Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Susan G. Komen's Race for the Cure 5K

Fate works in interesting ways.

I was not planning to run this race at all. Just wasn't on my radar but less than a week before the race, I was talking to a running buddy about, what else, running when Nitza walked in on our conversation. Nitza is currently fighting breast cancer.

I can't quite call Nitza a colleague from work, though we do work together in a way. She's in the human resources and labor relations office of one the agencies my Union represents, which means we very often sit at opposing sides of the table and have argued countless times. However I have no reservations calling her a friend. She has been with the agency for several years now and sure, we fight but its all with the best of intentions and absolutely no hard feelings. It's the job.

So, Nitza walks in on us talking about running, turns around and asks me "Are you gonna be with us on Sunday?". It was her look more than what she said. A million thoughts rushed into my head and  flashed before my eyes. "Are you gonna be with us?" It wasn't that she needed me personally to be there. It was more about support. Group support for her and the many women suffering from breast cancer. All this happened in a millisecond but for me the answer was obvious. "I'll be there." was all I could say and left. Suddenly, I never wanted to do a race more than right at that moment.

Thankfully, the race organizers set up shop in an empty store on one of Puerto Rico's biggest malls to sign up people right up to the very last day so on Friday I walked in and signed up. It was all very organized and quick. I think it took me all of 10 minutes from filling out the form to paying and walking out.

I was not quite ready for what I encountered on Sunday. This was the biggest draw of any race I have ever done in Puerto Rico. Bigger than the World's Best 10K even. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone seemed happy to be there and there were A LOT of teams from different companies and organizations. All decked out in some form of pink or white, which of course made me stand out more than usual with a blue shirt. But the shirt included in registration was cotton and not available in my size so I got one for my wife.

The starting line was an interesting exercise. There were parallel starting lines for walkers and runners, which covered the entire avenue sidewalk to sidewalk. I guess it makes sense. The starting gun was for both groups at the same time, with the runners naturally taking the lead and leaving the walkers to bring up the rear. Eventually, both lanes converged into one huge group but by then, everyone is pretty much where they need to be speed-wise so there was no unnecessary traffic problems. At least not enough for it to be a problem.

Which brings me to the race itself. Running was not really the point here. Oh, I'm sure the runners up front had a great time sprinting down to the finish but for the immense majority gathered this was about something else. I was plenty happy with the PR in my previous race and had no intention of chasing a number on this one so after taking off and posting my first mile somewhere in the 12's I decided to step back and walk most of the way. There was just this great vibe all around and I wanted to take it all in. So without any set intervals I walked some then ran some all the way to the finish. At 43 minutes and change, this is my slowest 5K in years but who cares?

This is not the first time they do this race in Puerto Rico but I do think this was the biggest so far. Hopefully it will get bigger. I do want to give people who are thinking of doing this race next year some advice though. Respect the distance. Sadly, a lot of people came to the race thinking that since they were just walking, it would be easy. It wasn't. The heat and humidity conspired for some grueling conditions and the amount of people who ended up on stretchers or an ambulance was large enough for the news to report on it. So get some miles under you before the race and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

I never did run into Nitza that day. With so many people there it would have taken a miracle but still, I wore the tag and ran in her name. For her, and all the women suffering from the disease. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Clif Builder's Bars

This week, thanks to my relationship with Fitfluential, I received some goodies from the nice folks over at Clif Bars. They are promoting their Builder's Bars and I thought I would share with you what my experience has been using them.


As runners, we tend to focus (some would say obsess) on carbs and whether we are getting enough of them for running. Sure enough, they are extremely important to avoid stuff like, bonking, which can be a bad thing. But I have often found that runners don't pay much attention to protein and more importantly, the crucial role it plays in recovery and even during runs and hard workouts.

Here's the Clif notes (see what I did there?) version of protein and working out. A lot of people think that when they work out (lift weights, run, etc.) they are building muscle but they'd be wrong. You are actually breaking down muscle fibers during your workout. After you are done, your body starts rebuilding those fibers. Do this enough times and your body eventually figures out that it has to build them stronger and thus, stronger and bigger muscles. Yay!

Now, a bunch of people a lot smarter than myself figured out that if you feed your body protein right after working out, preferably within 30 minutes of doing so, that process of rebuilding muscle fibers is greatly enhanced. This helps with a whole bunch of things like muscle building, avoiding soreness and proper recovery. 

Which brings us to Clif Builder's Bars. Along with a nice 30 grams of carbs, they also contain 20 grams of protein. Now, what sets Builder's Bars from other protein bars out there is the quality. You'll notice a lot of people prefer protein shakes over bars post-workout. Mainly because protein bars use low quality protein that is not optimal for use at that time. Clif Builder's Bars on the other hand have soy protein isolate as their first ingredient. The isolate part is important. Unlike say, eating a steak after your long run or eating something with protein concentrates which is what you'll find in other protein bars, protein isolate has been processed to work faster on your system so you can really take advantage of the 30 minute window post-workout.

Since Clif Bar Company was gracious enough to send me plenty of Builder's Bars to share, I made sure to put them to good use and get an overall reaction to the product from runners aside from myself. So, I showed up at the finish line of the Lola Challenge Weekend Half Marathon with a bag full of goodies. The Lola Challenge is a 5K, 10K and Half Marathon done over the course of three days. Who better to take advantage from the recovery benefits of these bars than runners who had gone through that gauntlet?

So, my friend Indiana and her running group, the Diva Moms, became the "test group" for this post. They all loved the flavor, especially the chocolate peanut butter and the reaction I got every time I said "protein" or "recovery" was priceless. "Just what I need right now!" was a common statement. I also gave bars to as many finishers as my bag allowed and I can tell you, I think Clif has really struck the right chord with this product.

Some of the Diva Moms reveling in their success... and recovery,
As for myself, regular readers of this blog know I am currently training for the Goofy Challenge, where I will attempt to run a Half Marathon followed by a full Marathon the next day. This means double long runs on the weekends to get the body used to the actual conditions I will be facing. Proper recovery is important after a long run. Can you imagine how important it is when, after completing a long run, you go right back out the next day for an even longer one? Yeah, I would say it is.

So I have been using Clif Builder's Bars after my long runs and after cross-training on non-running days. The combination of a Builder's bar along with some sports drink right after a long run is pretty hard to beat and puts me on the right track to get ready for the next one. On cross-training days, it is a lot more convenient than a protein shake. No powder, no mess, no shaker bottles and no need for refrigeration. Just unwrap and consume.
Attempting to cross-train...
So there you have it folks. If you are looking for a solid recovery product, Builder's Bars are tough to beat. They are convenient, they taste great and are extremely versatile.

Disclaimer: Clif Bar Company provided me with some product along with Clif-branded gear for promotional purposes through my affiliation with Fitfluential. All opinions on the product are my own.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Kamikaze WDW - Disney's Hollywood Studios

Here's parts I and II of this trip just in case you want to catch up.

Here's another interesting tidbit from our trip (read the previous post for the first): I've been to Orlando to visit the parks countless times. Of all those times I have been here as "the head of the family" with my daughters three times. Three times and we have visited the same two parks every time. Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. There's a demographics lesson for you. Know your audience folks. Princesses and Disney Junior is where it's at. Hopefully, I'll be able to remedy the fact that my daughters have yet to visit Epcot and Animal Kingdom at some point in the future but for now, we came here for the Frozen Summer of Fun so here we are!

The day started... late. Everyone was pretty tired the night before and I told Mayline to allow the girls to sleep as much as possible so they could rest. These girls... at 5:30am they are usually up and about whether tired or not so I figured that with their level of exhaustion they would sleep all the way to maybe 7:30am but they went past that. Probably for the first time in their lives. After a record-breaking dressing and combing session we swallowed some breakfast and headed for DHS.

We literally walked through the gate to catch the start of the Frozen Royal Welcome parade. The main objective of this day was simple: Catch all the Frozen-related activities happening in the park. So, while late, we were off to a good start. Disney, being well... Disney, made sure to create the proper ambiance for the parade by making it snow along the parade route. You don't see that everyday. Especially during a hot, Florida, summer day.

So that got the girls amped up and after hearing Let It Go for the first time of many this day we headed over to the Animation Courtyard for some character time with some of the girl's big favorites.

This part of the day was Angelica's show by the way. "The Kraken" ran all over the Animation Courtyard leading the way to the characters she wanted pics with, which were all of them. At one point, we saw the line for Doc McStuffins to be shorter than the one for Sophia the First  so we switched. She went ballistic. I would've never guessed that this would be her reaction to the characters. Worst case scenario: she would be afraid. Best case? She would "tolerate" getting her pic taken with them. She ended up the bravest of the three. That's kids for you.

Next off was Olaf's Summer Cooldown over at the Main Stage. Here I made my best Queen Elsa impression.

And here is a tiny Cast Member for your viewing pleasure.
So Elsa can conjure snow flakes. So what? I can conjure cast members... apparently. Olaf's Summer Cooldown is essentially a dance-along and it was pretty fun. We did the Twist, threw around some beach balls and of course endured a rendition of Olaf's Ode to Summer. The streaming jets of cold mist at the end were extremely welcome. It was a pretty hot and humid day. 

I was a bit disappointed by Disney Jr. Live on Stage. Whether because of changes or technical issues, some of the effects on the show were missing and I think it took away from the experience. That didn't stop the girls from enjoying it of course but my gut feeling is that next time we come here, we'll be skipping this one unless they update it with something like Miles from Tomorrowland which is big at my house. Kids grow up. It happens.

Lunch was at Pizza Planet. I was warned that this place looks nothing like it does in the Toy Story films but the girls insisted and I obliged. I tried the Meat Lover's pizza. Nothing to write home about but you know, it's pizza. Can it ever be bad?

From there we did our first round of Star Tours. I say first round because the girls LOVED it so much that we went again later in the day. After all the girly stuff, after all the Princess stuff, after all the Frozen stuff... they are my daughters after all. I was so proud. Of course, that lasted all of 15 seconds. We went straight from Star Tours to the Frozen Sing-along.

This is the "main attraction" if you will, to the whole Frozen Summer of Fun. It is done in the stage where American Idol used to be. Here's the short version: Princess Anna summons Arandelle's official historians to tell the extremely truncated version of the events in the film. Think of the film, take out everything except the songs and you're there. Of course everyone is encouraged to sing along. Do I have to tell you that my girls enjoyed this attraction? Anna and Elsa can pop up a million times and it will never get old for them. Plus, they got to sing their tiny lungs out. My favorite part? When one of the historians mistook Kristoff for Justin Beiber. 

Then came the highlight of the day for me. My friend and coach extraordinaire Katrina Pilkington and her husband Gary drove from Tampa (she'll soon be moving to Las Vegas) to meet us at the park. It was absolutely amazing to finally meet someone who has inspired and motivated me so much in person. As much as I loved meeting you Kat, hopefully you'll get to see less of me next time we meet. Wink wink. By the way, Mayline thought you were taller. That's what happens when you have a bigger than life personality.

Mini-Coach Summit
Fast Passes for Toy Story Mania were waiting for us and we knew from previous experience this was a favorite for the girls. The best part here was when they all decided they had beaten my score by combining everyone else's so I guess I was the loser.

Which brings me to another attraction I was sad to see not working properly. Voyage of The Little Mermaid was missing all of the water effects. Again, maybe it was just broken but this and Disney Jr. Live on Stage were reminders that DHS is a park in a state of transition. There are big things coming here and the Frozen stuff is basically masking all that has been closed. Hollywood Studios has always been one of my favorite parks and I can't wait to see it 100% functional again.

We also ran into Minnie Mouse all dressed up for beach summer fun and dancing the afternoon away! Veronica and Maria did not want to dance with her for some reason but guess who was total game for this? Oh yeah. Time to "release The Kraken!"

This brings us to the low point of the day which I know sounds bad. It wasn't too bad I guess but sometimes, especially with kids, the only way to know you're gonna get burned is to put your finger in the fire.
Oh, the two oldest were gonna scream for real in a bit
The two older girls wanted to ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I was hesitant but they insisted. I explained what the ride was and how it worked. As we walked up to it I pointed at the fact that people were screaming inside the building. They bravely kept walking. A part of me thought: "well, they loved the Mine Train and they went crazy for Star Tours so maybe this was not gonna be so bad." Well, that part of me was wrong. As soon as the ride was over, Maria was trembling in terror (how fitting) and Veronica was outright crying. It took a lot of soothing to calm them down. Yeah, they're not gonna be riding this one anytime soon. To this day, The Tower of Terror is a touchy subject around our house, so don't bring it up. Me? Some of you may know that Tower of Terror is programmed to act differently every time and this particular turn was my favorite ever. It was the first time I felt truly weightless while riding it. Which is probably what scared the girls more than anything.

We are in the last row. The very last girl on the left, screaming and crying and laughing nervously is Veronica, then my Mom looking amused at her reaction followed by Maria, holding on for dear life. Quite the scene.

Fearing some permanent damage, we quickly went back to Star Tours for some badly needed happy memories. Did I mention how happy it makes me that they love this ride so much? 

After that we had dinner at ABC Commissary where everyone had Cheeseburgers except me, who was feeling adventurous and tried the steak. It needed a bit of salt but otherwise it was pretty good. ABC Commissary actually has a pretty decent and varied menu. I have tried different dishes here over the years and have always been happy. Definitely recommend this one if you are looking for Quick Service option in DHS. Quick side note: For the sake of order and peace, I sat everyone down and went to order by myself. The order was too big for me to handle and just when I resigned myself to doing two trips, the Cast 
Member who gave me the food happily offered to help me carry the trays to our table even though it was not his job. This is a Quick Service restaurant after all but that's Cast Members for you.

It was during dinner that it started to rain. Really hard. Thunder, lightning... it was pretty bad. it was at this time that I started fearing that we were gonna miss Fantasmic! and the Frozen Fireworks Show. Or rather, that it was not gonna happen at all. And basically, that's how our day ended. After a couple of hours of waiting it became evident that the rain and lightning was not gonna let up and my brother reluctantly went out in the rain and bought some ponchos, which did almost nothing because it was raining so hard and we ran to the buses and eventually our room. 

And so it was over. We almost got to do everything we set out to do. We missed Fantasmic! and the Frozen Fireworks although it was not our fault and we didn't get to see Frozen Fever which was no biggie as we had seen it when we saw Cinderella at the Theater. Everything else we had set out to do in this Kamikaze trip to Disney World, we accomplished. Oh yeah, I would have loved to catch Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular one more time since it's scheduled to close but that was a personal thing so it was never part of the official schedule. No joke, it took me about a week and a half to get rid of the felling of exhaustion after we returned home. It was just so crazy but looking back I wouldn't have done it differently. We made some wonderful memories on this trip and the girls... The girls are still talking about it weeks later. Sometimes, I'll be driving them to school and they'll ask me if we can talk about the trip. Tower of Terror and all. 

Yup, I'd say it was worth it for sure.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Kamikaze WDW - The Magic Kingdom

There's a logic to the madness. You can read part I and part II of this story to know what's going on.

We made it out of Puerto Rico by beating a tropical storm, got to Orlando and managed to settle into our hotel room. Now, it was time to get down to business. After a not-so-good-night's sleep (the girls were still on an adrenaline rush from it all) we woke up on Friday and had a good, strong breakfast to get ready for the day ahead. When we exited the hotel to wait for a bus to the Magic Kingdom we were pleasantly surprised to find one already waiting for us. So, on to the Happiest Place on Earth!

Here is an interesting fact about our day at The Magic Kingdom: We spent the entire day, from morning until the fireworks show that night, in Fantasyland. Yes, the entire day. Not only that, we didn't get to do everything there was to do there, including PhilharMagic and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh among others. I have to admit, I wasn't too sad to miss It's a Small World.

So, what did we do? Well, after the requisite pictures at the entrance and the oohs and aahs of walking towards the castle, (which never gets old by the way. Plus it was my youngest daughter's first time in Disney) we headed straight for Fairytale Garden to meet Angelica's favorite princess: Merida!

Let me tell you guys, this moment made all the planning, hassle and worrying worth it. When Angelica saw Merida, the look on her face... Merida started talking to her but Angelica was completely stricken in awe. Then she started to touch her hair. It's as if she was saying "You are real! Look at your hair!" Of course, I was too busy enjoying the moment to do stuff like, you know, take pictures. Thankfully, Disney came to the rescue here. I paid to include Memory Maker in my vacation package so they took care of that for me. My wife also lapsed out of her own personal coma to take some pics of the girls afterwards trying out the bow and arrow. They loved it! 20 minutes into the trip and it had already payed for itself. Everything from here on was pure profit.

And folks, we did some stuff. From Merida we went to the Mad Tea Party, Dumbo, the Carousel and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I was a bit concerned that the girls were gonna find it too scary but they absolutely loved it. Angelica stayed with Grandma for that one though. Not tall enough.

On Dumbo my wife took this picture which I thought was priceless. Can you see why? My wife was calling Angelica and this was the result.

From there we made a short stop by Rapunzel's tower for something I had promised the girls we'd do...

Everyone around thought it was pretty cute. We even got some applause! Veronica actually wanted to wait to see if she would come out. I promised we would meet her later.

By then, it was time to head over to The Crystal Palace for our reservations with Winnie the Pooh.

Here, things got a little weird. Veronica, who is usually fearless, did not want her picture taken with any of the characters here. I don't know why. Not a Winnie the Pooh fan it seems.

The Festival of Fantasy Parade was next. I tell you, these girls simply can't get enough of the princesses. They cheered for every single one they saw in the parade. Thankfully we were saving the best part for later.

After the parade, we could tell the girls were exhausted. It wasn't part of the plan but we felt it best to head over to the hotel, have them sleep a couple of hours, then regroup and return to finish what was left on our schedule. Frankly, I don't think we were gonna be able to go through such a long day without a break. 

So they slept, then they overslept. It was raining so there was no point in waking them up so I waited until it passed to do so. I was forced to rearrange some fast passes and we ended up missing the one we had for Cinderella and Rapunzel but since the girls were able to rest, we managed to get all we wanted to do even with the extra lines. Besides, this was the most important part of the visit: Meeting the Princesses.

After we got back in the park, we first met Anna and Elsa. My own little Anna (Veronica) and Elsa (Maria Rosa) were speechless. I enjoyed seeing their faces as the sisters from Frozen took the time to talk to them. Not that my girls said much. They just pretty much nodded at everything they were told. The look on their faces say it best I think.

Cinderella and Rapunzel were pretty much the same experience in that my girls were just in awe. These are the "regular" princesses after all. By that I mean that when they are not playing Frozen, Maria says she is Rapunzel and Veronica says she is Cinderella. We were really lucky and happy that these two were together in the same experience. Veronica managed to tell Cinderella about how much she loves her shoes. Even at the Princess level, girls talk about shoes it seems.

 I should point out, that Angelica became a total character groupie! We literally had to restrain her from running over to the characters and giving them hugs while it was some other person's turn. She might have ruined a couple of pictures... I would grab her hand and explain we had to wait in line and she would cry and give me this face like "But Rapunzel is right there! Why do we have to wait?! I mean she is right within my reach Dad! I don't get it." Such is life. When our turn would come up, my brother would joke that it was time "to release the Kraken".  She was sneaky too. She would wait until just the right moment to escape my grasp.

From there we went to Enchanted Tales with Belle, where my oldest got to play the part of Maurice, Belle's father. I wouldn't mind more character experiences like this one. It was interactive, the kids loved it and you get to take pictures. It was one of my favorite moments on this trip.


Then, we rode on Journey of the Little Mermaid which is a classic "Dark Ride" It's so full of color and so many things going on. Everyone loved this one. I forgot to take any pics here though...

Finally, we missed Celebrate the Magic. The show where they project all sorts of stuff on the Castle from different Disney films. It started just as we were exiting the Little Mermaid ride and were taking a restroom break. We were just caught out of position I guess. The projection can only be seen from the front and Journey of the Little Mermaid is behind it. So while that was happening we made our way to a better spot so we could watch Wishes.

If Wishes causes the jaws in adults to unhinge, what do you think the effect is on a child?  Plus Tinkerbell "flew" right over us! This is one of those "moments" that parents live for. Veronica kept looking back at me like "Is this really happening?" I did not want it to end. Sadly, it did.

Of course, after that "moment" was over my body quickly reminded that we were on the tail end of a very, very long day and while the girls had been able to sleep during the afternoon, I hadn't. My feet were destroyed. In fact, I they hadn't hurt this much since running the marathon. The walk back to the room was painful. I was actually concerned I would have trouble getting up the next morning. I was exhausted. But the memories... no amount of pain will take those away.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Kamikaze WDW - Pop Century Resort

Make sure you catch part 1 of this story and our daring escape from Puerto Rico here.

Where were we? Right, after an uneventful flight we made it to Orlando International Airport, got on Disney's Magical Express and headed for our Hotel, Pop Century Resort. Before I delve into our Disney adventures, I thought fellow runners might benefit from a description of this resort so here we go.

Pop, (as I will refer to it from now on) is a value resort along with the All-Star Resorts (Music, Movies and Sports) and Art of Animation. Being a value resort, there is not much in terms of amenities here and the accommodations are equivalent to say, a Holiday Inn but that is not necessarily a bad thing. When your itinerary has you all day at the parks or other places, what do you really need out of your hotel other than a place to collapse after a long day? If your time in Orlando includes some leisure moments and time away from the parks to do some other stuff, then the moderate or even the deluxe resorts make more sense but this was not our case. That extra money could be better spent elsewhere.

However, just because the accommodations are spartan, it doesn't mean that Disney has cut corners here. The hotel is beautifully themed. A homage to the latter half of the 20th century, the resort makes reference to the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's. With much of the current adult population having grown up somewhere along those decades, this is a trip down memory lane for most of us. One of the main focal points of the resort are the gigantic icons that anchor the buildings. For example we were staying in the 80's buildings so we were greeted every morning by a giant Roger Rabbit and a huge Sony Walkman. The ends of the buildings were flanked by huge Rubik's Cubes. (In the 70's buildings it was 8-track tapes, in the 50's it was bowling pins and so forth)

Unlike the All-Star Resorts, Pop is very walkable. The 80's section was the very last set of buildings of the resort and I found the walk to the main area to be fairly decent. I'm not saying it's close but compared to the same walk at say, All Star Sports, it is definitely shorter, therefore making the need for a preferred room (one closer to the main building) less of an issue. Of course, after an entire fun-filled day at the parks or after running a marathon, any walk to your room will seem endless. Especially if it's raining. (And it was on the last day.)
Try and solve that one.
The main building is an exercise in efficiency. Your required check-in counter -which is quickly becoming obsolete with online check-in-  is joined by Everything Pop, which is a gift shop/food court hybrid designed to handle large crowds quickly. The gift shop exit leads to the park buses so every time you arrive from a park you are treated to all the stuff you forgot to pick up while you were there. The food court is a large area with different stations and great variety. I particularly enjoyed to the Omelet station, where you get to pick your fixings and are made-to-order. My girls all enjoyed the Pop Waffles. Just like the Mickey Waffles but with the Pop Century logo. As far as lunch and dinner we only tried the pizza which I felt was pretty good considering the source. All other meals were done at the parks. At the end of the food court are the beverage stations where you can fill your resort mug with anything from tea and coffee to all kinds of Coke products. 

While we made this trip on the tail end of the summer season and the parks were relatively peaceful, Pop Century was playing host resort to a Masters Basketball Tournament being held in ESPN Wide World of Sports so it was full of old basketball players from all over the World. Despite this, we never failed to find a seat for breakfast or found the lines at the food court to be long. Again, everything was very efficient and all the Cast Members we came in contact with were very friendly and never seemed to be in a hurry to get rid of us, which you would expect at this level and with this amount of people.
As an added bonus, if you are using Disney transportation Pop Century does not share buses with any other resort, unlike the All Star Resorts in which you have to endure multiple stops if you are staying in either Music or Movies.

All in all, Pop Century is a solid choice for anyone looking for a "no frills" option on site. It covers the basics and then some. If you simply need a place to crash after a long day in the parks and still have access to both the Dining Plan and Disney Transportation you can't go wrong with Pop Century. In fact, if you are looking for a Value Resort for Marathon Weekend, this along with All Star Sports would be my top picks.

Tomorrow, our very busy day at the Magic Kingdom.