Back from the Dead

I’m back

It’s been months since my last post. I had just passed the NYC marathon finish line for a second time and decided that it was time take a long break from long distance running. Actually, I was mostly convinced by the nasty shin splint on my right leg and plantar fasciitis on my left heel after the marathon. The “Path to the Marathon” finally came to an end. 4 years worth of race bibs, medals, photos, and memories; reminders of what it feels like to accomplish something major that requires hard work and dedication, and most of all, is completely optional.

20150728_205024

The struggle was real as they say. But what happens after you reach your goals? What happens when a marathoner stops running? A new goal perhaps? 2015, a new year, a new goal, a new challenge. Because that is what life is.

I’ve always been a slim dude. Being a martial artist and a runner made sense for my body type. As a 155 pound runner, going to the gym and lifting weights never crossed my mind once. But what if I was more muscular? What would it take? Is it even possible for my body type? Running a marathon never crossed my mind until I started running. The combination of a curious mind and a strong ambition to better oneself led me to the next life goal; to get jacked!

From Running to Lifting

bestadjusabledumbbells11

As with any major challenge, it all starts with research and is maintained with effort and consistency. This runner body of mine had to make a 180 degree change. The carbo-loading swapped with protein shakes, and the running sneakers swapped with adjustable weight dumbbells, bench, and pull-up bar. Those moderate neighborhood run sessions turned into intense lifting sessions. It’s been 8 months since the change, and I’m over 170 pounds. Definitely not a pure 15-20 pound muscle mass gain; I’m still in the bulking phase so yea, a little fat gain too. It actually requires the same level of dedication as marathon training, perhaps more since muscle growth is not as fast as one would hope; years most likely. Although it’s not as exiting as running a race, if feels great when you increase the weight by 5 pounds after several weeks at a plateau; you know you’re getting stronger. It’s also a good sign when somebody you haven’t seen in months notices that you look different, like you’ve been lifting weights or something. Nobody ever notices that you shaved off a few minutes of your marathon time; it doesn’t show. Instead of earning medals, you earn curves.

It’ll definitely take more than a year to reach a milestone based on what I started with and what I’m aiming for. And the running hasn’t been completely thrown away. The cardio is necessary. So twice a week, I’ll run 2-3 miles, but always at race speed to get that high intensity requirement. I must say, running is harder than it ever was with the extra weight gain.

Updates since January

Aside from lifting stuff, I won the lottery, became a Jedi, served as king of Westeros for a bit, and my painting was put into the Louvre:

PhotoFunia-1426438760 PhotoFunia-1426439972 Screenshot_2015-04-12-20-23-10 a2

Just kidding. As the winter became summer, there were some highlights:

– The Caribbean once again; El Morro (PR), Trunk bay (St. John), need to work on rock climbing, Nevis (St. Kitts), Maho beach (St. Maarten), waterfall/jungle (Dominica), and snorkeling (Barbados) but sadly, the 5 year waterproof camera lost its waterproofness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

– After a good ol NYC blizzard, I attempted to make a snowman but only the head survived:

20150127_140639

– Performed a spear demonstration at the Chinese New Year [Year of the Sheep]:

FB_IMG_1425237282427 FB_IMG_1424571643331

– Went on a 6 hour road trip to northern New Hampshire and made an attempt  at the Mt. Washington summit a.k.a. “Home to the World’s Worst Weather”. Even though it was late March, we still had temps below 20F and a snowstorm as we ascended. We got close to the peak, but mother nature won this round (rematch planned for October 2015):

Winter-on-Mount-Washi_Wake8-1024x674 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And after 6 months of not running races or any distance greater than 2 miles at a time, I actually ran a 5K race (JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge) with fellow colleagues in Central Park. It felt so much better than the last time I was running a race in Central Park at mile 25.

Stay tuned as I try to keep up with a bucket list that never stops growing, such as a big Europe trip…

NYC Marathon 2014

11413_1414946266It’s the race that started it all. 4 years ago, I remember watching the elites on TV and feeling inspired to run my farthest during that time; a 10K. I couldn’t imagine running 4 times farther than that. That’s just crazy. 4 years later, I would have to agree that it is kinda crazy. And it’s even crazier to run the NYC marathon after already running a marathon 3 weeks prior… while gaining 15 pounds since last year and with a shin splint. Also, it was colder than usual (upper 30s and into the 40s) and winds were 30 mph from the north (the direction to run for most of the race). Some say it was the worst weather in 20 years for the NYC marathon. My story is less of a success story and more of a survival story and a lesson learned. Just look at that route, how could anyone resist trying it out at least once?

16156979-mmmain

Marathon Day

Most runners start their day at 4AM. Getting 50,000+ runners to the start line is a complicated process. Transportation involves car/taxi rides, buses, trains, and/or the ferry. Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island is where all the runners gather and it resembles a concentration camp somewhat with everyone sitting/laying on the grass or in tents with police and armed soldiers walking around. I luckily was in Wave 1 this time and started the race with the first group at 9:40AM.  I found some fellow runners to stretch with and exchange a final “good luck everyone, see you at the finish, this is it” chit-chat. After a long and cold wait at the start, the cannon finally fired. Boom! This is the point of no return. Running on the Verrazano bridge is my favorite part of the race. What an epic way to start a marathon. But that wind tho…

There were some strong wind gusts on the bridge which had us all holding on to our bibs. It would be tragic if the wind blew your bib away. Several runners wore plastic bags over themselves prior to the race as a wind breaker only to be thrown away at mile 1. I recall looking up watching all the plastic bags spiraling in the air above us. Several runners were tripping over unwanted clothing which wasn’t thrown to the sides properly. Prior to the race, they were giving out free Dunkin Donuts winter hats. I wore mine and was quite happy with it, but then it blew off my head just like several others, meh. As epic as the bridge start is, the weather conditions kind of dampened the mood a bit. It was like, oh man, is the wind going to blow me around like this during the entire race? Should I have postponed to next year? What have I gotten myself into? I tried taking photos but they all came out awful, so here are a few aerial shots from the Espn and TCS NYC marathon sites.

nyc2014_1 MDB_0887_Start_mara-webpage_0 nycmarathonbridge 2014TCSNYCM_Transportation-to-the-Start-page nyc2014_2

First of all, I was kind of beat up after the Chicago marathon. Within the 3 week window, I only ran 3 times (21 miles total); barely a taper. Why? Shin splint. But I thought to myself, if I didn’t run too much than the splint would fade away and I’d be all set for the NYC marathon. Little did I know. The shin splint returned as I started descending the Verrazano bridge (mile 2). I’ve run with this sort of thing before, but I’ve never run a marathon with one. This was going to be painful indeed. It was only a matter of time before the limping starts. But let’s see how long I last.

Although the weather wasn’t the best, this could not stop the infamous NYC crowds from being on the sides of the course. It was nice running through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn again (Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint). As expected, it was one long street parade. Brooklyn is everybody’s favorite borough to run in because most of the course is flat and the crowds bring it. I actually forgot about the shin splint for a while as I gave some high fives and smacked those “touch here for power” posters. After 2 hours or so, I reached the halfway point at the Pulaski bridge into Queens and felt a sharp pain which made me walk for a bit. Oh no, not now. I was already running slower than usual and had to take it even slower to prevent putting any unnecessary pressure on the right leg. I’ve gotten this far, and can’t stop now. Running through Long Island City, Queens isn’t the Queens that I usually run in and not scenic at all. Foreigners will never know how pretty Queens is, but oh well. And after 2 more miles, the big one approaches; the Queensboro bridge. I don’t know anyone who enjoys this part; it really sucks at mile 15. Actually, the only thing to look forward to on this bridge is that moment when all of the runners spill into 1st Avenue in Manhattan where a stadium worth of people await.

My leg was taking a beating all of the way up 1st Avenue to the Bronx. But shin splint aside, I was feeling quite exhausted at miles 18-19 anyway. Marathons never get easy do they? All I have to say is, I’m glad that I ran successfully at the Chicago marathon because this one was a fail. Can’t win them all I suppose. Many runners usually hit some sort of wall in the Bronx at mile 20, but I hit a wall and then fell off of a cliff. I recall walking for a few minutes and hating myself for deciding to run this day. Even walking hurt like hell. Since quitting is never an option, I had to limp-run or gallop all the way to the finish line. From South Bronx into Harlem and all the way up 5th Avenue into Central Park. The crowds were always cheering and were very supportive. I may have to be a spectator next year because it would seem that they were having much more fun than the runners. Perhaps my lowest moment was when runners were passing me by the hundreds during the last few miles. Several runners were still full of energy while interacting with the crowds like champions. There was even a moment where someone power-walked passed me (huh). The clock was already passed my finish time from last year and I had 2 miles left. Something that should’ve taken 30 minutes went on for an hour. I eventually reached the finish line under 5 hours. This was the hardest marathon of my life. It took 2 weeks just to have the strength to write this post and relive the traumatizing day again. Every medal given out that day was certainly well-earned and fought for. And let’s not forget the 30 minute Central-Park-Exit march of 10,000 zombies wearing blue marathon ponchos and marathon medals. All I have to say is, never ever run a marathon if you don’t feel at least 95% at the start. Lesson learned.

nycmarathon2014

Thoughts:

Regardless of how it turned out, the NYC marathon is still the king of marathons. For many people, it’s a life changing experience. For me, it was the “path to the marathon” which changed my life. It led me to a life of site-seeing NYC via running (and blogging about it), whether it was alone or with other runners that I’ve met throughout the years. And as for vacation trips, being able to run for at least 2 hours enabled the possibility of unique experiences which would not have been possible otherwise. From a few blocks to a marathon, it is one the greatest “challenge accepted” decisions to take.

In conclusion, it has been one crazy year. 3 marathons (Disney, Chicago, and NYC) (and even a Mt. Rainier summit). My best time was 4:19 at Chicago and I’m content with that even though 4 hours was my original goal. For the first time, I intend to take a really long break from running and most likely run half-marathon distances at a maximum in 2015. So what’s next? I’m not sure, but after years of working on my legs, it’s about time I build up the upper half. There are other countries to see (and run through) and there are other mountains to summit. Let’s see what 2015 has to offer.

A one mile sprint and 2 marathons

So, the question I wanted to answer was: Did the Mt. Rainier training and the actual experience make me a better runner? One month later, my conclusion is – not really. Nevertheless, it didn’t make me any worse. The path to the marathon continues with a double whammy this year: the Chicago marathon and NYC marathon just 3 weeks apart. But there is strategy to this madness, one marathon serves as my final long run practice session for the other. Well, I think it’s a clever plan.

For the past 6 weeks, the marathon training went on as usual: the 5 bridge 18 mile route with friends, the lonely 16 mile long run in the neighborhood, the awful 20 mile long run in 85 degrees, the merciful 13 mile long run, and of course all of the 10k speed and hill sessions after work. Is it just me or does this whole running thing not excite me as it used to? Did the routine kill the thrill? Is it time for a new hobby? Hopefully this is just a phase and that the marathons will renew my motivation to be the best runner that I can be. To be honest, the one race that I was eager to run for the past few weeks was the 5th Avenue mile, a one mile race! Yep, just 20 city blocks or so.

91b9bf81e11befb0c8526d9b43d0e4b1

OFF TO THE RACES:
Fifth Avenue Mile @ Fifth Avenue – Central Park, NYC
September13th, 2014. 9:30AM and 68 degrees. 5,610 finishers.
Results: 6:09 pace, 1580th place, ~72% percentile, (C-)

nyrr_fifth ave mile_06

Have you ever wondered, what is your fastest mile? This race is the answer. My current PR for a 5k is 7:35 pace, so I figured that a good goal would be slightly under 7 minutes. 6:30 would be some sort of miracle.

Let’s fast forward to the part where I’m in the front lines in the male 30-34 group. “On your mark”, Boom! Oh man, we’re all running for our lives, like being chased by zombies or a T-rex, or just an old-fashioned outrunning explosions. The whole front line left me in the dust. Runners that were head to head with me are breathing so hard even with my iPod blasting, but so was I. Only 5 blocks in and I’m huffing and puffing while starting to slow down already, nooo. But wait, the large digital timer at the 1/4 mile mark says 1:30. According to my calculations… NO slowing down Jon, we can get 6:30 for sure!

cheetah-jump_493_600x450

The second quarter-mile was uphill, God why? But who cares, we must fight! Damn, I missed the second clock and I can’t recalculate, and runners are passing me like crazy, ugh, so frustrating. I can’t slow down now, cmon!

The crowds became louder by the third quarter-mile. My mind has only 3 thoughts:
1. This is my only shot at this
2. It’s all over in a few minutes
3. As bad as it feels, do not slow down
As hard as I push, runners continue to zoom by, making me feel like I’m slowing down. Ugh, it’s so hard to breathe. Doesn’t matter, must give it my all. This is not a fun race. It’s a battle, and we all want to be victorious.

And the fourth quarter-mile, time to run for my life. We all know this is where you sprint to the death. If $100 bills were all over the street, we would all run past it. Everyone has their ugliest faces at this point. Grunting, squinting eyes, and teeth. Oh man, I feel like throwing up, but wait, I can see the finish line 3 blocks away, and the digital clock says… under 6:00! What!? I lost it and blacked out into rage mode. Finish! Final time, 6:09, a miracle for me. Whoa, I feel dizzy now and also a bit wheezy, but it was worth it.

Random Thoughts

The Chicago marathon is on October 12 and the NYC marathon is on November 2; there’s no turning back now.

Getting Vertical

There is usually a low point in the journey to greatness. This is when you are presented with a choice. Is the prize worth the effort? If it isn’t, then go on another journey. If it is worth it, then there is another question to ask. Did I make a wrong turn somewhere, or, is there another way to escape from this low point? Here is a short story.

Mt. Rainier Training Session 2:
Total elevation gain: ~3,000 ft
Total backpack weight: 35 pounds 
Total hike time: 4 hours

brace

I decided to revisit the Hudson Highlands and increased the difficulty a bit. I figured it would be easier to just summit Mt. Taurus (~1,400 ft) twice. Unlike previous hikes, it became hot really fast, from 65F to 80F. And the insects! Did you know how much I hate flying bugs? The way they buzz in your ear and attempt to enter any hole in your face for no reason. They also have a tendency to bite or sting whenever they feel like it. The woods is a scary place for me during the warmer months. Spider webs everywhere, gnat swarms, bees hovering around me, and mosquitoes chasing me during my entire hike in the woods. Occasionally, a camouflaged frog would jump out of nowhere and scare the crap out of me. Also, there were hoards of these grasshopper creatures that would jump as I passed by. A few of them actually crashed into my body and face; this just got me crazy. As in a sparring match, I kept my hands up to keep my face protected (good thing there was nobody around to witness how stupid I must’ve looked). The insect repellent was useless. A gallon of water was not enough to quench my thirst in this heat. The only thought on my mind was: Never Again!

Fotoware

What madness drove me to enter this Temple of Doom insect chamber and confront the things of my nightmares for 4 hours in the heat? To summit Mt. Rainier of course. How can I continue my training throughout June and July if I couldn’t handle the conditions of late May? Am I done? Is this it?

I’m at the low point. So I ask myself: “Is the prize worth it?” I’ve gotten this far and can’t stop now. So I then ask myself: “Is there another way?” After much deep contemplation, I’ve decided to stop the outdoor training. And then it hit me. I live in NYC; the land of the skyscraper mountains. I could simply walk-up a bug-free staircase and I take the elevator down to focus 100% on the vertical ascent.

images (1)

All I had to do now was to find a tall building in which the management would allow a non-suspicious looking dude with a 40 pound backpack to have staircase access. After being turned down by a few large hotels, I began to ask around. Then finally, I asked the right person at work who happens to live in a building with 24 floors. The staircase access was granted after explaining my quest. Here is my new mountain:

24floors

Look at this 24 floor mountain. It’s more like 23 floors since the thirteenth floor is always missing for some reason. If you assume that each floor is 10 feet high, then it’s easy to calculate how many floors you need to walk up. Let’s do this.

Mt. Rainier Training Session 3:
Total elevation gain: 312 flights ~3,000 ft
Total backpack weight: ~35 pounds 
Total hike time: 2 hours

Success. 312 flights! 2.6 flights per minute pace (including breaks and elevator time).

Mt. Rainier Training Session 4:
Total elevation gain: 408 flights ~4,000 ft
Total backpack weight: ~35 pounds 
Total hike time: 2.5 hours

Yes! 2.72 flights per minute pace (including breaks and elevator time). I’m already feeling confident enough for the Day 1 Rainier challenge. The requirement is to ascend 4,500 ft in 4-5 hours. Feeling unstoppable, I decided to take it a step further and give myself a stress test. Why not run a 5 mile race and then run home from Central Park for an additional 9 miles the following day?

OFF TO THE RACES:
Portugal Day 5 miler @ Central Park, NYC
June 15th, 2014. 8:00AM and 63 degrees. 5,027 finishers.
Results: 7:55 pace, 1486th place, ~70% percentile, (C-)

A counter clockwise loop of Central Park minus Harlem hill. To be honest, I didn’t feel like racing to begin with. Somehow I ended up running a sub-8 race anyway. The 9 extra miles were hot and sweaty but not too difficult, as if I could’ve kept going somehow. From Central Park to the Queensboro bridge then homeward bound via Queens blvd.

5670699166_f0dc374589_z

I actually enjoy the noisy journey home and save a whopping $2.50 subway fare. Actually, I don’t save anything because I have to buy water and Gatorade from the bodega instead.

Random Thoughts

I just started watching Hannibal; a combination of Monk and Dexter. I recommend this one after watching the first season last week. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on vacation. I find it funny that it now has become necessary to figure out how to make time for workouts while vacation planning. Setting up running routes requires some serious Googlemapping. But I don’t think I’ll get lost on the Ring Road…

Color running and Corporate Challenges

Two new running experiences to add to the list:

OFF TO THE RACES:
Color Run@ Citi Field, Queens, NYC
May 31st, 2014. 9:00AM
Results: Un-timed Race

TLGA14_05_04930

This was a 5K on my list for a while now but never came around to it until now. Why now? The Color Run finally hit Queens, about a 5K away from where I live. If you know me by now, then you already know what had to be done. Yep, wrap a long weekend run around this event. A 5K to get there, the 5K Color Run, and the 5K home. I made sure to wear clothes that would be destroyed along with $5 shades for eye protection. Lots of free things at Expo such as a headband, shirt, bracelet, and socks, but not my style.

Firstly, FloFoto was on the course taking pics and the above photo was only $5 (MarathonFoto could learn something with the $25 photos). The crowd was much larger than I thought, and younger on average. For the first time, I was feeling kinda old (I’m above 30). Not many people actually ran this thing, many just walked it. Put it this way, when my wave launched, I was in the lead for 2-3 minutes, feeling like a Kenyan. And the course, ha, a snake course inside and outside Citi Field’s parking lot, ehhh.

colorrunmap 20140531_085359

Perhaps at around each kilometer or so, you have to pass through color zones where you get powdered in a certain color. Pink, Blue, Orange, Purple. No red? I was looking forward to red on my face, aw. This would be the first finish line that didn’t have a clock. The slogan is “Happiest 5K on the Planet”. This was a “fun run” after all. Also, it was the first time where I saw someone pull out a cigarette and smoke it right at the finish line.

The finish line party is the main event of the Color Run. It’s like a mini-concert with a lot of free stuff being tossed into the crowd. Once the crowd is large enough, the countdown begins and everyone throws their color packets in the air. I was wise to hold my breath for the whole half-minute. I recall opening my eyes for a split second only to see grey everywhere.

20140531_095549(0)  20140531_095445

I would’ve partied with the younger crowd but this 30+ year-old needed some breakfast. Besides, the mainstream music these days isn’t my style and I still have one more 5K to run. The journey back home was quite amusing. Little did I know that the powder mixed with sweat made me look freaky and received some strange looks, hehe. Somehow, I ended up green-ish, a color that wasn’t used at all.

20140531_105941

OFF TO THE RACES:
JP Morgan Corporate Challenge @ Central Park, NYC
June 4th (and 5th), 2014. 7:00PM and 75 degrees. 28,000+ finishers.
Results: 8:10 pace, 4993rd place, ~82% percentile, (B-)

2013_CC_logo_3C-1

A 5K (3.3 miles actually) after work, this sounded like a good idea. This is a race where you don’t sign up as an individual but instead, sign up as a group with your company. Me and some colleagues entered Central Park with 10 minutes left, which was a really bad choice. Chaos! Thousands of walkers and runners were all mixed together without a proper corral assignment system. First come first served, late comers like myself were “punished” for not getting there sooner. We were stuck on the line to the start line, for about 30 minutes. After waiting for 10 minutes, I already regretted signing up and just wanted to go home. It just became hotter every minute while being herded with the crowd while sharing the air with everyone.

At the start line, you have to quickly become a master swerver if you wanted to race it. I may have even jumped over a few people. This is a race but there are too many people walking everywhere! To avoid crashing, you had to get off the road and run in the dirt and grass. My expected 7:30 pace ended up as an 8:10 pace, boo. It was just a big mess, a first and a last for me.

Random Thoughts

Less than 2 months left until my Mt. Rainier trip. Last week, 6 (2 guides and 4 clients) climbers died on the mountain via the Liberty Ridge route; a technical route for experts. There hasn’t been a disaster like this since 1981. Also, the guides are with AAI; the same company I signed up with. Although I’ve never met these adventurers, I was still shocked and upset at this news. If this never happened, then just maybe, those guides would perhaps be taking me up Rainier. As amazing and beautiful as Rainier is, it can be a monster.

After doing some research to find some relief, I learned that the Liberty Ridge route and the Muir route (for beginners like me) are on opposite sides of the mountain and there hasn’t been any fatalities on the Muir route with AAI. Also, safety is the top priority. Summit day could be cancelled due to risky weather conditions. I’d rather live to reach the peak another day. Although it may seem scary, I’m actually content and look forward to the summit attempt.

No time for breaks

7f8cbfe6-ad74-11e3-b5e4-123139077938-medium

With 3 months left until the glorious Mt. Rainier summit attempt (yes attempt), there is simply “no time for breaks”. If I’m not running, I’m lifting things. If I’m not lifting things, I’m doing tornado kicks and swinging swords, staffs, and kwandos in the kungfu temple. If I’m not at the kungfu temple, I’m hiking trails upstate. If I’m not hiking upstate, I’m going up/down my 6 story apartment building with a 30lb+ backpack until I reach 80 flights. Rest days force themselves in my schedule as my body makes sure to remind me by shutting itself down every now and then. This is what I get for booking 2 marathons and a mountain summit within 3 months of each other.

IMG_195504041614725

There comes a point in ones training when the doubts infect the mind like a disease. As for marathon training, it may occur when you don’t see any progress in speed or mileage after a few weeks of consistent training. As if you’ll never become fit enough to reach your goal. I’m starting to have doubts about Mt. Rainier, but I still have to try. As a runner, a hill is a hill. They require some effort especially if the uphill lasts for a half mile or so, but you know that there is almost always a downhill right after. Also, the only extra weight required is the weight of your clothing. But what if there is no downhill? And what if 20%-25% of your body weight is added on your back? And what if the uphill is non-stop for hours, for 2-3 days straight? This is the monster I face.

Mt_Rainier_peaks

Approximately half of the people who attempt to summit Mt Rainier are turned back by fatigue (not in good enough shape), altitude sickness, or bad weather. Additionally, it can get quite dangerous toward the top and there have been some accidents. With so many obstacles, could this average city dweller summit this 14,411 ft giant? Although I don’t have control over the weather, I can at least be in good enough shape to not be turned back. This is where the training comes in…

_

Mt. Rainier Training Session 1:
Total elevation gain: 2,250 ft
Total backpack weight: 30 pounds
Total hike time: 3 hours and 30 minutes

After 7 guided hikes since September 2013, I became confident enough to be an independent hiker. The Hudson Highlands is one hour north of NYC via the Metro North rail. With 25 lbs in my backpack and 3 liters of water, I started my first solo journey at the Washburn trail head; a mile or so walk from the Cold Spring station. The goal was to summit Mt. Taurus (1,400 ft), descend back down and switch to the yellow trail. Descend further until the red trail intersection but remain on the yellow trail while ascending 450 ft to Breakneck Ridge (white) trail. Finally, descend back via the yellow trail and then exit via the blue trail to complete the loop. The additional 100 and 150 ft hills on the yellow trail resulted in a 2,250 elevation gain; half of the July’s end goal.

taurus

Although many hikers begin their Hudson Highlands journey via Breakneck Ridge, deaths occasionally occur due to its steepness. I just don’t have time for dying right now and ascending that type of steepness with a heavy backpack isn’t the training I need anyway. It took an hour to reach the Mt. Taurus summit and there were several viewpoints along the way.

20140506_132900 20140506_133915

20140506_135102 20140506_144116

I enjoyed the trek but my trapezius muscles have never felt worse (the backpack). The yellow trail was rather flat until the red trail intersection. By this point, the steepness had me using my hands to manuever around rocks; light scrambling. All of the marathon training didn’t make this easy since different muscle groups are required. My back and neck muscles were sore, followed by the upper glutes. I found myself alone surrounded by trees and rocks with nothing except my thoughts to keep me company.

20140506_145658 20140506_150222

Every 10-15 minutes or so, I just stood there catching my breath, chugging some water while thinking “What the hell are you doing out here Jon”, and “Will you be able to get out of here before dark or get out alive?” I was supposed to exit the way I came, but my water supply was almost empty and I was quite exhausted after 3 hours. Once I was on the blue trail and noticing that I had a little less than an hour to catch the train, I just started jogging. Don’t ask where this energy reserve came from. I managed to keep jogging until I reached the road and then kept going until the train station with a few walk breaks of course. Ha, the marathon training finally came in handy; I made it in time for the train (only one each hour). Not bad for my first real Rainier training session.

Meanwhile in Central Park…

OFF TO THE RACES:
Run As One 4 miler @ Central Park, NYC
April 27th, 2014. 8:30AM and 48 degrees. 8,029 finishers.
Results: 7:38 pace, 1493rd place, ~81% percentile, (B-)

IMG_296151296150186

Just when I thought my performance suffered over the winter, I whipped out a 4 mile race effort equivalent to my record last year. There is nothing much to report here, just another Central Park loop and perfect weather. It was the run home which I found to be much more interesting. I bumped into a wolf pack runner, Matt, who also raced the 4 miler with his buddy from the UK. It turns out that his buddy ran the Boston marathon under 3 hours, which was a week ago.

IMG_273244455666907

Since they were headed to Brooklyn and I was headed home to Queens, I had the opportunity to run with this athlete to the Queensboro bridge and across it. As the super runner admired the sights on the Queensboro bridge, I was breathing hard trying my best to stay alongside him. And then I made the request of requests… “Can you run at your usual marathon pace until we get to Queens? Don’t worry, I’ll be right behind you”. The pace quickly changed from 8:00 to 7:30 to 7:00. He looked like he was jogging, but I was running hard. The pace went to 6:30. He still looks like he was jogging, and I’m running for my life. The pace went to 6:00. By that point, I was just chasing him as he widened the gap between us. Thanks to him, I discovered what it’s like to run at 6:30 pace and right after a 4 mile race, incredible. Once in LIC Queens, we said farewell, and I proceeded to run another 10K to my casa.

OFF TO THE RACES:
Japan Day 4 miler @ Central Park, NYC
May 11th, 2014. 8:00AM and 61 degrees. 5,707 finishers.
Results: 7:44 pace, 1007th place, ~82% percentile, (B-)

1508569_10152084754197409_2222231335387101931_n

Pretty much a repeat of the previous 4-mile race except for the fact that I wasn’t in the mood to race and I missed my chance to pee before the race started. 18 seconds slower under such conditions isn’t bad at all.

 Random Thoughts

I’m in Boston for 3 days next week (business trip) and looking forward to doing some morning running on some new routes (not looking forward to working in the office though). Most importantly, my favorite Half marathon is this Saturday; the Brooklyn Half! Now I’m off to watch the Sunday lineup: Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, and Veep.

 

Hibernating in the winter

sleeping-wolf-296288
After the Disney marathon, this wolf went into hibernation mode. Besides, running outside kinda sucked due to the constant snow/ice storms and freezing weather. I don’t mind some snow/ice on the roads and at least 25F temperatures, but in NYC, my minimum conditions weren’t met most of the time. It was kinda like…
dat
With the extra free time, I decided to return to the kung-fu Wednesday night madness and even started the Mt. Rainier weight training program (getting diesel now). I still manage to run 2x per week: one long run on the weekend, and one 10K with 5 pounds in my backpack (makes such a difference on hills, wow). It’s been almost 2 months since my last post, so I’ll just mention the highlights.

OFF TO THE RACES:
Fred Lebow Manhattan Half @ Central Park
January 26th, 2014. 8:00AM and 17 degrees. 4073 finishers.
Results: 9:15 pace, 2083th place, ~49% percentile, (F)

FredLebow_Course_02
This race consisted of 2 Central Park laps. This was perhaps the coldest temperature I’ve dared to run in; 17F with negative wind chill. Would I do it again, hellz no! My polar vortex armor consisted of my snow hat, balaclava just in case, gloves, tights with my hiking pants over them, double socks, 4 long sleeve layers (all tech shirts) with a fifth jacket layer around my waist just in case. When it comes to taking the trains in NYC, it almost always fails when you need it most. Let’s just say that the only way to get to the race at a reasonable time (15 minutes late) was to run for 2 miles from the train stop to the start line at Central Park. I didn’t get to stretch or even pee. After watching the last of the runners pass the start line, I finally arrived at the start line with 2 miles behind me already and started my first “race mile” with a bathroom break. The last thing you want to do in this temperature is to expose the only warm parts you have left on your body to the cold, and then you have to re-adjust the shirt layers, ugh, I lost several minutes here. My Garmin wasn’t syncing with the satellites, and never did. If you were thirsty, then you had to drink frozen water or Gatorade slush (yea, it was that cold). Just when everything sucked, I tried to seek out the positive to keep me from just quitting and going home. After 2 hours, I finally found the one positive thing… the freakin finish line!

FredLebow_Half_2014_2 FredLebow_Half_2014_3 FredLebow_Half_2014_4

Chinese New Year: The Year of the Horse

imagesCA3ICEXQ

IMG_458564471999986
My YingJowPai Grandmaster applying the elbow lock

After 6+ months, I stepped into the kung-fu temple; a public school cafeteria in Chinatown. After months of marathon training, the butterfly kicks and front hand springs became a bit harder to execute. Completing the double saber routine knocked the wind out of me (2 years ago).

I can’t remember all of the moves for most of the non-weapon routines either! How can I possibly perform for the Chinese New Years Demo? Well, I worked with a few masters on a Wednesday night to refresh my memory for one of the routines. With 2 days left, and a jacked up lower back from too many kip-ups, I rehearsed the movements in my mind. The show was a success as usual. We all did our thing. There was lion dancing, lock-technique demonstrations, tai-chi, sword slashing, staff twirling, spear thrusting, chain whipping, and let’s not forget punches, palms, kicks, and flips. With just 3 days of practice, I pulled it off, well, most of it. I kinda forgot 20% of the routine and just closed it early. To the untrained eye, I didn’t make a mistake, but the masters knew exactly where I messed up, haha.

IMG_396563866874679 IMG_396595439650503 IMG_396695784225495

I’ll attempt the crazy staff routine next year, which will require much more than 3 days of practice.

Random Snowstorm Run Session

There are times in life where you have a dumb idea and it actually works out well. After getting hammered with polar vortexes and going a week straight without running, I made up my mind to run during the upcoming weekend, no matter what. Just my luck, the clouds decided to unleash another big snowstorm, surprise surprise. To make a dumb idea dumber, I chose the unpaved Flushing park 10K route. The snow was falling from the sky in bulk and piled up quickly and high. Here was a first, I ran outside with hiking boots and goggles.
20140215_161451
After the first mile, the snow kept punching me in the face and made me want to quit and head back. But I’m glad I didn’t. After a few minutes, the winds calmed down. It was just me, alone, surrounded by nature painted white. Meadow lake was completely frozen with a layer of snow on top, as if you could just walk across it. A few megapixels could not capture the view. The return trip was epic. The snow was quite high, like a foot. It was like being in the Rocky IV movie when Rocky was running in Russia. Bringing the knees past the waistline for 2 miles was enough to knock me out.

20140215_164022(0) 20140215_165553

Random Thoughts

I’ve been watching more TV than usual, winter does that to people. This winter brings new seasons for Walking Dead, Vikings, and Game of Thrones. Also, Black Sails is a new show that is turning out to be good as well (only 8 episodes though). And I managed to watch all 3 seasons of American Horror Story; good series.

Ever since I finished Grand Theft Auto V, I turned to cell phone gaming and entertainment. My patience and determination is paying off in Candy Crush Saga; currently at level 275. Other addictive honorable mentions are: Kingdom Rush – Frontiers (tower-defense strategy), and Beastie Bay (Simcity+Pokemon). As for movies, the Lego Movie was awesome and worth seeing at least once, even if you’re an adult.

For 2 years straight, I’ve tried to enter the NYC Half marathon race via the lottery and failed. Well, this year I’m in! It’s one of the only time where they shut down Times Square just for runners. It’s on next weekend!

The NYC Marathon 2013

Finally, finally, finally, I DID IT! My “PATH TO THE MARATHON” is complete. I finished the New York City Marathon and conquered the 5 boroughs with 50,000 other crazy people. It was the largest marathon in the history of marathons in terms of the number of runners. Everything for the past 2 years (including this blog) all led up to this one moment on Sunday November 3rd. Running a marathon is the hardest thing I’ve attempted physically. It was more than a race, it was the craziest “parade” that I’ve been a part of. Such an event needs to be experienced to be truly understood and appreciated, and there’s only one way to find out. Well, it took 2 years, but now I can finally share what it was like for me, an amateur NYC marathoner (it feels great to say that I’m a marathoner now).

OFF TO THE KING OF RACES:
NYC MARATHON 2013 @ NYC
November 3rd, 2013. 10:05AM (WAVE 2) and 45 degrees. Around 50,000 finishers.

PRE-RACE
The day started early, really early. I woke up at 4:15AM, ate breakfast, got dressed, and left at 5:30AM to get on the subway. Oh great, my train to Manhattan was rerouted, so I ended up taking a cab and lucky I found one. I arrived just in time to get on one of the express TeamForKids buses which leave at 6:30AM sharp. This was a major perk for raising money for this charity group last year. With so many buses headed to Staten Island along with unexpected traffic in South Brooklyn, it took about an hour to get there. And then, I saw it, the Verrazano bridge; the starting point of the 26.2 mile journey. Soon, I’ll be running on that bridge just like I’ve always imagined and dreamed.

The buses dropped us off and all you could do is follow the herd of runners into the starting village. You immediately feel the temperature difference, like 10 degrees colder than the city. Also, it was very windy, which makes crossing bridges so much tougher. As far as the eye can see, there were runners on the ground looking like homeless people or in tents trying to stay warm. There were various languages coming from loudspeakers, a reminder that this race has runners from all countries. I wished many fellow WAVE#1 runners good luck as they lined up first. After my WAVE#2 group stretch, I proceeded to line up right after the WAVE#1 runners started their journey. With one last bathroom break and a bit more walking with the herd to the actual start line, I was standing on the bridge. The cannon fired. It’s actually happening! It’s marathon time!

20131103_095513(0)

THE INFAMOUS VERRAZANO BRIDGE
Aside from the finish line, crossing the Verrazano bridge was the greatest experience for me. I wished it could last longer than it did, although it’s the longest bridge in America. My fastest mile was running down that thing (7:20 pace, such a fool, a happy fool). My only thought was “I’m running… the NYC Marathon, YEAAA”! It was such a thrill and great feeling. Helicopters were everywhere, one was close enough to jump off the bridge and grab. And there I am on the right lane toward the back wearing a neon green tank top; the only guy running on that elevated platform in the middle doing hurdles over tossed clothing.

article-2487108-192BC87B00000578-332_964x598

PARTY TIME IN BROOKLYN
After the bridge, we entered South Brooklyn. For the first hour, I was feeling great, giving high fives to strangers, and running strong at almost record 10K race speeds. Although I had my earphones on, I realized that it made no sense in certain areas since the crowds were much louder. Every mile had a few block parties with a band or DJ blasting music. There were so many funny signs and people dressed up in Halloween costumes. There were people shouting though their windows and rooftops. With so much entertainment on the course, a whole hour passed by quickly. By the second hour, we were in North Brooklyn, and it was even louder. Neighborhood after neighborhood, people were out cheering and partying like it was New Years Eve. Running through Brooklyn was awesome and I enjoyed it.

Somewhere around mile 10 in Williamsburg Brooklyn, I had this nasty stabbing side cramp that lasted for 2-3 miles. Nooo! I had to slow down a bit and control my breathing. By this point, it’s been 8 hours since I’ve eaten, and I started to feel the fatigue much earlier than usual. This was the big mistake which made things tough for me during the second half of the race. Crossing the Pulaski bridge into Queens was the halfway point, and I just couldn’t resist a walking break. Uh oh, do you know what that meant? It’s a sign of fatigue and it was way too soon for that, things were about to get ugly in a few miles. At least I was still on point for a 4 hour marathon with 1:55 at the halfway point.

BURNING OUT IN QUEENS
Once in Queens, I knew the monster was coming soon; the Queensborough bridge. Using reserve energy, I was running a minute per mile slower than usual and took a stroll through each water station. Even though I trained on this bridge many times, my performance was the worst ever. I had to power walk 4 times going up the bridge, Ugh, such a failure. At least there were no crowds on the bridge to witness me burn out, and I wasn’t alone. There was literally a walk-of-shame lane on the right side, haha. Suddenly, I had a surge of energy going down the bridge and into the city where the liveliest crowds were having a welcoming party for the runners.

INTO THE CITY AND HITTING THE WALL
It was truly a sight to see the sea of people on 1st avenue. Entering the city is considered the highlight for many runners. There was people everywhere, pure madness. My reserve energy ran out 2 miles later and by mile 18 around 96th st, I was toast. I officially hit the wall with 1/3 of the journey left to complete. Walking felt so good at times, I totally didn’t care if the crowds saw me walking every few minutes. As I said goodbye to my 4 hour time goal, I started to worry if I would finish at all. The new goal was to survive.

NOTHING LEFT IN THE BRONX
With a bad case of the walksies, I entered the Bronx. My pace dropped by 2-3 minutes each mile. Runners were dropping like flies. Some stopped on the side to go stretch, others ended up in the walk-of-shame lane. And then OUCH, it felt like a dog bit my hamstring. I felt an unfamiliar and nasty pain which almost made me fall. My neck was sore from holding my head upright. I spilled Gatorade on myself and slipped on banana peels. I was falling apart. But I didn’t come this far to not finish this thing. Like a prisoner with leg cuffs, I shuffled my way over the last bridge and into Harlem. I hate it when people yell “almost there”! There are miles between me and the finish line, almost there? C’mon!

SURVIVAL, TRIUMPH, VICTORY, GLORY
I dragged my tortured body through Harlem and down 5th avenue until I reached Central Park. Block after block, people yelling, runners everywhere, and pain all over. My only thoughts were “never again”, and “this is the last one”. Central Park was mostly downhill, so I managed to shuffle my feet long enough to get to mile 25. With one more mile left, I finally knew it was possible. The end is near and it can all be over in 10 minutes! Somehow, my body felt numb, and I ran without pain. Was I on the verge of passing out or was I about to become a marathoner? Whichever one comes first! The finish line is right up that hill, you can do it, you have to! Do it once and for all! VICTORY! It took 4 hours and 34 minutes but I didn’t care about the time much. I just ran the NYC marathon and it was unbelievable.

1463139_10151645860782364_947732492_a

The medal meant nothing, the battle was everything. This was more than a bucket list item checked off, it was a childhood dream come true. My legs muscles are still sore as I write this sentence 3 nights later. And you know what’s harder than running a marathon? Taking “jump” pictures with the wolf-pack after running a marathon. A big thanks to everyone who trained with me (coaches, friends, wolf-pack), those who supported me with last year’s fundraising, those who believed in me, and especially my wife who was there since day one.

904125_10201660395144832_857573813_o

859227_10201660398664920_803769458_o

Random Thoughts
If you had asked me during that Sunday evening to run another marathon and put myself through that roller coaster ride again, I would have answered “HELL NO, NEVER AGAIN”. 24 hours later, I thought it over, and now the answer is “I WANT A REMATCH”! I felt every feeling in the spectrum in the following order: prepared, nervousness, thrilled, excitement, happy, tired, doubtful, worried, disappointment, exhaustion, pain, anger, depression, helpless, numb, hopeful, rage, relieved, accomplished.

Well, after 2 years, The Path To The Marathon is officially over. But my posts will still continue. There are many paths to take now. I may have survived a marathon but I didn’t conquer one. I’ll be better prepared next time. Also, there is a mountain waiting for me in August. The Path to Mount Rainier?

The last 10 miles

Almost one week left until marathon day. Almost one week left to be in the biggest parade in NYC and to cross the finish line of finish lines. Ads in the subway, marathon emails, the cooler air, the day has finally arrived. With the peak of the training behind me, all that remains is one final double-digit mile run.

frabz-One-does-not-simply-Run-a-marathon-without-proper-training-5ad37f

The last double-digit miler
It’s been a year since I last ran with the TeamForKids group. This would perhaps be my last time running with them this year so it could not be missed. The plan was to run the last 10 miles of the marathon route to have an idea of what to expect.

last_10_miles

We split into pace groups. I ran with the sub-9 group, consisting of new faces, familiar faces, and of course the wolf pack warriors (J-wolf, C-wolf, and M-wolf were there). And I’m L-wolf (Lone wolf) because that’s how I always end up on a long run.

tumblr_lwdzjymJ0L1r53jhqo1_400

Starting from Central Park, we ran toward the Queensborough bridge to 1st avenue, then made our way uptown. By mile 3, when the rolling hills and traffic became minimal, a sub-8 pace group emerged from our group and I was one of them. The 8-9 of us zoomed through the streets, crossed the bridge into the Bronx, crossed another one back into Manhattan, and just kept zooming downtown until 116 st. With 3.2 miles left, I couldn’t run faster than 8:00 pace anymore and became the lone wolf once again. I’m surprised I kept up that long. While tailgating the sub-8 pacers, and as the street numbers went from 116 to 72, it was the revenge of the rolling hills. These hills will seriously hurt at mile 24-26, that’s for sure. I have to somehow save the juice for the last half hour during race day.

Overall, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the empty streets which we just ran through being filled with runners, spectators, and noise. But imagining how my body would feel after already running 16 miles wasn’t straightforward. There’s only one way to find out right.

Random Thoughts
Did I run 1000 miles so far this year, ha, not even 800. Although I may have reduced the marathon training this year, I feel more prepared than last year. I raced so many races that I can barely hold up the BIB SNAKE:

20131007_193256

Each run session teaches a lesson. The main lessons learned this year are:
– Overtraining is worse than undertraining.
– Quality over quantity when it comes to mileage.
– Frequency over distance during injuries.
– Distance over speed to prevent injuries.
– Liquids and salt every 2-3 miles for 85+ degree days.
– Walk past dogs without leashes or weak looking owners.
– Be close friends with hills.
– Smaller steps and no heel strikes going uphill.
– Smaller steps and no pounding going downhill.
– Enjoy the run!

Keeping running fun

After almost 3 years of running, I’m still learning how to run.

life_advice_in_photos8

When something becomes routine, it can become boring really fast. This law applies to everything I think. Work, school, friends, activities, food, movies, music, video games, and so on.  Changing things up and breaking the routine can keep things interesting and fun. Running is one of the easiest things which can get boring quickly. I must admit, I tend to lose interest if I repeat the same routes and strive for the same goal. Marathon training is perhaps the easiest way to get sick of running since it consumes a lot of your free time and weekends. To avoid burning out, especially when the big day is about a month away, I had to make some changes.

homer_running

– Threw time goals in the trash. Why feel disappointed after you’ve worked so hard but a minute or two too slow? That just ruins it.
– Replaced the NYC marathon from my number #1 physical ambition with something else (Mt. Rainier summit), which makes marathon day seem less stressful.
– New routes and running old routes in reverse. Hills should not be expected.
– Even though its marathon training time, I reduced my weekday run sessions from 3 to 2. With more time for my legs to rest, the workouts can be more enjoyable and less painful. Why separate speed drills, hill repeats, and recovery runs when you can combine them?

20 miles via the 5 bridge reverse route:
The big 20! After running an 18 miler during the previous weekend, I felt pumped for this. I met up with 2 of the wolf pack warriors around 7am at Columbus circle during a high humidity 70F day. These 2 dudes can run a marathon under 3:15, so it was only a matter of time before I get smoked, left behind, and become the lone wolf. After a 10k down the West street path by the Hudson, I felt out of breath already. Long runs should be a bit slower paced but here I am trying to keep up with their pace.

Gettyaerial-cropped1-2000x1106

We passed by several TFK running teams on the way which was pretty cool. Without a single bridge crossed, we proceeded to the Brooklyn Bridge. Toward the end of the crossing, they appeared as pixels in the distance. Mile 9 and beyond was going to get nasty. A red light stopped them in their tracks and I caught up to let them know that I’ll be tagging along from now on; a green light for them to run their real pace. The Manhattan bridge was next. Smoked. I didn’t even see them anymore. Gosh I suck. They get props for waiting up for me at Chinatown for a water break.

06bowery

Bridge 3: Williamsburg bridge. Crossing this completes a half marathon distance. They must’ve waited for 2 minutes this time. We then ran 2 more miles up Brooklyn and crossed the Pulaski bridge where we bumped into a fellow wolf pack warrior who ended up joining us. Soon after, we all split ways prior to the infamous Queens borough bridge at mile 16. I’ve slowed them down enough for one day. For the first time in history, I ran the Queen of bridges without a walk break after already have run 16 miles.

full_deb51ca6-0579-40f7-bcf5-37ec80d82d19

Finally, the roads of Central Park completed the 20 route. I hit the wall around mile 19. Walking, running, walking, running… nothing left and everything hurts. I later found out that dehydration was the cause (really yellow pee). At least hydration won’t be an issue at the NYC marathon. A painful 20 miles in 3:05. Not too proud of the final time but hey, it was 5 bridges.

Training Report:
Week 15 / 21 of the training schedule.

RunDate Distance Pace Comments
Sep 17 Tuesday 4.20 9:00 Sometimes, you have to poo, and either find a bush or walk home
Sep 18 Wednesday 7.47 9:17 Was not feeling good it at all, but ran anyway
Sep 21 Saturday 20.01 ~9:15 20 miles!
Sep 24 Tuesday 6:49 8:38 Recovery! Splits [8:28, 8:39, 8:30, 8:30, 8:26, 8:59]
Sep 26 Thursday 6.21 8:33 Effortless! Splits [8:45, 8:54, 7:58, 8:58, 7:44, 8:44]
I banged out 2 sub-8s by accident!

Random Thoughts
The weather has been great (60F-70F) but not perfect (50F-60F). Autumn is my favorite. Also, I’m a year older again; a time in which I reflect on my life to see where I’ve been and where I’m headed. With a bad long-term memory and too few ambitions, I researched (googled) to seek out something new. The conclusion: to begin training for a mountain summit. My first hike is tomorrow; Mt Tammany (1500 ft). Let’s see where this rabbit hole leads to…

800px-Mount_Tammany