Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cross-Training: The Fat Runner Goes to the Gym

So I have been thinking about this for a while now and finally have gotten around to it. For the last two weeks, I have been going to the gym. 

I have been wanting to do this for a while for several reasons: First, it's important to work the upper body and core and that is an area I have been doing pretty much nothing. During my last race, I was aiming for a PR and was running faster than usual. After sustaining that speed for a while I began to feel -let's call it stress- in the muscles in my lower abdomen. Lesson? If  I plan to run faster, I got to strengthen my core. Second, muscle development aids in fat loss in a big way.

I should have started earlier but I was holding back for several reasons. The first being fear. At the beginning, running was very hard on my body and it took a while for me to recover and  try again. I was afraid adding gym days would cut my running days, especially if I worked out my legs. Now that I can run on consecutive days without major problems I feel a bit more confident. The other reason was economics. Gyms cost money and I wasn't sure I could afford it. But that problem kind of solved itself. A Planet Fitness opened right next to where I work and at 10 bucks a month, you really can't ask for much else. Plus, their commercials are funny.

So now, I have adjusted my schedule to work out on some of my non-running days. Since my current training plan is winding down, I've had time to adjust and take things a bit easier which has worked out perfectly as my adjustment into gym life has been as sore and painful as I thought it would be.

That first visit was really special. Quite the rude awakening. There I was on the squat rack thinking "hey, I run regularly so this can't be so bad." Then I actually perform a squat and "discover" muscles I didn't know I had. My quads were fine but there was this whole set of muscles in my inner thighs I don't remember having that started to complain. Two days later I tried to run 3 miles. Made as far as 2 before I had enough. DOMS happens. 

Another little quirk I was not aware of: All this time I have been running, not a single mile has been on a treadmill. Not one. Now, to warm up and to keep up with some mileage while at the gym, I find myself running on the treadmill for the first time. Should I count those miles? I find myself feeling a bit guilty counting them mainly because they feel so much easier than when I'm running outside. I go in, run two miles and by the end I' not even breathing hard. Then I work out and do one more at the end.

It has been a bit of a rocky start but I'm getting the hang of it. Starting to run was not easy either but I sure got over it. Not doing anything fancy either. Full body workout to get used to lifting. Just one more step towards becoming a lean, mean, marathon-running machine!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Popular Bank's 5K Race Recap - Year 2


Ha! I know I didn't say anything about this race but I didn't want to jinx "the plan". Actually, a bunch of stuff has happened since I got back from Chicago, including my first gym workout, the very sore week that followed and a speed work session  that made the "Dri-Fit" claim in my shirt look like extremely false advertising and we will cover that at a later time but right now, it's all about racing.
A lot closer to the Starting Line this year.

The reason I want to cover this first is that this is a special race. As the Year 2 in the title implies, this is the first race I run twice. My first race ever.  An anniversary of racing. Last year, finishing this race was both my greatest triumph and biggest disappointment all at the same time: Victory because it was my first race and I finished. I was a runner. Disappointment because on my way to that finish line I made every single mistake I could have made, including having to stop and walk halfway through. Not to mention my abysmal finishing time of 48:51. That's 18:24 minutes per mile. The Ice Age was faster than that. All that was not necessarily a bad thing, however. It drove me to do better and keep running but you know how it is. The mistakes keep nagging at you and you just want a chance to do better. 
Can't get that darn bib straight. Ever!

Well, here we are. 1 year and roughly almost 700 miles later.

Larry, Curly and Moe

As if this wasn't personal enough, some friends of mine joined me for this race. Gilbert and Frankie are longtime friends, almost brothers. Gilbert told me he was motivated to start running by reading my blog so you know, no pressure. He is doing really well. While training for this race he had a PR of 30:01. Given the fast course and provided he didn't do anything stupid (his first race) he could very well break 30 minutes. Then again, next to me, he looks like a swizzle stick. Running with them was not in the cards this day however. They could wait for me at the finish line. I had a plan and was sticking to it. A plan so bold, so daring, that I didn't share it with anyone until now in this recap. This bold, daring strategy was something I have never been able to do in a race but I have been working hard and learned a couple of things. Assuming it works, I was coming into this race not only with the intention of achieving a PR but crushing my previous time for this race.

So after discussing strategy and getting in the corral (this time I was somewhere in the middle of the pack instead of way back) they made the announcement and we were off. Immediately  some people cut in front of me and my friends. Just as well, as I didn't want even to catch a hint of their pace (they run in the 9's) creeping into my plan of attack. As Kevin Costner in For the Love of the Game, I told myself "Clear, the Mechanism". Don't pay attention to what's going on around you and run your race. And for the most part it was working. I would occasionally look at my watch and see the pace in the 13's which is where I wanted to be during the first mile. On the other hand I was having a bit of trouble with traffic. At one moment this lady stopped cold right in front of me to tie her shoes and almost caused a pileup and then at the first water stop there was a bottleneck that made me slow down and zig-zag quite a bit. Things were happening very differently from last year. I sure wasn't being passed by walkers (runners though...) and said walkers were a bit more of a problem than last year but hey, it was a good thing because it meant I was running faster. At one point I had to run outside the marked course to pass through.

About a mile and a half in, it was time to take the hill. It was here where I stopped running last year so you can bet I wasn't about to stop now. This hill (a ramp actually) isn't very long but it gets steeper as it goes along so it's hardest point is right at the top. Well, I charged up that baby trying not to think about it too much. Once at the top I was a bit more winded than I would have liked and it took me a while to recover. I didn't slow down but I couldn't speed up which is what I wanted. I tried from this point on to not look at my watch and try to go by feel. When I felt a bit better, I picked up the pace a bit and tried to maintain it. Then I saw the finish line in the horizon and stepped on the gas. I tried to run faster but there were people everywhere and zig-zagged more during the last .1 miles than at any other point in the race. I almost screamed at people to get out of the way. Almost. And with that, it was over.

Where's Waldo. Can you spot The Fat Runner?

I stopped my watch and could not dare to look at the time. I just kept walking, got my fruit and water and my medal. Then, after getting my breath back I checked. 40:39. Here are the splits.

Avg Pace

I wanted to crush my previous time and I guess I did. By a bit over 8 minutes. I wanted to run a negative split and as you can see in the splits, done. I also wanted to run this race under 40 minutes.

Oh crap.

I guess you can't have everything but I'm so frustrated. I know I can run below 40 minutes and have done so in fact, here. If I had to claw and almost crawl my way to a sub-40 in that race, then what happened here? Well, a glance at the data seems to tell me I took too long to speed up after the ramp. I am vexed. I'm terribly vexed. And it showed too. My friends did the race in about 30 minutes so they didn't get to break 30 minutes either. Apparently they had some crowd troubles as well. They kept telling me I did great  and I was like (shrugging) "heh". 

The "After" Picture

My wife was extremely annoyed. On the train back to our car I kept looking at the Garmin, like, somehow the numbers would magically change if I kept looking or something. She kept rolling her eyes telling me to let it go. Oh, I'll let it go. I'll let it go right after I get another sub-40 in my next 5K! He he he.

Monday, August 19, 2013

20 Miles From Chicago

OK, so where were we?

Right, I was heading to a Convention in Chicago and was hoping to get some runs in. Even though I was a bit concerned about the tight schedule I was looking forward to running in a beautiful city like Chicago. I almost never run with my phone and when I do, it's on my arm strap replacing my faulty iPod so I don't have any pictures of the actual runs. Sorry. However, photography being a hobby of mine, I also found the time to take some pictures of the city and I they will be scattered throughout this post. Like this.

Allow me to cut the suspense. Running in Chicago was amazing! Like, otherworldly actually. The weather was perfect, the temperatures were perfect. People running everywhere saying hi and waving and the scenery? Well, if you can't get inspired running with Lake Michigan on one side and the Chicago skyline in the other then you shouldn't be running. It was the catalyst for some of the best runs of the summer. Some of the best runs ever to tell you the truth. You will have to forgive me up front for the very long post so please enjoy the pretty pictures.

It wasn't all peaches and cream though. The price for this running nirvana was paid. The Convention schedule was tight, with full days and extra activities running until night which meant running in the very early mornings, waking up at 4:30 am to have time to get ready for the day ahead. Of course, that meant sacrificing the "social" aspect of the Convention and rest. I'm not a big drinker, not even a regular drinker actually, but it's at events like these where you meet old friends and you want to go out and chat and reminisce. I hardly did for fear of oversleeping or getting dehydrated. I'm such a nerd. I ended up having only one free night and it ended up being used to take the pictures you see here. I also got sick. Runny nose, cough, mucus, the works... Don't let all the complaining fool you though. I don't regret it one single bit.

Sunday, August 11 - Long Run: I was still getting my bearings but I had done my research online and knew where I wanted to run. The Lakefront Trail is miles and miles of paved road just for runners and bikers (the pedaling kind). I woke up, loaded my hydration belt with a gel, some gummy bears, a bottle of water and a bottle of sports drink. Went to Illinois Street and took off toward the trail. I caught it on a bridge crossing the river right next to Navy Pier. From there, it was really simple: Just follow the trail. This thing does not end! Ever. I went past Buckingham fountain (which to me will always be the Married with Children fountain), the Field Museum, Soldier Field and McCormick Place Convention Center which is where the Convention took place. And yet, I soldiered on.  I ended up past some beach (weird calling it that since it's a lake. Even if it looks like a freaking ocean) 6.5 miles into the run where I finally turned back. When I did, I was rewarded with the most beautiful view of the city. Certainly an incentive to get back. 

Earlier in the run I saw a bunch of people putting up mile markers and setting up hydration stations along the trail. I thought it was a running club or something setting up some weekend activity. It ended up being something a little bigger than that: The Chicago 10K! When I got back they were right in the middle of it. I didn't want to get lost and I saw other runners in my same situation simply joining the race to get through so I did as well. I had a couple of miles to go and they were gonna go down in the middle of this race. Even though at that point I was out of fluids and only had some Gummy Bears left, I refused offers to take water. I sure didn't want to be a bandit. It took me a bit over three hours but I got it done. Longest run for me so far. 11 miles. Running so far before doubling back did come back to bite me in the butt though: I finished a bit over 2 miles away from my hotel. Most painful walk. Ever.

Tuesday, August 13 - 3 Miles: I was surprised I had recovered from the long run. All of Sunday and Monday were... interesting to say the least. Tuesday morning though, I felt the need to do something stupid. I again took off on Illinois Street and made it all the way to the Married with Children Fountain before coming back.

Avg Pace
112:33.4 1.00  12:33
213:02.2 1.00  13:02
311:29.3  1.00  11:29
4:01.7 0.00    7:07

Fastest 3 miles ever. An 11:29 third mile? In my dreams maybe but there it is. I actually made it back to the hotel ahead of schedule. I took a shower, got ready and was able to lie down for a bit before going to the convention. Chicago seems to be good for my health.

Friday, August 16 - 6 Miles: This run was supposed to happen on Thursday but it was not to be. Not to be deterred, I woke up early the day I was supposed to head back home and ride this Chicago bandwagon the whole way. This run was supposed to be 7 miles with 5 miles at tempo pace but i was afraid it would take too long. Instead, I ran 6 miles with the intent of running them as hard as the distance would allow. I was thinking: "Anything below 16 minutes per mile will be great." Well...

Avg Pace
113:20.1 1.00  13:20
214:21.9 1.00  14:22
314:20.4 1.00  14:20
413:55.9 1.00  13:56
514:12.4 1.00  14:12
614:57.5 1.00  15:27

My last (and only) 10K last February was 1:37:21. This was was 12 minutes faster. That is huge. I'll be honest. I didn't think I could run this far at this pace. And here's the kicker. I think it was faster than the numbers above. At the end of the run, the GPS watch went berserk  while under a bridge and in between the city buildings. It kept marking 5.97 miles way past the 6 mile marker so I kept running and stopped the watch late so that final 14:57 mile was actually shorter than that.

Allow me to put myself down here for a second. There were many factors at play here for this sudden boost in performance. The weather was like nothing I have ever run in. It really made a difference. If it's anything even close to this (60's to mild 80's) during Marathon weekend, I can certainly go in more confident I can do well. Obviously my new surroundings were inspiring and certainly played their part. There was a conspiracy of factors that made these runs near perfect.

Now, let me pat myself on the back a bit. Considering the schedule, deciding to take things easy during my stay in Chicago would have been totally justifiable. But no. I wanted to run. I made it a priority and cared enough about my goals to not only run in Chicago, but run 20 miles in Chicago. To actually do easy, tempo and long runs. I didn't have to do an 11 mile long run. I didn't have to take all my running gear with me -hydration belt and all- on this trip for just a couple of runs. But I did and I couldn't be happier about it.

So there you go. Rose up to the challenge I guess. Next time, I'll just sign up for that 10K and smoke all the fat people there. Wait... the next Convention is in 5 years and in San Francisco. By that time, I'll just go win the San Francisco Marathon! LOL

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Off to Chicago!

So, did a tempo run (6 miles), packed my bags and I'm on my way to Chicago!

I'm there for the International Convention of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which is the long version of saying the Union I work for. It happens every five years and this year its going on on in the Second City. 

This trip is a little scary for me. I have traveled before and managed to run but this time, I'm going to be there for 7 whole days and I'm right in the peak of my current training plan so I have to work hard to get the miles in. Also, it means that I have to do one long run over there this Sunday. 11 miles. The most I will have ever run, assuming I pull it off.

Not that there aren't places to run in Chicago! It is a beautiful city (I've been there twice before) full of trails and pathways to run in. I'm looking forward to running along the lake (which to me looks like an ocean). I would also love to photograph this city, especially at night. A hard proposition considering I can't take my tripod with me but that's life for you. We'll see how it turns out.

I'm not sure about the internet situation in the hotel I'm staying at so I cannot promise to blog while I'm there but  if it turns out that way I will be sure to give you a full report once I'm back. Wish me luck!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Speed Work - A Conversation

The Cast

Me: You know Me. The guy who writes this blog and stuff.

Me+: The little voice inside my head. Me+ comes up with a lot of crazy stuff, then expects me to execute that stuff. Running a marathon when I had never run before? His idea. I have a love/hate relationship with this guy.

The Conversation

We arrive at the track, where I have to do the day's workout: Three 1 mile repeats for 6 miles total.

Me+: OK lets warm up. Slow OK? You will have time for fast in a little while.

Me: Yeah, yeah... A lot of people at the track today. Lots of kids training and stuff.

Me+: They always block the track hope it won't be problem... you know, why don't we make this workout more interesting? I got a great idea.

Me: You and your "great ideas". I'm still feeling the "great idea" from last week.

Me+: Oh come on! we had to go for that mileage record. We just had to!

Me: Right...

Me+: Tell you what, instead of running the repeats all out, you will do something different in each one. You just have to follow my instructions OK?

Me: I got a bad feeling about this.

Me+: Mile's almost up. You ready? 

Me: No...

Me+: Great. For the first repeat, you're gonna run in the high 14's. Aim for a 15 minute mile.

Me: I can do that easy! Not for long but...

Me+: Just do it. Mile's up. GO!

First Repeat

Me: This is easy. Not even breathing hard.

Me+: The point here is to maintain a faster pace than normal. Get a feel for it. This is how you should run the marathon.

Me: I don't know. I can't even think about being able to do that right now.

Me+: You will. That's what you are training for.

Me: Done! 14:50...

Me+: See? Not bad at all. Can't get more accurate than that.

Me: (smiling) Well...

Me+: OK, after the half-mile cool down, you are gonna run the next repeat a bit faster. Try to keep the watch in the 13's.

Me: 13's... I can do 13's. 

Me+: Of course you can. Half - mile is up. GO!

Second Repeat

Me: (breathing a bit harder now) A lot of people passing us.

Me+: Yeah, so?

Me: This is supposed to be a "speed" workout!

Me+: Yeah, so? Speed is relative.

Me: They are warming up! This is embarrassing. I'm doing  speed work and the entire track is lapping me.

Me+: Who cares! Besides, they don't know you are doing a speed workout. Right?

Me: I don't know, they can surely hear me breathing hard when I pass them by...


Me: (avoiding running over a track coach) Yikes! Sorry! (Under his breath) Totally your fault for moving AROUND THE MIDDLE OF THE FREAKING TRACK doing nothing.

Me+: He wasn't even paying attention.

Me: You notice he is fatter than me right? Hey (it starts to rain) its raining!

Me+: Yeah, so?

Me: Everyone is leaving to take cover.

Me+: Yeah, so?

Me: Dude! Its raining! I'm the only one on the track.

Me+: And... Done! How did you do?

Me: I don't know. I started counting the repeat at 2.5 miles and finished at 3.5 miles so I don't know what the total time was for that mile. It felt faster.

Me+: OK...

Me: The watch was on 13's the whole way. Maybe in the 12's a few times. Had to be 13 something.

Me+: Well, the next one starts at 4 miles so we won't have any trouble keeping track of that one. You are gonna love it too.

Me: What?

Me+: Now, I want you to run the best mile you can. All out. Go crazy.

Me: What?! But  I just ran 4 miles! How fast can I possibly run now? 

Me+: We are about to find out aren't we? I want you to leave it all on the track.

Me: I'll leave you on the track...

Me+: No time for talk. Go!

Final Repeat

Me: (panting) Legs... hurt...

Me+: Normal... quite normal.

Me:(pointing at a guy in a red shirt) I... just... lapped that guy! 

Me+: Fabulous. He's walking. Don't slow down!

Me: Legs... lungs! Burning!

Me+: You're doing great!

Me: Murder... Death... Kill!

Me+: Isn't that from a movie? Go! Almost done! Final stretch!... Done!!!!

Me: Dear Lord! It's over.

Me+: You did awesome! 11:15!

Me: What?! I think that's the fastest I have ever run a mile. Even after all that!

Me+: I told you. How are you feeling?

Me: I wanna kill myself.

Me+: Now come on. Really?

Me: But first I'm gonna kill you.

Me+: It wasn't that bad!

Me: Make it look like an accident... I don't think you will be missed by many.

Me+: What about your readers? They would miss me.

Me: You are worrying about 5 people? Don't worry. I'll break it to them gently.

Me+: (laughing) Cry baby!

Me: I'm never running again.

Me+: So... tomorrow. 4 miles easy?

Me: Around five-ish?