CONTRIBUTED BY JOY BARNES

Six months ago, if I would have seen a post about “Running on Okinawa” I would have kept right on scrolling down the page.  I am a newbie to the pastime of running, only having started after my neighbors convinced me to run a half-marathon.  This is my first race so you can call me ambitious or call me crazy — I have yet to determine which description fits best.  However, in these last six months of training, I have found much enjoyment in running — and more specifically — running here in Okinawa.

Of course, there are the physical benefits of getting in shape and losing those post-pregnancy pounds.  There are also the psychological benefits of feeling good about reaching my weekly training goals.  Running has also become a positive outlet while my husband is deployed.  However, I’m writing this post because the best part of running has been discovering Okinawa from a brand new perspective.

Most of the streets I’m running, I have driven many times before.  However, when I take the same route on foot, I get a whole new experience using all my senses.  Take, for example, the rice store a few blocks from my house… driving past the store, I’ve seen the bags of rice in the window countless times. But, while running, I can actually hear the rhythmic tinging of the rice and thumping of machines filling those bags.  There’s even a slight scent of dry rice in the air.

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Oh, and there are other scents I experience while running—some pleasant and some not so pleasant.  Passing the drying seaweed smells like dead fish and occasionally I have to pass the pig farms… pee-eww!  However unpleasant those smells are, to me, they are distinctly Okinawa.  Other times, however, I pass the bento shop with delicious smells that make me immediately crave yaki-soba— yummm, yummm.

Some of my favorite routes are the bridges to Hamahiga and Henza Islands in Uruma City.  I get a whole new view running a bridge as opposed to driving it. I often pause during a bridge run to look over the side, down into the clear water.  I also just try to take in the expansive horizon of ocean and islands while on these bridges.  Near the foot of the bridge, the water is so clear that I’ve seen fish swimming on more than one occasion.

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Running also gives me the chance to take some of those winding, back roads that I would not ordinarily drive.  This is where I can view traditional Okinawan houses with the tile roofs and wooden walkways.  Yes, I’m nosey and love the chance this gives me to get a glimpse inside these traditional homes and gardens.  You can’t see that driving on Routes 58 or 329!

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I’m sure I’m quite a sight-to-see pushing my big ol’ American jogging stroller, but it’s actually the people that I see on my runs that make it more enjoyable. Sometimes it’s the farmers in the sugarcane fields or it’s an elderly woman quick to comment that my son in the stroller is “Kawaii.”  Surprisingly, I would even characterize the construction workers as polite.  The other day, a group of workers kindly halted construction so I could run past their site.  The man directing traffic even did the respectful Japanese “half-bow” as I passed.  Isn’t that a pleasant departure from the catcalls of construction workers in the US?!

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Finally, I don’t expect that after reading this, you’ll go out and run a marathon.  However, I do hope you’ll be inspired to take a pleasant jog out in town.  At the very least, take a nice walk off your usual path.  You, too, may just experience the sights (and sounds and smells) of Okinawa in a whole new light.

17 COMMENTS

  1. I am looking for a running race in either late October or early November on Okinawa. Will consider any distance from the 5k to the marathon. Is anyone aware of a website with a listing – hopefully in English.

    thanks.

  2. Good luck to you in the upcoming half. I am moving to Oki this summer, and as a mom of two and a marathon runner, I am thrilled to learn there are other “runner girls” already there.

  3. Joy and friends…
    Here is a great link to check out about local races and events both on and off base. http://okinawa-multisport.com/
    There are so many events to participate in on Oki for all different levels of athletes, everything from the free monthly 5k races on Kadena to races in the city like the Oki Marathon or Izena Tri. Joining the mulitsport group is one of the best ways to stay updated on upcoming events on Oki.
    I am a fellow runner and friend of Joy’s and I too have to give my love to both Stroller Strides as well as Cross Fit Asia. Stroller Strides is a great way to get a workout in as well as meet other moms. If you are looking for more weight training and a whole new level of fitness check out Cross Fit. Jaime and all the trainers are great and will help you achieve a level of fitness you never thought you could reach and they also have childcare available! I have done both and they are both great fitness programs.

  4. What a great post! I completely agree on running giving you a whole new perspective on where you live.
    In regards to race registration, just across from the women’s locker rooms at the Foster gym there’s a bulletin board with upcoming races. I’d say about half of them give you an English option. Also, between the bases there’s a pretty good race scene. Courtney has a 5K/10K on 28 March. There’s more info in Oki Marine.
    Lastly, I saw a women’s trail running group advertised on the Okinawa Hai Society section.
    Have fun running,
    Amy

  5. This was a wonderful read. I am a newcomer to the island and im also a new mom with a 6 month old son. I am trying to lose those pregnancy pounds and I’ve always been interested in running, just never made the time for it.
    This post has inspired me. Thanks for the links to all the resources!

  6. Shirley,

    I just ran the Okinawa City Marathon this past Sunday. The Risner gym on Kadena was able to give me an application for that race. The Okinawa Marathon also has an English Web site. I think they (the gym) do the same for the Naha Marathon.

    For other races, if they don’t have an English Web site, you could always have one of your Japanese friends translate for you!

  7. Thanks for the nice comments and the questions. Like I said in the post, I’m just a beginner so I’ll offer a few of the resources that have helped me. (I’ve lumped all the answers to your questions in this one response.)

    As for my training regiment, I use the Jeff Galloway “Run-Walk” method which is perfect for beginners. (Thanks to my neighbor for introducing this to me!) Check out http://www.jeffgalloway.com/training/index.html for his training schedules for 5K/10K, half-marathon, and marathon training. As for weight training, Jeff Galloway has some recommendations, but I’m too busy with two kids and a deployed husband to do all that!!

    There is a great website for running in Okinawa: http://homepage.mac.com/psminkey/running/
    The site contains a comprehensive list of races on island with links and details. It also lists good places to run in Okinawa, training schedules, and more.

    I’m doing the Ayahashi Road Race on April 4. http://www18.ocn.ne.jp/~ayahashi/
    The website is all in Japanese, so it was easiest to go to the registration site in person. They had a little more English information but I was able to get a Japanese friend to fill out the registration form and translate the materials for me.

    As for the stroller, it’s a Bob Revolution. It’s not cheap to ship out here, but it was worth it for all the running I’ve been doing.

    And, one final comment… I have to give a “shout out” to Stroller Strides here in Okinawa. I know it’s been featured here on Okinawa Hai before, but Stroller Strides definitely gave me a “fitness foundation” to begin my running program. I highly recommend it!! http://www.okinawahai.com/2009/07/sandystroller-for-joelle.html

  8. Hi!
    this might be a crazy ?, but what type of jogging stroller is that? it looks comfy, my son doesn’t care to much for the one I have.
    thanks!

  9. HI Joy,
    I enjoyed your article and am also inspired to run and a half marathon seems like a way to get started toward the goal of running in a full marathon. What training are you doing to prepare (if you’d like to share) and what half marathon is coming up in the near months (location) to participate in? Any information would be helpful.

    Thank you!

  10. Meredith,
    Thanks for this post, I found it very interesting as I am also a “mommy runner”

    I would like to ask you a few questions and get information on how to sign up to participate in the races they have out in town. You mentioned the 1/2 marathon. I have been to websites and they are all in Japanese which I can not read 🙁

    Thanks alot!

    Shirley~

    [email protected]

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