I'd like to say hello from my current home, a living coral atoll seven degrees south of the equator in the Indian Ocean. My tropical home is called Diego Garcia and my name is Krishna Jackson. I'm a journalist for the U.S. Navy and that is how I find myself living in the British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT as it's locally known.
The only natives to Diego Garcia are the wildlife and even some of those were imported at some point by mariners when the island was first used for coconut production, such as donkeys and chickens. The island is primarily a military installation leased by the United States but owned and governed by the British. All wildlife is protected with stiff fines to anyone caught harming or harassing them. The island's population is made up of U.S. and British military and U.S. and overseas civilian contractors. The mix of different cultures makes for a unique environment to live and work. In a sense it creates a culture all its own and most of that culture revolves around outdoor activities like water sports and physical competitions. Running is a huge part of life on this relatively small island no matter where you're from.
I'm originally from Seaford, Delaware, a small town ninety miles east of Washington D.C. I started running when I was 20 so I'd be ready for boot camp. Then I began to like running more and more. Before I knew it I was a 5K junkie and after I ran a few 10K's, I started to wonder just how far I could go.
Over the latter part of my 32 years I've traveled and run in many places around the world. I've run in countries like Africa, United Arab Emirates, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Being a part of the Navy has afforded me this luxury and I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything in the world. But now I find myself trying to recover the endurance and speed I had when I was younger and running in those places. I'm hoping that I find that here on Diego Garcia.
There are a lot of runners on my little island and one thing I think we can agree on, is it's hot here. When I arrived in October I basically had to start from scratch with running because it takes time to acclimate and I hadn't run more than two miles at a time in six months. The average temperature is in the upper 80s with super high humidity. It rains more than I've ever seen in my life during the summer, which is December through April. Coming straight from crisp fall Maryland air, I felt like I was breathing in a steam room. Even so, torrential downpours are the only weather I've seen keep runners inside.
I can't stress enough about how much the heat and humidity affect my running. I'm up to four-mile long runs and sometimes I feel like they're multiplied by ten. I almost grimace at the thought of running longer and longer distances in this weather. I have to run either very early in the morning or late afternoon in order to beat the heat. My favorite time to run is just after it rains when the air is cooler.
I think my biggest running accomplishment was my first marathon. I had signed up with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program back in May of 2000. I wanted to run farther than I'd ever run before and I knew I'd need special motivation to do it. A friend's daughter had passed away from a rare form of cancer and I wanted to run in her honor. Every time I thought I couldn't run another step during training I'd think of her and what she went through every day to stay alive one minute longer and it was all I needed to push on.
By the time I stood at the starting line of the "Portland Marathon" I knew I would do what ever it took to finish and I did it in 5 hours and 45 minutes. After that I knew I could do another and another and another as long as I trained for them with out getting hurt.
Despite my best efforts I did get hurt while training for what should have been my second marathon. In 2002 I was training with the San Diego Track Club for "The Suzuki Rock and Roll Marathon". Half way through my training I suffered stress fractures in both legs. I had to settle for volunteering instead. Now I take calcium supplements and make sure I'm not over training. I've learned from my mistakes and expect great improvements in my running and health by the time I leave Diego Garcia at the end of the year.
I started training for my next marathon at the beginning of March, partly because I need to get back in shape and mostly because I want to make a habit of running marathons. My training is going great but I am a procrastinator at heart and it takes a lot of self-motivation and discipline. I run any where from three to six times a week and keep track of my runs with an online log. I do my long runs on Saturdays and speed work at least twice a week.
I don't log any miles with an official running group because we don't have one here but whenever I go running there's always someone else running too. The island isn't very big, only about 36 miles from one tip of its unique horseshoe shape to the other. We only use about a third of it anyway, the rest is protected wildlife habitat. There's a paved running path that's marked every quarter mile for several miles and there are lots of trails but you run the risk of tripping over coconuts or coconut crabs the size of footballs. I stick to the pavement for the most part.
Even though we don't have a running club we have something just as good. All U.S. military bases have what is known as a Morale, Welfare and Recreation program (MWR). Diego's is the best in the world as far as recreation is concerned and they sponsor everything from 5K’s to hardcore triathlons. I credit those 5Ks with getting me off my couch and out the door to train for another marathon.
One of my favorite runs is the "Full Moon Platoon", which MWR hosts once a month during the weekend of the full moon. It's a very popular nighttime 5K, drawing everyone together for friendly competition. The organizers always make sure there's plenty of water on the course. There are no awards to top finishers, only the satisfaction of being in top physical condition in order to run decent times in this oppressive tropical heat. Instead everyone gets a coveted race T-shirt. I've collected eight so far from all the 5K's I've done since I've been here. It's just like back home but I didn't have to pay to enter.
One thing I do have to pay for is decent running clothes. With all the heat and humidity, it's good to have lightweight gear. I have to order everything online or through catalogs and then it takes weeks to get here. It's worth it though, to make sure I'm as comfortable as I can be while running. For my most important piece of running gear I'm devoted to Brooks' running shoes and since I pronate, I rotate between a pair of stability and motion control shoes.
I also like to run with music so I have a very convenient and easy to carry mp3 player. Music gives me that extra boost I need to push through the tough times on the road. I listen to fast paced Alternative music like Deftones or Marilyn Manson. Another gadget I'm fond of is the heart rate monitor but I keep losing the receiver for some reason. It's a great tool for measuring my effort and fitness level. Sometimes when I'm heading out the door for my longer runs I'm wearing a small camelback with water, mp3 player, and a heart rate monitor. When I have all these gizmos it does seem to detract from the natural state of just running but they help me get to the end and I'm glad to have them.
I read everything I can get my hands on when it comes to running. "Runner's World" is my favorite magazine and I long for the next issue almost immediately after I've read the current one. "Runner's World" takes a little longer than normal to get here and I wait patiently. I buy lots of running books so I can pick and choose what advice would work best for me. My favorite running philosopher is John "The Penguin" Bingham because he says just what I feel about running. I have one of his T-shirts that says "I'm slow, I know it, get over it" and when I wear it during a race, a lot of the other runners get a kick out of it.
Of course the only way I can run all these miles of beautiful tropical splendor is to eat right. Diego's location affords its residents some of the best fishing in the world. I've gone deep-sea fishing and caught wahoo and tuna, only to be seasoned and grilled that very day. Fish is a staple on the island as well as rice and a multitude of fruits and vegetables shipped in on a regular basis. Even with all this good wholesome food, it's easy to wander into junk food territory while shopping at the market. I can find my American favorites on the shelves next to some healthier Asian choices. Bad habits are hard to break. At least there are no fast food restaurants to tempt my love for junk food.
Something else I love is running with my Sinderdog. She's my five-year-old German Shepherd and canine companion. I've had a dog almost all my life, most of them German Shepherds. When I joined the Navy I had to give up having pets for a while. After I put in a few years and earned more privileges with seniority like moving off base, I was able to get another Shepherd. Now again I find myself in a place where I can't have my dog with me but lucky for me I have someone taking care of her until I get back to the States. When I come home, we'll go for an easy jog and reminisce about old times.
Another of my favorite pass times is snorkeling and there's no place better for that than a remote tropical island. I went snorkeling one day expecting to see some colorful fish and other odd creatures only to come face to face with a five foot black tip reef shark and a very large sea turtle. It was a surreal experience and one few people get to have, even here. The sharks and turtles usually stick to their protected cove where even just stepping in the water is prohibited. It more than made up for the misery of dealing with the heat and humidity. I'll never forget it.
Diego Garcia is a unique place most people won't get to experience due to its purpose and location. The closest thing to it is the Seychelles off the coast of Africa and vacationers pay a lot of money to go there. I'm very appreciative of the opportunity to be here and I'm trying to take full advantage of everything it has to offer. I know one thing after being here for five months, a lot of us like to run no matter how hot it gets. That's what air conditioning and treadmills are for.
Run The Planet would like to thank Krishna Jackson from the British Indian Ocean Territory for taking part in the Planeteer Spotlight.