Bird Island Hike

I’ve been down to Bird Island twice in the last few weeks — both times bringing people who hadn’t been.

If you want directions to the trailhead, see this post. For pictures of the fishes there, click here!

It’s always such a good encapsulation of what Saipan has to offer and is a pretty easy trip and is suitable to people without much hiking experience (as opposed to Forbidden, which I was recently reminded can be quite strenuous).

So, in light of not so many posts here recently, wanted to share some recent pictures from these hikes. This is a bit of a conglomeration of pictures.

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This is Bird Island — a little island that is part of a marine and wildlife sanctuary to the Northeast portion of the island. Most people go to the viewpoint and take pictures but there is a trail that is hard to find without someone who knows that leads you down to a generally secluded beach. If the tide is low, it’s an easy (but water shoes are necessary to protect your feet!) walk out to the island for a snorkel and a little exploring. Please don’t step on the coral though!

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To get down, there is one tough spot where you have to do a little repeling down the hill – well it’s more that the dirt is loose and you really have to rely on the rope to go down. Once you reach the bottom, duck under some trees and you are at the beach!

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That’s me walking on the beach — it helps to bring friends because they take pictures of you! You can see the island to the left obviously.

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From there, you kind of wade out to the base of the island — this isn’t a great picture but you can see one of my friends in the distance — see how shallow it is?

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At the base of the island, there are some rocks that protect a little habitat of coral and that’s a good place to snorkel. Then, you can climb onto the island. It is important to stay on the shore-side of the island, do not try to go around the island! The other side has huge waves coming in from the Pacific Ocean (remember, this is the east side of the island, not the west where the lagoon is protecting you from the Philippine Sea).

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From there, you can come up to this great perch and see all the birds flying around the island and the views of the ocean.

Looking back at the beach, this is what you see.

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You can see on the left side of the picture near the bottom left the coral (unfortunately, not looking so vibrant) under the shallow water.

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I always remember I saw my first blue starfish during my first trip out to Bird Island — still one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Saipan. You can see here the urchin that’s hiding under the coral in this picture too.

IMG_0028An artsy picture I took..

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Bird Island — always worth the trip and gorgeous every time!

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Tsugaru Shamisen Performance

So, you may remember my Japanese experience with sumo.. chronicled here – click for more. Another recent cultural experience was put on at the local Himawari Hotel. Himawari is a great umm… hotel/restaurant/bakery/store all combined into one. I actually stayed here for two weeks when I visited in 2013. The store portion has groceries as well as what may be known as traditional ‘dollar store’ items from Japan, easy to-go lunch boxes, and random appliances even. In addition, it has a bakery that has fresh baked Asian breads on the daily. The restaurant is often visited, especially by doctors because Himawari is pretty much across the street from the hospital. They are open for lunch and dinner.

It turns out the owner of Himawari’s brother is a member of a professional Japanese traditional music troop from the Chi-fu area (I think) of Japan, and he was able to arrange a concert in Saipan! It was held and the dojo on the 2nd floor of Himawari and it was quite a nice cultural experience.

I have never heard of shamisen in my life so didn’t really know what to expect although I’ve heard traditional Taiwanese music and kind of expected it to be similar in style.

I didn’t take as many pictures or video clips because my phone ran out of space!!! I have never had this happen before and was a little bit distraught since basically every picture on this blog is from my phone. But, anyway…

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Here was the setup of the room.

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They put up a makeshift curtain and stage and were ready to go!

They started with two pieces and I thought it was so cool to see. I took this image from a website to show you the instrument up close.

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They basically held these instruments which must have been at least about 3 feet long in their labs and strummed them with this thing that kind of looked like a comb that fit in their hands.

They were able to produce quite a variety of sounds and it was like watching a synchronized dance since they mostly played in unison.

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The lady in the middle was their teacher and performed a solo near the end of the concert that was very very impressive — I swore that multiple players were playing at one time but it was just her!

They then showed a 30 minute animation film about the origins of the music which was a little dramatic but enlightening. Turns out the instrument is called the shamisen and it is traditionally played in a pretty sedate manner — kind of like what you may imagine from traditional music. In the mid 1800, a young motherless boy (named Nitaboh) who went blind from some epidemic was raised by his father in the Northeastern part of Japan (supposedly it is quite cold there with 3 m high snowdrifts in the winter). At age 11, his father passed away in a storm while fishing as was his job and then this boy went around playing his mother’s old shamisen to support himself. He eventually made a style all his own that is much faster and what may be now known as the rock and roll version of shamisen or the more upbeat, fast paced, technical kind – it is referred to as a genre of shamisen music. This is known as tsugaru shamisen which was what the performance was today.

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This video was actually very informative and you could tell that this group was quite professional and had played a big role in traveling internationally to teach about the music style before. They had a costume change and performed some much more complex songs, some of which included lyrics from famous Japanese folk songs. Apparently they had had a performance earlier in the day at the manamko center (aka the elderly folks center here in Saipan that does a great service to the community) and there, many of the folks sang along or danced to the music because it was the sound of songs they grew up with in childhood before World War II.

Besides the group of Shamisen players, sometimes the head teacher would dance or sing and there was a male singer (heard in this second video) as well as a drummer who would take the stage.

It was quite an interesting performance and I was glad I got to see it! There were a good number of people in the audience too which was encouraging. I sent links to the above videos to my grandmother via my mother who also grew up under Japanese colonization and may recognize some of these songs.

The night ended with a traditional song where they taught everyone a traditional dance and encouraged audience participation — it was so fun to see some little kids really get involved as well as some older folks in the crowd.

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Thank you to the group for coming and visiting Saipan and teaching us about your music!

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Easter Time

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Easter is a reminder of the saving sacrifice of Jesus and it’s always good to take some time to reflect. Fortunately, sunsets and sunrises here are bountiful and just taking some time to think about the things outside of yourself is worthwhile and lovely. (As you know, I do this often as evidenced by copious sunset pictures as seen below).

Here are some recents.

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(From a friend’s porch, you can see the outline of the lagoon below the setting sun)

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Every Good Friday, many people in Saipan trek up the mountain to the tip of Mount Tapochau — this might be known as the highest point in the world (Well, not really, but because we are right next to the deepest point in the world — Marianas Trench, from there to the top may be). It holds great views and there is a statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched. It’s not very big — I guess close to lifesize, but every year on Good Friday, parishioners of the Catholic church replace the empty cross that is erected on the hill. I’m not sure who organizes it, but in the Catholic tradition, the literal bearing of the cross is important — just as things like verbal confession of sins is and this is what happens. I took it as an opportunity to quietly think about the year thus far and was able to listen to a quick sermon on my iPhone on the way up — not to mention a little workout for an uphill climb. It’s also great to see all these people on the island who otherwise may be sedentary making an effort to get up the hill. Most people who do this start in the middle of the night but the actual wooden cross that goes up the hill starts with the plan to get there at sunrise.

I started down the mountain before sunrise because I had to get to work on time but was able to capture some shots of sunrise (and you can see all the people who are walking on the dirt road — it’s not easily driveable although many people try so it’s also a chance for those with little cars like me to go to the top) … and was able to watch the cross bearers make their way up.

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At the top just before the sun rose — people waiting in the parking lot to go up the platform to where the Jesus statue is. Lots of people!

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Sunrise and you can make out the curve of Suicide Cliff in the distance of this hazy pictures.

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Lots of people walking up and down.

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Here’s one of the two pictures I took — you can see how BIG this wooden cross is — and as you can imagine, probably extraordinarily heavy and burdensome. There were lots of men around to help take turns but man, probably a rough task but I think very important in their faith.

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Here you can see from the back — just how many people it took to carry this.

I wasn’t up there when they put it up but here’s a picture (courtesy of Shirl Sablan’s snapchat) of it when it was up.

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It looks a little smaller here than it actually was! (You can also see Managaha island in the distance to the left).

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Here was the road jam packed with cars on both sides at the bottom. I literally have never seen this many cars altogether in Saipan ever! (It probably covered at least 1.5 miles with cars on both sides)

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The moon was setting around the time the sun was rising, making for this beautiful picture.

So, even if you don’t believe in Easter, I hope you take the time this weekend to think about something outside of yourself — something bigger and what it means and what someone, anyone, has done for you to save you from yourself — we all have people like this in our lives and they are worth their weight in gold. For those who believe in Christ and the power of His resurrection, I hope you treasure and cherish what a gift it is.

 

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Saipan Ocean Swim

This Sunday was the capping off of the Saipan International Swim Meet — it took place at the 50 m pool up north in Marpi with supposedly many of the kids getting personal records and lasted two days. (I recently realized how very lucky Saipan is to have a 50 meter pool — most islands much less major cities in the States have one or at least have one so readily accessible!)

On Sunday, they invite the community to participate in the ocean swim — a swim around the World War II Sherman tanks that are beached in the water off of the east side of the island.

It was a beautiful morning and there was really very little in terms of waves or current within the lagoon (which is already pretty calm in general). This made for perfect swimming conditions. Not to mention the crystal clear water as usual!

It took awhile to setup but basically there were a few course for some of the kids. There were kids visiting for the swim meet from Palau as well as the two teams from Saipan (Saipan Swim Club and Saipan Tsunami).

IMG_9262.JPG You can barely make out the top of one of the submerged tanks in this picture. They set up a few inflatable buoys to make it easier for us to spot where to go. Many of these kids train exclusively in the pool so swimming in the ocean is a big deal. For me, it’s not quite as big of a deal because I can stand pretty much everywhere on the course so I don’t really have to worry if I get tired what I will do.

In light of this, and because I wanted to get a good workout in (and that there were other people of my same caliber swimming — aka the other ‘sloth’ type swimmers), I went ahead and signed up for the 2.5 km swim course.

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It was basically two loops around the tanks.

Registration was super streamlined by some of the volunteer parents. Registration was $20 and included lunch afterwards. It felt good to support the swim club in this even though I can obviously swim around these tanks for free on any day. Seeing the kids try their hardest was so endearing.

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There are some benefits over swimming this on a regular day though — there are some police officers out on the course with jetskis and a few stand up paddle volunteers ready to swoop if you need help. Nice to have the safety net and when I first started swimming in Saipan, these people around felt very reassuring.

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Some of the littler kids (under 11) did an out and back to the farther tank so we got to see them go first.

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Photo credit: Lauri Boyer

There were two heats before us — the 9-10 year olds who did a farther distance and then 8 year olds who did a slightly shorter distance.

IMG_9253.JPGHere they are going out — you just see a lot of fluttering feet and heads bobbing up and down. It is true that ocean swims are very different because you need to ‘sight’ which means you need to look up occasionally and figure out which direction you are heading — it is very easy for you to get off course if you aren’t looking up at least every 2-3 breaths. If you don’t look up often, most people end up doing a lot of zig-zagging on the course.

Soon enough, it was the over 11 year old’s turn to go… which means me too! There were about 15 adults participating and we went at the same time as the kids. The older kids (I think over 13) did the 2.5 km swim and the younger kids 11-12 did 1.3 km which was just one loop. The kids bypassed pretty much every single adult which was to be expected. The sad part for the adults was that some of the super fast kids lapped them! They are quite an impressive group of kids!

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This was us getting instructions on the course at the start — can you see the little kid on the left who looks like he’s praying! Not sure, but yes.. some kids were really nervous for this race! Photo Credit: Atusko Sato

It took me 58 minutes to finish the 2.5 km swim which I felt was a pretty good time for me especially since I didn’t come out of the water and pass out or anything embarrassing like that. The fastest kid on the other hand I think finished the 2.5 km swim in something like 33 minutes!

Afterwards was the award ceremony not just for the ocean swim but for the whole swim meet. They tallied up the points that every kid had accrued in the prior events and gave out prizes. Before that though, we got to have a little feast of food and they gave nice hefty medals to those that won their age groups in the ocean swim. Considering I was one of two females who did the long distance, there was no leaderboarding to be done. I was one of one — aka both first and last place but it was nice to get myself a little medal with the first place ribbon on it!

Here was one of the kids when we were setting up the podium as we were trying to figure out if it was centered correctly or not.. lots of fun to stand on the top step!

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They nicely printed stickers with our names and times on the back so I can check my record of my time on my medal.

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Overall, a lovely way to spend the morning and a really nice swim in perfect conditions! I’m so glad I did it! (plus I got to see these really cute kids as well!)

 

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Some beautiful parts of the island

Recently, my group adult ukulele class (blog post eventually to come about this) changed locations and so every other week, I get to go to a part of the island I don’t frequent as often.

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This is a screen shot of the google maps — I live near where it says ‘Capitol Hill’ and the hospital is located in ‘Garapan’ and essentially most things on the island fall on the west side of the island because that’s where the lagoon is. But, the east side of the island holds some of my favorite views and the cliffs and majestic power of the ocean. My ukulele class is at a house that is overlooking Lau Lau Bay (see the cove carved out between Kagman and Dandan area.

I wanted to share some pictures! This is what is labeled Railroad Drive — although I doubt, as with all streets here, people remember the names of the streets.

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Here’s the drive pulling up — don’t worry, I stopped the car to take this picture. My first house in Saipan reminded me a little about this — basically driving on a dirt road into the forest – unique and a little bit annoying to do every day.

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There is this unique vine lined one way path (which must make it difficult for people going in and out to this one area – they say they get really good at backing up) at the last section to get to their place.

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The view is amazing though! We sit out on their back porch and overlook their lawn surrounded by a line of little betel nut trees with the whole of Lau Lau Bay in the background.

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I remember thinking this when I was looking for a place — these kinds of views are really beautiful and I love the mornings so getting to see the sunrise is almost better than seeing the sunset (And you all know how much I love my sunsets here). The only problem is that it’s relatively ‘far’ from the hospital — in reality, it’s less than a 15-20 minute drive but in the scheme of things here in Saipan — it’s far. Oh, how perspective changes! I used to drive 45 minutes in heavy traffic on the highways around Washington, D.C. everyday in high school!

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Of note — these pictures are from DIFFERENT weeks at class … aka, it looks perfect with perfect lighting every single time.

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Here’s the view from my seat in class.Our teachers are a father-son combo. (Check out their youtube channel as they have started uploading videos with their band –¬†https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoQDupvmGaK7-1i8eA0RycQ)¬† Not a bad way to take class, right? Don’t you remember being a kid and always wanting to go do class outside! Well, those desires are fulfilled here. Outside, beautiful breeze, sun setting, no shoes, fun people, not so great singing, not so great ukulele playing, what more could you ask!

Anyway, just wanted to showcase a different part of the island that is equally beautiful and I am glad I get to get a little taste of every now and then.

Of course, I leave you with a recent sunset picture to end the post.

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Island Community Award Syndrome

This past weekend at Tagaman, I suffered from ‘Island Community Award Syndrome’ — and I suspect there were some that also were suffering alongside me. As with any disease process, there are positives to be gleaned as well as negatives.

A brief pathologic description: Island Community Award Syndrome exists when the following criteria are met: 1) a sports event is occurring within a small island community, preferably one in which there are more potential awards than participants, 2) the participant is clearly not going to be the top participant in his or her award group (or, in the case of the person who is undisputed within the group, may have not been the top participant), and 3) a sense of anxiety, competitiveness, or ‘leaderboarding’ (aka, looking at the competitors carefully) characterizes their mood.

I fulfill those criteria..

Sports event occurring within small island community. check. Tagaman 2016. Population of Saipan ~50,000, number of people doing the event.. total around 120.

More potential awards than participants. check. Age categories are in 5 year blocks — aka under 19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34 years, etc and male and female. Three awards (first, second and third) in each category. Number or participants in my age+sex category = 3. If they had done it for the decade (aka under 19, 20-29, 30-39), there would have been many more people in my group.

Clearly not going to be the top participant. check. This is a no brainer. I participate in these things because I have fun, it has nothing to do with my overall athletic prowess. I also participate in these things partially because of this syndrome.

A sense of competitiveness — not necessarily anxiety in my case — but yeah… while it’s GREAT that you will get a prize if you just finish (and you might be even guaranteed first prize if you are the only one in your age group!), there is also the option that you will get last place (aka first place for those with only one in your group or in my case, third place out of three). Knowing who is in your age group (not hard, we basically know every single participant and if there is someone who has FLOWN to Saipan to participate, we know they are of a much higher caliber than we are so there’s not question about whether they will beat you)… anyway, knowing who is your age group fosters a bit of this part “3” and you just kind of think… I could beat that person. or I could be second rather than third.

Well — I was pretty sure that both woman in my age group passed me early on in the race which significantly lessened the anxiety as I knew I was only going to get slower as things progressed — it turns out at a little past the halfway point on my way back on the bike on the Tagaman, I saw one of the women in my age group BEHIND me. This only fueled me a little bit to keep pressing on as I would have secured second place. And I did eventually secure second place…. unfortunately, fueling further my syndrome of Island Community Awarding.

Haha, I say this all in jest because I had a great time and would have either way because I, as mentioned before, love this community because they love you for participating and hanging out and doing exercise together whether you are first place or last — and especially here where the difference between first and last is sometimes blurred — I’m glad I suffer from this syndrome. It is what got me excited about participating in all these things in the first place whereas a mediocre to poor performance like I did here recreated in the States would land me… a finisher’s t-shirt, here.. it gets me a billion pictures from friends on Facebook and a medal and an award ceremony and a sense of self-worth — even if you are ‘last place’ in a field of three.

So, thanks… I hope everyone reading this gets to sense this syndrome at one point in their life as well.

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Tagaman 2016

A recap of the Tagaman 2016 — I’ve been on many transports lately, including one not mentioned in the blog so suffice it to say, my time to get out and do things has been limited — but I signed up for the Tagaman nonetheless. See prior posts about my experience there on a relay team (usually as either the runner or the swimmer or both).

The Tagaman is an annual road triathlon with two distances (changed about 4 years ago to fit international distance benchmarks) — the Olympic distance (1.5 kilometer swim, 40 kilometer bike = approx 25 miles, and 10 km run = ~6.2 miles) and the half-Ironman distance (aka the ‘70.3’ (which refers to miles) = 1.9 km swim, 90 km bike, and 21.2 km run = aka a half marathon)).

There are professionals that come from all over to participate and this year there was a delegation that came from Japan as well as a group from Korea. This group included some reported Rio 2016 bound Olympians! I guess they kind of used it as a training run — a pretty nice place to train.

So, here goes my recollection of the events from yesterday..

I got up about an hour before I needed to get to the race to do last minute things and eat something. In general, triathlons need excessive amounts of ‘stuff.’ To name some essentials, bike helmet, bike shoes if you have them, bike shorts or other shorts, goggles, swim cap, defogger, towel, socks (if you use them.. some people don’t!), your bike, air pump, any extra accessories for the bike, etc. Whew, and you go over it about 10 times in your head to make sure you didn’t forget anything. For me, I also knew I had to get up early to get my hair in braids! These are the strange things you discover are necessary when you are doing practices. You will find me with a ponytail in about 80% of the time when I am awake but a ponytail is not compatible with a bike helmet so I had to change to two French braids that thankfully held up most of the competition.

When you arrived it was still dark and you setup your bikes in what is known as ‘T1’ or the first transition area.

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(Above picture by Mike Ronesia photography)

They get nicely lined up with a little transition station in the shadow of the bike — usually that involves something to wipe off your feet or rinse yourself, your helmet, your shoes +/- socks for your bike and usually some type of gel or something to quickly eat after your swim. The people who have been doing this a long time can get on their bikes almost immediately and slip their pre-clipped in shoes onto their feet as they ride! I didn’t take too much time but did have to slip on shorts and put on shoes and socks on wet feet so that took a little bit of time.

But, from the beginning..

We gathered on the beach for a short briefing of the course and then all stood around waiting for a little amount of sunlight. Unfortunately, while the sun was scheduled to rise some clouds moved in and gave us a little start-line sprinkle.

entering swimYou can see here how it looked a little gloomy. You can also see everyone jumping in. In the distance you can see a large orange cone shaped buoy. We swam around the orange buoys to mark our distances and for those that did the shorter course, we cut in to a yellow buoy before we made the second loop around the orange buoy. It was a bit of a hectic start as for some reason there was no blowhorn and just one guy shouting at us to start so people just dove in. Once we were off, it was fine though. As usual with a race, there were people jockeying around for position so in the beginning it can be a bit hectic. I, on the other hand, just wanted to settle into a medium pace in order to keep up with the crowd but not go all out and lose all my energy — there was lots to go!

As we swam, the sun came out and as usual, Saipan showed off its colors. The sky turned a pink/orange color and a full rainbow stretching from pot of gold to pot of gold showed up. I’m surprised no one got a picture of it, this was the best I found.

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Obviously though I had to concentrate on swimming so was not ogling about the rainbow or sunrise.

When we got to shore, we ran from the beach to the bike transition area.

swim boys out of the waterHere you can see some of the fast young boys coming in much earlier than me with the guy doing the timing quickly trying to make out their numbers.

From there, we hopped on our bikes and set off for the 40 km portion. As mentioned, I have been swimming and running fairly consistently since I’ve been in Saipan but have not really been biking — I borrowed a bike a friend wasn’t using about 2 months ago and have been going out on it. I had a good swim time but that also meant that just about everyone passed me on the bike. It was my weakest leg and I just knew I had to keep at it. I kept at it and even started to enjoy the bike ride part way through. It was a mostly beautiful bike ride with a strong head wind for most of it but was not excessively tiring. (It probably helped that I wasn’t pushing myself that hard). I think on the bike I have two speeds — either not moving or just.. biking. I don’t have ‘competition mode’ biking yet. Anyway, so we went from essentially the Southern most area of the island to the Northern most area and then turned around to about the center. (Sorry, didn’t bother to put on a GPS watch since that adds just another thing to the already complicated mix for me). At the Northernmost area I started to feel something was slightly wrong with the bike and by the time I was about 2 miles out from the bike finish, I knew one or both of my tires were flat. I had said before starting that if my tires went flat, I would just stop and not finish the race. I guess the competitive side in me said, no way jose! You are finishing this thing .. so fortunately my bike cooperated since there was clearly some air left in it and I made it to the bike finish line. It did take extra effort for me to get there though so don’t think I got the most out of the bike time that I could.

From there, volunteers were waiting with our transition bags. We had prepared these in advance since the place we went from biking to running was not the same place we started. We numbered the bags and it had in it whatever we needed. For me, I was already wearing my running shoes so just needed to put on a tank top with my number attached to it and I was ready to go.

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Picture Courtesy of Mike Ronesia Photography

The volunteers waited for us to come in and then took our bikes from us and handed us our bags for us to transition and then we were off for the run.

I guess having swam about half an hour, then ridden on a bike for close to two hours (for me, most finished closer to the 1-1.5 hour mark), running which I usually consider pretty fun and relaxing wasn’t so much. I kept having to remind myself to try to lift my legs a little higher but the weather was okay with a cool breeze so I just kept pushing forwards — albeit extraordinarily slowly (and I am pretty slow at baseline). It was a little later in the morning so there were some cars on the road (they had closed one of the two lanes for this) so surprisingly a ton of people were on the road that recognized me.

The best part about doing sports here (I’ve talked about this before) is that the community is so small. We ran in an ‘out and back’ which means you basically run from point A to point B and back again — which is only fun because you get to see everyone out on the running course. I was near the back of the pack so got to see everyone coming back as I was going out.

I love this picture that someone captured of my back.

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You can see me giving one of my friends a high five as we are running with another friend just behind him and a sign on the store behind that that says ‘Good luck Tagaman competitors, you can do it!’ — It’s the epitome of why I enjoy doing things like this in Saipan. Yes, the pros are great but I can’t imagine doing a race like this in a community that isn’t this supportive. I probably would barely have ever thought about joining all of this without the community. They are just supportive if you are first place as if you are last! (which is good for me!)

The run was along Beach Road and while I run that often, I don’t always enjoy the views. Yesterday, I was going a bit more slowly and tried to focus on something besides being tired so really had a great time seeing the ocean. Here’s a picture of a pro on the run with the beach behind.

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I got back to the finish line to the cheers of friends and my name announced over head (another benefit of a small community) and some of my nurses from the hospital who had volunteered snapping photos. I finished in 3 hours and 47 minutes — which I have no idea how that compares to people back in the States — I consider it a normal weekend warrior type of time but that means I was out exercising for that long. Quite an accomplishment!

Unfortunately my bike tire was completely flat so I could not bike back to the start line to collect my car and stuff so a good friend went to retrieve it for me. I got to relax and stretch for about an hour under the shade as the professional athletes that were doing the half-Ironman came in. It was a good time without my cell phone, without anything but myself to enjoy being outside and smile at what I had done.

There was an award ceremony later in the afternoon with a buffet lunch and age group awards (more to come on that) and smiles all around. Very grateful I was able to do this and glad to have it on the books!

Here’s a picture of everyone that participated in Tagaman at the end of the award ceremony – a total of about 120+ people. Not bad a view either, right?

everyone in tagaman

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