This guest post comes from Jannine Myers, a military wife who lives and runs in Okinawa. She recently traveled to one of my favorite destinations—Rotorua, New Zealand—to run her first ultra, the Tarawera Ultramarathon 60K (37 miles), and finished in 8:10, placing 6th female. She made the journey back to her home country of New Zealand with six friends who are members of WOOT: Women on Okinawa Trails. Her story below describes their running camaraderie and the joys of running these islands in the southernmost part of Japan. See the links at the bottom of the post for additional info on races and places to run in Okinawa.
As a military wife originally from New Zealand, I’ve had to accept that stability is no longer a word I can use in reference to my life and to look for alternative ways to feel content with my frequently changing lifestyle. One of the best ways I found to cope with the instability, as well as the general stresses of everyday life, is to run!
Running brings out so many positive qualities in me that it has essentially become one of my basic needs. Without it I lack discipline, balance, perseverance, strength, joy and even hope. But all of running’s positive qualities take even greater hold of me when I run with other women.
Here in Okinawa, where my husband is stationed with the United States Marine Corps, I feel blessed to have amongst my circle of friends a smaller group that consists of women whom I love and run with.
Finding other females to run with doesn’t just happen, however. My friend Anna realized this some time ago, after she saw many women often running alone. Over coffee one day, she pitched the idea to me that we start a women’s trail running group that would meet on Saturday mornings for hour-long (or longer) trail runs. I loved the idea and encouraged her to follow through with it. Within just weeks Anna rallied together a small group of women who fell in love with the trail runs and ultimately formed what is now known as WOOT: Women on Okinawa Trails.
We are an avid group of trail runners who love that we are able to enjoy the raw beauty of Okinawa by running through farmland and forest trails that most Americans living here will probably never see. And as military wives and runners who live far away from our loved ones, we feel blessed to be able to do something we love while also enjoying the team camaraderie.
It’s a camaraderie that differs from other women-to-women relationships in the sense that our running draws from us our best qualities, forcing us to get rid of any negativity and to be, instead, a strong pillar of encouragement and support for one another. In a military community where nothing is certain and friendships are not easily made, WOOT helps to stave off some of the darker emotions that accompany such a lifestyle; in essence, WOOT brings us good health, fulfillment and joy, in a place that’s foreign and sometimes very isolating.
Okinawa provides a vastly different experience for tourists however, one that is hardly likely to be tainted by feelings of isolation. For outdoor and water enthusiasts, Okinawa is a prime location to visit. Situated in the most southern part of Japan, its beautiful beaches and warm climate draw tourists from both Asia and around the world. Its landscape is adorned with forests, streams and waterfalls, and plants that grow an abundance of tropical fruits such as papayas, pineapples, mangoes, bananas, passion fruits, guavas and also sugar cane.
Runners visiting the island will find a plethora of running paths and trails with varying degrees of difficulty and scenic beauty. You can run loops around numerous parks or along coastal bays, or on mountainous trails for a more isolated and challenging run.
As a member of WOOT I enjoy running the trails that we have unofficially claimed as our own in the central part of the island, in an area called Yomitan. Although mountain bikers occasionally use them, the trails generally are unoccupied. New runners to the area should be aware, however, of the possible presence of snakes, particularly the native and highly poisonous habu snake, which is sometimes spotted in long, grassy and overgrown areas of underbrush. We attach little bells to our shoelaces to warn and deter snakes from crossing our path, and so far no one in our trail running group has seen one.
During marathon training months, the coastal areas, dotted with bay after bay of pristine blue beaches, provide tranquility and cooler temperatures, making longer runs a pleasurable experience.
Running beside the ocean will also appeal to those runners looking for a nice flat run. Equally enjoyable is running through the local townships and villages, especially those in more rural areas where one might get a glimpse of old homes and buildings and even old customs and traditions that are still practiced.
Okinawa prefecture also includes a large chain of much smaller islands, many of which are easily accessible by plane or boat and worth visiting if you have a little extra time on your hands. Many of these smaller islands host annual half and full marathons, and some host triathlons too.
Getting to Okinawa costs a little extra, as visitors must fly in from either mainland Japan or nearby Asian countries, but its sublime beaches and sub-tropical climate make it a wonderful destination for running, and running appears to be a popular pastime with locals. More than likely you will cross paths with other runners and realize that those who live here are truly blessed to be able to live and run in such an idyllic and inviting place.
Races and Places to Run in Okinawa:
- Visit the website of Takuma Sminkey for a comprehensive guide to running around Okinawa and additional links.
- Additionally, Jannine recommends these races: The Naha Marathon held in early December and the Okinawa Marathon held in late February.
- For more on travel to Okinawa, check out the official tourism site.
Thanks to Jannine Myers for her article, and congratulations to her and all the WOOT women who ran the Tarawera Ultra pictured below (left to right): Stephanie Shimkus, Jannine Myers, Kathleen Lennard, Anna Boom, Tiffany Powell, Andrea Kaltenbaugh and Amy Stewart in front.