Monday, March 30, 2015

2015 Puerto Rico Half Marathon

I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this race so if you guys notice any conflicting feelings in what I write on this recap, I apologize in advance. I also apologize for not giving away that I was doing this race. It was gonna be a surprise. Being my first race of the year, I have never done a "first" race so late into the year.
Get my vote for Running Short of the Year
 I have spent most of the past week trying to put together this recap and I can tell you, it has been a roller coaster of emotion. I don't know if to feel good or frustrated or whatever so I'm just gonna try to give you the facts and maybe you can help me reach a conclusion here.

I was under-trained, that much is certain. I managed to run pretty regularly during weekdays  for the last few months but I missed some crucial long runs, including the last two, so it's not like I was expecting to PR. In fact, it sort of played into my race strategy in a way. This year is all about two things: Participating in a triathlon and training for the Goofy Challenge. Part of my strategy for the latter, is to train to the point where running a Half Marathon becomes a "normal" thing. Well, as normal as running a Half could be. In other words, I want to be able to run a Half, taking it easy and not feel like a bag of soreness the next day. So, with the lack of long runs, taking it easy was sort of a given in this case. A PR was not even in the discussion for this race. I figured that if I finished somewhere around 3 hours, it would be great and still over 20 minutes less than my first Half Marathon.
Had to wear this the entire weekend
The course for this race is as challenging as it is scenic. Full of ups and downs including a couple of pretty steep hills and one long ascent right before the final stretch, which is mercifully downhill. Again, not the place to go try stupid things.

Come to Puerto Rico
The Puerto Rico Marathon and Half Marathon is, for all intents and purposes, still in it's infancy. I believe this is the third year it's been done. Despite that, it is very well organized and it is being touted as a destination race to bring in tourism. Sure enough there were many people from the U.S. and plenty of locals but it is still a bit of a way away from a "huge" race like say the World's Best 10K. I believe there were less than 3,000 runners.

The start time was 5am, which meant a 3am wake up for me. Not pleasant but this ensured I finished before the Sun and the brutal heat the island is known for, was in full strength. The downside, especially for the visitors from abroad, is that you run most of the race in the dark which kind of negates the whole "Run in Paradise" tag line of the race. By the final 2 miles of the race though, it's bright enough to get some breathtaking vistas of Old San Juan and the Atlantic Ocean. Awesome stuff.
Flat Frank, and now that I notice... my wife's bra.
My stomach had been feeling weird since the day before and I was trying to get in a bathroom visit before that start just as I ran into Frankie "The Jet" and his wife Nadya. Frankie (who still owes me his recap of the Star Wars Half) was running his first full marathon. He finished in less than 5 hours so you can understand why I call him "The Jet". Nadya was running her first Half and did awesome. In fact, she kicked my butt.

After sorting the bathroom issues we lined up, the anthems were sung and we were off. I quickly settled into a pace that I felt was comfortable. After a few miles, I realized that I was going a bit fast. Not Philly Marathon fast but still fast enough. I tried to adjust my pace but I have realized that when I use the Galloway Method, slowing down the running interval is an issue for me. It's just instinct I guess. You are walking and when that alert goes off to run you just take off. Then, since you are "fresher" than you would be if you were just running and since you figure you are gonna walk in a bit, you just keep running fast. I really, really have to work on that as I increase my mileage.

For 10 miles, it was all well and good. For a moment, I was thinking "maybe I can pull a sub-3 in my home turf. That would be so great!" It was around this time that the elites running the marathon passed me at a speed that I still can't believe is possible to sustain for 26.2 miles. I was supposed to take my second gel at mile ten but there was not an aid station close to take water to wash it down so I did not take it. Then at mile 11, the wheels came off in pretty spectacular fashion. After seeing 13's on my Garmin most of the way, mile 11 showed a 14. I knew what was coming next. Even though it has happened before, I'm still surprised at how sudden it actually happens. One moment you are doing fine then "pufff!" your legs simply don't want to run anymore. By the time I reached the next station I was walking way more than I was running. By the final mile I managed to run all the way to the finish but the damage was done. 3 hours and three minutes... I didn't come in last but it felt like I did.

That final stretch to the finish was brutal. Pardon my french but I was pissed. Very pissed. I feel better now that I have calmed a bit after sitting down to analyze the positives of the whole race, which were several, but it still stings.

I was aiming to run the race "in around 3 hours" which I did. So what's my problem? I wasn't aiming for a PR and I wasn't supposed to go sub-3 on this one so what gives? What pisses me off is my inability to execute my racing strategy.
Awesome bling
If I had played it conservatively and ran slower, I'm pretty sure the bonk would not have happened. It was a totally unnecessary mishap and on top of that, I would have probably finished in around the same time anyway. Ok, ok so you might probably think "but Frank you ran a pretty good race and finished in the desired time. Better yet, you finished." Well, yes you're right but I'm thinking long term here. This is a mistake I simply cannot make at the Goofy Challenge. On this race, it just means I bonked and was sore during my goddaughter's birthday at Chuck E. Cheese's later that day. At Disney, this could very well send me to the sweep bus during the Marathon. There is much work to be done. Three years I have been running, and I still can't kick the habit of running races like the fate of the World depended on it.

Still, I'm not gonna leave out the positives. The fact that I can run for 10 miles no problem at this pace, even with training issues, is a testament to progress. This is the guy who could barely run a mile and a half after all..

Having said all that, I think I'm gonna start a campaign for runners to come do this Half. Apart from my particular issues, this was an awesome race with great volunteers and good crowd support. Once the Sun comes out you get to enjoy some beautiful scenery and the final stretch all the way to the finish is one of the most gorgeous I have ever witnessed in a race. The bling is the best I have seen at any race in the island. So come to Puerto Rico. Run this race and witness how beautiful this island is and celebrate with me at the finish after I obtain redemption next year. You can even take a dip on the beach right at the finish line.

Monday, March 16, 2015 with the new.

If you read my post about when I bought my bike, then you might have a good idea by now that big purchases are not taken lightly around here. In this particular case, I spent months reading, researching and going to dealerships. And it's not like I don't know about cars. I enjoy reading about cars and the car industry in general but still, the hard, and annoying work of going to look and drive the cars can be tedious. Anyone who has dealt with an overzealous salesperson that won't let you go knows what I mean.

When I bought our family mini-van, I literally test drove them all before buying one. But that was easy. There are not that many of those on the market. This time around, I decided to buy a mid-size sedan. Aside from pick-up trucks, it is probably the most competitive segment in America. Pretty much every brand has one and they are all quite good in their own way. Here are the cars I tested:

1. Hyundai Sonata
2. Toyota Camry
3. Chevy Malibu
4. Mazda 6
5. Honda Accord
6. Subaru Legacy
7. Chrysler 200
8. Ford Fusion
9. Kia Optima
10. Nissan Altima
11. Volkswagen Passat

Yup. Every single car. I'm sure that between this, and the bicycle post, some of you are concerned that I might suffer from OCD or something like that but I assure you, I don't do this all the time. However, when it comes to buying things that are gonna be in my life for a long time, I stress the details. After all, you are gonna have to live with your decision for a long time, hopefully.

After much deliberation, I decided the Mazda 6 was the top choice, followed very closely by the Chrylser 200. After all, both Motor Trend  and Car & Driver magazines named the 6 the best mid-size sedan (they hardly agree like that) and both also noticed the incredible improvement Chrysler made with the 200. I agree. Both drove very well and had everything I was looking for. In the end, I chose...

That's right. I went with the 200. Why not the top choice? Two reasons: First, the 200 has a much more pleasant interior and a killer info-tainment system (that's the combination of radio, bluetooth, phone, entertainment and driver info) and that was important as the car is basically going to be my office and I will spend a lot of time there.

Second, And I know this is gonna sound weird from a guy who technically doesn't live in the U.S. and even a little sappy, but I bought it because it is made in the U.S.A. America needs to build stuff again. If I want it to build stuff again then I need to buy stuff that's made there. So, even though the 200 was slightly more expensive, I went with it. By the way this isn't some political sermon or anything. Please, by all means, go buy whatever vehicle suits your particular needs and wants. As you saw in my previous post, I have owned cars from several other countries including Japan, Korea and Germany. But I had a choice and decided to support our workers. It's just the way I feel.

And besides, have you ever seen anything cooler??!! Sorry for the overly dramatic shots but the wanna-be photographer in me could not help himself. 20 years owning cars and I still can't get over how good cars look in black, even if it's a pain to keep clean. This particular model, the 200 S, comes with black accents so the blacked out effect is pretty awesome, especially with the dark wheels. Elegant, yet still feels like "me".
Looove the wheels

Huge Screen

The interior is full of goodies to make your life easier and it has been a big change to be able to control everything from the steering wheel and my voice. I'll spare you my review of the car but it rides very well. It's a bit on the firm side because of the large wheels but I don't mind as they improve handling and traction. Very happy person right here.

By the way, sorry it took me so long to reveal which car I chose but it rained the whole week after I bought it. I wasn't about to show you a brand new, dirty car. Also with this post I'm also delivering on a long overdue promise I made you guys to take pics of the "Ruta del Ciclista". That's where these pics were taken so you can imagine how terrible it must be to ride bicycles there on Sunday mornings.
Yeah... really sucks to ride here. lol

So that was it. New car. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Farewell, Old Friend

I remember my first car.

A 1989 Volkswagen Fox. My parents gave it to me so I could go to and from college. It was small for a guy my size and boxy and ugly, but I loved it. More importantly I was thankful that my parents made the sacrifice to get me this car. Besides, it had air conditioning and a cassette player to put in my well-worn Metallica tapes. It was all I needed.
Very much like this, without the nice wheels. Or the sunroof...

The car turned out to be a complete disaster. First, it had a nasty habit of burning the starter. When I mean habit, I mean it did all the time. On two separate occasions, it did it the second the mechanic handed me the keys after just fixing it. He told me he had never seen anything like that in his life. And it's not like he was making any money on this. The repairs were under warranty so the numerous times he fixed it I didn't pay a thing so he hated it just as much as I did. It got so bad, I learned to identify the problem simply by smelling the car. Yes, I know what "burned starter" smells like. A trick a lot of people were amazed of. Of course, if a car doesn't have a starter, you can't turn it on. Thankfully, it had a manual transmission so I could push it to make it turn over. Very rarely, I would have people around me to help me push but since the car was so small I could push it myself. It became kind of a game. A challenge. The equivalent of landing on an aircraft carrier. How much distance did I need to make it turn over. I would do it in front of walls, right before a cliff... fun times. I became quite good at it.

Apart from the starter debacle, the car lacked a door handle on the passenger side. Anyone who knew the trick could open it and potentially steal it, but no one did. Then again, who would want to? They probably couldn't get to turn over anyway. 

Then, there were the two incidents that finally made my parents get rid of the car. Once while returning home from college, the brakes failed. Again, because the car was a manual, I managed to get home by braking with the tranny. I still smile when people ask me why all my cars have had manual transmissions. Finally, my Foxy adventures ended in a blaze of glory. I mean that literally. The car caught on fire. The poles on the battery made contact with the hood and caused a spark and flame on! It required a complete overhaul of the electrical system and my parents sold it after that. Memories...

I've had many cars after that. Some I had for pretty long periods. Like my 1995 Chevy Cavalier and 2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse. Both black. Both, in their time, became my signature of sorts. Something people identified with me and my personality.

Others, didn't last too long. Like my 1999 Isuzu Rodeo. My first and only SUV. I totalled it while crossing an intersection. The actual hit wasn't that bad, but it was enough to upset the balance of the Rodeo and make it flip over. Several times. I landed some 300 feet away from where the hit happened, without a single scratch and I wasn't even wearing a seat belt. (Please folks, don't do that.) I smile when people ask me why I don't like buying SUV's. All this, I should add, happened before I made a single payment on it.

Then there was my 2004 Toyota Matrix XRS. I loved that car. Loved the way it looked, loved the noises the engine made, loved to drive it. It was a thing of beauty. Loved everything about that car. What I didn't love, was the way it got stolen from a Church parking lot of all places, less than a year after I bought it. That's bad. That it happened 2 weeks before my wedding, was worse. It appeared the next day abandoned and dismantled beyond repair.
It was true love
Which brings me to modern times. In the middle of an impending wedding and a lot of stress, I bought a 2005 Mazda 3 Limited Edition. The car I have driven to this day.
Doesn't look like this anymore. Trust me.
I didn't know it at the time, but this is the car I would own for the longest time ever. 10 years. I don't hold on to cars that long. My job keeps me on the road and my cars take a beating so, when they are not totalled or stolen, I often keep them for about 5 to 6 years, but life happened. I got married, had kids... the usual. I bought a mini-van a while back but that's not my car. It's the family car. My wife drives it. I drive that on the weekends. This, was my bread and butter and it has served me well. It's pretty beat up and needs a lot of love that I can't give anymore. More importantly, it's begging me to stop taking such long trips so frequently. I have been driving it with no A/C for over a year and you can imagine how fun that is when in a traffic jam on this hot and humid island.

We have been through a lot. I have had so many flat tires with this car, the spare wore out and deflated. How many flats do you need to have to wear out a spare tire?! A lot of them. The first time me and my wife rode in a car as a married couple was in this car. First time I took my daughter anywhere(to the doctor actually), was in this car. It never left me stranded even though there were things that broke over the years, like all cars, I always managed to get home. I tried to keep up with the stuff that broke but it became too much. It's time to say goodbye to my old friend.

Last Pic at the car dealership
As you have surely guessed by now, I just got a new car. Buying a new car is a time of excitement and believe me, I am a really happy guy right now but I can't help look at the picture above and not get sentimental. I had to fight pretty hard to get some trade-in value for it but there was no denying it was pretty beat up. As I left the dealer in my shiny new car I could not help getting teary-eyed. You just don't realize how attached you get to things until they are no longer there I guess. But, new car, new beginnings. I'll reveal which one I chose (after a LOT of research) on my next post, but right now. Goodbye, Old Friend.