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.