Thursday, July 30, 2009

Running for Mutton

It's been awhile since my last confession folks, but that's not my fault. For some reason the Chinese government feels that, among others, such as Facebook, are a threat to national security and therefore I haven't been able to share my adventure with you. I'm in the very liberal, and cosmopolitan, capital of Mongolia, Ulaan Bataar, where blogging is allowed. Mind you, so is urinating in public and eating blow-torched marmot (it was pretty good, actually).
We arrived in Mongolia about 10 days ago and immediately headed out for some back country-yert adventure. The landscape here is phenomenal. There are very few trails of any kind, but for miles and miles you can run through open fields, over grassy mountains, and into larch-filled forests. It really is the trail runners dream. On the first day of the journey I became quite sick and couldn't really run too long, but as any addicted runner would do, I ran anyway...short though. With lungs full of goo and a nose full of snot I pushed through a run\walk above a 400 year old monastery in the middle of nowhere. The views were outstanding and the meal of mutton and potatoes that followed was fantastic.
It was a couple a days of driving and rest before arriving at Lake Khovsgol, just south of the Russian border, where I got my next run. The rest of my group had gone horesback riding and I did what I love most. RAN.
From there we had our longest driving day, but to the most perfect running location I've ever seen. We dropped a tent in the middle of a wide open field without a soul in sight. As the sun set I plotted a route up a steep ridge line and across the top of three peaks, and then back down the next gully. At 7 o'clock I woke up and set off through the grass and up a rocky ridgeline. The field was so big I had no idea it would take me 15 minutes just to reach the base of the gulley. I pushed up the hill slowly and when I hit the peak the view into the next valley was spectacular. I sat for a bit and waited for Lara to catch up and we ran across the three peaks. It was exactly what I had pictured running in Mongolia to be. If you look closely in the picture to the right you can see my tiny black Salomon jersey cruising down from the crest of the hill top.

We've just arrived back in Ulaan Bataar and I can guarantee you I won't be doing any running here. It's not really a runners city. There's no Seawall if you're wondering. It's mostly garbage, dirt, and pollution. Surrounded by mountains so maybe I'll do a day trip before leaving on Saturday.
I should be a touch out fo shape for my return, but I'm definitely planning to run the Whistler 5 peaks. Anyone else interested? Check it out: 5 peaks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Among the Bamboo

Since my last post I have come a long way overland and made every effort possible to fly through the bamboo. Unfortunately, the bamboo was for running beneath, around, under, and through, but not for flying in. My dreams of being the Crouching Tiger may have to wait for China.
In my search since Fukuoka, I have run through busy city streets, along water ways, through old growth forests, and best of all, up mountains covered with temples. Literally covered in temples. The pathways meandered up steep rock staircases, in some cases between thousands of Torii. These are the orange arch ways, and they have something to do with safe passage. The entire country must be covered in a huge Torii, because I have felt nothing but safety, even on my 530 am runs through the streets and into the mountains.

Kyoto was the best for running, as I suspected. I ran about a 5 k run up over a mountain top, or big hill really, to a tiny village. After trying to rip the tail off of a newt, I turned around and ran 5 k back. My arrival back in Kurama meant a visit to the local onsen. It was my first visit to a public bath house, so I was nervous about ripping off my clothes and exposing my manhood to the Japanese community. Turns out they did not care and I could not have enjoyed a fresh hot spring bath anymore. What a terrific way to end a run.

This morning I awoke to a run in the blasting heat of Tokyo as I did a bit of a work out along the Sumida river. There were not many other runners, but the homeless folk were certainly entertained by my sweaty legs and forehead.

We are off to Beijing tomorrow and then Mongolia for early next week. The train is about a 30 hour ride so I guess there will be some time without a run. I think I can handle it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rubber, Rubber, and...Rubber

Interesting title, I know, but it kinda` fits with the journey I am on. No, it`s not a spiritual journey! Don`t be scared off. As some of you know, I am traveling in Japan, China, and Mongolia. Some of the concerns I had before departing were, where can I run? Will it be sufficient? and what if rabid, stray dogs and cats chase me? Put your mind at ease my friends. I am fine and the running has been better than I might have hoped for.

Japan has been an incredible place to enjoy a run even though it was 37 C upon arrival. A short flight to Okinawa and a ferry ride to Kume Jima brought me to my first run. It began at 7:30 am on the road and ended up in sugar cane fields. It`s amazing when you run in a new place, how you tend to forget about the time and any aches or pains. You just run.

Lara ran with me and we ended up on a gorgeous beach covered in hexagonal rock structures. It was so early, there wasn`t another soul to be seen.

Some dolphins followed our ferry back to Naha, the main island of Okinawa, where Mr. Miyagi is from, and where I had my next bout of running. It was 6:30 in the morning and I trotted through the streets, stopping at various vending machines to suck back enough water. After a 15 minute warm up I found myself running along a rubberized canal track...and it was marked in meters for people doing interval stuff. The pathway was packed. I had to dodge people at 6:45 in the morning. Who knew? Miles and miles of rubberized, marked track. It was perfect. Then in Fukuoka, on Kyushu, I found an entire lake surrounded with the stuff, so I definitely had to go out again for a morning run. It was a little slippery this time, but what a forgiving surface to try out barefoot running.

Put your hand up if you`ve ever heard of Vibram Five Fingers. Until I started my most recent book I hadn`t either. It`s essentially a sock with toes and rubberized soles. It was invented for sailors who spent a lot of time on deck. A long story short, I am recommending that every runner, or potential runner, read this book: Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. I mean it....this thing is a MUST read. It totally clarifies so many things, that so many people have instinctively felt for so long. Why we hate roads, why so many of us run with injuries and some of us don`t, and why little kids are such awesome runners (especially in barefeet - I mean seriously, what`s faster than barefeet?). This book was recommended to me by recent sub-24 hour Western States belt buckle recipient, Gary Robbins. He said he couldn`t put it down and I wondered if I could read it. Of course I was able to read it, but without pictures I wasn`t sure I could do it. By the way, incredible job at Western, Gary. Hope you`ll go back for more next year. Also, we`re still waiting for a race report. Dad Shmad...get on it.

This trip has brought us to the main island of Honshu, through Fukuoka, Hiroshima, and now Osaka. Tomorrow afternoon we`ll be in Kyoto, where I am told I`ll be able to trail run again. Although the health conscious Japanese love there rubberized urban trails, I`m itching to get onto some dirt and let the XT Wings do their job in the bamboo forest. I`m picturing something from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Maybe the wings are all I need to fly high in the bamboo.