Thursday, November 20, 2014

And I'm Off!

What an adventure this has been...

Tomorrow, on my birthday of all days, I take a plane and travel to Philadelphia to run a Half Marathon. Injury, and training snafus have all conspired to make this particular training cycle the most challenging I have faced so far but hey, if everything simply came out perfect, would life be as entertaining?

Last Sunday, I did my last long run. A 10 miler where every step was misery thanks to the fact I was very sick. The congestion would not let me breathe and I felt like my face wanted to explode but I did it and was handsomely rewarded with a time that was below my expected time. This picked up my spirits for sure. If I could pull this off feeling terrible, there is a good chance I can run a decent Half right?

On Monday, I went to the doctor and explained my situation. He promptly prescribed a bag full of meds and a shot. Thankfully, I'm feeling a lot better. There is still some congestion and coughing but I'm trusting that if I keep taking all the stuff he gave me I'll be even better by race day.

I also received emails with final instructions and bib number. I'm in corral 7 which I would be very surprised if it wasn't the last one. I arrive in Philly pretty late on Friday (technically Saturday actually) then I pick up my bib on Saturday and race on Sunday morning. On Monday I'm back on a plane to Puerto Rico.

As usual, I will be reporting all my adventures through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and taking some pictures along the way to hopefully make my Flickr account a bit nicer. Also, you can track my progress during the race by going here and signing up to receive updates. You can look me up by first or last name (Frank Pizarro) or by bib number (33135) I have also set up runner tracking on my Twitter account so if you follow me there you will get the updates (I hope).

And that is it folks. Wish me luck, stay tuned to my social media channels and I'll see you all on the other side.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Training Update

Less than two weeks to go for the Philly Half. Where do I stand?

Well, not where I want to be, but that was kind of a given in this case. First, the not so good news:

1. The knee hurts. Every time: There is no way around it, really. After I run, it hurts. How much it hurts depends on the distance I run, which means that long runs are especially bad but it is what it is.

2. Goal A is pretty much out the window: Also a given I guess but it doesn't make it any less hard to swallow. At the current pace I'm managing to run at this point, I'm a minute behind per mile to go sub-3. I know that because of the wheather and because it's race day, I will run a bit faster that day but a whole minute faster? For an entire Half? I don't think so. If I manage to PR at all, it will be wonderful.

3. Avoiding everything that is not straight up running: Any other type of runnning is out right now. Hills, speed work, tempo... anything that is not keeping a constant pace is out in favor of protecting the knee. There is no need to agravate the knee any further but I miss the variety.

4. I'm way behind: Between the missed runs because of the pain and the time the doctor told me not to run at all, I'm way behind on my training schedule, which has been heavily modified.

And the good news...

1. The knee hurts, but not when I run: Which allows to me to run without major problems. It'll sting once or twice during a run but nothing too bad. I have found a manageble pace and form that pretty much lets me run as long as I want so I'm running and that is good.

2. I have adapted: It took a bit of time. You invariably have to make adjustments to your stride and form to protect the injured area, but when I run, it feels good. That wasn't always the case. The first few runs coming back from the doctor-imposed break were awkward and I was sore in places I had not been sore before but it's been relatively trouble free for a while now so everything seems to be falling into place.

Ironically, I seem, to be in the very same place emotionally I was last year before the Disney Marathon. Those who read this blog back then will remember I was freaking out a bit because of all the uncertainty and like any normal first time marathoner I was not sure about a lot of things. Well, its kind of like that.

Next Sunday will be my last long run. I plan to to do it using the Galloway Method at a 2:1 interval to see how that feels and test if I can improve my pace a little without any problems. After that, I will have a clearer picture of what my race day strategy will be.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Brooks Beast 2014 - A Review

Don't you just love it when you have a legitimate excuse to go shopping for something you want? With my recent pair of Junkies reaching the end of their running career and in the interest of protecting my knee from what's left of Half Marathon training as well as the actual Philadelphia Half Marathon, it was time to visit my local running store and grab a new pair of shoes.

This time though -with an important race in the horizon- I wasn't gonna pull any punches. Last time I got a pair of Brooks Addiction (The Junkies) as they are a bit cheaper. They work well but nothing comes close to my shoe of choice, the Brooks Beast. And what do you know, Brooks has redesigned the shoe for 2014 and since I have never really reviewed these before, what better time than now?

Here is the 2012 model compared to the new one:

Historically, Motion Control shoes has not been the most cutting edge category when it comes to aesthetics. To be honest, most look horrible, while the "coolest" ones can earn the designation of "boring" but Brooks has been working on that. The 2012 model was pretty decent and the improvements made to the new one are quite welcome. Gone are the glossier pieces, replaced by flat, textured fabrics. Think alcantara or suede. 

The bottom of the shoe is almost identical to the previous version and that's a good thing. There was no reason to change what really works and I can attest from experience this is one tough sole that will stand up to plenty of miles and abuse.

From the back, you can see that this shoe clearly caters to heavy pronators, with a very pronounced lean to the inside as compensation. Neutral shoe, this is not.

The fit is excellent in my case. Snug but with plenty of room in the toe box to stretch and move the little piggies. They do feel different around the foot compared to the previous version. Like they are lighter (even thought they aren't. They are, in fact  .1oz heavier) or like there is less shoe around your foot. But any concerns that might arise from that fact will quickly fade once you start running. Brooks claims even more cushioning than ever on this edition and putting them to the test seems to confirm this. Compared to the previous edition, they feel more nimble and agile. Compared to my current set of Junkies there is no contest. The Beast remains the Motion Control shoe to beat in my humble opinion. While it is pretty obvious to anyone who reads this blog regularly that I'm a Brooks nerd, I have tried other brands of shoes, especialy Motion Control shoes. However I keep coming back to the Beasties. For me, they just work and if you are a heavier runner looking for cushioning, and pronation support, this is the pair to get or at the very least, it should be on your short list.

By the way, I'm no way endorsed or affiliated with Brooks. I bought these puppies at my local running shop with my hard-earned (and not-so disposable) income. Though with all the shoes I have bought from them over the last two years, maybe they should. LOL

Thursday, October 30, 2014

HA!!! I'm on the News!!!!

Can you believe this??!!

I've been wanting to share this for the past couple of days but decided to wait it out just in case. Didn't want to jinx it you know?

Last week, I got a message from a very nice lady named Sarah Richards and she was doing a story about runners who are overweight for which is the web site of the Today show on NBC. Well, we talked on the phone on Sunday and she asked me a lot of questions about how I started running and how hard it is and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Well the story was published today (on Today! Get it?) and you can read it here.

So Sarah, if you are reading this, Thank you so much. Very cool.

The funny thing is that out of all the stuff we talked about, it never occurred to me that she would use the comment I made about feeling like Superman as the title. I was telling her that the first time I managed to run 5 miles I felt like Superman because for some reason that distance was like a big step for me because that's what runners always seem to say when asked how much did they run. "Oh, I run 5 miles every day." Anyway it made for a great title in my now-famous opinion.

So how are we gonna celebrate this? Well, duh! With a run! 5 miles of course.

By the way, Sarah Elizabeth Richards wrote a book titled Motherhood, Rescheduled about delayed parenthood which you might want to check out. Her web page is there you will find the entire scope of her work as author and journalist which is pretty extensive.

Monday, October 27, 2014

We Keep On Running

So the Doctor says I have to take it easy. That I need to cross-train. That I should try cycling and swimming... (sniff, sniff... I'm smelling triathlon for some reason) I take his recommendations very seriously and I seriously intend to do all those things.

Just, not right now.

I have a Half Marathon to run and not a lot of time to pick up my lost training so I have to train. That doesn't mean that I'm gonna try to cram in what I haven't done up to this point. That would be pretty stupid but for the time being I have to focus on running and running only. After the Half, then I can worry about how I'm going to deal with my training in the long term.

The sub-3 hour Half Marathon might have to be put on hold. I'm not completely discarding the idea but I don't think it's gonna happen. In order to increase my training mileage I have to take it easy. I'm pretty sure it was my search for some speed that got me on trouble in the first place. Last week, I ran a couple of times after seeing the Doc to test the waters and managed to find a comfortable pace around the 14's which is short of my goal (sub-3 has to be run in the 13's) but still would mean a PR if I manage to maintain it so I can't complain too much.

Also -not gonna lie- the knee bothers me. It hurts the day after I run so dealing with some pain will be something I will just have to get used to. Speed work is out of the question for now so I will be just straight up running for the time being but I'm hoping I can do it at least 5 times a week. It's not gonna be pretty but if I take it easy, totally doable.

So wish me luck boys and girls. I will keep you informed on how I'm doing.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Eating Las Vegas

OK, to round out my Las Vegas trip(and clear my head regarding my knee) I want to tell you about three places I ate at that I think are worthy of mention. If you ever do travel to Vegas you might want to check these out.

The Bellagio Buffet

In a place that seems to have invented the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. There really are two that stand out above all. One is at the Río Hotel and the other one is this one. Since I had tried out the one at the Río on a previous trip, I lobbied to try this one out and it did not disappoint.

There is not a lot I can tell you regarding the food. It's good, it's extremely varied and there is a lot of it. What sets the Bellagio apart is quality. Just because there is enough food at one time to feed all of America in one sitting doesn't mean they skimp on the details. The stuff I tried was well cooked and tasty and some dishes were downright awesome.

But the reason I decided to mention it in the blog is entirely non-food related. I mention this place because in all its opulence, all its quality, all its excess, someone just plain screwed this place up. You see, like many, many people who eat there daily, I had an urge to go to the bathroom at one point. No problem finding one. They are labeled well enough. But once I got in it, it hit me right in the face: There is only one toilet. One. Is this some kind of sick joke?! Really? This is akin to a pub giving away free beer 24-7 and not having urinals. Who the heck thought this up?! And here's the thing. You go to any other place in the hotel (or any other hotel for that matter) like the casino and there are bathrooms  everywhere with rows and rows of toilets. I guess that's how they get people to leave.

Le Thai

Located Downtown right on Fremont Street (though not beneath the "TV Roof" you gotta walk a bit past that) is this very small and unassuming place. And I mean small. If 7 people go in at the same time, that's a full house (no pun intended). There is an al fresco patio in the back but who would want to eat outside in 100 degree heat??!!

Well, as it turns out a lot of people do. The place is that good. It has generated a lot of good word of mouth and you can't read a "best of Vegas" article without this place popping up in there. And it lives up to the hype guys. For real. I ate with my brother and we sampled three dishes. An appetizer called Thai Pork Jerky which is fried pork served with rice and their signature waterfall sauce. The combination of the rice, pork and sauce was awesome. The waterfall sauce plays that combination of sweet and spicy flavors which is so part of Thai food. Loved it.

Pork Jerky... Yum!

Then we shared two entrees: The Awesome Noodles and the Short Rib Fried Rice.

Awesome Noodles: Truly Awesome
 The Awesome Noodles live up to their name and then some. At first, when you look at the dish you might get confused. The noodles are flat and very wide. When you at them mixed with everything else, it's almost like there is no noodles. They look like vegetables or something. Don't let that fool you. Dig in and get ready to be blasted by classic Thai flavors!
Short Rib Fried Rice: Dish of the Day

The rice was even better. Stir-Fried with the aforementioned Waterfall Sauce, you will not want this dish to end. My brother and I kept switching plates to keep tasting both until we ate it all.

The Heart Attack Grill

A part of me feels a little ashamed of having eaten at this place but we were in Vegas. When in Rome...

I don't think this place could legitimately exist anywhere else in the World. In a place that revels in excess, this joint takes it to a whole other level.
The Heart Attack Grill

Let me begin by saying that anyone who weighs 350 lbs. or more can eat for free here. There is a huge scale in the front where you can check if you qualify for this particular perk. The menu -if you can call it that-  is basically an experiment in how far you can take the "unhealthy" theme of the place. And unhealthy is the key word. On one of the columns proudly hangs their Guinness Book of World Records plaque declaring it the "Unhealthiest Restaurant in the World". Here are some facts:

1. To eat here you have to wear a hospital robe. No exceptions
My brother, the model

2. Want a beer? They only sell the biggest serving of whatever beer they have. Shots are served on pill bottles or injections. Wine comes in an I.V. drip.

3. They only serve Coca Cola from Mexico. Why? They use real sugar instead of corn syrup. Because, you know... Mexican Coke, that's the really good stuff.

4. Fries are deep fried. In Lard

5. The burgers are cooked on the griddle also using lard.

6. They claim that their milkshake has the highest butterfat content in the World.

7. The menu has only two items: The Bypass Burger which you can add meat patties to from the Single Bypass all the way to the Quadruple Bypass and beyond. They also have a Chili Dog. A huge Chili Dog. That's it.

Our waiter (they are all dressed as sexy nurses) came in to take our order and warned that no substitutions can be made. For example if you want bacon and cheese with your Double Bypass, then its 15 slices of bacon. No exceptions. Me and my brother both ordered the Double Bypass Burger and decided to share an order of Chili Fries just to try them out.
There is so much wrong with this picture.

The burgers as you would expect, were huge. I could barely get a whole bite in my mouth. The fries looked as if they had a ton of grease on them with some chili thrown in. But the million dollar question is: Is this place any good??!!

Well, yes and no. Making no compromises means they can add flavor any way they want but there is a point of diminishing returns. The flavor is there, surely but eventually the insane amount of fat catches up with you. It coats your stomach and your lips and no amount of goodness will make you keep eating.

But the spanking will.

Just as my brother and I were pondering just how much food we were gonna leave on the plate, a "nurse" took a couple in another table to what seemed like a torture rack with a video camera attached to it. After making one of them bend over this device, she took a wooden paddle and proceeded to spank her. Hard. Very hard. About three times. Then the guy, who got spanked even harder. Their crime? Not finishing all  their food.

Oh, we finished our food.

Look, I'm in no way recommending you eat here. And I wouldn't even dare imply that you go there regularly but the whole point of this place, is the experience. We had fun. Sure, I didn't eat anything else until I got back home the next day as I was so full but it was fun. And that's the whole point. Take it for what it is and make sure you finish what you ordered. Watching other people get whacked is fun but getting hit yourself... Don't think so.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Please! Not Now!

I'm injured... 

For about two months, I 've been having some trouble with my right knee. Weird kind of trouble. It was slight at first but now it's really an issue. It doesn't hurt when I run at all. But after cooling down, it starts to act up and hurt. By the next morning, it really hurts. Then, it gets better to the point that I venture another run (usually the day after) and the cycle begins all over again.

Two weeks ago, I went on an 8 mile long run and then on Monday, I could barely walk. The Philly Half Marathon is in 1 month now as of this writing. Time to go to the doctor.

So I went to the Doc and after an X-Ray and a check up, and after telling me not to worry too much, he told me two things that raised an immediate red flag in my head:

1) He prescribed Cataflam, an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. I've never taken Cataflam but I know of it. My Mom, who has had chronic back issues most of her life, calls them her "knock out pills". My Mom is one tough lady so if this is what she takes, it must be strong stuff.

2) He also prescribed an MRI. Never had an MRI either but I know this: That's what Doctors tell football players to get right before they tell them their season is over. Not a good sign.

Oh yeah, pending the MRI results and my next appointment with him, I can't run. My reaction:

I calmly tried to explain that I was running a Half-Marathon in November and that I was concerned the "don't run" indication was going to be a problem. He explained that the MRI was just to discount a few theories and that before taking any action he wanted to be certain of what was going on... blah blah blah...

Look, the guy is awesome (I've visited once before) and he actually operated my Mom, one of my cousins and an uncle so he comes very well recommended but all I heard was "You can't run." With the Half so close, I'm freaking out a bit. It's not so much that I can't run. It's the race, for which I already paid airfare, hotel and registration. The knee, I can deal with. Traveling to Philly to be the World's most expensive race spectator... not so much.

The MRI results

So I get the MRI and subsequently, the results which I don't really understand, of course but I read some stuff that seems to be good news. The L's are OK! Or as the results say, "unremarkable". You know the L's right? MCL, ACL... the stuff that gets pro athletes in trouble. Every time I hear of serious injury to the knees, these are usually mentioned so in that regard those are good news.

Further down though, some concerns. I see the words "tear", "cyst" and "defect". All these related (I think) to the meniscus. Now, you can't "tear" a meniscus (it's a bone right?) but you can tear stuff related to it. Maybe I shouldn't be jumping to conclusions and let the professional tell me where I stand.

Well, I hated the appointment. First, he looked at the MRI results and said there were several problems then I got the kind of ambiguous doctor talk I hate to hear but it boiled down to this:

1. There is a meniscus issue but it is very small. He doesn't think its the cause of my pain.

2. There are some degenerative issues that are causing the pain and discomfort. The Doc recommends lower impact exercises like cycling or swimming. Long term he could perform surgery. A kind of "cleaning" (his words) of the knee area.

3. It's not that I can't run anymore, but putting too much stress frequently on the knee will not help the situation. Cross training will be very important. (See #2)

4. Losing weight will help. (duh)

Based on what I know of the situation here is my take on it:

1. Up to this point in my running journey, I didn't have any major issues. The advantage of being a slow runner is less impact on the knees. Since my focus had been on just finishing, there were no problems.

2. This year, I vowed to pick up the pace. Many of you know that my goal for Philly was to run a sub-3 Half Marathon. As I increased my mileage while running faster, that's where the problems began.

Obviously, the Doc doesn't know how much I love running so I can't blame him for the way he looks at it. He just sees an overweight guy that runs and the solution is to not run and try something else to keep losing the weight. But I want to keep running.

He told me to take it easy with the training and run the Philly Half and if a couple of weeks from the race I was having too much pain, to go to his office and get an injection. Not exactly what I wanted to hear but I'll take it. With so little time left, there is no room for a new strategy. I just have to suck it up and run but the prospect of a sub-3 is looking grim. Long term, I'm gonna have to restructure the entire way I look at training and weight loss will have to happen faster. At least if I want to keep running long distances.