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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quick Update and Hoover Dam

If you have been seeing my Facebook and Twitter updates, (and you should be getting my Facebook and Twitter updates) then you know by now that I have been sidelined by a knee issue and have been told by the Doctor to not run pending the analysis of an MRI. I have the MRI results and my appointment is on Monday. I promise to give you the whole story as soon as I see the Doc. In the meantime, please enjoy the rest of my report about my trip to Las Vegas.

-The Fat Runner

After getting back on the Pink Jeep, we had lunch on the way to Hoover Dam. For this tour, a box lunch is included in the price and the sandwich was pretty tasty along with chips and some veggies and cookies for dessert. 

It is often said that even today, Hoover Dam would be very difficult to build. The fact that it was built in the 30's in the middle of the Great Depression makes this even more of an achievement. Oh, and it was finished ahead of schedule on top of everything else. When was the last time anything was done on time? 

This thing is huge! Not the "vastness of the Grand Canyon" huge but more like "this is a big chunk of cement" huge. Heck, the tunnel they dug to channel the water so it won't go over the top of the dam is gigantic by itself. (And that has only happened once, in 1983 by the way) It is very hard to take picture of this thing. There is an observation deck but somehow I missed it so I couldn't take a whole pic but it was very impressive nonetheless.

So this thing is like, big.

Of course we had to take the Dam tour. How can you go to Hoover Dam and not take the Dam tour. The guide said we could make as many Dam jokes as we liked and I'm transferring that policy to this blog. Since I was taking the Dam tour, I made sure to take as many Dam picture as I could. You don't take Dam pictures every day you know?

The Generators on the Nevada side. There is an identical room on the Arizona side.

The Dam tour was very interesting, especially for a history buff like me and going through the Dam tunnels was fun but I was very disappointed at the end. You see, no matter how much I pleaded with the guide, no matter how much I asked, (and I asked. A lot.) She would not show us the "Megatron room". I know he wasn't in there. (He thawed... duh!) I saw the film and all but I wanted to see the actual room and she would not take us there. I think it was because of National Security and stuff. Her annoyed expression confirmed it.

Finally, I went to very middle of the Dam which is the state line between Nevada and Arizona. I was in two places at the same time! St. Frank you can now call me.

One leg in Nevada, the other in Arizona

 This area has been going through a drought in the last few years even for a dessert. When you look to the lake side, you can see how much the water has receded.

Rain much lately? Check out the water line!

As of 2013, you no longer have to cross the Dam to cross state lines. They built a bridge right in front of the Dam which is the second longest single arch bridge in the World. I took pics of it during our time in the dam but they came out kind of blah. As we were arriving though, I got to take this shot the split second our driver/guide stopped to turn around. It's one of my favorite shots of the entire trip.

In the Jeep, through the glass, turning around for the win.

And with that, we headed back to Las Vegas. This tour is really a once in a lifetime experience. Especially for someone like me who coming from a tropical island who is really not familiar with this kind of terrain. It was without a doubt the highlight of the whole trip.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Grand Canyon

Without a doubt, the highlight of the entire trip to Las Vegas, was this tour in which we visited the west rim of The Grand Canyon and then Hoover Dam. I completely loved the contrast of being able to witness a wonder of nature then a man-made wonder.

We got picked up pretty early. The Grand Canyon is not exactly close to Las Vegas so it requires some time and planning to go there(you actually have to head over to Arizona). We chose Pink Jeep Tours to take us there and yes, their vehicles are indeed pink. The ride was pretty comfy and it wasn't a big huge bus so you get more personal attention. The guide/driver was great and very knowledgeable. If you are thinking about doing this tour or something similar I highly recommend them.

On the way to the Canyon we drove by Joshua Tree National Forest which is an area completely covered in... wait for it, Joshua Trees. Interesting since a Joshua tree is not really a tree and since we didn't stop I wasn't able to get a decent picture. This one is the best I could do.

Joshua Tree

Then we stopped in a rest stop in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. This little town right in the middle of the desert, for a bathroom break. They have this pseudo-fake Starbucks sign. They don't sell Starbucks coffee. They only have this little fridge with those bottled Frappuccino drinks you see in gas stations. I thought it was funny.

Even in the middle of nowhere, there they are... Sort of.

Then we arrived at the Hualapai reservation who own the land where this area of the Canyon is located and after switching to one of their buses we were taken to Eagle Point.

Folks, there simply are no words. Once we got there my jaw just dropped. This is truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. I can only hope the pictures do it any justice but I don't think so. I have seen pictures and video of the Grand Canyon all my life. Nothing prepares you to see it in person. With the exception of the Skywalk, (I'll get to that in a second) the Hualapai tribe has not really developed the area -a good thing in my opinion- so all you get is this vast, natural beauty. It's dangerous though. There are no railings or fences. Take a wrong step and you will get to experience the "Grand" part of the Grand Canyon first hand. The place is called Eagle Point for a reason and I hope you can make it out in the picture. Can you spot it?


The shot above is a Panoramic shot Phostoshop stitched together of several shots I took of the area. It's really the only way to get it all in there. (I think you can click on the pic to make it bigger) It is that vast. What looks to be right next to you is actually miles and miles away. You only notice when the many helicopters that tour the area go down there and they end as tiny dots in the distance.

After catching our collective breath, we headed over to the Skywalk. This building has a horseshoe-shaped cantilevered bridge in which the floor is made glass. This is how it looks from the outside. That drop right below the bridge is 800 feet. The entire way down? over 3,600 feet. Yeah, so its a bit of a way down...
Looks scary? Try walking on it.

The bridge is designed to withstand the weight of 71 Boeing 747's and there is whole story and explanation as to how it was built and how safe it is. Bullcrap. Once you start walking on top of the glass, every fiber in your body and mind is telling you to get off that thing. The sensation is weird and scary as heck. It took me a while to get used to it enough to walk freely. Most in my party never did. It made for some funny moments. There are painted sections of the glass on either side of the bridge and people can't help but walk in that area to feel safer. 
800 ft down? No problem!

My brother was not so successful. lol

Yeah, the painted glass is gonna save us all.

By the way they don't allow cell phones or cameras or anything else for that matter, on the Skywalk. You can only buy the pics the employees take of you. (Those three pics above were taken by them)They did come out pretty nice in our case so while I couldn't shake the feeling of being ripped off, I was happy with the results. People have to earn a living I guess and besides, the pics are more expensive at Disney World and especially on a Disney cruise. By the way, we chose to get a USB drive with all our pics for $68 and it included some stock photos of the Skywalk that are quite striking.

After getting our trembling legs off the Skywalk we took another bus to Guano Point. Guano. As in bat poop. Apparently there are some caves in the area filled with the stuff and some people tried to extract it for profit many years ago but they went under. Some structures still remain though.
So apparently extracting guano here was not a good idea.

There are two points of interest in Guano Point. The first is getting to the edge of the point. Once there you are almost completely surrounded by the canyon from all sides and its a sight to behold.
The Canyon and the Colorado River

The other is this mound of rocks  you see in the next picture. You can climb to the top of it and get a pretty glorious view from there. Not to mention the sense of accomplishment.

As I made my way up, there was a couple from Korea at the top. I helped them take some pics and they returned in kind and took this shot.
Yes, those are in fact, my running shoes. Wait, is that my house I see?

Then, they wanted to take a picture of them with me, which I thought was weird but they didn't speak English so I couldn't just ask them. Fans of The Fat Runner from Korea? Anyway, after going back down I rejoined the group.

I also saw this bush (or what's left of it I guess) I thought looked interesting. It kind of reminded me of the biblical image of the burning bush Moses saw in the book of Exodus.

After Guano Point we got back in the pink jeep and our guide had lunch ready for us. he gave us the choice of eating it at Guano Point or on the Jeep while driving to our next destination, which we chose. Next was Hoover Dam! But that is another post. This one went too long as it is.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Belated Vegas Report

So now that things have calmed down a bit, we continue with our regularly scheduled programming.

Vegas... what a town. It's really hard to describe, except to say that it is all about excess. And I'm not talking about just booze and gambling (of which there is plenty) but about everything. Everything in Vegas is amped up. Extreme. Whether its partying or relaxation. You will find it here in its pinnacle.

Welcome to Sin City

I hate using this analogy but it truly fits: Vegas is Disney World for adults. The powers that be here have created worlds. It is an architectural, technological and entertainment marvel. The fact that it has been built in the middle of freaking nowhere only adds to the allure.

In a land of excess, the Wynn is the most majestic of all.

The Las Vegas people come to visit is essentially divided into two areas: The Strip, aka. Las Vegas Boulevard, is where the biggest concentration of mega-hotels is located. Paris, New York, The Bellagio, The Venetian, The Mirage and all the rest are all there. Each hotel is a world unto itself and after trying it myself, I wouldn't attempt any major walking tours. Each hotel is huge and designed to be self contained. You really don't need to leave the premises (and that is by design) unless you want to sight see the other hotels. It is very tempting to do so. Every hotel is beautiful and you want to take it all in but be forewarned: switching hotels is very walking-intensive. They all look like they are close to each other when you see it all on TV but they are so humongous that the actual walk is pretty long. My suggestion? Don't try to hit several hotels in one day. Pick the ones you really want and do one each day. Can you do more? Yes, but it can be exhausting pretty quickly. We walked from a hotel I can't remember right now, to Paris, to the Bellagio to try the Buffet and it was quite the hike.

The Strip

If you want to walk around, I recommend the other area of Vegas: Downtown. This is the original Las Vegas if you will. Before The Strip, before the mega hotels, this is where Elvis and Sinatra and The Rat Pack hung around. When you think of films like Casino, this is the Vegas it depicts. When the big resorts came in, this area almost died but some people worked very hard to keep it going. They closed Fremont Street to traffic (which you could call the "original strip") and installed what is essentially the biggest LCD Television in the World as a roof over it. The result? The Fremont Street Experience.

Fremont Street in all its glory

While not as glitzy (or technologically advanced) as the stuff in The Strip, this I found the perfect place to take in Vegas. With the huge LCD acting as roof, you walk around even during the day (which is scorching hot by the way) without getting sunburned and since it's closed to traffic there are all sorts of performers, characters and freaks at all times doing something. There is a real "anything can happen" atmosphere there that I found exciting. Plus everything is closed together and within walking distance as opposed to the Strip.

Me? Well, I loved seeing so much stuff going on around me and totally loved every minute of it but I'm a bit of a geek by nature. The one night I went to the Strip, while everyone was partying and carrying drinks around I was carrying my camera and tripod (the resulting night shots you are seeing in this post) just so I could take a nice picture of the Bellagio fountains which were spectacular I might add. Although I kept having this recurring thought where Sarah from Run Ginger Run and Dani from Weight Off My Shoulders and their respective significant others, join me and my wife on a local brewpub crawl. (of which there were 
plenty) Because bloggers... that's how we roll.

I carried a tripod for miles... for this shot.

And then there was the day we went to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. But that's another post.

Not that you would want to, but I do take pictures from all the places I've been, if you head over to my Flickr account, you can take a look at them.