Ken and I at about the 15.5 mile mark on our run from the southern end of Saipan to the northern end, at the Last Command Post in Marpi. Sunday, June 7, 2009.
So, last Sunday, June 7, 2009, Ken Pierson and I set out to run from one end of Saipan to the other. As dramatic as that sounds, it was actually necessary. As part of our training regimen for the upcoming San Francisco marathon, we needed to run 18 miles last Sunday. Since we needed to cover that mileage anyway, an island run which would just about cover that distance, seemed like a fun way to do it. . .certainly more so than running a few shorter circular routes.
We left from my house at about 5:10 A.M., beginning with what the 4Runners will remember as "the short loop"--up the back road behind our house, past all the mean dogs, south on As Lito road and then down the hill and past P.I.C. This time instead of completing the "short loop" with the jog back up the road to our house, we just kept on running due north.
It was the perfect time to run the more heavily populated, southern portion of Saipan. The roads were virtually empty, and the temperture cool and comfortable, as morning slowly gathered strength. We hit the five mile mark early into the Beach Road pathway segment of the run in well under an hour. We were making good time.
And we were having a good time too. More and more, as the items on my Saipan To-Do List are checked off, I'm realizing that what really makes these events special is the people we do them with. Sure, Saipan is beautiful and all, but I don't think we would have stayed here for 11 years if it had been a deserted island. This run was no exception--it wouldn't have been half as fun doing it alone. Ken and I had a great time talking, laughing, and trading stories from our past as we jogged along. We covered all kinds of topics from the deep and philsophical, to the light and funny, to the personal and meaningful. I felt like I got to know Ken a lot better on that run and came to more fully appreicate what a great guy and a good friend he is.
Rather than continuing on the main road when the sidewalk ended at American Memorial Park in Garapan, we ran through the park and then followed a quiet back road that meandered through lovely little island neighborhoods, with picturesque, glassy calm beaches on our left and cute little bungalows on our right. I'd never seen this particular part of Saipan and found this area--the backroads of Puerto Rico, Lower Base, and Tanapag absolutely charming. We emerged from this particularly calming stretch at the Mobil gas station near Tanapag Elementary School at about 7:25 A.M. We stepped into the Mobil to refuel on Powerade and kept on running.
Due to our scenic running route we missed Nicole and Rhonda who were going to meet us at Last Command Post, where we planned to run together to the top of Suicide Cliff. However, even though our pace was good, it was still taking longer than I predicted. They likely zoomed by while were still on the back roads, and by the time we finally reached Last Command Post they had long departed for the uphill slog to the top.
Ken and I trotted steadily through Tanapag, and then San Roque. Near the derelict La Fiesta Mall we ran into Crystal Pierson, who was driving up to Marpi for her own run. She gave us some juice packs and bannanas to give us a little extra boost, and we ran on. Near the Marianas Resort, we ran into an old acquaintance, an uberathelete by the name of Stuart Smith. Babs and I first met him back when we first moved to Saipan at a social gathering at the home of our good friends George and Denise Harshorn. Since then we've crossed pass with Stuart many times. He actually hasn't lived in Saipan for awhile, but he visits often, and we always seem to see him. As I mentioned, he's a legendary runner, biker, and all-around hardcore athlete. In fact when we met him, he was biking. We ended up standing around and chatting with him for about 15 minutes. It set us off our schedule, but it was nice to talk, listen to Stuart's stories, and learn from the wisdom of a man whose done it all and has nothing left to prove in the world of endurance athletics.
While, I was guiltily glad for an excuse to rest for a bit, I paid for our time-out dearly. While we stood there talking, I drank a lot of my Powerade. In fact I drank most of it. And while that did result in an annoying stitch in my side when we started running, that wasn't the worst part. It was now after 8 in the morning, and the sun was beating down with brutal intensity. I quickly ran low on fluid and found myself having to ration what I had left. The heat, the thirst, and the cumlative affect of having run for more than three hours took their toll. The run at long last became difficult. By the time, we arrived at the Last Command Post, I was feeling dizzy and on the verge of serious dehydration. I had a resupply of Powerade that I'd left with Rhonda and Nicole and I was praying that they'd left the car unlocked. I knew that if I couldn't rehydrate there was no way I could run any further.
Thank God, the girls did leave the car unlocked (though I later found out that they believed they had locked the car. Thanks to my guardian angel for unlocking that door!). We rested for about ten minutes and I greedily gulped a fresh bottle of Powerade. Feeling much better, but very, very tired, we began the demanding ascent of Suicide Cliff. I warned Ken, that I probably would be walking a lot of that stretch. It was ambitious to plan to run the last three miles of an 18 mile run all uphill,and sure enough, it was more than I could handle. Ken, no doubt, could have done it--after all the guy just came in second in this year's 15 hour Guam Extreme Adventure Race, but he kindly spared my ego and kept pace with me, as I staggered along. About halfway up, we ran into Nicole and Rhonda on their way down. By this time it was closing in on 9:00 A.M. and we were mostly walking. At around 9:15, more than four hours after we began, we decided to curtail the push to the top of Suicide Cliff. We were pretty sure we'd covered the 18 miles (and I was later able to confirm that we had), I was beat, and both Ken and I had other commitments that morning that we were going to be late for due to the extended length of the run. We pulled off on a dirt road about a half mile or so from the cliff's edge and Crystal picked us up in the truck. The run was over.
At least until this weekend, when we'll run 20 miles (from the Pierson's home on Quartermaster Road to the Last Command Post and back should do it).
Training for this marathon has been an exciting adventure, and I'm really looking forward to the event itself, coming up on July 26. It was an extra blessing to be able to get such a beautiful view of our island home in the bargain and spend some quality time with a great friend too.
Here's a map of Saipan. I've outlined the route of our end-to-end run in wobbly red pencil.