What Remains


Obā-san two and a half years before she died

Everybody dies. But not everyone dies in a natural disaster. Still, this does not make that that life more valuable, or special; nor am I made unique by relation to it. I’ve told myself this, over and over since 3.11.11 in order to resist giving in to the worst kind of narcissistic writing instincts.

But unlike dying at home in bed, in a hospital, or even in war; in a natural disaster the conditions surrounding the death, or fate for that matter, are often unclear. 24-hour media overloads you, by design, floods your mind with information. But never the information you want. That’s what it was like on 3.11.11 for my family. Imagine being halfway across the world, turning on the television, and seeing only a glimpse of a tsunami hitting your home town before the footage switches to something else even more horrifying before it cuts to yet something else before swapping with a talking head in a cool, air-conditioned studio. Do this, and you are now empathizing with my father. There is no information; the phones are down and so is the power. No one is reporting from Tōhoku; rather, they are reporting from above it. It will be days before you learn whether your loved ones survived, before you learn the tsunami took your mother.

We always had a rough idea of what happened to Obā-san, but I felt the need to distill this idea into the fact. Why I felt the need to do so has been the question I’ve struggled to answer on this trip. Because it makes a better, more complete story? If so, then I become the worst kind of profiteer – the kind who makes good on the suffering of others.

You should know that I found what I was looking for. But I’m still trying to answer that question about why I needed to know in the first place.




See With Your Own Two Eyes


First step: orient yourself.

My first full day in Kesennuma, my cousin Motō played enthusiastic guide to my dad and me. We first visited the family grave site, then the Kesennuma fish museum, which now dedicates half its real estate to the tsunami and reconstruction. A short video ran through seven-plus years of history, and it was a perfect way to begin my time in Kesennuma. In other words: gut-wrenching.

In the afternoon, tsunami walking tours in association with a public tsunami awareness event were offered. So, accompanied by Yu, the intrepid Japanese linguist I hired for this trip, we walked for two hours over a couple miles of  Kesennuma’s tsunami-affected area. I should note here that I couldn’t possibly have planned things so perfectly as to begin my Kesennuma stay with a period of initial familiarization aided by public events. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I had only a rough sketch for my thirteen days in Japan, and precious few sources to speak with. But a spate of coincidences have occurred that have in turn resulted in a cascade of doors that opened other doors, beginning with the public awareness event.

Our guide, a retired gentleman Hashimoto Shigeyoshi (family name first in Japan) who ran a Kesennuma evacuation center on 3.11.11, began with the photo pictured here, and it was a powerful way to begin the tour. The top image was taken from the top floor of the parking garage you can see in the background of my photo on 3.11. The enormous standing wave in the image is cresting near the height of the parking garage. It is one thing to see disaster electronically, maybe even feel it over long distances. But it is another entirely to stand on dry ground under a bluebird day as a band plays nearby and the scent of good food drifts with the wind, only to realize that in that spot, I’d have been some thirty feet underwater on that day in 2011.

For the next 120-plus minutes Hashimoto-san walked us around Kesennuma, and I’m not sure he stopped speaking with passion and conviction for less than a minute or two. It was only supposed to be a 90 minute tour, but I could not help but stop him every few steps to ask more questions. I’d like to say that I knew everything beforehand, that years spent staring at articles and papers and pictures and videos had told me everything I needed to know. But if that was true, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.

The old adage that seeing is believing is just true enough to make the saying last. I would amend it slightly: some things must be seen to be known more fully.






7 for 7: Injury

I have no idea why I left injury for the conclusion to 7 for 7. Maybe it’s because I have such a sunny disposition. Who knows.

The list of injuries I’ve sustained while running range from the humorous to the frustrating. There was the time I ran into a hidden tree branch in downtown Denver and spent the evening in Denver General waiting for stitches. In retrospect, pretty funny. I’d give anything to have video of me as I ducked through what I thought were some leaves, but were actually camouflage for a ninja sawed-off tree limb. What aren’t typically very funny are your garden-variety “overuse injuries,” to use the catch-phrase bandied about by so many general practitioners whose last experience with athletics was that time they were picked last for kickball in 2nd grade. I love that phrase…”well, you overused it, so it’s hurt. Stop if you want it to not hurt.” Thanks a bunch, doc…

The injuries I battle most are plantar fasciitis and iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. The former is a painful swelling in the tissue on the bottom of your foot, usually concentrated around the heel; the latter is an inflammation of the iliotibial band, a long piece of connective tissue which runs pretty much from your ankle through your knee, and up to your hip. My plantar fasciitis is bad enough that it occasionally wakes me up in the middle of the night, but my IT band issues typically flare up and take off again if I spend some time on the foam roller.

I have no idea why I have these recurring issues. I have a feeling my IT bands are tired of being attached to my wickedly bowed legs, but the plantar fasciitis is beyond me. It showed up in 2005 for the first time in my life, and has been an uninvited guest ever since. I just sort of suck it up and do some painful golf ball massage when it gets really bad.

Running injuries in general can be incredibly frustrating for the reasons I allude to above – naturally we want to know the cause so we can fix things. But there is rarely an easy answer, except in the case of trauma. It could be just about anything, from physiological responses to life stress, to the complicated relationship of your core strength to your running stride. Thankfully, injuries that threaten to sideline you rarely show up overnight, which means an attentive mind can correct identify and correct issues early in the process.

 A powerful aid for this is your training log. As soon as something start feelings off, maybe a bit wrong. You need to write down as much info as possible and continue to document it throughout training. Nothing is worse than trying to figure out exactly when the pain started as you try to figure out possible causes. A good rule of thumb – if something painful develops and grows worse over about three days, you’re probably staring down the barrel of something bad and you need to intervene immediately. What that intervention looks like is completely individual. For some, it’s simply anti-inflammatory pain meds and pressing forward. For others, it’s aggressive deep tissue massage and plenty of ice…it all depends on the athlete and the injury.

Something else to remember about injury – it’s your body’s means of communicating with you. The message: “Dude, something is wrong and you need to fix it.” Overly conservative folks will immediately assume time off is the called-for panacea, but I tend to err on the aggressive side in that time off is usually the last thing on my mind. These days, I start with my core and my life. Is my core strong or have I neglected it for three months straight (the answer to that question is “yes,” which is why my lower back has been nagging me)? Am I recovering adequately between sessions with quality food and sleep or am I travelling tons, eating lousy airport meals and working 18 hour days? Find what is lacking, put it back in and see if it helps.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: injuries suck. The disappointment associated with putting in the training, only to be derailed by a stupid injury should not be underestimated. However, I’ve never read a study that indicated self-pity was the Rx that cured the problem. It’s natural to be depressed and disappointed, but you have to turn that emotion into something positive…like ruthless determination to fix the problem and never have it again.

Injuries – they’re a big bummer but they hold important lessons for us if we have the foresight and wherewithal to make it happen.

I hope you enjoyed 7 for 7, because this iteration is officially over and out. Next time, I’ll try to deliver on the whole “7 days” aspect as opposed to 10…but I’m sure you didn’t mind a few days off J It’s been a good habit-builder to me as my day has started to feel incomplete if I don’t post at least a little something each day. I’m already dreaming up my next series, so keep alert for updates…