this plan which I believe benefits both countries.

<Japan and Russia Should Promote Athletic Events on Northern Territories>
In my opinion, promoting athletic events on Northern Territories is a mutually beneficial option. Here is why. It makes both economic and political sense.

<Economic Benefits>
Promotion of athletic events makes economic sense for both Russia and Japan. Suppose a marathon race takes place on one of the islands. Quite a few people are expected to go there to run the race, considering there are already so many people who take a plane to run Honolulu Marathon. One merit of holding a race on the northern island is the climate. There aren't many full marathon available in summer months in Japan. On the other hand, the air is cool in the north even in Japan's summer months. Many runners in Japan will gladly welcome the event.

The large number of runners who visit the island are potential customers for local businesses. Russians can make huge profits by selling food and offering accommodation to the Japanese. 

What, then, is Japan's economic merit? One merit is investment opportunity. Not all local businesses in Russia have all the money to set up businesses. That's where Japan's financial assistance comes in. Japanese investors can invest in businesses and earn a huge long-term interest if the event becomes a tradition and lasts for many years.

<Political Benefits>
There is a political merit for both countries also. For example, Russia can have more spies in Japan. How so? Well, athletic events will certainly create romance. A physically strenuous activity such as marathon creates a sense of one-ness. People often throw a party after the event, and communication is promoted. So is romance. Some Russians may marry runners from Japan. Some may decided to live in Japan. Once inside Japan, they can engage in all kinds of intelligence operations. This is a political merit for Russia.

Then, what is Japan's political merit?  Will Russia eventually decide to return the territories to us because many Russians and Japanese are now good friends? Never. Northern Territories will continue to be effectively controlled by Russia unless Japan engages in war and beats Russia. Very few people want that scenario. Japan's political merit is not eventual territorial ownership. That doesn't mean much unless there is economic merit.

In fact, I'm not very clear on this last problem. So it's going to be my homework. But unless we have something to offer that they want, there is little room for negotiation. And as long as there is no room for negotiation, Northern Territories will never return to Japan.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hill Intervals: 10 Sets by 1 K

Today is my last day off before Kyoho no Oka 20 K Road Race 2017 that is scheduled for this coming Sunday. It's my last chance to do a long practice run.
I had two choices in mind:
1) Going for a 25 K run at a comfortable pace
2) Doing hill intervals
I chose 2) because it would take less time, but intensity is higher.
I originally aimed for 7 sets, but when all seven sets were completed, I thought I could go for one more set, so I did eight. But when the 8th set was completed, I thought two more sets and I would make ten, which made me want to do yet another set, so I hit the road again. When the 9th set was over, I was a zombie that didn't know how to walk. But I mustered up all of the energy that was left in me, and hit the road again for the 10th set. Each step felt like a nail in my leg. Lactic acid building in my legs kept them from moving at my will. Breathing became difficult with a tiny increase in pace. Slowing down made me feel miserable. I wanted to cry. But with each step the goal came nearer. The last long upward incline looked like a giant wall that stood before me. My body felt heavy as if I was being pulled from behind with a strong rubber band. My soles felt sore in my minimalist shoes MUTEKI. My head pulsated as if it was on the verge of explosion. The hill was finally over. What remained was a short stretch less than 100 M. I tried to surge, but lactic acid in the legs didn't allow me to. I gasped for air, shaking my head from side to side in an effort to increase the pace. The next moment I reached the lamppost that marked the goal. Mission accomplished!

I jogged back home and took a shower. I felt two pounds lighter when I got out of the bathroom.

The laps sucked, but I did everything that I was able to do at the moment. I'm satisfied. Today's result is shown below. It's very bad, but I can live with it. My next training is going to be very light. It will be 3 to 5 K at the most. Pace may be a little brisk just to stimulate cardio, but I don't want to be too fatigued. I want to be in best shape on the day of the race. No more long run. No more intervals. I did them all.

1.7 K: 9:21.25
Rest: 20.20
1st K: 4:04.95
Rest: 2:00.05
2nd K: 4:20.23
Rest :2:00.29
3rd K: 4:14.38
Rest: 2:00.27
4th K: 4:25.80
Rest: 2:00.28
5th K: 4:20.50
Rest: 2:00.37
6th K: 4:39.58
Rest: 2:00.33
7th K: 4:28.26
Rest: 2:00.47
8th K: 4:42.06
Rest: 2:00.25
9th K: 4:33.75
Rest: 2:00.33
10th K: 4:37.93
1.7 K: 10:15.74
Total 13.4 K: 1:22.27

12.6 K Fun Run with Friend

This past Sunday I went for a fun run with a friend of mine who came to visit my home from Australia. He and I had a round trip to Massaki, one of the most scenic areas in town 6.3 K from home. I jogged, and he followed me on my road racer. It took us about an hour and forty minutes including a couple of hydration stops, and one short stop at a local orchard, where we enjoyed a glass of grape juice made from grapes picked from a tree right there on the spot. It cost 350 yen a glass, but it's worth it. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Learning To Be a Rider

I'm learning to be a rider of motor cycle. I entered a driving school that's twenty-minute scooter ride from home. I took two lessons on the day I signed up. Mr. U was my teacher. He is a man of few words, and a little shy. He sounded a bit rough when he first saw me, and I was afraid that I would have to behave well in order to win his favor, but his apparent arrogance quickly went away, and he started being friendly. I was relieved. It may be because I listened attentively and never failed to say, "YES, SIR" when he gave me instructions that brought out that amicable attitude from him...

I learned all the basics first, from standing the vehicle, getting it started, and parking. I then made a few circles around the loop. The first lesson was over in a flash.

I took my second lesson immediately after the first one. The teacher was the same, Mr. U. He was kind of smiley to find out the lesson was with me again. It didn't take him long, though, before he realized that I'd had some previous experience with motorcycles. I told him that I was riding a 50cc transmission bike decades before. He cut short some easy steps, and allowed me to do something he was supposed to do in Lesson 3, riding on a long, and narrow steel bridge. It was not easy at first. I lost balance and got off the bridge. The teacher smiled warmly, knowing it would come. The second attempt was successful, and after that I quickly got the hang of it. The lesson was over, and I left school with a great feeling of freedom.

On my way home on my scooter, I thought compared with a regular motorcycle, the scooter was light like a toy.

Days passed, and I found myself looking forward to my next lesson. My next lesson was scheduled on 22nd of September. All the other lessons were booked and I couldn't book any. I started feeling fidgety. I called the school and asked about spot lessons that you can take in case last minute cancellation takes place. I requested one in the morning of 8th, and went to school ten minutes before the lesson started. One of the administrators who had helped me signed up was there to show me the way when I arrived. He suggested writing my name not only in one spot, but also in another if I had time. I did have time, so I wrote down my name in the 9:30-10:20 slot as well.

The chime went off to signal the start of the 8:30 lesson. One of the female administrators who hadn't been there on the day I entered school called my name and let me know a teacher was available to give me a lesson. I was excited. I immediately grabbed my personal file, and dashed to the waiting room outside. Mr. U was my teacher AGAIN! I was glad. From the previous two lessons, I got kind of comfortable with the teacher. He shows things by examples, and his verbal instructions are minimum, but to the point. He also teaches me what not to and why, again with simple and clear words, but with a smile, which is important for a beginner such as myself.

Luckily, I was able to another spot lesson immediately after the first lesson with Mr. U. But this time the teacher was different. I was a little disappointed. But I took his lesson wholeheartedly with concentration.

The lesson was over like a flash. And I left school a happy man. My next lesson is on 22nd. I cannot wait to hit the road on a motorcycle again!

A Job That's Rewarding

I am on my way back from a corporate seminar. It was held at a nationally acclaimed company that all people in Japan know. Every year the company sends its employees to Hawaii as part of their welfare program. This year they have decided to offer them a seminar to help them learn some useful English phrases which they can use in Hawaii to get the most out of the opportunity. My job is to have them be positive about talking in English by doing some fun role play based on situations where they are most likely to need to talk in English.

From among a number of situations where English is needed, I focused on four, learned some simple phrases, and enjoyed acting out some conversations.

The live audience was a small group of six, but the presentation was televised in seven different places at the same time. So the total number was a lot larger.

The presentation was the first of its kind for me, and I was a bit nervous, especially because I did some activities that I had never done before. But the participants liked what I did, and I was glad. I can't tell you exactly what I did, because it's kind of a secret (ha ha), but one thing I can say is that no matter how much fun a certain activity is, if you do it too long, participants' concentration goes down. By the same token, if you rely on one mode of communication too long, again they start losing interest. So every now and then you need to change media to keep them engaged.

Today's audience was all so young. And young participants nowadays LOVE activities and participation. They also get such a kick out of acting things out, which is good for me, because my presentation has a lot of it. All six live participants had a chance to come to the front and show a model conversation for the rest of the audience, and none of them were shy about it. I was impressed.

I hope that they'll have lots of memorable experience in Hawaii, and come back more positive about talking with someone in English.