Evening runs begin on the road in front of your door.
Tonight I set aside my three tennis balls and opted to carry a digital camera along for the journey.
This past week I visited a new exercise center on the island, the first place on the island to offer treadmills, steppers, ellipticals, digitally monitored rowers, and stationary bikes. I treadmilled in front of a mirror, which proved educational.
When I first ran in 1978 I was an overpronator who destroyed shoes by rolling over the instep. I eventually discovered motion control and motion control plus shoes. By the 1990s I found I could also wear stability shoes. A decade ago I bought my last pair of motion control shoes and have run in stability shoes ever since. The mirror in front of me suggested that I landed very vertically, with my feet landing squarely under me and the bottom of my feet level with the ground. The mirror suggested that my form had changed.
The movie theater was not here when I came to Pohnpei 21 years ago. The theater has made a real difference for my children and I – my kids sometimes even get to see an opening night movie such as Pacific Rim. Without waiting in a line. Showed up five minutes before the movie on July 12 and still had prime seats. In fact, the theater was not full. And, aside from a few selected Imax theaters that opened on the 11th, we were first on the planet at GMT +11 to see Pacific Rim. Not that the film is particularly worthy outside of its genre, but that we do sometimes get to enjoy our GMT +11 position on the planet.
I like running past the hospitals. As I pass the Genesis hospital annex I can see runners pounding away on their treadmill, some staring into the mirror, others watching the television on the wall. Watching television while running was addictive for this joggler. Get my dose of CNN plus a run in at the same time. Still, running in a room just doesn’t do for me what running on the road does for me. And orienting on the treadmill takes more attention that orienting on the road. On the road one can look down range and mentally set up where one’s feet will be. Treadmills do not offer those cues. And set six inches from a wall with windows up on the second floor, well just plain disorienting for the mind. Running at six miles per hour but the wall never gets closer – the mind actually boggles.
The bridge and the river, or more properly estuary, is always an important place for me. I often run to the river, that is my usual evening run. And once a birth year cycle I run my age in minutes to the river and back. I used to only try to run to the river and back in my age minutes. A couple weeks ago I joggled to the river and back in 49 minutes, four minutes under my age. That felt good.
The only rule I follow is that I get to run via the shortest possible path – OSP. Open Shortest Path. Any and all shortcuts can be taken. And there really aren’t any. There is only one road, but the route I do use is through Pohnpei campus and not around on the main circumferential road, shaving off about 100 meters. The distance to the river is 3.65 kilometers for a 7.2 kilometer round trip.
The run to the river is also a run past the hospitals and whenever a friend is in a hospital, the run reminds me of them. Sometimes I have gone out the door only because someone I know is in the hospital. So I ran when Heinrick Palik was in hospital, I ran when Shrue was in with our new born son, I ran when Harvey Segal was in the hospital, I ran when Angela Jefben was in the hospital. I remember those runs.
Green Bay is a sometimes sakau market. On a sunny evening the market calls, unless I am on my feet running. When I am running I do want to be at sakau. But when I am not running and the suns sets golden in the west, then I want to be at sakau.
Shrue and I moved up to a home on this road in 1998. This would be my son’s first home, and would mark my longest regular runs as I would run home from Palikir to Nantipw twice a week. The runs were on the order of fourteen or fifteen kilometers with my best time being 1:15:15 on 11 May 2000. That Thursday Shrue was in the hospital with my newborn son. I have never before nor since run that fast over that distance, nor have I ever felt the flow I felt that day as I ran.
Sometimes there are some things that occur only once in your lifetime, and that is OK. There is no need to mourn the failure of a re-occurrence. Some people push to get that feeling again. Climb a higher mountain. Run a tougher race. Looking to recapture that feeling, that sense of ability, again. Once is enough, there is a lifetime to enjoy the memory.
I spent Thursday scanning old photos and uploading them to social media. Three of the old images were of the sakau market that once stood here. Young looking colleagues with smooth, bright skin. Now there is an empty sense of abandonment at Paulino’s. Every morning leaves are swept up at homes in Pohnpei. That the leaves are unswept is a sign of an empty home. No sweepers are here. The sweeping is usually done by young single females in the family. Thus the clothes in the semi-nahs indicate that whomever does still inhabit this place does not have sweepers. These are islands in which the sweepers head off-island to seek work and educational opportunities. The extended family is not extended anymore. Elders are increasingly finding themselves minus their children and their children’s children – the core to the leaf sweeping force.
Twenty-one years of running on an island of 35,000 souls means that half the cars that pass me, know me. Maybe more, maybe all know me and I just do not realize it. This truck contains a colleague, former students, current students, and future students of mine – should I happen to live long enough. While I may tend to keep to myself, I am never socially disconnected. Not here.
Dogs are a part of running on Pohnpei. For the most part dogs along my regular routes ignore me. Occasionally even a normally sedate dog gets excited – dogs have their bad moods too. I have been bitten three times on Pohnpei, a couple times on Kosrae, although one of the Pohnpei bites was not while running. Dogs are off leash, untrained, and unpredictable. Dogs are difficult for those who come from western portions of the globe and a reminder that Micronesia is Micronesia, not Kansas. A dog that bites may wind up in the uhm.
Running outside of a walled room means meeting people who have meaning in one’s life. I have known Ros for more than a decade, and like many who I know here, I know her life at a level of detail that I doubt I would were I living outside of the world of a Pacific island. Living here one either learns that life does not proceed in straight lines along planned paths, or one leaves, frustrated. Having a goal in life works for some, but may be rather overrated.
Sometimes I race the sun to the bridge – run with just enough time to possibly beat sunset at the bridge. Racing the impending loss of the sunshine on the bridge. A metaphorical run. Life as a run that must also eventually end, a time when the sunshine no longer hits the deck of the bridge, when darkness settles in. Evening runners start in the sun and run against the setting of the sun. Maybe morning runners are more optimistic – beginning in the near darkness and running as the sun rises. A new beginning with each run. For the evening runner, each run is an ending in fading light.
The view from the bridge is always enchanting – mangroves and distant forested ridgelines. Yet the appearance of a place of ancient and dense forests is deceiving. Behind that veil of green, really only a veneer, is one of the mostly densely populated valleys on Pohnpei. Hundreds of people in an extended forest of interlocking family trees live in the basin around Dausokele. Appearances are deceiving and allow Pohnpei to often be whatever a short term visitor decides Pohnpei to be.
A new school building, arguably overbuilt, sits next to an older structure at Nett school. A single elementary school serving a municipality with a population of 6000 some residents. The population pyramid would suggest that maybe a third are school aged, maybe more. I am now headed back into town on my run, heading back towards the hospitals.
Down in town I move past the church the Protestants call “the mother church”. While elsewhere on the planet the Catholic church predates the Protestant church, here in Pohnpei and over on Kosrae the Protestant church predates the Catholic church. The Protestants are the older church. On Pohnpei by about 50 years, on Kosrae by over a hundred years. Church and the social world of the church are central to life here, but there is still room for spirits in the corners of the room.
What one sees depends on one’s perspective. The green and white building is one of only two buildings to survive World War II on the island. That green and while building marks the corner of the public market on Pohnpei. What I see are the dogs on the right. Runners have to pay attention to dogs. They become excited and join in the run. Or the chase.
With nine kilometers behind me, the sun sinks behind Sokeh’s ridge. The causeway is active on a Friday night, every table occupied by sakau drinkers settling in for an evening of breezes off the water.
Change usually takes time on Pohnpei, but not with respect to the weather and the onset of darkness. When the sun sets, the lights go out on Pohnpei. Equatorial sunset leads to instant lights-off darkness. This evening rain swept in across the causeway chasing away the sakau swigging crowds.
A torrential down pour drenches the causeway as I head southbound in the gloom towards the main island. The causeway offers no protection from the wind driven rain. The rain falls faster than the water can drain away, and the causeway is covered with a sheet of flowing water. Both my gear and I are waterproof, road running is not cancelled by darkness nor rain. Road running always seems to me to be a unique sport in this respect. The scenery always changes, there are opportunities to interact with friends, and the weather does whatever the weather will. The run goes on. Volleyball players cannot stop and be social in the middle of a set. Nor can tennis players. Swimmers do not get to talk to those watching the swimming. And rain can delay or cancel softball games, track events. Darkness can end a day of golf. Road running is social and virtually unstoppable. Spear lightning or typhoons are required to shut down a road runner. Darkness is problematic, but not run ending.
Just a short kilometer later full on darkness has settled over Kolonia. Even main street is not well lit by street lamps, there is a basic darkness to roads on Pohnpei at night. Survival is up to the pedestrian. Runners come up fast on a car, drivers here do not expect a runner, so a runner has to be the alert one, anticipate the unexpected.
A mere 100 meters later and the sky is dark. First comes road darkness. Then sky darkness. In a matter of minutes. There is no lingering dusk as one might experience at 40 degrees north or south latitude.
The run would finally end with my arrival in Dolihner, 15.3 kilometers, one hour and forty-nine minutes after I stepped out onto the road in front of the house. All is cloaked in darkness, the brief journey over. Later in the evening the power company would again cut power to the whole island, plunging what few places have light into Pacific darkness. My son would wander around the house decrying whomever had moved his flashlight. I viewed the loss of power as an opportunity to go to sleep after a moderately long tropical run.