Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's The Avengers Half Marathon

My inner geek is jumping for joy!

I was gonna rant about my awful experience at the World's Best 10K Expo today but that will have to wait a bit. runDisney has made the announcement everyone was hoping they would make.

It's a new race weekend and it's The Avengers! Here is the video announcement. Cheesy as can be but who cares.

Rumors had been going around for a while now regarding a new race weekend and there was a general consensus that it was gonna be either a Marvel themed race or a Star Wars race based around the already successful Star Wars Weekends in Florida.  Well, November 14-16 2014 will be the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half-Marathon Weekend.

This makes perfect sense. runDisney had been pushing the girl power quotient for a while now by adding the Tinker Bell Half in California and the Princess Half in Florida. Us guys were beginning to feel left out. 

This is a game changer for me. I mentioned a while back that I wanted to do a fall half-marathon to chase that sub-3 I want to do so bad and this weekend being in mid-November fits right in my schedule and... It's the freaking Avengers!!

Alas, this announcement is bittersweet for me. The race will be in Disneyland.  As in California. I'm pretty certain I won't be able to afford it. Again, the decision makes sense. There are a lot more races in Florida and this balances out things a little bit in that regard. Also, with Islands of Adventure (and therefore Marvel Super Hero Island) right next door, Disney might have a bit of a conflict of interest if it was held in Disney World. 

You can also bet this race is gonna sell out almost instantly so I have a very small window to figure out if I can pull this off or not. Registration opens at noon on March 25. I want to do this so bad. It's an inaugural event, it's in California (never been to Disneyland), it would get me the coveted Coast to Coast medal (which I also want REAL bad) and... it's the freaking Avengers!!!

Here is the runDisney page for the event. Maybe I shouldn't post it though. the less people know about this, the better for me.

I'm thinking... there's a bunch of stuff I have two of. Like kidneys, eyes, arms... I can run with only one of all those things. Maybe I can get in touch with the black market... Besides, maybe there's still an outside chance they do the Star Wars race in Florida? run Disney? Pretty please?

Monday, February 24, 2014

World's Best 10K Race Recap 2014

My first race after accomplishing the marathon and I'm feeling a little weird. On one hand, I feel I'm coming in a little under-trained. I have been running regularly but I have been keeping the long runs not so long and I hate to admit I missed a few. On the other hand, having finished the marathon has lit a fire under me it seems. I have been blazing! Running at a pace I never thought I could sustain at this point. The other day I ran 4 miles in under 50 minutes. A couple of months ago it would take me over an hour. Apparently, knowing I can go the full 26.2 miles has freed my mind of preconceptions about what I can accomplish. We'll see how that plays out over the long term but for now, let's race.

My goals were varied but a lot clearer than for other races. 

A) To break 1:20:00. This could amount to a lot of wishful thinking. A lot of things were gonna have to go right for this to happen but I have been running pretty strongly lately so who knows.

B) To PR: My best 10K was last December. To break it I would have to do better than 1:22:51. This, I felt was doable. I was forced to take several walk breaks the last 2 miles of that 10K so if I managed to run the whole thing, a PR was definitely in the cards.

C) To finish somewhere near my best 10K time: Safety net obviously. I was having doubts about having done enough for this race. If I wasn't feeling it, I could very well take this easy. I just ran a marathon a month ago you know?

It didn't help that on Friday I went through the worst packet pick-up and expo ever. I will vent my frustration about that in a separate post but the end result of that little fiasco was me being pushed from Corral #3 to the very last one. Not exactly PR friendly. 

Even with a grumpy cloud hovering around me it wasn't all bad. I did get to meet Jared Fogle. Yes, the Subway guy. He came all the way here to do this 10K. He says that he gets recognized more often here in Puerto Rico than in U.S. Considering that this island is merely 35 miles North to South and 100 miles across, yet there are well over 200 Subways, that information shouldn't be too surprising.

Yes, the guy lost a whole bunch of weight. In my opinion though, the impressive thing is how he has managed to keep it off for so many years. Really inspiring.

Anyway,back to the race. I was supposed to run into some friends but they were in Corral 3 and I didn't get to meet them in time. They called and we decided to meet after the race. It's not like I was gonna keep up anyway. Frankie had no intention of being relaxed. He was gunning for a sub-60 minute race. Gilbert was having trouble with a knee but he was thinking 1:08-ish so maybe it wasn't a bad idea to start apart.

Living up to it's reputation as Puerto Rico's biggest race, the start line was packed. Early on people were jockeying for good position. However just like last year, the race was pretty well organized so there no major problems. When I got to the corral I saw the 1:20 pace group and decided to stick with them. It seemed like a good idea. Since taking off too fast has always been a problem, having someone else keep the pace for me might actually help to PR in this race so I found a spot behind them and waited until the gun went off.

It took ten minutes to get to the start line and just as I feared, it was a total mess. The pacers were zig-zagging around walkers just trying to find a spot and the people following them were having a hard time staying with them, including myself. Every time I seemed to find a groove next to or behind the pacers, we would have to break formation and start over. They were running at a pretty comfortable pace. The problem was staying together in the crowd. Some time after the first mile I took my eyes off them for a moment and lost them. I didn't want to either stop or look back in the sea of people for fear of getting trampled so I kept going until I found one of the runners who was in the pace group and when he saw me he started running with me. I figured he was trying to keep the 1:20 pace so if the pacers disappeared, I might as well follow him right? Well, it seems he was following me. Not the other way around which was a horrendous idea. He kept getting separated from me and coming back, then getting ahead of me and coming back, then falling behind and coming back. Not the most reliable rabbit if you ask me but that was pretty much the dynamic for the first half of the race. Finally, after the 5K marker, he started walking and I didn't see him again. Hope he made it.

About a mile later, the frantic pace and constant zig-zagging caught up with me and I started to fade. I tried to keep running but as we reached the "hump" on the road that takes you to the final leg of the race I had to walk. A couple of minutes later, I was passed by the pacers. Crap. I did it again. I was running too fast and burned out. I ran/walked the final leg of the race mumbling not so very nice things under my breath and tried to pick it up the final half mile but the damage was done. Official time: 1:24:01

Last year, I did this race in 1:37:51 so in a way, this was a success I guess. That's over 12 minutes of improvement but the reality is, I wasn't measuring this race against last year's time. I was measuring it against my PR. and I fell short. The fact that I finished so close to my PR despite all the walking shows just how much above pace I was. I only accomplished my C goal so I guess I will grade my performance based on that. So C- for me this day.


In better news both Gilbert and Frankie finished within their expectations. Frankie in particular ran a blistering 59-minute gem of a race and Gilbert, bum knee and all, managed a 1:08 so it was a pretty good day overall.

So up next, is the Puerto Rico Half-Marathon. Needless to say, I got a lot of work to do. I'm not looking for a PR on that one but still I got to get my stuff together and practice longer distances at faster paces. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Armpocket i35 Armband - A review

Right around the turn of the Century, small was reigning supreme. At least when it came to cell phones. Small was good, small was grand. In fact, for a while there, I thought we were gonna end with pellet-sized devices that we would implant in our ears. Then, the cell phone begat the smartphone and everything changed. With them, came the ability to do stuff you could only do glued to your computer anywhere and everywhere. In a prophetic turn of events, we now indeed, have the whole World in our hands.

Of course, we are not content with just having the whole World on our hands. We want it in HD and we want it in a big screen so the modern smartphone is has now become, well... huge. The first time I saw a Samsung Galaxy Note I thought it was some sort of joke. I guess the pellet-sized cell phone will have to wait for now.

Modern smartphones then, bring modern problems. For runners this means having to carry them while doing what we like to do most. Smartphones now carry our music, keep us informed of our intervals and even keep track of our location and how far we have run. For many, they have become as much a part of their gear as running shoes. 

Enter Armpocket. A company that specializes on helping you, the runner, carry your newest technological marvel. They have an arm band for almost every size smartphone out there; from the original iPhone to the behemoth Galaxy Note series. I learned about them after acquiring my latest phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4, which is on the larger side. In the interest of keeping it away from harm, I also bought an Otterbox case for it but the end result, is that what was an already big device, is now enormous. I had two previous arm bands and neither are even close to accommodating the S4. A tour of several stores bore no fitting results so I finally  ordered an i35 direct from Armpocket. 

As of this writing, the i35 is the biggest arm band in the company's lineup. According to them, it is designed to hold either a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 or a Galaxy S4 with an Otterbox case, which is what I own.
I ordered it with the large arm band.

The band itself is made of neoprene while the actual pouch where the phone is held, is made of a pretty sturdy fabric. It also has the obligatory clear "window" so you can see your phone through the band and, when placed correctly, you can use the touchscreen through it. The bottom of the pouch has holes so you can pass your headphone cables through while keeping the whole thing zipped up. It also has a small velcro loop to tie up your excess headphone cord. This feature has become pretty handy.
Life is definitely better when you have a loop for your headphone cable. No really.

There are several pockets or compartments inside to keep other stuff organized. According to Armpocket it could be credit cards, id's and keys among other things. We'll get to that in a minute but first and most important: Does the phone fit in there?

Well, the simple answer is yes it does. But (there's always a "but" isn't there?) there are several things you should take into consideration. As advertised, the i35 does indeed accommodate the Galaxy S4 with an Otterbox case but just barely. In fact, with the head phones plugged in, there is no way to zip the pocket shut. The top of the 1/4  jack pops out. Even with no headphones, it's tight fit with the Otterbox. Here it is with my wife's phone and case.
Bit of a tight fit.

It closes, but there's a little oops.

The other issue is this elastic band inside the i35.
See that elastic band? With the Otterbox, that's a problem.

It is designed to keep your phone's screen flush with the front clear window so you can use the touchscreen. It is a great idea in theory but one little problem: with the Otterbox on, the band won't work. It's just too tight. You really have to force it in there and after managing to put it in there once, I haven't done it again because I don't want the elastic band to sag which it surely will after several uses. Which leaves you with putting the phone without using the band. Sure enough, the phone now fits but the band now obscures the touchscreen and you can't use it. In all fairness, the top third of the screen is still visible, which is where the music controls show up in the phone's lock screen so you can have some control over those features but anything beyond that will require you to take the phone out which again, with the Otterbox, can be a chore. Also, those pockets I mentioned to put other stuff in? Useless if you are using the Otterbox. It's just too bulky and there is not enough space left for anything else.
Again, oops.

Which leaves me with the good news. Great news actually. Without the Otterbox to get in the way, things get exponentially better. When dealing with the phone by itself, everything changes. The phone slides easily into the i35 and the elastic band actually makes sense. Even with the headphones, you can zip it up all the way(and you can actually use those holes in the bottom) and have plenty of space for money, credit cards and even gels and the like. You could put keys in there but if your key chain is too bulky I wouldn't try it. The touchscreen can be used completely and without problems.  The i35 was ultimately designed to be used this way in my opinion. Not with the Otterbox.
Lots of handy pockets for stuff.

And herein lies the issue with the i35. Many are probably thinking: "What's the problem? Just take out the phone from the Otterbox and problem solved." It's not that simple. The Otterbox is designed to be on all the time. Have you tried to take a phone out of an Otterbox recently? Over the long term, I don't see a lot of people regularly taking their phones off the case to go running then putting them back in. I would get annoyed very quickly. I suspect a lot of people would as well.

As it is, I'm currently using the i35 with the Otterbox on maybe 85% of the time. I take the Otterbox off for races and other occasions when I actually have time to prep things, including the phone. However, during my regular runs throughout the week I just suck it up and sacrifice some convenience and comfort in favor of quickness.

Having said all that, I have to also say that for bigger smartphones, the i35 is truly the best solution out there right now. Ultimately, it's not that the i35 is badly designed or built. I think it's just badly advertised. Armpocket clearly states that the i35 will hold a Galaxy S4 with an Otterbox, and while it does, it barely does so and it's at the expense of comfort and convenience. Where this arm band truly shines is when you don't have an Otterbox or other protective case. But I have to ask. These days, how many people don't have some sort of case on their phones?

The i35 is nicely built, very sturdy and high quality. When used properly, with out a case, it is the very best deal out there. Just be aware when you purchase, about the case issue.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Now What...

"Alexander wept for there were no more worlds left to conquer."

Well, I answer with another quote:

"AS IF!"
-Cher (from Clueless. Not the singer)

Of course there is plenty to conquer! I'm just getting started here. Plenty left to do...

For a second there though, I was feeling like that scene at the very end of Finding Nemo. The one where Nemo's friends in the dentist's tank finally accomplish their plan and make it to the harbor, only to find moments later that they can't get out of their bags and Bloat asks:

The thing is, I'm trying to frame a new main goal, but it has to be something big. Just like the marathon got me through these two years, I need something equally bold to maintain that. Surely there will be smaller, short term goals but I need a whopper of a goal that is scary enough for me to get out there and get it done. 

First Things First

The first question often asked to runners right after their first marathon is: Would you do it again? Answers vary of course, and many feel they need some time after the experience to answer it. Me? I knew the answer even before I crossed the finish line. Absolutely! There were a lot of feelings gushing out after finishing. Some were unfamiliar (self-pride, for example. Not used to that) but there was one feeling I recognized instantly. I have felt it before in other races. The feeling of wanting to do better. It's not frustration. I wasn't thinking: "Man, I suck! I can do better." It was more like: "Yeah! This rocks! I'm gonna do so much better next time." I loved the distance and the challenge. I want to do it again.

The Disney Conundrum

Being a Disney fan prior to this running journey was a clear hint that I would enjoy running Disney immensely and guess what? I was right! (duh...) Sure enough, there is a whole bunch of stuff Disney-wise I would love to do. For example, the Disney medal I want the most is the Coast to Coast medal.

You earn this one by running either a full or half-marathon in Florida, followed by running a half-marathon in Disneyland all the way off in California in the same calendar year. Even when I first learned about Run Disney, this medal attracted me for some reason. It calls to me (my precious...). But if I'm honest with myself (and I have to be), this challenge is not a physical one. It is really a financial one and this year, it will be a challenge I will most likely not overcome. It's just too expensive. Besides, as you read this, registration for the Disneyland Half-Marathon, which is in August and would be my goal race to get the medal, will have opened... and closed! Last year it was sold out in 53 minutes. This year it took 40 minutes for the Dumbo Double Dare to sell out and the Half was gone within a day. So Coast to Coast is on the back burner. For now... 

That's the medal I want most. The Disney race I want to run the most is the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. It closes Epcot's Food and Wine Festival. It's run at night and ends in some party that is supposed to last until 4 am.

I wanted to do this race more than the Marathon but it was a tactical decision, goal-wise, to aim for the full instead. I love to cook and I love trying food from different cultures so I guess it's more the festival (and an excuse to go there) that attracts me to it. It certainly isn't the post-race party. Can you imagine all those aching runners trying to dance? It will be like Michael Jackson's Thriller. But not in a good way. (Man, I'm on fire with the quotes and references today!)

And then there is Goofy and Dopey. Not that they're close personal friends or anything. I'm talking about the challenges. The Goofy Challenge, where you run the Half-Marathon on Saturday and the Full on Sunday; and the Dopey Challenge, where from Thursday to Sunday you run a 5K, 10K, Half and Full consecutively. I cringe just thinking about it. But, if you want to take it to next level...

All this to say, it is very likely that there will be no Disney racing for me the remainder of 2014 and probably all of 2015. You never know but, champagne wishes, beer pockets I guess. Speaking of which, Megan Biller, who literally co-wrote the book about Disney running (and you should check if you are thinking of running Disney by the way) wrote this post about why she is taking a break from runDisney this year. Very enlightening. 

The Non-Disney Stuff

But, my life doesn't revolve around Disney! (despite my daughter's wishes to the contrary) There is plenty out there for me to do but I already have a very specific goal for 2014 that I think it's very important I accomplish going forward. I want to run a sub-3 hour Half-Marathon. If I'm ever going to run a better marathon, I need to improve some things as a runner and this is the step in the right direction. This "being scared of the sweepers" thing is getting old really fast. I enjoyed running the marathon but I'm sure I would enjoy it a lot more if I didn't have balloon ladies and buses full of crying, swept runners in the brain.

Now, I know I can hit that number pretty efficiently. The only problem is the lack of Half-Marathons in Puerto Rico. I'm gonna be training for a race that might not exist. There's the Puerto Rico Half-Marathon but that's in March which is right around the corner and I'm already signed up for. I'm good but not that good. I'm not expecting to hit sub-3 in that one. I was thinking more in the fall or winter. So I might have to do some traveling to get it done. On the cheap, of course, so Disney is out for this one. I could sure use some suggestions. The Rock 'n Roll series and the Biggest Loser Run/Walks sound fun and there are many cities to choose from. Also I would looove to run a race with a Loop Fest (or is it Loop Meet?). There is a whole bunch of very caring people I would love to meet. Let me know what you guys think would be good options for 2014 Half-Marathons in the fall or winter.

And the Next Daring Goal Will Be...

After much deliberation and consideration, I have decided...

Yup, in 2016, I'm going Goofy.

That means, I will run the Disney Half-Marathon on Saturday, then run the Full Marathon on Sunday. I must be going insane.

This is not just a simple "train and you shall overcome" challenge. Not for me. To get away with this, I'm gonna have to take my game to a whole other level. For all intents and purposes, finishing both my first Half (Divas Half-Marathon) and first Full (Disney) was a matter of squeaking by. Don't get me wrong, I worked my butt off. But I was so far gone health and fitness-wise that all that hard work barely got me to the finish line. That is a great accomplishment in itself, but it's not gonna cut it this time around. If the marathon enhanced me, completing the Goofy Challenge is gonna take a whole bunch more enhancing.

So that's two years from now. It allows me time to get faster and train for the challenge of running two big races in two days. In other words it gives me time to become a better runner. It also gives me time to save up so I can do something that is very important to me. I want to take my whole family with me on this one. I think, given that they got me across the finish line, that they have earned it.

Which reminds me: I know this question will be asked frequently. "If you are going Goofy, why not just eat the whole enchilada and go Dopey?" It does interest me very much but I'm making a family decision here. If they are coming with me, I want to spend time with them. We do the Disney Vacation "thing" during the week, then I focus on the races during the weekend. Everybody wins. Dopey can wait. Besides, the brunt of the Dopey Challenge is the Goofy Challenge. I mean, what's 9.3 miles more between friends? If I ever do go Dopey, it will probably be solo.

So that's the next step. Sensible or or insane out of my mind? Let me know what you think and if you know of a great race I could go to in the fall for that sub-3 be sure to let me know as well.