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.