Monday, December 30, 2013

The 2013 Progress Report

What a year this has been.

Although writing this post was a given, it has become even more meaningful as I head into the taper period of my marathon training. As I explained in a previous post, the mileage peak of my training did not go as planned and with officially 9 days to go for Disney Marathon weekend, I'm seriously worried. They say (I always wonder who "they" are, and why they are so opinionated) you should never look back but I disagree.

 How to know how far you have come if you don't? It is very important in a journey like this one to allow oneself to savor the successes. They are not always obvious because you are always moving forward and thus, always struggling (and improving). So it is easy to not notice your gains. This post is to sit back and bask in the glory of what was, in running terms at least, the year 2013.

The Legs

An interesting by-product of all the running I did this year I have to point out: My legs are the proverbial "tree trunks" you keep hearing about so much. I wasn't expecting that. As a runner you have an image of the very skinny pros doing marathons looking almost frail; especially the legs but no no. I think my calves are bigger than before and my quads... wow, they are rock hard! My wife can't stop touching them. Heck, I can't stop touching them! I feel muscles in there I didn't know I had. Being overweight, having your wife notice any physical attribute as "sexy" is uncommon so thank you running. 

The Miles

In January, my goal for the year as far as mileage, was very defined. I had run about 300 miles the year before (I started running in march/April) and knowing what I had ahead of me, I thought doubling that was more than reasonable without going to extremes. Sure enough, I reached 600 miles... in November. I'm probably gonna fall a few miles short of 700 miles but still, I totally crushed that one. Next year? 800 sounds like a nice number...

The Distance

Again, back in January, the farthest I had run was 5 miles and I was just starting to train for my first 10K. In November of 2012 I wrote a post called The 13th Mile, in which I talk about running 13 miles for that week total and how difficult it seemed to run that much in a single run. How long ago that seems. As of this post, my longest run is 15 miles, averaging a little bit below 30 miles a week. More than twice that first 13 mile week, not to mention I now have a Half-Marathon under my hydration belt. Here's hoping that somehow translates to 26.2 miles on January 12.

The Mile

Sometime last year, I don't quite remember (or maybe I don't want to), I tried to run a single mile for measuring purposes. I wasn't expecting much but I was shocked when I looked at my phone (No Mr. Garmin back then) and saw 14 something (again, fuzzy details, it was too painful), almost 15 minutes. Had I allowed myself to go that far? It was certainly a wake up call. For the sole purpose of this report I ran a mile today, this time with a lot more expectations and thank goodness, those expectations were met. 9 minutes, 38 seconds. A 5 minute improvement and a sub-10 minute mile. At the start of the year, I would have (and did) called a sub-13 an achievement. 

The 5K

In August of last year I ran the Popular Bank's 5K. It was my was my first race ever. It took me almost 49 minutes to complete. Even now, I'm a bit embarrassed to say that. In November of this year I ran the Alliance 5K: A pretty difficult and hilly course, in 37:43.  A 12 minute improvement. Not bad...

The 10K

At the very end of February, I ran the World's Best 10K, my first. I ran it in 1:37:21. This by the way, is my pick for my top run of 2013. It was clearly a turning point in my running. Before this race, I couldn't understand how runners could do things like, run 4 miles then pick up the pace and run faster. I just couldn't do it. Until this race. After 5 miles, I actually found it in me to run the final mile a whole minute faster than what I was running. Everything changed after that. I immediately started a Half-Marathon training plan after that, then another. In many ways, that race is when I truly started to feel like a runner. A couple of weeks ago I ran the A Runner's Love 10K the day after a 12 mile long run. I ran it in 1:22:51. A 15 minute improvement. Again, not bad at all...

The Half-Marathon

I ran my first Half in November and I haven't run another so nothing to report here but, assuming I survive the gauntlet that is the Marathon in January, I'm thinking a sub-3 hour Half-Marathon is the next logical goal to accomplish. Stay tuned.

The Weight

OK, time for the Biggest Loser moment. The before and after picture. I spared you the disgust of posting a pic of me flexing my leg muscles and I hope you forgive me for indulging here but it is almost a requirement when on this journey, to post these so here they are. At my heaviest (that I actually measured mind you, because I could have been heavier at some point) I weighed 319 pounds. Not a pretty picture in the most literal of senses.
Not my finest hour

As of my last weigh-in I'm at 269 pounds so that is 50 pounds off from that "worst" moment. I know it's not "Biggest Loser" impressive but I tell you what: it has made a huge difference in my running. Though still slow and overweight, the gains have been plentiful as you can see by the numbers above. By the way, those scratches right at the top of my abs (or, where the abs should be. You know what I mean.) is from my heart rate monitor. I have no idea how it scratches me like that as it doesn't bother me while I run but there it is.
Not my finest hour either, but an improvement

While I know I could have done more in terms of weight loss, which probably would have put me in a better position to run the marathon but the thing is, I feel much more confident about keeping the weight off than when I was yo-yo dieting and losing a bunch of weight fast. Mainly because I made small changes that are easier to maintain than trying to fit an extreme change in lifestyle. Going forward, I will have to adjust my caloric intake as I lose more weight but again, small and slow is the ticket.

So there it is. The year in running from yours truly. Hope your year in running was a good and successful one as well and that you all have a great New Year's.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Runner's Love 10K Race Recap

There I am, standing at the starting line, sore, tired and with a whole bunch of other things in my mind other than this race. It was the second time in as many days I wake up way earlier than usual. The day before was for a long run (woke up at 3:30 am!)  that had to be cut a bit short and this particular morning for this race, which had a start time of 6:30 am (4:30 am alarm). This type of thing might not sound very motivational but at the very least, it lets me know I have grown to love running. I that wasn't true, I wouldn't bother with all of this.

When I signed up for this race, I didn't realize I would be smack in the middle of the peak of my marathon training plan. Having said that, I decided to run it anyway. The race is organized by the family of Mayra Elias; a runner who two years ago got run over along with several other runners while on their morning training. The driver fled the scene and the case caused a big splash on the news. Mayra was nearly killed but managed to survive. Her story brought a lot of consciousness not only to the importance of runner safety but also the importance of citizens cooperating with the police to solve cases: The driver was later caught thanks to people who called to report they had seen where he had hidden the vehicle. 

This race is now held to raise money for Mayra's health care costs which are many (she is still in a wheelchair but her prognosis seems to be promising) and raise awareness about runner safety. I met Mayra during the Diva's Half-Marathon Expo and she handed me the registration form herself and I promised I would run it. After finding out I would be doing a 14 miles long run (which was cut short to 12 miles for other reasons) I figured if I wasn't feeling too bad I would run it. Not running it might have meant breaking the promise but I already had signed up and paid so if I didn't run, at least I had put my little grain of sand but it didn't come to that.

During the the long run, I got a call from my wife that my mother confirmed she could take the girls so we could go "talk to Santa". Well, say no more! I'm sure busy parents (with busy grandparents or similar situations) can relate with this. This was the window and had to take it so 12 miles it was. It's not like I missed the two miles too much. I went straight from the shower to a busy mall walking around like crazy so I probably made up for it there. However, even with that, I managed to wake up the next day feeling well enough to go run.

As the gun went off, I was not harboring any delusions of grandeur or anything. It had been a tough week (and weekend) and aiming for a PR was certainly stupid. On the other hand, I had not run a 10K since the end of February. A lot has happened since then so assuming I could finish the race, all I had to do was run at a decent pace and a PR was kind of a given. Notice I said finish the race. The course has become familiar by now. I have run several 5K's in this area of San Juan and most of this particular course is the same as the first section of the Diva's Half-Marathon. I'm trying to ignore Mr. Garmin for the most part as to not obsess over my pace and just run but after hearing it beep at mile 2, I instinctively glanced and saw a 12. A 12?!! Can't be. I'm feeling pretty good and not fatigued so I can't be running 12's. I blamed the number on a downhill section I had passed and kept ignoring Mr. Garmin.

Halfway through mile 4, my body finally decided it was not gonna take any more crap from me. "Race pace? Really? Today? Slow down pal!" My body seemed to say to me. From then on I took a couple of walk breaks here and there until the last half mile where everything went crazy. The police had allowed traffic on the course and were fighting between letting runners go by or letting cars pass. It was pretty scary. I almost got run over. I found it extremely ironic that something like this would happen on a race promoting runner safety but there you go.

After dodging buses and cars for several minutes came the last part which had no traffic (thank goodness!) as it's the entrance to a stadium. That's when I noticed the second major flaw in the race: The course was too long. Way too long. I stopped Mr. Garmin at 6.2 miles but a friend who ran the race and kept her watch on the whole way measured a bit over 6.5. I know these things cannot be perfect but that seems like a lot to go over. The good news is that they had plenty of oranges, bananas, water and Gatorade to go around several times. And the Gatorade was nice and cold too.

I could be harsh about the things that went wrong regarding the organizing and logistics of this race but the fact is that this is a bunch of family and friends of Mayra Elias trying to raise awareness and put together a very hard event to pull off. They are not pros and if they keep at it, they will get better. Ultimately, they are trying to do a good thing and overall I have to commend them for it.

What? You want to know my time? Oh yeah... that. World's Best 10K: 1:37:53 

This race? 1:22:51. 15 minutes less than my previous race. It was kind of crazy. 

This is not a matter of starting too fast. I just ran too fast the whole way. I ran 12's all the way to mile 3, then a 13 minute flat mile 4, then, after taking the walk breaks, I slowed to the 14's which is my "normal" pace for runs of 4 to 6 miles. Crazy. When I run the World's Best 10K again in February, this is gonna be hard to top.

You would think after all that, that I finally got some rest after getting back home. Well, no rest for wicked here. If I didn't put up the Christmas tree at home, my daughters could very well go on strike. So home I went and here you go!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Struggle Within

Self-doubt is starting to creep in.

As I write this, I'm 30 days away from taking the flight to Orlando to culminate two years of running, and ... well, two years of a lot of running. I'm right in the middle of my training plan's peak mileage and -committed to write both the good and the bad from this journey- being totally honest I'm having a bit of a hard time and starting to worry.

On the one hand, I have not run better then right now. Before the year is out I want to do a post with a full progress report so I don't want to get deep into it but suffice it to say, I've been kicking butt and taking names. The person that steps out three and four times a week to run today is a far cry from the person who began this journey two years ago. To be able to go out and run 5 miles on a whim while hardly losing my breath and maintaining a 14-something minute per mile pace is near-unbelievable but here we are. So what's wrong? The long run. I am having a life and death struggle with the long run.

My first 20 miler is coming up this Sunday and so far I have been able to manage 15 miles. Don't let that number fool you one bit. Those 15 miles -especially the last 3- were the hardest fought I have ever done. I've been having trouble with this for a while so a couple of weeks back, I decided that I would do the long runs using the Galloway method. I have avoided doing this mainly because I just wanted to run the whole marathon but as I started to come up short on my long runs, my brain smartly found the logic in the fact that not finishing was a much harder blow to my ego than taking walk breaks and crossing the finish line so the last two long runs have been all Galloway.

Last week, I went out on a supposed 16 miler. "Trusting" my mileage base, which has been all running until now, I decided to try a somewhat aggressive 3 minute run/1 minute walk ratio. Everything went well until mile 10 when I started to fade and couldn't hold that ratio to save my life. I switched to 1:1 and managed to crawl to 12 miles until I couldn't run anymore. A week later, I went out and started on a 1:1 ratio from the very beginning. I was sick (so was everyone else at home) and it has been raining like Noah is about to take out the ark down here but at this point, I simply cannot afford to miss a single run. Let alone a long run.  This time I managed to make it all the way to 14 miles, then walking (crawling?)one more mile to "complete" 15. It was supposed to be an 18 miler.

I'm trying to not freak out here and look at the problem from a practical standpoint. Other than the long runs, I'm doing great, so I must be doing something wrong during these long runs specifically. From a cardiovascular standpoint, I don't seem to be having any major issues (amazing considering where I'm coming from). The problem seems to be muscular or pace related. My legs simply reach a point where they do not want to continue. It happens suddenly too. At least it feels sudden: I seem to be doing fine then Bam! My legs go "well, that will be all for today. Thanks for coming. Make sure you validate your parking on the way out." No amount of trying gets me back in a rhythm. Once they are gone, it is over.

Which brings me back to my old fear of being swept. It could be (I'm honestly not certain) that in an effort to maintain pace, I could be over-straining early which in turn comes to bite me later on but this is the chicken-and-egg question. How to run slow enough to finish and how to run fast enough to not get swept. Obviously, there has to be a sweet spot somewhere but for the life of me I can't seem to find it.

Or maybe I should just start below race pace, save some energy then speed up later to make up for it which sounds scary. I could also start faster than race pace and then slow down later relying on the miles banked at the beginning which also sounds scary.

I'm running out of time. Next week, I try for 20 miles. There is not a lot of room to experiment here. I'm gonna try this run at the linear park which is completely flat so I avoid the extra strain of hills (which is similar to WDW Marathon conditions) and I'm gonna (try to) avoid the pace issue altogether. I'll try to concentrate purely on finishing. Assuming I do the whole 20 miles and they end up below the 16 minute/mile pace minimum, I will use the second 20 miler to figure out how to finish faster. Simple right? 

I assure you, after these two weeks you will know how I did because I will either be jumping for joy or dreading each passing day on the calendar.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Power of Dailymile

When running, and more specifically when training towards a big race, motivation is key. What do you do to keep yourself motivated during those long months (years?) of training? For a while now I wanted to talk about one of those things. The web site called Dailymile.

I first noticed this site while trying to consolidate all my running data into one log. (which I ultimately failed to do. I just had used too many different sites) I noticed that a great number of people I look up to had Dailymile widgets on their blogs and stuff. I had just begun logging all my data at Garmin Connect (on account that I had just started using Mr. Garmin) and the first thing I noticed about it was: "Man, is this thing boring." Now, don't get me wrong. Garmin Connect is great at gathering all your data and keeping tabs on it and it also has a social component but it... how can I put this? Well, it sucks. Kind of soulless. Since Dailymile accepts Garmin data I decided to use both.

The difference between both is that Dailymile has a Facebook-type friend system to help you keep tabs not just on you but on your friends. You can communicate with them and send them motivation. When you look at your data, you have the option to also look at your friend's and compare. This createss a bit of friendly competition and helps keep you running as I sure don't want to be the one lagging. The best part (for me at least) is that this "competition" is totally with yourself. There is no need to bother anyone or tease them. You look at the data and you make the changes to you running if you want. I'll give you an example:

Every time I log into Dailymile, I first upload my latest run, of course. Then I look at all my totals for the week, month and year. This is where it gets interesting. Then, I go to the leaderboard section and see how I compare with my friends. I send them motivation according to their accomplishments. Here is how it's looking as of this writing:

1. On the top spot is fellow islander Gabriel with 924 miles for the year. He is a freak. He started the year very strong, training for a Half-Marathon he had in February. Then he took a break to focus on Cross-Fit and other types of fitness, then returned to running recently and STILL managed to put up that monster number. He will probably finish the year with a cool thousand miles logged. Like I said: Freak.

2. Then comes David.One of the co-hosts of Run Chat (every Sunday on Twitter. You should check it out! #runchat) He did the opposite. Started slow and has ramped things up as the racing season approached. He currently has  707 miles. I'm hoping to get my yearly mileage up to that in the future (My goal for the year is 600 miles though).

3. Then there is a three way race to-the-death between Caroline, founder of Running Bloggers; myself and Mindy, from Road Runner Girl. Caroline, with 578 miles, seems like she only does two things from where I'm sitting: A long run, or running an actual Marathon. She is a machine. Then I'm closing in the gap with 573 miles, having just passed Mindy who has 529. But that rise in rankings was bittersweet. Mindy has been nursing a bad hip and knee and was told to hold back on her running. Here's hoping you feel better Mindy, so you can go kick my butt.

4. After the top 5 is Sarah from Run Ginger Run who is an awesome runner, with 517 miles, Karen from Losing the Glass Slippers(great photographer) with 443 miles and Heather from Heather's Looking Glass with 441  miles.

5. A bit further down is my friend Gilbert with 131 miles but he gets a special mention because he only started running recently so 131 miles is a big deal and he is a Cubs fan, so he needs a lot of love. (Also a Jets fan, but that's my fault)

If you are on Dailymile or are thinking to sign up, be sure to look me up. Here is my Dailymile profile. As far as motivational tools go, you can't go wrong with this one. It supports not only Garmin data but Nike+ too,  as well as giving you the option to enter data yourself. Also, being free, can you really ask for more?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Diva's Aftermath

Well, I now have a Half-Marathon under my hydration belt. It was a truly incredible experience. We often wonder how are we gonna react when put to the test and while I can't say everything was peaches n' cream, I think I did quite alright. 

There was so much stuff I was feeling and wanted to share after the race but lets face it, my last post was a race report, not the Bible so I had to draw the line somewhere. I tried to concentrate on the actual race and saved the rest of the stuff for later so... now being later, here we go.

The actual Diva race:

This is an awesome series no matter if its not geared towards guys. It is also very well organized and the course is both scenic and challenging. There were however, in my opinion, two things that need attention. Both of them having to do with the finish line area. The first was the lack of railings/supervision around this particular area. As you ran the final half mile, there were a lot of runners who had finished along with their families and friends walking around the area blocking the course markers and the course itself. it was very disorienting and very off-putting to those close to finishing. They could have certainly organized the flow of finishers a lot better. The other issue was the lack of shade/tents. Even the area for the finish photo (and the long line to get there) was out in the sunlight and 95+ degree heat. I'm sure these areas are out in the open in other races and that's fine when it's colder but under the circumstances it was torture.

The Day After:

Yes, it was a bit painful. OK, it was a lot. In fact, after getting in the car after the race and went home, I had to stop for gas. I thought I was not gonna be able to get out of the car! But by the evening I was feeling better and after taking Monday and Tuesday off, I ran 4 miles on Wednesday then another 4 Thursday. That first run after felt so funny. My legs were like numb or something but I found a rhythm after a while and have actually had two very good runs afterwards.

Lesson Learned:

There were many factors for what happened to me during the race -the fact that is was my very first being one of the main reasons- but in hindsight, the lack of mileage did me in more than anything. My schedule became erratic at the worst possible time and my consistency suffered. From now until January I have to tighten the reins. The Marathon will not be as forgiving as the Half. On the plus side, I did manage to maintain a pretty quick (for me) pace for 9 whole miles. That is huge. A bit of more consistency  in my training and I probably would have been able to go the entire way like that. The days of this Fat Runner dragging his feet at 18+ minutes per mile seem to be behind him. 


I have been thinking about my fueling strategy for the race quite a bit. I'm not sure but maybe I was too aggressive. I took four gels and used them at every other water stop. There were moment when I was feeling bloated. Like I had too much stuff in my stomach. So much so, that for the last gel I felt nauseous but only a little bit. However at the finish line I felt like I hadn't taken anything. Also, I didn't have any gas, heartburn, pain or any other GI symptom to make me believe there any ill effects. Either way, I would love to be able to use less of that stuff. What am I gonna do for the Marathon? Take 8 gels? I'm gonna need a support vehicle to get me by. Which reminds me...

Support Vehicles:

Some women running the race had their husbands/boyfriends/significant others ride along them during the race on a bicycle. They carried gels, water, food, sport drinks and is some cases they even played music. They were like a portable motivation station. I'm not sure it was officially allowed but it sure was cute.

My future running Half Marathons:

I am yet to run a full Marathon but as far as Half-Marathons go, I definitely want to run more of them. This may prove to be a little difficult given that there are not too many of those here but this is a distance I really liked despite all the struggle. Even though right now my focus is 100% on the Walt Disney World Marathon, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't set a goal of running a sub-3 hour Half in the not-so-distant future. It will be the long distance equivalent of the sub-40 minute 5K. Crazier things have happened.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Divas Half Marathon Race Recap

"I love the smell of Estrogen in the morning, while wearing a pink tutu."
                                                                            -Not-so-famous last words

Yes, I did wear a pink tutu. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, back when I announced I would run this particular race, it generated an overwhelming amount of humorous comments on this blog and other social media which I took in stride because quite frankly, I too thought it was funny that this race would end up being my first Half-Marathon. Among the many comments were also suggestions which added up to saying "Hey, you are running this race, you might as well embrace it's spirit." Something I could totally support so...

That is the face of a man tired from waking up at 3:30 am while being scared to death and nervous at the same time... with a pink tutu no less. And as far as the tutu goes, I actually seemed to have picked the perfect one. It did not bother me one bit during the race and fit me perfectly despite the fact that it's "one size fits all", which is a small personal victory right there. The only issue and it was a small one, was that when I walked and my arms were down, they would rub the tutu which was a bit annoying but not painful.

My goals for this race were pretty clear. Finishing the race goes without saying and with a 4 hour time limit, it was definitely achievable but, I had bigger goals in mind. This race was a means to an end which is the Walt Disney World Marathon in January, and that race has a tighter limit. For me to at least feel I was on the right track, I had to finish this race in 3 and a half hours or less. A tall order considering my recent woes but something to strive for.  My race strategy however, was not as clear. I was feeling under-trained, and with my recent long runs I was not feeling so sure of myself so I kept going over how to tackle this race.

Anyway, after getting dressed and eating some toast with peanut butter, a coffee and half a Powerade I headed to San Juan to run my race. There was free parking for runners and also bag check which is awesome; especially when you are by yourself with no one to hold your stuff. On my way to the starting area, I was offered a running cap from some nice ladies working for the Ford Motor Company, which I declined. Then I was offered another one by another nice lady and decided to take it. This, turned out to be an awesome decision later on. I immediately noticed it was pretty warm for 5:30 am. A bad omen of things to come.  Once on the starting area, the tutu caused quite a bit of reactions. Some runners would point to me and tell their boyfriends/husbands "see, he wore one." I got a lot smiles and thumbs ups and "nice tutu" comments to which I would answer "Hey if you can't beat them, join them." And, there were those who thought I was gay which was fine by me as long as my wife didn't think so.

The 6:00 am start time came all too quickly and after the National Anthems we were off. It was heading towards the starting line that I noticed I had not put on my heart rate monitor. The strap I had put on at home but I waited to put on the actual monitor at the race. So that was my wonderful start: fumbling around with my headphones and the heart rate monitor while pressing the button in my watch so it can begin timing me. I tried not to let it get to me, worked it out and focused on the task at hand. 

The course for this race was, to put it mildly, intimidating. There were several hills that I knew were going to be a problem over the long term. Bonking was a serious concern so I did two things: I had an aggressive fueling strategy: Every other water stop which amounted to 4 gels. And, I decided beforehand I would walk up the hills which started pretty early as the first big hill was early on. On the plus side, the first half of this course was very beautiful and scenic.
The corner right before the first big hill.

...and the first big hill.

Can you see the runners at the base of the wall?

Check out all the tutus!

I made it a goal to not look at Mr. Garmin so I tried go by feel and work up a manageable pace. Either all the scenery was inspiring me or my strategy was working because I was feeling pretty good. Soon after I took that last picture, it started to rain. As in, it started to rain with the Sun up and shining at the same time. It's an old saying that when that happens, witches are getting married. I don't know if that's true but apparently it also means divas are running too. A bit after that, we ran by a church where a priest was blessing all runners who stopped by. Spectators got a real kick out of that as well as the runners. And after that, nothing. We left the part known as Old San Juan and ran towards the financial district,  and on the way there the is a bunch of nothing so... boring.

It was around that time I got to the halfway point, and I took a bathroom break and for the first time, checked in with trusty Mr. Garmin. In my paranoia, I had set up my watch's handy virtual partner feature to 16 minutes per mile.(My personal time limit) What I saw, honestly blew my mind. 

I was ahead of my target pace by half a mile.

I was too happy to even think of why I was so far ahead so I just kept going. A couple of miles later I made to the financial district and here is where the Sun switched from early morning warmth to full-on, scorching, Caribbean beach hell-type of Sun. Man, it was hot! Yet, I managed thanks to the handy cap I was given at the starting line. I never take stuff at these things because I hate to carry things around yet I took the cap. First time ever I have run with one. Call it divine intervention.

Maybe it was that heat but shortly after reaching the financial district and heading back to Old San Juan I started to fade. Fast. Also, the longest hill of the course was up, which I walked, of course. Right after reaching the top, I started to run but couldn't for too long. Oh no. This is not good. I tried to get into a rhythm but was struggling. Then came this long downhill section which I tried to use as a sort of jump-start and while I sped down pretty quickly I was walking as soon as the hill was over. 

I was bonking.

This was the final stretch. Less than a 5K to go. I was heading to another water station where I was supposed to take my final gel. I felt like I was going to throw up if I took it, but I did, along with a lot of water and some Gatorade. Then I turned the corner to Ashford Avenue. This avenue is in a part of San Juan called El Condado which is where all the hotels, fancy restaurants and night clubs are. You know what there is not a lot of there? Freaking tall trees! With shade! The Sun was scorching and I was tired and fading by the second. I felt I couldn't run anymore. So, I went to my last resort. I looked in my phone for an app I downloaded to count run/walk intervals. It was set to 1 minute run/1 minute walk. It was all I could do but barely. A couple of intervals later I couldn't do the 1 minute run the whole way. But I kept going. The last mile I thought I was going to die but I kept it together and when I saw the finish line I did one final push and ran all the way to the end.

I had just ran(ish) a Half-Marathon. Time? 3 hours, 24 minutes and 19 seconds. 

Oh, and with a pink tutu.

What happened next was a bit hazy. I was obviously exhausted and a little disoriented. I was given my medal by some very chiseled model-guy with no shirt on. Then I was given a water bottle, a rose and then a shot of champagne. There was an area to have your picture taken but there was a line and it had no shade! Who the heck thought this through?! There were many people celebrating and a lot going on but all I could think of was getting out of the Sun. Alas, it was not to be. The bag check tent was what seemed to me like a thousand miles away. After getting my bag, I looked around for some shade and when I couldn't find any I gave up and left. The walk to my car was painful. Very painful. But after taking off the tutu and turning on the AC, I sat down to savor what I had done.


The Rose, I gave to my beautiful wife once I got home. The medal, in all its pink glory, is already hanging on the wall.

A little blurry but hey, I could hardly see straight.

Someone get me a bed. Stat!

I have spent the last two days trying to figure out how to describe what I was feeling after I finished. Then, I realized I have felt exactly the same way once before, during my first race ever:  Popular Bank's 5K . I was frustrated because I didn't run the race I wanted to run but instead of complaining about it, I was trying to figure out how to do better the next time. And that is what's occupying my mind now. I know I can run better than that. I have a very distinct feeling that I can run this distance a lot better and faster than I just did. I just have to work hard at it. 

I could also be moping about how much I struggled in the end and how that bodes for me when I run the marathon but after getting home from the race and downloading the data from Mr. Garmin I could see exactly what went wrong.

Avg Pace

As if I haven't learned my lesson by now, I started too fast. Then, after starting too fast, I kept going too fast. To run this race evenly, I had to run the whole thing in the high 15's (which I thought I was doing) yet at the beginning, I'm doing 14's and 13's. A 13:09 3rd mile?! Who do I think I am? Usain Bolt? Even after that (relative) bullet train start, I managed to stay in the 15's until mile 9 after which everything unraveled. I should have checked Mr. Garmin earlier. Even if I would've figured it out during the bathroom break that I was going too fast, it wouldn't have mattered. It was already too late.

The good news? Even after bonking, stopping to pee and taking all those pics, I still managed to finish in under 3:30, and after the initial shock (and scorching Sun), with a total desire to do it again, only better. Not bad.

Now I understand why so many people say this is their favorite distance to run. I hear it all the time: "It's long enough to be challenging but still doable." I don't think I really understood that until now. It's not that it is easy to do. Far from it. But doing it, you realize that with proper training and hard work it can be done.

Hard work... and a pink tutu apparently.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Alliance 5K Race Recap (and a few other things)

Well, this was some week(s).

I was just telling you all about my running funk not too long ago which in and of itself was pretty bad, then my lack of running which was no picnic. It was tough but things like that being cyclical, I slowly started to see the end of the tunnel and get back on the groove. 

Then, I got sick. Real sick.

A very bad cold, begat a very bad sinus flare up which begat an infection. The left side of my face swelled up like someone had kicked me. Still, somehow I managed to get in some runs but they weren't exactly inspirational. A day after some antibiotics (last Saturday), I was due a long run. 12 miles. I wasn't feeling up to it but this was the last long run before the Divas Half-Marathon so I had to make this work somehow. Settled for 10 miles, barely made it to that. It was horrible.

By this point I was feeling pretty low. The combination of my funk plus the illness have added up to a very bad moment at a very crucial time. If I can't run 10 miles, how can I possibly run 13.1? You all know where this train of thought goes and its not pretty. "Maybe I shouldn't race. Maybe a DNF is better than a DNS. And what about the full Marathon? If I can't run a Half..." After that long run in the early morning, I spent the entire day nursing sore legs and those wonderful positive thoughts. Then I remembered: I had a race on Sunday.

The Alliance 5K is a church charity event. In its 6th year it has been growing slowly, developing a reputation among serious runners. A good friend of  mine had been asking me to do this race for a while and I said yes. Little did I knew at the time that it would come at such a bad time. On Sunday, I was still a bit sore but my wife was very sick ( we are still debating who got who sick) and in bed. Great excuse to not go. Gotta watch the girls and stuff, you know. But the truth is I was torn. Maybe a nice race could help me get the bad stuff out of my head but I was still sick and very sore from the long run so a horrible failure in a 5K was not the best of ideas either so I didn't know what to do. Right around the time I had to leave, my wife got up and declared she was feeling better. Well, that for me was like some sort of authorization so I quickly got dressed and left. I still don't know why or what got me to finally decide to go but I did.

When I got there I almost regretted it. The start/finish line was right in front of the church and that church was in the very top a hill. A big hill. That meant going down hill to start and going uphill to finish. Crap. I look for my friend and let him know what an idiot he is for not telling me about this huge hill. His answer: "Frank, that's just the last hill. The whole course (see how course is curse with an extra o?) is pretty hilly. And there are two hills just like that." Wonderful. Then I noticed there basically two types of participants among the 200 or so: Very serious runners and a very small group of walkers. I was very suspicious that without those few walkers I could finish dead last in this race. It turns out the reason this race is popular with the racing crowd because of the challenging course.

I warm up and line up. I'm trying to clear my mind and put on some music. The gun goes off and we start running. First part is easy. We go downhill and I just let my legs go. Soon enough the hill ends and I get into a groove. Sure enough, the course is hilly and I feel like my pace is on the fast side. A mile in I overhear my watch beep: First mile 11:05. Whoa! Way fast but there was that downhill part at the beginning. It was still too fast though so I figured I would pay for it dearly later on. It was the first and last time I checked my watch. Slowed down a bit but then the first big hill came.

Pretty amazing how hills never look as threatening when you take pictures of them but trust me. It was big and it was long. I didn't expect to run all the way up but I did and at a pretty good pace too. After reaching the top I did an overall assessment and was surprised to find I was feeling pretty good. I kept going. 

Want to know about my new pet peeve during a race? People doing the Galloway method and using me as their personal interval timer. Three different people I pass. They were running  but started walking. I pass them. They suddenly feel the urge to run, pass me then stop right in front of me. This of course means I have to make a sudden course correction to not run them over. I pass them again. Repeat. This gets old very quickly. Thankfully, I was feeling good and could run a bit faster. Eat my dust Gallowalkers!* Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Somehow, I manage to run this entire race way above my normal pace but there was still that huge hill at the end. It turned out to be everything I thought it would be. Right in the middle of it I felt like stopping and I almost did but again, I kept going. Not only that, I accelerated a bit. Surely not the burst from the Popular Bank's 5K but a nice, strong kick at the end. I then got my medal and banana. Then, I checked my watch...

37:43, 12:07 average pace.

A PR.... After all that. After all those crappy weeks and illness. A PR. Go figure.

Avg Pace

So after that slingshot at the start, I somehow manage to maintain hyper-speed (for me) through a full 5 kilometers. My slowest mile was the middle one and barely above 13 minutes. How I managed this on sore legs, sick and medicated, I have no idea. Oh yeah, on a hilly, challenging course too. How on Earth I didn't do this under "perfect" conditions on a flat course back in August during the Popular Bank's 5K... Well, I have no idea either.

So, that was my week. How was yours?

*For the record, I have no problem with people doing the Galloway method. In fact I think it's the safest, sanest way of running long distances. I'm just annoyed by people doing the Galloway method feeling insecure about being  passed by a fat, slow runner. Pass me all you want just don't stop right in front of me. Sorry, I'm venting and watching House re-runs as I write this.