When I am asked, “Ia romw wi?” I answer “Kelai” as one tends to do, but I do not actually know how I really feel on any one given day until I have been running for twenty minutes. A better answer to the question would be, “I do not know yet today, I have not yet run.”
Running for thirty-six years seems to have had an effect on my legs and body where the first twenty minutes everything is heavy and slow. And twenty minutes is the magic number, something I was reminded of by Haruki Murakami in his book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”
“When I put on my jogging shoes in the morning and set out, my feet are so heavy it feels like I’ll never get them moving. I start running down the road, slowly, almost dragging my feet. … But as I keep on running, my muscles gradually loosen up, and after about twenty minutes I’m able to run normally. I start to speed up. After this I can run mechanically, without any problem.”
Only after that first twenty minutes does my body let me know how the systems of my body are functioning. Only then do I know if my body is up for running or is simply not feeling the need for speed. Or distance. Twenty minutes is
when I know whether I am actually “fine” or in a biorhythmic slump.
One kilometer in eight minutes, a very slow start on a hot, sunny, equatorial afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky – a very forbidding sight indeed. Only the distant salt haze towards the horizon.
Eight minutes into the run there is no sense yet whether I have a long run available in my legs. Everything is tweaking and twinging like metal expanding under the summer sun, the sensations of muscles and joints warming up.
Two kilometers is another eight minutes down the hot road. Only now am I starting to make sense of what my body might be capable of in the 33 Celsius humid heat of equatorial Pohnpei.
At two kilometers is 4TY store, owned by an active octogenarian who joins local 5K fun run/walks as a walker. He is an inspiration to me on each and every run, and his store reminds me of my relative youth at 55 years old.
Seven minutes later I am aware that my legs are feeling good, there is strength and reserves on board. I am finally feeling warmed up and ready to go. I know that must seem odd to those who do not run – I have to run for twenty minutes before I know if I can run. I imagine that there are those sitting on their sofas who cannot run for two minutes, let alone twenty. With my legs now clicking over mechanically, automatically, I have trouble imaging what a body that cannot run twenty minutes must feel like. Just after a baby starts walking, the baby attempts to walk faster, to toddle, even to run if possible. There is a pure joy in running that every two year old knows without being told. Running is fundamentally fun. Or it was, when you were two. And is, when I am fifty-five.
The road ahead at three klicks into the run. Behind me to the right is Genesis hospital, on the left is the Pohnpei state hospital. Two emergency rooms within a hundred meters of my position. There is some comfort knowing that I pass these twice in a run to the river.
The bridge. The Dausokele bridge across the Nampil estuary in Nett. The bridge is often my destination on an evening run. On a late evening run I race to beat the loss of sunlight on the deck, a race to catch the last rays of the sun streaking down the surface of the bridge. Today I am early and the bridge is bright in the afternoon sun.
From the bridge the view south is of verdant mountains, tropical rain forests, mangrove and mountain tops.
The view north is back towards Kolonia. On a long run I will exceed the farthest point seen on the left shore of the estuary. Scattered clouds exist in the distance, but where I run the sky is clear, the sun piercing.
Just over the bridge at four kilometers and thirty-one minutes. Substantively slower than my usual five kilometer pace, but the heat and my thoughts of going long have me running at a go easy pace.
Further up the road in Nett and the view ahead remains tropical, green, and shadeless.
The cars that pass are not those of strangers. Some call out my name as they pass. A colleague and friend heads back up to Kolonia, possibly packing a few bottles of sakau. In Madison I never know who is driving the cars around me, where they are going, or what they have been engaged in doing for the past ten years. Around here that knowledge of those around me is not unusual. This is a different place. There are students who I have known since they were born, whose parents I have known longer than the student has been alive. I can look at one who lost a father and is letting their grades slide and say, “This is not what he wanted for you.” I get to see the cycle of life played out in my classroom, on the island around me. Some of my students are the third generation of their family who have been students of mine. When they bring their new baby to campus, I look and wonder if I might be around long enough to see this fourth generation at the college. Unlikely, but one never knows.
Six happens just shy of yet another bridge.
The bridge between the municipalities of Nett and U. The bridge seems a good place to turn and head back into town.
When I run I often become lost in my own thoughts. Thoughts come and go, flitting into my mind and back out again. I miss the seven kilometer mark as I come up on Palipowe junction at 7.17 kilometers.
Up that road once lay a number of small sakau markets I frequented some two decades ago. Some may still flit into and out of existence. Up that road are memories of evenings by the waterfront. Sakau sessions with friends, some of whom now gone.
Eight kilometers is part way back to the Dausokele bridge and also marks my crossing the sixty minute mark. The time from twenty minutes to just over an hour is a golden time of easy running, of my legs simply ticking over without conscious thought. That golden time is much longer, I have discovered, in colder climates. The heat of the equatorial tropics is always debilitating, even for a veteran runner.
Now the sun is starting to graze the bridge deck, reflect, and scorch the westbound runner.
At nine kilometers more familiar faces alongside the road – students seeking a shady place to sit and chat.
My shadow testifies to the continued lack of shading clouds. The few clouds that appear in the sky are small and far away. Even at 5:17 PM the heat has not left the day. Not yet. The temperature remains above 30 Celsius, the humidity hovers around 80%. Even as the temperature falls, the humidity climbs, offsetting the drop in temperature.
Ten kilometers at Ace Hardware, another friend heading from work in the shot. Here I stop to rehydrate with Gatorade at Ace Commercial grocery store.
The changing face of Kolonia at eleven kilometers. A major construction project.
Twelve kilometers puts me on the causeway out to the airport. My pace has slowed under the relentless sun.
The view across the water at 12 kilometers. The views I enjoy on a long run are wonderfully scenic.
Thirteen kilometers brings me to the airport, a place of hellos and goodbyes, some for only short time, some forever. The airport is the only hub of comings and goings on the island. If you want to leave, you have to use the airport. Only yachties have the ability to sail away. There really is no other way off of the rock, unless one counts the occasional boat to a neighboring island.
Sunday and the airport is closed. There is only one flight a day, and none on Sunday. There is a flight that lands in the small hours of Monday morning, having left Guam on Sunday evening. In general the airport is not a busy place, except at flight time.
Fourteen kilometers is up at Misko beach. This will mark the final turn-around on the run. I cross two hours of running in the sun and I am feeling the effects of the heat. Even at six in the evening the tropical sun remains hot.
The palms have a personal significance at Misko. The one on the right dropped a coconut on my wife, glancing past the side of her head and hitting her shoulder. Her shoulder still has issues that seem to stem in part from this time. A direct hit on the head by a large coconut would be fatal. One does not usually sit under a coconut tree, but this one had been deemed safe to sit under. No one saw that there was a coconut ready to fall.
At fifteen kilometers the sun has finally sunk low enough to cast tree shadows across the road.
The view from the causeway at the fifteen kilometer mark.
Farther down the same causeway I cross 16.1 kilometers. Now my legs are feeling less lively, less bouncy. At two hours and twenty-one minutes I can tell that my range is limited.
The golden hues of the setting sun color Nett point ridge line across the water at 16.1 kilometers.
The sun is behind distant Sokeh’s ridge beyond Spanish Wall ball park as I climb back up into Kolonia town.
Seventeen kilometers strikes on a main street directly in front of the post office.
Five year old Tristan called the newly repainted post office “milk and blue”
On my way up weather station hill, the family car whisks past me without pausing. The family knows that even though I have been on the road for two and half hours, I am fine and do not want a ride. I always feel I have to finish what I start. I put myself out there, I have to get myself back in under my own power. I suspect all distance runners have this sensation. We might be reduced to a limping walk, but we want to finish the run upright and self-propelled. I was still jogging along, running would be too generous a term, but the temperature was finally starting to slip and evening was beginning to settle over the island.
The weather station silhouetted against the rather cloudless evening sky.
Some distant clouds appear in the gap between Sokehs ridge and the ridge line that separates Nahnpohnmal from Palikir.
Eighteen kilometers appears seven minutes later. Horses know when they are near the barn and pick up the pace. I return to the seven minute pace with which I began my run.
Another few hundred meters up the road familiar children with familiar gear, my run is at an end.
The trip up the driveway includes babies being ferried by barefoot RipStik riders in matching long skirts, not necessarily an unusual sight around here.
The run ends 500 meters beyond the last kilometer mark, two hours and forty-three minutes after I started, but 22 minutes was in water and photography stops.
Night falls fast in the tropics, and though the sun is set for only six minutes, the light is already fading. Any longer on the road and the run would have become a night run. Near the end of a good run I do not want the run to end, and yet I am happy to be home. Thus a run ends with mixed emotions. A desire for the run to continue, a contentment at arriving home. A sense of joy imparted by the run, a sense of loss that the run is over. All runs must eventually end, and therein lies a metaphor for life for a runner. A long run. The joy is not in the destination but in the journey. Enjoy this immediate moment here and now.