Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Popular Bank's 5K 2015


It eludes me.  While I admit that I have never focused on developing it, by this time I would have hoped I was a little faster. I hoped that as I matured as a runner, my pace would just naturally get faster. That hasn't panned out. As I close in on 4 years of running, progress in this department has been, like my pace, very slow.

Case in point: the 5K, and the fact that my fastest time in this particular discipline is from 2013. The 37:43 I managed to pull off in the Alliance 5K -which is the hardest 5K I've run. Ever.- keeps staring at me from my computer every time I log into Garmin Connect. Almost teasing me. 

Then, there's this race. My first ever back in 2012. This is the 4th time I step on the line for this one and I love to hate it and hate to love it. It's deceptively simple: You go up one avenue then go back down another. It's flat and potentially very fast but I have never managed a PR here even though the conditions for it, on paper, look perfect for exactly that. My best time here? 39:22. Clearly, something had to be done.

The view from the back
During all my runs these past two months, all I've thought about is how faster I am when I use the Galloway Method. Time and time again it keeps proving itself to my surprise. I mean, you are walking!! How is this possible?! But the times don't lie. I am faster. However, I have relied on it for longer distances. Marathons and Half Marathons mainly. I've actually never tried it for shorter stuff. I mean, a 5K is just too little distance and certainly too little time for it to be effective right?

Well, we were about to find out.

Bear in mind, I didn't train for this. I have just been running like I always do in preparation for the Goofy Challenge: Running during the week then using the Galloway Method on my weekend long runs. I was going to be treading new paths for this one. I know you are not supposed to try new things while racing but given my current level, I thought the risk was pretty low, plus I mentally prepared myself that if something did go wrong, nothing was really lost. After all, my eyes are on the real prize: The Goofy medal. The 5K PR could come later. With this in mind, I developed a very simple strategy: Run like zombies are after me, then hope the walk interval will be enough time to recharge for the next run interval. That's it.

I met up with my now traditional running posse for this race. Gilbert walked the race with his wife and kid and his sister Cristie joined us as well. Frankie "The Jet" Ramos sat this one out. Apparently, after running a sub-5 hour marathon, this sort of stuff is now beneath him. (Hi Frankie!) This year they had corrals (Yay!) and sure enough I got sent to the last one. I ended up almost in the very back of the pack but I wasn't worried. I was the dead last person out of the Philly Half and look how that turned out.

The beautiful Ramos family and little Ramos' first 5K
And so it began. No sooner had I crossed the starting line, I took off like someone was trying to force me to watch a "Twilight" marathon. The walk break could not come soon enough. Plus, I was dodging people left and right which was expected. It turned out to not be a factor though the crowd thinned out a bit later but even so my fastest mile was the first one. 10:52, walk breaks and all, although for some reason I saw some other number on my watch and thought I was behind so I pushed on which was a mistake as I was already running well beyond my threshold. Sure enough, halfway through, that breakneck pace caught up with me and my legs started to seriously complain the final 30 seconds of each run interval. The supposed 2 minute run / 1 minute walk plan slowly turned into 1:50 run / 1(ish) minute walk as I didn't have enough legs to support such a fast pace.

The thrill of victory (...and exhaustion)
The result was an ugly positive split. A 10:52 first mile turned into a 11:59 second mile and finally a 12:19 third mile. I was totally spent. I was trying to muster some strength to finish resembling something close to running when I saw a friend of mine run past me and I decided to catch up to him and finish with him. As I crossed the finish I thought I was gonna pass out but it was over.

Final time, 36:24 - A shiny new PR and a 2 minute improvement from last year.

It's funny. When I started running, I thought that to be a "normal" or "regular" runner you had to do a 5K somewhere in the mid 30's. I don't know how I arrived at that number. I can't even tell you what I meant by "normal runner" but here I am, squarely in the mid 30's and I don't feel any different so there you go. It's not like I'm thinking I gotta reach some crazy number. However, I do feel that with some practice, I could maintain that 1st mile pace throughout the entire race. That would be cool.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Planning is a... you know.

Less than two weeks from now, I'm heading to Disney World for our two-day Kamikaze incursion into Frozenland. Otherwise known as Disney's Hollywood Studios. Things have evolved a bit since the last time I wrote about this. We have decided to go all in on this and will head over to The Magic Kingdom as soon as we land on Friday, making an already crazy trip even crazier. Why? Because as I was planning this debacle of a trip, I realized that for all the Frozen fun to be had at Hollywood Studios, there was no way to actually take a picture with either Anna or Elsa there. To do that you have to head on over next door to the Happiest Place on Earth, where both characters are waiting for you with open arms at Princess Fairytale Hall. Provided you wait in line for a million hours or something like that. Oh, there's a FastPass, but those were long gone by the time I tried to grab one.

I really don't know what's more difficult: Planning a long Disney trip (like a week or more) or a quick one like this. I'm starting to think it's the latter but that may be because I'm right in the middle of it all. The fundamental problem with planning a Disney trip -long or short- has always been that there is simply way too much to do. Initially, I thought that since the main focus of the trip is Frozen, then it was just a matter of picking those things and forgetting the rest to survive. Not true. Along with the Frozen activities -which are at specific times so you must work around them- there are several "classics" that the girls will not want to miss. Can I go to DHS and not catch Disney Jr. Live on Stage? Not if I don't want a full-blown mutiny. Can I say "not today" to Toy Story Mania? The girls have already made it very clear we have to do that one.

And with 3 small girls, there are so many other things to consider... Have you ever done a seating chart for a Disney trip? I have. Yes, a seating chart. My Mom will be joining us at the parks and with that comes the dreaded problem: Who sits next to grandma? So I have it broken down by ride. On the ones that are two people per seat like Dumbo or Toy Story Mania, I have a chart of who sits with who so everyone gets a turn to sit next to Grandma on a ride. This was pre-negotiated with the girls so they already know who goes where ahead of time.

I am currently working on the Aircraft boarding and traveling procedure. The plane we are taking to Orlando is 2 seats, the ailse, then 2 seats. Not enough room for a family of 5 to seat together. Mayline has to care for the youngest first so they sit together while I'm one seat in front. This leaves the older girls (insert Psycho theme here) alone together across the ailse. Not only that, but because we are waking up so early and have such a full schedule once we are there, I have to figure out a way to make 3 very excited little girls to sleep on the plane. So I have been talking to them about it for a while now about what's gonna happen at the airport and especially while on the plane. Wish me luck.

This is the sort of thing I've been dealing with recently, and I realize this sounds a bit extreme but there are a couple of million things out of my control that can and will go wrong so I'm just trying to deal with the stuff I can control. The schedule is tight and there's no need to screw things up because of something I could have done something about.

In the meantime, I have a race on Sunday: Popular Bank's 5K and my first race since the Puerto Rico Half Marathon back in March. I have done this race every year since 2012 and a PR is long overdue at this distance.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

P90X3 - The Final Veredict

With less than 2 weeks to go before finishing my first round of P90X3, I can give you an honest assessment on what this program is all about and more importantly, how this program can help runners. Even runners like me. Granted, this program is not specifically designed for runners but after three months of program creator Tony Horton kicking my butt, I can honestly say that there's a lot here for runners to like and reap benefits from. Let's take a look.

P90X3 -which stands for Power 90 Extreme 3- is a home video workout program that promises to get you into the best shape of your life. Provided you follow it correctly of course. As the 3 in the name suggests, it is the 3rd edition of P90X -The extremely famous workout program- although this really is more of a sequel to P90X than P90X2 which is more focused on sports-specific training. You do 6 workouts a week, with a 7th "recovery" workout as optional. With the help of the awesome Katrina Pilkington, I did a hybrid version where I alternated running days with P90X3 days.

If you've seen the infomercials for this program, you've seen that a main talking point they mention repeatedly is the duration of the workouts. They are all 30 minutes. Everyone can do 30 minutes right? I can vouch for this personally. I tried P90X some years back and didn't stick to it. Mainly because the long workouts took a lot of my time. Also, because my fitness level was so low, the prospect of torturing myself for an hour or more, 6 days a week, killed my motivation. This "condensed" version, even though it's equally challenging, really helps people remain consistent. This has even more value to runners but I'll get to that in a bit.

Who is this program for?

This is the part where you have to take a good look at yourself before taking the decision to try P90X3. This is a challenging program and people with joint or back issues might have trouble here. A lot of the workouts are high impact and involve jumping and balancing. Also, if you are starting out from a totally inactive lifestyle, this program might prove to be too much. Starting out with a program like P90 (notice the lack of X at the end) might be recommended. 

Having said that, there is a lot of replay value here for the uninitiated like me. Most moves in the program have a modified version you can do first, then work yourself to the normal version, thus adding said replay value. What I mean is, it's going to take many rounds of this program to master it completely so it will be a long while before you need to move to something else, therefore giving you value for your money.

Ultimately, only you -preferably with the help of a doctor-  can asses your fitness level and decide if this program is right for you. If you do try it out, there is a lot here to keep you busy for months and months.

What about runners?

The workouts are varied and challenging but throughout the entire program, Tony Horton focuses on three things: Core strength, balance and flexibility. All important things to runners. For me it was quite the learning experience to do these workouts, then go out and run the next day and feel my still-sore core muscles and how they relate to my running form. My back as well. There are two reasons why I recommend this program to runners: The first is the aforementioned focus on core, balance and flexibility. The second is time. If you are a long distance runner -and by that I mean you run Half Marathons or longer- you are already spending serious time running. Once you pass that 5 mile threshold, the time spent on the road adds up quickly. This makes it hard to find time for other things, including cross-training. At 30 minutes, the P90X3 workouts make it very easy to schedule the required time. The variety will also keep you coming back. The program is divided into three blocks that are a month long. Each month has a different set of workouts so you are doing a lot of different stuff.

My experience

It bears repeating: This thing kicked my butt. It was tough. There were times when I yelled at the TV "You want me to do WHAT??!!" (I may have used more colorful language) but I had fun and I'm in much better shape now than three months ago that's for sure.

It helped me discover and work on my two biggest weaknesses: Lack of upper-body and core strength, and serious lack of flexibility. Videos like X3 Yoga, Isometrics and Pilates X twisted me in ways I didn't think possible and I still suck at them but there was noticeable progress for sure. Then there''s the push-ups and pull-ups. Two things I simply could not do. I did them assisted and will probably keep doing them like that for a while but yesterday I actually did some real push-ups so I'm getting stronger. Neither Disney World nor Rome were built in a day.

I will definitely be returning for a second round of P90X3 and probably beyond that. There is plenty here for me to work on. There is also another program called PiYo, which is a combination of Pilates and Yoga that is very low impact that I can combine with P90X3 that will allow me to focus on my core and flexibility even more. I'll keep you guys posted on that front. Meanwhile, if you are runner looking for an effective cross-training program or just someone looking to get in better shape, I recommend P90X3 wholeheartedly. It's awesome, it's challenging and I love to hate X3 Yoga. Bring it!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Galloway Tips: Dealing with the Heat

So today we have our latest round of tips from the Main Man Jeff Galloway and this one hits close to home folks. Dealing with the heat while running is a huge concern, especially if you live in place like Puerto Rico where it's hot and humid all the time. And I mean all. The. Time. Without further ado...

Dealing With the Heat

Training through the summer can not only be grueling, but down right dangerous.  Here are some tips to train safely and as comfortable as possible in the hot summer months.

Slow down by 30 sec/mile (20 sec/km) for every 5F temperature increase above 55-60F ( every 2.5C above 14C)

When the temperature is over 70F (21C) you may take a 5 minute “cold shower break” every 25-30 minutes to keep cool.

Try to complete your run before the sun rises above the horizon.

More frequent walk breaks during hot weather can lower body temperature increase.  If you used to run 3 minutes between walk breaks, run only 90 seconds (walk 30 seconds) at 70F (21C) and at 80F (26C) drop to 60 sec run/30 sec walk or 30/30

When you start to heat up more than normal, take a longer walk in a mall or indoor AC building

Pick shady courses on hot days.

Don’t wear a hat!  Pour water over your head

Have an indoor alternative—treadmill, etc

Run in the deep end of the pool, using a flotation belt

I should point out...

PS from The Fat Runner...

That performance decrease based on temperature is no joke. At both the Disney Marathon and Philadelphia Half Marathon, after doing all my training in Puerto Rico then traveling to the US in winter time, I felt like I had super powers. Running in the heat is VERY different.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Am I Absolutely Insane?

I need someone to confirm this. Please.

Like I don't have enough on my plate. Training for the Goofy Challenge, trying to make cross-training an ongoing part of my routine, becoming a Beachbody Coach, trying to adjust after a huge promotion at work and planning a cruise for next year, you could say I have plenty to worry about. But, when the flesh is weak and the will is strong there is always something else you can add to the stack.

My cousin just came back from this huge trip. She traveled to New Orleans for a volleyball tournament her daughter was participating in. Of course they did the whole tourist thing as well and had their share of Gumbo and Beignets. Then they drove from New Orleans to Orlando and visited some parks. Because really, if you are in Orlando, can you really not go visit a theme park of some sort? 

Anyway, of all the stuff they did, she simply could not shut up about their visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios. I found this weird at first. DHS is undergoing major changes and many attractions are closed. Not to mention that the Sorcerer's Hat is no more. Aside from Star Wars and Toy Story Mania, it could easily be skipped right? Well, no. Not if you are a Frozen fan...

You can see where I'm going with this.

Disney -ever the efficient revenue creator it has always been- has turned what could be a negative (empty, half-operating park) into a positive. Until September 7, 2015 DHS will be celebrating the Frozen Summer of Fun. Without going into the details, it will be everything Frozen. Frozen sing-along, Frozen Royal Welcome, Frozen parade, Olaf's Summer Cooldown, Frozen Fireworks... Frozen, Frozen, Frozen.

"All I kept thinking about was how much fun your girls would have there." she kept telling me over and over. You see, she has three girls as well but they are a bit older and while they had plenty of fun, they seemed to have just missed the Frozen bandwagon so it wasn't such a big deal for them. My girls on the other hand, have Frozen in the head. I think I have established that pretty soundly this past year.  In fact I could use a little Frozen break, really. But, as you parents out there already know, it is rarely about you.

Yeah, this whole Frozen fever is getting really old but my girls love it. Plans started to pop in my head. Ambitious plans. Expensive plans...

I needed someone to talk me out of the ledge. My Dad shows up right at that very moment. (serendipity?) I explain my situation and crazy ideas popping in my head. Surely cooler heads will prevail. He'll think it's crazy, talk some sense into me, end of story. Instead, he pushes me over the edge then jumps himself. Funny thing is my Mom (who also schemed in favor of this by the way) later told me "What the heck were you thinking asking him?" and she is right. I guess he just showed up at the wrong time and I just needed someone to talk to but I can see my mistake. I talked to him as my father and forgot that he is, for all intents and purposes, a GRANDFATHER. In fact we call him Iron Man sarcastically because when it comes to his granddaughters he breaks easily.

As luck would have it, my parents are gonna be staying at Disney's Pop Century Resort the last week of August because of a basketball tournament where my Dad will be coaching the Puerto Rico team. So, we are gonna fly that final weekend on Friday morning, spend Friday and Saturday there, then leave on Sunday. All this to immerse ourselves in Frozen Summer Fun. It's insane.

How did it come to this? There really is no justification but here was my line of reasoning, if you can call it that: We are not gonna be doing a full-on Disney Parks vacation anytime soon. Frozen Summer of Fun is a temporary thing. They did it last year and repeated it this year. Will they do it again? I don't know. As they ramp up work on the massive transformation that will turn DHS into Disney's Hollywood Adventure and permanent Frozen attractions (like the Frozen ride in the Norway pavilion) open, Frozen Summer of Fun could very well be axed. Even if it survives another year, we won't be able to go next year as we have another trip planned. If I wanted to take them to see this, it had to be now or never.

What sealed the deal for me though, was this: My girls will never be the age they are now again. Other films and fads will come and go but that sense of wonder, that sense of magic they have over Frozen and Disney and Princesses, that will eventually go away. Which also means you, as a parent get to enjoy that moment only once as well. Many people ask: "Why take a small child to Disney World? They probably won't remember it later." and they are probably right. But remember what I said at the beginning about parents and it rarely being about you? Well, this is the part that is about you. Getting to experience those thing through their eyes. You treasure those moments closely in your heart.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Challenge is in the Eye of the Beholder

5K's are hard.

I've been following the running adventures of Jenn over at Runs with Pugs for a while now. Incidentally, she is the inspiration for this post so thanks Jenn! Anyway, Jenn ran the Walt Disney World in January and immediately afterwards (Actually, I'm pretty sure it was well before that) made the decision to not run marathons and focus on other things; specifically work on her 5K times. Something she has accomplished successfully by the way. She has already managed to go sub- 30 minutes in training and is about to do so in a race pretty soon I'm sure. You go, girl!

Jenn's journey this year has gotten me thinking about how we set goals and how we, and others view those goals. While it is certainly different for everyone, when runners gather together (whether in person or online) and talk, we can sometimes make it seem like running a marathon is the ultimate goal for every runner. It almost feels like finishing a marathon is the core requirement before you can consider yourself a runner. If Runnerville is the place where all runners live, then the marathon is the gate you have to go through.

Of course, this is totally untrue and not only that, I have personally never heard any runner actually stating something like that (thank goodness, I know some have) but again, when you gather runners in a discussion, invariably some will be marathoners. They will begin talking about how rewarding it is and how challenging. They will talk about how it was probably their greatest running accomplishment (guilty!) and of course this creates unconscious peer pressure. You want to be one of the cool kids. You want to be a marathoner.

It also doesn't help that many people look at 5K's as a "first step" and therefore an easy one as you develop your ability to go farther. We make it look sometimes as if a 5K or even a 10K is just something you do on your way to running Half and Full Marathons. Again, this is totally untrue. I will argue in fact, that training for a 5K is one of the hardest things you can do.

Marathons are in essence, a test of patience. Especially to us slower folks. You train your body to keep moving for hours and hours until you reach the finish. In many ways, it's a grind which is probably why the Disney marathon is so popular: it actually gives you stuff to see and do while you grind your miles for hours and hours. You do something other than running with your time.

Time, on the other hand, is what you don't have on a 5K. It is a mad dash to the finish. It doesn't matter if you are a 20 minute finisher or an hour finisher. A time improvement at this distance requires a gargantuan effort, mainly because regardless of your fitness level, a 5K is a sprint. Sprinting is hard. Have you ever tried to sprint for 30 minutes? You have if you have run a 5K.

Exhibit A: Yours Truly. In the course of a year, I improved my Half Marathon time by a half hour. That is a HUGE PR. (and you will recall, a very memorable moment for me) On the other hand, my quest to run a sub-40 minute 5K was... well, difficult. I finally managed to pull it off in November 2013 and to this day, I have not been able to improve that time despite many efforts to do so. Sure, when I train I don't focus on that distance. I have spent the last 2 years working on Halves and Fulls but it goes to show you: A 5K PR is not something you wake up one morning and simply do. It takes a lot of hard work. Just as hard as training for a marathon. Don't think so? Ask anyone who trains for 5 and 10K's for the Olympics and such to see if it is any less hard.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Road to Goofy

So it officially begins... Sort of.

The actual training plan for the Goofy Challenge begins in September. But the enormity of the Challenge definitely warrants preparation. So I have worked out a long term training plan which includes the preparation of the preparation.

The current agenda is paying off big time. Cross-training in the form of P90X3 is starting to show it's benefits. The program is tough and it has been challenging to get used to the extra work besides running, but the purpose was to come out stronger out the other end and its working. Yesterday, I ran probably the best 4 miles I have run in a long while. I've been losing weight slow but steady, just the way I want it and I've been eating better than ever. Now, it's time to focus all that into the specific task that is the Goofy Challenge.

The main part of course, is the running. I've been running steadily about 3 times per week. Now I need to specify those runs into regular runs, workout runs and long runs. Regular runs are what are usually called easy runs but I refuse to call them that. Nothing easy about running long distances if you ask me. Fun? Of course! Good for you? Definitely! But easy? Not if you are doing it right.

Workout runs have a specific purpose. Tempo runs, speedwork, hills... they all fall in this category. One of my runs per week will be a workout run. I will be very careful in this area as this is what I believe got me into knee trouble the last time.

Long runs are, of course the bread and butter of the training plan. I will be adding distance very slowly. Starting early affords me this time to get my body used to it. Eventually I will add a second long run to start "simulating" the Goofy Challenge conditions so that will be 4 runs a week total with 2 long runs on consecutive days. Again, being very careful to avoid injury. I know it sounds like a lot but it really is alright. In fact, apart from the extra long run, its not that much different from my current schedule.

Then, there's racing. I feel weird even saying it but I've hardly raced this year. In fact I haven't raced since the Puerto Rico Half Marathon but that has been by design as I focus on cross-training and other things. However, racing will be an important gauge of where I'm at training-wise. There will be three races that I consider part of my training plan. First, the Popular Bank's 5K, which I have done every year since it was my first race ever. A PR here is, in my opinion, a step in the right direction. Then in September there will be the Lola Challenge Weekend. This one will be very important as it will involve running a 10K on Saturday and a Half Marathon on Sunday. I call it the "Mini-Goofy". I can't think of a better way to make sure everything is going according to plan than this. Finally in November I will again run the Diva's Half Marathon. Yes, it will be done in a tutu. Can't really back away from that at this point. On both of these instances, I'm not looking for a PR of any kind. I just want to finish and feel good afterwards. If I can pull that off, it would be great. If I can run the Divas Half and wake up the next day without any major ill effects I would definitely hop on the plane to Florida in January with a whole lot of confidence.

In the cross-training department, I'm currently halfway through P90X3. I think I have made enough emphasis on how tough but rewarding this has been. As I reach the peak of run training and therefore, mileage, cross-training has to be brought down in intensity as I focus more on running. I was thinking of doing a second round of P90X3 back to back but after some thought, I think it would be better to try something that is lower impact. There is a great program called PiYo that is lower impact but still challenging that I'm very interested in. If I end up doing it, I'll tell you all about it when I do.

And that's pretty much it. The Road to Goofy in a nutshell. Nothing is written in stone though. I will be adjusting things as I go along and if you guys have any suggestions I'm all ears so bring it on!