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

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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!

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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…

No time for breaks

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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-)

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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.

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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-)

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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.