Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: The Year in Review

I remember writing this post last year. I distinctly remember two things: How full of numbers it was, as I excitedly reported on the tremendous progress I made. This one is not gonna be like that at all. I also wandered how I was gonna write the next one. How much progress would I make in 2014? But I digress...

Fast forward 11 months. I'm reading the year end review from the gals over at We Run Disney and one of them reports how 2014 was a year of ups and downs. In the comments, I wrote about how my year was essentially a bunch of bad races and missed goals and an injury up until my huge mega race in Philly and that while the year as a whole could have been better, I really couldn't complain. A couple of days later, as I was putting my thoughts together for this post, I realized that what I wrote there really wasn't true.

Its hard for my big head to get around this, but I actually had my greatest running accomplishment in 2014. It just doesn't feel that way. The way it's set up, with the race being held in January, I did all my training in 2013 (and most of 2012) so in a way, running the marathon feels like a 2013 accomplishment but in reality it was this year. And what an accomplishment it was. Even now, its hard to put my head around the fact that I was able to run 26.2 miles. Not only that, I was surprised at how well I was able to do it. I ran strong and followed every interval. Sure I was sore at the end and I was walking funny for a week but man... That was pretty high on the awesome scale.

And that I guess, is part of the problem with having your greatest moment at the very start of your year. I'm not gonna say that there is no way to go but down but it becomes quite easy to do so.

Spring 2014 -  Superman Syndrome and I try for a Tri

So I ran a marathon. That means I can do anything right? Well, it sure felt that way. Suddenly, every other distance seemed like a walk in the park. At least on paper it looked that way but it is really faulty math. I figured, hey I ran 15 minute miles for the marathon so that means I can travel at the speed of sound for a 10K right? Wrong! A pretty loud wake up call in the form of The World's Best 10K let me know that wasn't so. I took off like a galloping horse and forced to walk after 4 and a half miles. Very humbling. While I PR'ed for that particular race it fell short of my overall 10K PR. I did get to meet Jared, the Subway guy before the race though.

On top of that, I also had a horrible case of Runger. After the marathon, I was like...

I gained some weight back of course, even though I was pretty active at this time. Some of you might remember it was around this time I took my first attempt at triathlon training. All I can say is, don't bring a knife to gun fight. It's not that you have to go buy the latest and greatest gear but you do need some basics and I did not have them. It sure made for some funny moments though. The image of me riding my wife's mountain bike (which I, you will also recall, broke) around the neighborhood is one of them. But hey quitters are not the ones who fail, its the ones who don't get up and try again and I will try again. But that's another post.

Summer 2014 - The Summer of Speed (Not)

To close out spring, I sort of dared my friend Al, that if he signed up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon, I would join him. He is a very busy guy. I wasn't sure he was gonna pull the trigger but sure enough, he did. And to be honest I was kind of happy about it though the pressure was on for sure. I had set a goal to run a sub-3 hour Half Marathon in 2014 and this race seemed like the perfect one to attempt the feat. But I had to get cracking. This, in hindsight, seems to be the point where I got my knee injured. As I focused more on speed, I might have stressed my joints a bit more than I should have. It was around this time where I ran a trio of 5K's that ended up being a bit frustrating as there seemed to be no progress in my times. I failed to PR in all of them. The 5K for Values, Altamesa 5K and Popular Bank's 5K all felt like I was behind. It was really a case of me aiming too high. By the end of the last one, my knee was feeling funny.

On the good side, near the end of summer, Mindy from Road Runner Girl introduced me to the concept of the Diet Bet. A game that allowed me to get back on track and lose what I had gained thanks to the bad case of Runger gone amok earlier in the year.

Fall 2014 - The Thrill of Victory... The Agony of Defeat

What a roller coaster of a season! It was at this point where two very important happenings took place. First, after returning from Las Vegas, I went to the Doctor, found out what was wrong and was asked to rest. The Philly Half was right around the corner and I was freaking out!. On the other hand, I was also featured on on an article about overweight people that have tackled a marathon. It was kind of surreal and the blog traffic sure went up during that time. I'm sure I've said this before but when I started this blog, it was for me and if some friends wanted to read it that would be awesome but here we are. The fact that people actually read this stuff is mind boggling.

Winter 2014 - I Surprise Everyone, Even Myself

Ans so it was time for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. The Doctor cleared me to run -but being careful of, course- and I trained as best I could under the circumstances. I knew I could PR. If there was anything good about the time of my first Half is that there was room for improvement. But under three hours? After the year I had? With a questionable knee? It certainly looked improbable from where I was standing.

But what ensued on that cold November day, I never would have guessed. With the help of fellow Team Run Disney member and friend Natalie (who I thank for running with me every time I tell this story) I ran a race I just never thought I had in me. Not at this point in time anyway. You would think running so high above what I'm used to would be hard and tedious. That with every mile I would be panting and squirming in pain but to cap it all off I had an absolute ball doing it. I ran, I talked, I high fived spectators, I cheered and I even danced a little. What a race...

I learned so much about myself during that race. About what I can do and could be doing. During the year, there wasn't much progress from a numbers standpoint. But the Philly Half was more then enough proof that sometimes you can't measure progress from a numbers standpoint alone. I can say that I am a much better runner today, crap knee and all, than I was last year. And if this year was interesting to say the least, I can tell you right now, my plans for the next one are even more exciting. Sure, there were some hard lessons to be learned but I intend to use those lessons to the fullest next year. Looking at 2014, I see a "rough" sandwich. Two incredible experiences acting as the bread for a pretty rough middle in between. But here's to new beginnings. A new year full of potential and I hope that you dear readers, are able to tap into that potential and fulfill whatever you are cooking up for 2015.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

So, what have I been up to?

I did something. I don't know what. But I can't log my workouts on Dailymile -or any other place that is not Garmin Connect for that matter- anymore.

For a while now I have been searching for a solution but ever since Garmin made a major update to their site and overall software to bring in their latest and greatest watches, I can't log my workout outside of their site. What's worse, it seems to be a problem with my model of GPS watch (FR 410) which kind of gives me the impression that they have stopped supporting the watch altogether. I could be wrong. It could be that I just haven't figured it out but I switched computers recently and took the opportunity to do a clean install of everything needed to make the watch work and still, no dice.

So, if you are my friend in Dailymile and you read that I haven't done any running in three months, it's a lie! Nothing wrong with Garmin Connect and I love the new interface and tools but I like the social aspect of Dailymile better and I kind of miss it. 

In other news...

While it hasn't been three moths since my last run obviously, I did take a small break, if you can call it that. A week after the Philly Half, I did a 3 mile run where my knee exploded in pain. I limped the entire first mile. It got better after that but it reminded me that I still had some healing to do so I decided to not run for a week or two and let the knee do it's thing. The problem with taking a "training vacation" is that all those things you had pending because you were training, are now in your face ready to be done. Oh, and your spouse is more than happy to remind you of all the stuff that has to get done, "you know honey, since you're not running..."

So the last 3 weeks, amidst all the Christmas shopping and decorating, I have been battling with the roof of our home, applying sealant to it so it hopefully won't leak. Hasn't been easy. Ironically, I pulled a hamstring while doing it. I can do that while training you know? 



We also put the tree up of course!

So the roof is fixed, so now we can paint inside. Our daughter's rooms needed it pretty badly as the paint was literally falling off the ceiling because of the leaks. And, since we were in there, Veronica, the middle child, needed her bed to be converted from toddler bed to twin as she hardly fit in there anymore. And well, since we had to do all that, why not make it over altogether...

Right before starting the job

Check out the ceiling. Yuck!

Sometimes, I even amaze myself. It took two days, but we went from "Princess Room" to "Anna and Elsa Wonderland". (Emphasis on Anna) We still had some things to do when I shot this video but you get the idea.

My daughter, is ecstatic. She can't stop talking about how happy she is with her new bed and room. Seriously, we can't get her to shut up. And the oldest is now complaining about when will I paint her room (emphasis on Elsa) so still not out of the dog house but still, it was nice to see her reaction. All I gotta say is, I hope this Frozen thing lasts a lot longer because after I do my oldest daughter's room I am not doing one of these again for a while.

The good news is that the time spent "resting" seems to have been for the better. The knee feels OK and I will probably be up and running this week. it doesn't hurt when I bend it anymore but it does still hurt when I crouch (as I painfully found out on the roof).

Next, I will post my end of the year recap. It's been pretty interesting to put that one together. After all, it turns out it was a pretty interesting year. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

So,I Mustache You Some Questions

Black Dog Runs Disney is a blog I read pretty often. The author, Kimberly is a pretty insightful writer and is obsessed with Wonder Mutt, her dog. (Which is of course, black) She is also very funny. I always thought she was funny in the "hey her blog can be so funny" kind of way. It turns out she is also funny in the "ha ha, I tagged you in one of those chain posts that can be so fun" kind of way.

I had seen some of the blogs I follow doing this and thought it was pretty fun. Didn't think I would be tagged as I have only been tagged only once before for things like these but sure enough, Kimberly sent this one my way. That graphic above by he way, I totally stole it from her. 

OK, so this particular exercise is about answering some questions about yourself and for each you have to give four answers. Here are mine:

Four movies I've watched more than once:

1. Star Wars - Saying I've watched this more that once is like saying "Yeah, My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion has been played on the radio more than once."

2. The Shawshank Redemption 

3. Braveheart

4. The Lord of the Rings - I've actually seen these more than once at the theater as well as at home.

Four Book I'd Recommend:

1. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin - The Game of Thrones saga. If you think the TV series is good...

2. Different Seasons by Stephen King - Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption and Apt Pupil were all made from this collection of novellas.

3. The Lord of the Rings - Greatest Fantasy book. Ever.

4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - My favorite Potter book. Yeah, I'm a big nerd.

Four Places I've Been:

1. Bogotá, Colombia

2. Montreal, Canada

3. Washington DC, United States

4. Cozumel, Mexico

Four Things I Don't Eat: This was hard. I eat most things. LOL

1. Durian - Have you ever smelled those things?

2. Chick Peas - I eat Hummus though.

3. Cured, Salted Cod

4. Pumpkin - Don't ask

Four of my Favorite Foods:

1. Pizza

2. True, Japanese Ramen Noodles - New addition

3. New England Clam Chowder

4. Barbecue

Four TV Shows I Watch:

1. Game of Thrones

2. Friends - Still watch reruns and the DVD's. All the time.

3. Sophia the First - I'd be lying if I told you this wasn't playing in our house constantly, or any of the other Disney Junior shows for that matter.

4. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

Four Things I'm Looking Forward to This Year:

1. Getting a Road Bike

2. Training for the Goofy Challenge

3. My 10 year wedding anniversary - Which we intend to officially celebrate in 2016 but it is actually in 2015.

4. Doing a Triathlon

Four Things I'm Always Saying:

1. "Stop bothering your sister!" - Or it's many variations.

2. "Yes, I have run a Marathon. Yes, the 26.2 mile one."

3. "I run. Slowly."

4. "Yes, Honey." - Maybe this should be number one...

Four people to pass this on to:

Hope you guys have not been tagged before on this but if I'm tagging you it's because I'm curious to read your answers. 

1. Sarah at Sparkly Runner

2. Donald at Donald's Adventures

3. Sarah at Run Ginger Run

4. Jennifer at The Final Forty

Friday, December 12, 2014

Philadelphia Half Marathon: The Food

While it would seem from my previous post that all I ate while in Philly was Ramen -and I admit, sometimes I wished I did- I actually had a chance to eat at some cool places I would like to share with you guys. In the spirit of bringing something different, I avoided going for Cheesteaks completely and I hope you guys appreciate how hard that was because they are awesome. Though, if you want, we can talk about them. I sure have had my share of them.

Five Guys Burgers
What?! Fast food? Really? "What is going on here at The Fat Runner? Have you lowered your standards?" Well, I don't think they were that high to begin with but this is really  a case of "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

I had this meal in Atlanta International Airport, during the longest layover in the history of humanity on the way to Philadelphia. While many of you might be familiar with this chain, they have not expanded to Puerto Rico. Strange, as this is the land where McDonald's and Burger Kings, among others, seem to grow out of the ground. I decided to mention them here because, compared to other fast food burgers, this was truly, above par. I'm kind of thankful they have not reached my shores actually. I probably would have to change the name of the blog to The Fatter Runner.

Essentially, this is fast food done right. The ingredients were fresh, the bacon was very crispy and everything made to order. While not the healthiest option, cooking burgers on a flat top is the way Nature intended. I'm not saying to go have this every day folks, but if you are gonna do a "cheat day", I can't think of a more glorious option. It certainly beats most cardboard burgers out there.

Reading Terminal Market
Not really one restaurant but an entire experience. If you don't mind the hustle and bustle of crowded places, you should go try something from this amazing place. If you think Epcot over at Disney World Resort is the bee's knees for all the different food, you should come here. Epcot has got nothing on this place. While the place is huge, it feels tiny because it is always filled with people and with good reason. You can find anything you want from most parts of the World to eat under its roof. Middle Eastern, Asian, Mediterranean, Italian, American, Latin American, Southern... I could go on. And it's not only the variety, it's all good too. It's not every day you can eat BBQ Ribs while your friend has an authentic Greek Gyro right next to you. I had some Chicken Lo Mein at a Chinese joint. Very yummy.

Federal Donuts
My friend Al took me to this place right after the race. Federal Donuts is... unique. They really only sell three things. Coffee, Donuts and Fried Chicken.

And that's it. This can be a double-edged sword for a restaurant. The phrase "simple menu" is thrown around a lot  these days but if you are gonna do only one thing, you better deliver the goods. Federal Donuts delivers and then some. Yes, the combination of chicken and donuts sounds weird but it's really not too far off the chicken and waffles combo that is so popular. Plus, it really works. The coffee and donuts are of course, a proven entity but add in the fried chicken -which you can order in several incarnations from Asian inspired to dry seasoned- and you will end up with something special. The donuts in particular stand out. Served piping hot, they really are like nothing I have ever tried before. And when I say piping hot, I mean "I can't hold them long enough to take a bite" hot.

And that is it. Those are all the interesting places I managed to fit into a weekend. Although I did not do the Cheesteak "thing" on purpose, I can't talk about Philadelphia eats and not tell you about the classic steak joints like Pat's and Geno's or my "regular" spot when I lived there, Jim's Steaks. Don't let the local passion for these places deter you from trying them all out. They are all good. In fact, I'm gonna tell you a little secret regarding the famous Pat's/Geno's turf war (they are across the street from each other in case you did not know): Their sandwiches are pretty much the same.

Please allow a minute or five for the mob with pitch forks and Eagle's Jerseys to quiet down their chants of heresy. I'm not saying they taste exactly the same. The concept of the authentic Philly Cheesteak is one and the same: Bread, Rib Eye, Cheese Whiz(yes, the radioactive orange stuff) and the option of onions (wit' or wit' out). Anything beyond that is not a Philly Cheesteak. Peppers, mushrooms, Provolone... all great and tasty additions but not authentic. So if the concept is the same, what gives?

The difference between them is the bread they use and the fact that Pat's chops their rib eye and Geno's slices it. No more, no less. So do yourself a favor and go to both joints. Better yet, go with someone else, order a sandwich from each, then share half of each right in the middle of the intersection where these two legends face each other every day. That would be the right thing to do in the City of Brotherly Love.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Terakawa Ramen

Being in Philly, it would be very easy for me to simply go on a Cheesteak crawl, then go to a couple of Pretzel stands, report back to you and just call it day.  

But the truth is, even though I visited Philly this weekend for the race, I actually lived here many years ago. Well, I lived in Lancaster, but the office I worked at was in Norristown, very near the city so this is not new territory for me. Which means I already had my "cheesteak competition" phase were I defended my personal steak joint as the best ever.(It was Jim's Steaks in South Street) I already debated endlessly on the Pat's or Geno's endless controversy (They are both awesome by the way) and I sadly missed the advent of newcomer Tony Lukes. But when it comes to Philadelphia's iconic sandwich, I have truly been there, done that. No, my pursuit on this trip was more of a personal nature and oddly enough, has nothing to do with Philly. I was in a passionate search for Ramen. As in Ramen Noodles.

Wait, what?

Allow me to explain. Not too long ago, I saw a PBS show on Netflix called The Mind of a Chef. In it's first season, it explored the craft and mind of David Chang a chef who literally exploded in the New York City food scene with his restaurant Momofuku and then Ssam Bar, Milk Bar and Ko. It's not every day a chef changes the way a whole scene works but that's what Chang did. And it all started with his passion for Ramen Noodles.

In the show, Chang travels to Japan, where he visits several Ramen joints and many of the places that make the ingredients required for Ramen (like the aforementioned noodles). I have been mystified by Japan and it's culture for quite some time so seeing the method that goes behind making this seemingly simple dish totally caught my attention. I had to have some Ramen and I had to have it now. Not to mention try to make it but that's another issue altogether.

Thankfully, Philadelphia is close enough to New York to be in the path of the shock wave that Chang created and sure enough, this city went through it's own "Ramen Revolution" of sorts a couple of years back, with many places springing up and some of them surviving and thriving well after everything settled down. The main reason for that being that Philly has a pretty vibrant Chinatown so the market for Asian food is always there. Good news for me. So after much research, I settled on Terakawa Ramen as the place to go and I'll be forever grateful I did.

Right off the bat, I fell in love with the place. Small and cozy, with the simple, elegant lines that define Japanese decor. I just wanted to stay there forever, although it was not possible with the line of patrons waiting at the door that wanted to enjoy the same thing I did.

 I'll be forever sorry I had no time to explore more of the menu. I really wanted to try the Pork Buns (part of the Chang explosion I was talking about) among other things but I guess I'll just have to come back. While they have a signature Terakawa Ramen bowl, I decided to go for the traditional Shoyu (soy) Ramen that started it all.

I'm gonna try, very hard, to put into words what the above bowl of incredibly yummy goodness tastes like but I'm gonna fail. There are no words. There are moments where everything in the universe comes together for an experience that you will never forget. I was trying something new. I was carb loading. I was cold. Then, I had some Ramen and suddenly everything was fixed. The broth, to put it in a single word: perfection. Savory and not too salty as you would expect from something called Shoyu. It was divine. Then the noodles. Toothsome and exactly what I needed pre-race. Piping hot, this dish warmed me up and made me feel so good inside. And the toppings.. the bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and fish cake (the white slice with the pink swirl)... all good. But the pork. Oh my, the pork.

Those two slices of majestic awesomeness (you can order extra, which I should have) literally melt in you mouth the second you put them in there. I could have eaten about a truck-full of the stuff. And I forgot the egg. A Ramen staple. Soft-boiled and marinated in soy sauce. I can see some people having trouble with the texture of it but the creaminess explodes in your mouth.

Yes, I just wrote an entire post dedicated to a single bowl of Ramen but that's just how we roll here at The Fat Runner and the next time you are in Philly you should definitely check this place out. It's something totally different and worth your time. They even have vegeterian versions of both the Miso and Shoyu Ramen. Don't be surprised if I write about making this dish in the future. It's that good.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Philly Marathon Expo

OK, so the day before crushing every single PR I had done, I actually had to go pick up my bib and stuff at the Expo which was held at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

While not as big as, say Disney, it was certainly big enough, with plenty of vendors and a pretty large section dedicated to race merchandise which was pretty cool as well. I like the "flying shoe" logo of this race. I only bought a shirt for my wife and a shirt for me along with a mug and my first official 13.1 sticker (technically a magnet) and a pin. OK, so maybe I bought a few things. And the mug is now "my" mug. You know, the daily coffee mug.

The bib pick-up was very good and I did not have to wait in line at all. Just walked up to the table, got my number, then got my shirt and bag at the other. No fuzz. The race shirt was pretty cool too. It has the route in the back which kind of, sort of, looks like the race logo.

Race Shirt
I don't know if it was intended or by accident, but the bigger international brands like 2XU and Fitletic had a smaller presence while the local shops had pretty big booths with the exception of Gore-Tex which, being the main sponsor had a huge section right in the middle. Intentional or not, I thought it was cool to give the local shops more space. One of them had a sale on GU's that created a line out the door.

Along with the vendors, there was also a booth were you could drop your old running shoes for charity. I left three pairs there, including my very first pair of Beasties and the Girlies (end of an era). This was awesome because I'm often left with shoes that are otherwise in great condition but I just can't run in them anymore and I don't want to just throw them out. It seems like such a waste. Just to give you an example, I gave away three pairs and I was still left with the ones I had on at the Expo, the ones I'm running in right now and the pair of Beasties I ran the Disney Marathon in, which I'm way too sentimentally attached to to throw away. Clearly, more than I can handle. More Expos should have this.

Also, they had speakers and seminars throughout the day and wouldn't you know it? Olympic gold medalist Bill Rodgers was talking while I was there.

He was doing more of a Q & A with the crowd and joking around but it's not everyday you get to see a gold medalist. He did say one thing that struck me even though it's pretty obvious: "Marathon is a cold weather sport." How prophetic those words turned out to be.

Saving the best for last, I also got to meet Sarah who writes the blog Sparkly Runner. We had been e-mailing before the weekend hoping to meet up and sure enough we ended at the expo at the same time. Sarah had just gotten out of a leg cast a few weeks ago but her boyfriend was running the Half. I know how hard this was for her but she has been making great progress and I know she will be up and racing very soon.

We talked for a while, mostly about Disney racing (what else?) and her boyfriend Matthew gave me some pointers regarding the course. They are both awesome people. Hopefully I get to meet them again at a Disney race. Or any race. Or any time for that matter. lol

Just as I was leaving the Expo, I saw my friend Al who after picking up his stuff took me to lunch at Reading Terminal Market, an awesome place I will talk about in my next post.

Monday, December 1, 2014

2014 Philadelphia Half Marathon

I run alone.

That's simply the way it is. It's not that I'm anti-social or even anti-group running, really. I'm just embarrassed. My biggest fear while running with people is always that they will hold back simply to stay with me out of pity. You know, "poor little slow runner has to be waited upon." I don't want to be that guy. So for 99.5% of my running journey I have tackled the road by myself. Just me, my music and Butthead (My Garmin). That changed on November 23, 2014.

Followers of this blog already know the back story regarding this race: I set a goal this year to run a sub-3 hour half marathon. Then, things didn't go well. Missed goals in races, training troubles and finally injury and sickness. It's been a bumpy ride.

It was under these circumstances that I was talking to several fellow members of Team run Disney on Facebook about the article and the fact that it was gonna be near impossible to break 3 hours after all my recent troubles. That's when it happened.

Enter Natalie.

Out of nowhere comes this person, telling me that she was from Philly and she was running the marathon. She too had been having trouble with her knees and was aiming to reach the halfway point "around just under 3 hours". I put those words in quotations because they are her words. I should have asked what "just under" meant. She offered to run with me if I wished. At first I didn't answer. Running? With people? I don't know... Then I did the math. To come in "just under" 3 hours you have to run 13:30 minute miles. Hmmm... "I'm not too far away from that." I thought to myself. Maybe I can run with her as far as my body will allow then, when the wheels come off (and I was certain they would) I tell her to go on and I continue with my turtle stampede pace. Game over. Everyone goes home happy. So after writing back to her and giving her all sorts of warnings to "ditch me as you would the ten plagues of Egypt" the minute I started to flounder, I said I would do it.

Training-wise, even though I was way behind, I managed to get in a rhythm after the doc cleared me to run that allowed me to gain some momentum back. My final long run was promising given the situation. It got my hopes up. Then a final 3 miler before leaving for Philly confirmed that even with all the snags, I was in decent shape for this. I thought: "not perfect, but we'll get through it.  I'll be OK."

Flat Frank looked more confident than I was

 On race morning, as I got dressed I organized what my goals were gonna be. I finally settled on this list:

Goal A: A sub-3 - Discarded due to unforeseen circumstances.

Goal B: A Half Marathon PR - Given my progress from my first half a year ago (Divas Half Marathon - 3:26) I thought this was totally doable.

Goal C: To beat my Half split from the Disney Marathon (3:19) - I thought that, while doable this one was gonna be tough.

Goal D: To come close to my Disney half split - This is what I was aiming for.

Goal E: To finish. Screw everything else. Walk, crawl, slither or whatever to the finish.

Keen readers will notice something is missing from Flat Frank up there. For the big races I always count on my trusty NY Jets shirt. But lets face it, I was in Philly. I didn't want to start an international incident. Also, why get on the volunteer's bad side? (They were awesome by the way) And, let's face it, the Jets are stinking so bad this year it's not even funny.

Now, you all know I'm from a tropical island right? You know that if I run and it's 80 degrees, that's a cold day right? Well folks, it was cold! Just below 40 degrees when I left the hotel then hovered around the 40's for much of the race. I was counting on the cold for a bit of a performance boost but to get it you have to start running. All that time before, you are just freezing your face off waiting for the starting horn. I only had my running shorts and the world's thinnest shirt (at least it felt like it). I also had a light jacket but I had to turn it in with my checked bag since I didn't want to lose the only piece of warm clothing I had.

Just in case anyone still has doubts about how incredible the running community is, let me say this: My hotel was far away from the city. Very far. To get to the race I was gonna have to take the hotel shuttle to the airport, then a train to get to the city then walk 3 miles to the start. I was just about to get on the shuttle when this couple, who sounded like they were from India, walked up to me and told me they had a car and were driving there and were more than happy to give me a ride. Awesome! They drove all the way from Ontario so the husband could run the full, his third overall and his first "big city" marathon. I of course thanked them profusely all the way there. Sadly, we got separated at the bag check and I didn't see him again at the hotel but guys, wherever you are, thank you so much.

Natalie was running late so I left our arranged meeting place at the Rodin museum and headed to the corral. On the way there I got another surprise. I knew that Cynthia, writer of the blog You Signed Up for What? was in Philly to run the full. I was hoping to meet her as I love reading her blog. She has done Half-Ironmans! I mean, how cool is that? But with 30,000 runners, really, what were the chances? Well, she walked right by me on the way to the corral! Luck, it seems, was on my side this day!

It was easy to smile here. My face was frozen in place.

After that pic, I hurried to check my stuff and head to the corral. Apparently I took the wrong way because I couldn't find a way in. The first corral had been released when I finally managed to get in. The start/finish line by the way, was right by the now famous "Rocky steps" that lead up to the Museum of Modern Art so prominent in the Rocky films.Then, through texts I got together with Natalie. We were dead last in the very last corral. Behind us were the volunteers and the guy who juggles while he runs. I was a bit worried about this. If I fell behind, it would be very easy to get swept. But there was not a lot of time to ponder this, as they kept letting the corrals go and soon it was our turn.

We begin running, and it becomes immediately clear to me that we are way above my definition of "just under" a 3 hour pace. Being dead last in the dead last corral also meant we were passing people like we were from Kenya and had arrived late to the race. We passed my buddy Al (who, you will recall, is to blame for all of this) We skipped the first few interval beeps to allow the crowd around us to thin out. I think we turned on our watches at different times when we started because Natalie's watch was calling the mile markers ahead and my watch was right with the race signs (incidentally, it's the first time that has EVER happened to me in a race. My watch usually goes long.) but we were going by Natalie's. She calls the first mile: 12:14. What??!!! There is no way I can keep that pace for an entire Half! Natalie asks me if this pace is alright. I tell her it's fine.

No, that is not a typo. I did tell her I was fine. You would think I was lying but I wasn't. I was feeling fine. No, really. My legs felt a little weird because of the cold and my brain was in total panic but I was feeling very good. I reasoned that since we skipped a couple of intervals it would be natural for that first mile to be fast. Then came the second mile. 12:29. Oh, boy. I was thinking along the lines of 13:30, with the 14's coming in later in the race. But as we crossed the 3 mile marker it was obvious I was in a whole other league. I check my watch and thought I was a couple of seconds short of a 5K PR but I was wrong. It was an actual 5K PR. In the middle of a Half Marathon. 

And it wasn't just the speed that was unusual. I was running with Natalie, talking and chatting, not listening to music (my first time) and having a great time reading the spectator signs, cheering and even dancing to the music some DJ's were playing in different places. I was giving people high fives... Usually I just listen to music and concentrate on my own thoughts. This was an absolutely different experience from anything I have done to this point and it was very fun.

But deep down, I was concerned that I was blowing this too early and that eventually all this super-powered running would have to end in a spectacular bonk at some point. As we crossed the 10K mark and notched my second PR of the race (this time by more than 2 minutes) I decided that if I was going to go down, it would be in flames. I was having way too much fun and had a very good thing going running the intervals with Natalie to hold back now. If the wheels came off, so be it. I had banked enough time to crawl to the finish if it came to that.

It was around that time that we ran by Morimoto. Chef Masaharu Morimoto's restaurant. Yes, Iron Chef Morimoto from the Food Network show. He's a culinary hero of mine and although I probably can't afford to eat there, at least I got Natalie to take this pic.

Shortly after that, I passed Al's family and they cheered us on. Al and his family were great support during the weekend and are in a very long list of people I have to thank for making this race so special.

The Support Crew with Al and his Sister
Then came miles 7 through 10 and with them, the "hilly" part of the course.The first ones were OK but being hills they slowly zap your energy. Natalie also had some issues with her knees at this point and we were careful going downhill to protect them as well as mine. The last hill though, was brutal. At least for me it was. I couldn't wait for the run intervals to end while on this part but with that last uphill came a huge downhill and only a very flat 5K stood between me and the finish line. By the way, fastest 10 miles I've ever run? Yup, ran it on this race.

As we started running on flat ground again, my legs began to let me know I had been living in the fast lane for way too long. The top of my calves felt like they were gonna cramp and a couple of times I thought they were going to for sure and the feeling intensified with every mile we advanced. It was becoming very hard to run at this point but it was too late for it to be a factor. I was in the home stretch. As the Half/Full split came, Natalie and I ran our final interval together. 

As she started to run, I told her to keep going. I wanted to walk a bit so I could be able to run at the very end. But Natalie was having none of that. We had come this far and she was not gonna let me slack off so I started running as we went our separate ways. She would continue on to do the full marathon. I was a bit concerned about her but she ended up finding other Team run Disney members (we are an awesome group, really) and finishing with them. I turned right and ran down the final stretch to finish the hardest-run race I have ever done. Not to mention the most fun. While the last 2 miles were a bit tough, the proverbial wheels, never came off.

I mentioned to Natalie when she posted this pic above, about how happy we look. I had just pushed myself to run in a way I thought was not possible for me at this point in my running journey and yes, I was very proud. As I neared the finish, I knew I had the sub-3, but when I looked at my watch, I still ended up with a dropped jaw. I looked again to make sure and then pulled out my phone to verify the official result to triple check. It was the same as the watch.


Not only had I gone sub-3, but 10 minutes under 3 hours. 36 minutes below my previous Half. 29 minutes below my Half split at Disney. I believe the term is I killed it. Oh, and I broke every record for every distance I have ever raced except the marathon on the way there. So, yeah... it was a somewhat productive day for me.

We ran slower than a 13:30 min/mile pace for only two miles of the whole race and it was during the big hill. The rest of the race was faster than that with much of it in the 12's Average pace for the whole thing? 12:58. Here is an interesting stat: We started the race dead last. According to the race results, I placed six thousand and something for the half. That means, according to the race results, that we passed over a thousand people on our way to the finish. Wow...

Now, I'd be lying if I told you that I wasn't expecting a performance boost from the colder weather. I was. But I was thinking it was gonna be more of a "squeak below 3:19 to get a PR" boost, not a "crush absolutely every single record you have set in the last two years" boost.   

So I cross the finish line incredibly happy and get handed a space blanket which was useful for the first time ever. I was handed the medal which is awesome. I walked down a line and was handed a bunch of great stuff! Two huge pretzels (Philly style of course) Bananas, Juice, Chips, peanut butter, water, oranges... I could have made a meal out of the whole thing and then some! Then I sat down and waited for Al to cross the finish line. He did very well, crossing the finish line with his sister. I am so happy for him. After the race he took me to lunch at a great place but that's another post.

The Finishers - Don't ask them to move too much please

And that was it. Just when you think you got things figured out, you end up surprising yourself. I had no idea I could run that fast for that long. But I would be stupid to not realize what a huge factor running this race with Natalie was. If I would have run alone, I would have run a very different race. So, Natalie, I cannot even begin to express how thankful I am that you invited me to run with you. I learned some very valuable lessons and even a whole lot more about myself and what I'm capable of.    

I can't begin to tell you all how nice this race is. Great expo, well organized, awesome volunteers, an incredibly awesome crowd and a course that can't be beat. We saw the city, historical sites (we ran by Independence Hall and Ben Franklin's grave), residential and college areas and the final stretch by the river... it was all beautiful. The hydration stations were about every 1.5 to 2 miles and were well stocked with water and Gatorade even by the time we passed and we started in the back. The medal is pretty cool with a deep relief of the Museum of Art on it.  If you are thinking of a destination race to do, this should definitely be on your short list.

While the schedule for this trip was pretty tight and sometimes it felt like I had no time for anything, I did get to eat at a few very interesting places and got to met some pretty cool people so be on the lookout for upcoming posts detailing my experiences in the City of Brotherly Love.