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…

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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-)

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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

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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.

 

Hibernating in the winter

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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…
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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)

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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!

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Chinese New Year: The Year of the Horse

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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!

Life after the marathon

Happy 2014! It’s been 2 months since my last post; 2 months since I crossed the NYC marathon finish line and became a marathoner. I’ll never be able to run it for the first time again. The feeling of doing it for the first time is behind me and that newbie thrill is gone. Does this mean that I’m done running? Not at all. Dr Seuss said it best – “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”.

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I may have completed a marathon but I didn’t conquer it nor was I pleased with my performance. I intend to have a rematch with the NYC marathon in 2014. Also, the training never stopped; the Disney World marathon is on for next week! The numerous winter storms didn’t make it easy to train outside during these last 2 months, especially for the 20 milers. The Disney World marathon is pancake flat so I would at least expect to perform a little better than in NYC with its bridges and such. Although it’s an easier course, a marathon is a marathon and the final 6 miles is no joke. After the NYC marathon, I learned a few things and decided to switch up my approach slightly:

1. Cross training every other day (after a 10K run if possible) by lifting weights, doing push-ups, squats, sit-ups, etc.
2. Hill routes are not enough, a constant hill is the way to go. It’s all about the vertical! One 5K treadmill session per week with 3.5 degree incline is a 1,000 ft ascent.
3. No speed during long runs. To feel like you can run more at mile 20 is more precious than anything. Running too fast in the beginning will ruin everything. Slow and steady wins the race, I suppose.

On the weekends, I’ve been hiking upstate. Hiking is one of the best cross training methods for marathons and mountain summits (Mt. Rainier). Here are some highlights of 3 hiking trips:

Hike 3: Raccoon Brook

This hiking trail was at Harriman State park, about an hour north from NYC. I decided to put extra weight in my backpack for a challenge. I’m starting out with 5 pounds but should be at 40 pounds in 6 months. Although most of the fall foliage was gone, a trip in the great outdoors is always scenic on a clear day. And there’s always interesting people who travel the journey with you. A fellow marathoner was in the group, can you guess what we chatted about for an hour?

I also learned how fun scrambling is. A scramble is when you have to use your hands to hold/grab trees and rocks to ascend steep hills. Nothing beats the feeling of being at the top of a mountain (in this case 1,150 ft).

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We passed by Pine Meadow lake but the water was too cold to swim in unfortunately. But overall, it was a good 8-9 mile scenic hike with good views and weather.

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Hike 4: Kaaterskill Falls

This hiking trail was in the Catskills; 2 hours north from the city, and 5 extra pounds in my backpack. The temperature was below freezing during the entire day which turned out to be a good thing. The views were even better with the white powder everywhere. I was immediately drawn to these icicles hanging off the rocks. I couldn’t help myself, I had to have one, the biggest one, the Ice Sword! I must’ve held the ice sword for an hour while going up the mountain. It was so cold that it never melted.

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After working our way to the top (1,110 ft ascent), we took some pictures and then worked our way down being careful not to slip on ice. I was lucky to come across a guy who summited monsters like Aconcagua and Denali which make marathons look like a 5K. Throughout our descent, I was able to ask all of my Mt. Rainier questions. From what I gather, it’s not as deadly as some perceive it to be. He actually considered it a “fun hike and a good workout”, ha.

Finally, we headed to Kaaterskill falls. The view was well worth the effort. Overall, this was my favorite hike. 8-9 miles of awesomeness.

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Hike 5: Schunemunk Mountain

It was below 15F for the entire day at the mountain and I totally regretted taking things to the next level by putting 10 pounds extra in my backpack. Most of the hiking group consisted of future Kilimanjaro trekkers and a few experienced hikers who I will refer to as the billy-goats. By the way, the Ibex is my favorite land animal.

Capra_ibex_ibex_–_04The gruesome hike began with a trek through the vast snow field.

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During the ascent portion of the hike, I had some conversations with the Kili group.It looks like they will have quite the New Year’s day summit party after a 5 day climb. After an hour, it turned out that the billy-goats were way ahead of the Kili group; I was somewhere in the middle but eventually caught up to the billy-goats at the mountain top and was amazed to find plant life here.

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Once the Kili group caught up,  we decided to split into 2 teams. For the next 2-3 hours, it seemed endless. The billy-goat pace was faster than a speed walk, and I had to actually jog in the snow and ice to keep them in my sight (yes I fell behind every now and then as usual). With ice under snow and rocks everywhere, things were getting serious. With or without hiking poles or boot spikes, we were slipping and falling all over the place. I was the winner with 10+ falls. There was no more picture-taking by this point.

The trail markers became confusing and we were off track by 2 miles. This 9 mile hike has now become 13 miles; a half marathon distance. We had to speed it up even more to meet up with the Kili team at the meet spot. There were areas in which the only way to proceed was to slide down rocks. My pants now have a huge rip in the backside. There were a few instances where a bad slip could lead to a 20-30 foot drop, and you had to hold on to branches with your life, kind of. The snow found its way through my flimsy gloves and my hands were wet. The sun began to set during the descent portion. This is where most of my falls occurred. I could then see it, the snow field from the beginning. By this point, I had nothing left, as if I ran a marathon or something. And guess what, we were the first group to arrive; however, we had to wait 45 minutes in the freezing cold for the other group to arrive. I don’t know what frostbite feels like, but my hands must have been close. Whew, what a workout. Ok, I’ll just take a hiking break until March.

Random Thoughts

These last 2 months went by quickly. I gained 3-5 pounds and became a Candy Crush addict. Aside from running and hiking on my free time, I spent a good portion of my Christmas break watching American Horror Story (3 seasons), Hardcore Pawn episodes (crazy customers), and playing Grand Theft Auto 5 (Game of the year for me). Let’s see what the winter brings.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 22 miler and the Storm King

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With the NYC marathon just weeks away, it was time to put the Rainier training on pause. But not until after one last hike. The Storm king awaits upon a foggy mountain…

HIKE 2: Storm King Mountain

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Although I had to run 15 miles the day before, I felt confident that it wouldn’t fatigue me for 6 hours of hiking with a 5 pound weight plate in my backpack. I’ll be increasing the weight gradually throughout the months.

Located an hour north from NYC, “Storm King Mountain is along the west bank of the Hudson River south of Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. Together with Breakneck Ridge on the opposite bank of the river it forms the Wind Gate, the picturesque northern gateway to the Hudson Highlands” – Wikipedia. The summit is 1340 ft and the route consisted of 2 total ascents and spiraling the mountain. It was the foggiest fog I’ve ever been in. At the top of the mountain, it was like looking down into the infinite abyss. For the first few hours, it was like being in horror film, “It was a quiet Sunday morning, a group of explorers journeyed through the wilderness, oblivious to their fate as they trespassed into a foggy mountain… where the Storm king awaits”. I suppose it was cool to be on Storm king mountain during a small rain storm. For such a hot day, the Storm king can make it rain anytime.

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Afterwards, with some time left over, we stopped by some Oktoberfest festival. I didn’t care much for the ice cream and beer, these views may be my last for the Fall.

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With my new pair of gortex Patagonia hiking boots, the hiking experience was less strenuous than the last time. I now have several hiking days scheduled for November and December. Good bye Storm King.

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The 22 Miler (The Final Test) – The Hair Dryer Route
There were only 3 times in my life when I ran 22 miles or more. Last year’s 22 miler, last year’s substitute NYC marathon, and this one. Unlike the previous 2, I did this one solo.

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This 22 miler run session serves as the NYC marathon simulator. I ate heavy carb meals all week and gained 2 pounds in the process. I decided to run locally (in Queens) instead of the city to avoid traffic and because I just didn’t feel like getting on the subway after finishing 22 miles. Armed with 4 GU gels, $5 for water, $20 for a just-in-case cab ride, and a fully charged Ipod, I stepped out of my building to embark on the journey.

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Just to put things in perspective, the 6 mile loop of Central Park is that small green rectangle in the upper left corner, My route is on the right. I promised myself not to look at my pace or distance until the circuit is complete. I figured not knowing these things would keep me relaxed. By mile 2, I was already having doubts. How the hell can I feel tired already?! With 20 more to go, this wasn’t a good start at all. Maybe its my mind playing tricks on me. By mile 4, my attitude somehow changed and I ran my fastest mile of the 22. For some reason, there was a lack of excitement throughout the entire run. This may have been the most relaxed I’ve felt on a run. I doubt this will be the case on Marathon day.

The mile 5 and 6 hills didn’t phase me. Downhill at mile 7, positive feelings kicked in. It took a whole hour to finally warm up I suppose. I then cruised 4 miles with river views on my right while daydreaming of marathon day. I imagined being surrounded by marathoners with crowds cheering on both sides while I’m running closer to the finish line. Before I realized it, I was running up a steep hill at mile 12 which smacked me back into reality. Ugh, I had to pause and take a breather as my legs transitioned into fatigue mode (1:30-2:00 hours running). Miles 13-15 went by slowly but I was still in control; so far so good.

Mile 16-18 went by even slower and I cherished all traffic light stops. By this point my legs were running on reserves. However, I didn’t hit “The Wall” yet. I could feel my sore thigh and butt muscles shake with every step. Mile 19 ugh, mile 20, oof, mile 21, ouch. Oh man, I finished the circuit and 0.8 miles short. I MUST finish although my mind kept convincing me that 21.2 miles was good enough. The only thought running through my head was “When will it be over!”. Oh no, “The Wall” approaches. The Wall appears when your body is beyond exhausted and you want to stop running more than anything. Also, you get a case of the walksies (walk/run pattern). Somehow, I tricked myself into believing that the world would explode if I don’t finish. Its all mental once you reach the delerious point (mile 18-20).

22 miles without crashing into The Wall and I saved the world from destruction. A 9:17 pace overall including 3 grocery store stops and traffic light stops. Jon is ready for a 4 hour marathon!

Training Report: Week 17-18 / 21 of the training schedule.

RunDate Distance Pace Comments
Oct 1 Tuesday 6.54 9:13 Shin splints have returned. No more Merrells. Back to Mizunos!
Oct 5 Saturday 15.33 9:09 Took 3 days off. The ideal 4 hour marathon pace.
Oct 8 Tuesday 7.13 8:54 Still in recovery mode. Testing out the Mizuno EVO Cursoris.
Oct 10 Thursday 6:33 8:45 Finally, a decent session.
Oct 14 Monday 22.06 9:17 Not bad considering grocery store stops and traffic are included.
Oct 16 Wednesday 3.65 9:13 Can’t believe I’m running 2 days after a 22 miler.

Random Thoughts

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How did I ever turn my back on Mizunos. The Merrells are just too light for running for an hour or more. However, they’re perfect when used as kung-fu sneakers. The Mizuno EVO Cursoris sneaks are minimalist style but with much more cushion and light-weight. I’m not using these for long runs but they are perfect for 10Ks. Also, I decided to give GTA (Grand Theft Auto) 5 a try, and now I’m hooked.

With the 22 miler behind me, the taper period has now begun. The next big one is the NYC marathon and I’m in Orange Wave #2!

When running becomes work

There comes a time in a marathon training schedule when it becomes routine and the excitement fades. There are days where you look forward to a good workout, and there are days when you don’t but still force yourself to go through with it. I’ve started to have evil thoughts like not caring about the NYC marathon, or that running kinda sucks sometimes, and stuff like that. With a dissolved resolve, running during the weekdays becomes a chore, and aspirations of a marathon time goal doesn’t matter as much. But when you reach week 15 out of a 21 week mission, beyond the point of no return, you just have to keep looking forward. Keep your eyes on the prize (I forgot where I heard that one but its a good one that stuck).

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For the past 3 weeks. This lone wolf ran solo through Queens during the final hot/humid days of summer. Some days I felt powerful, and some days I felt fragile, as if my legs would break if I ran too fast. I recall a 90 degree 13 miler Saturday morning. Not that I’m one of those guys who sweats more than average, but I may have left a sweat trail from mile 3. And just when I thought that was a nasty experience, it happened again a week later for the 16 miler. A world record for me; 3 grocery store visits for bottled water. Where is my jacket weather!? I also recall a Thursday 4 mile run session which I started off in a messed up mood. With a sour face, I ran a mile in the humid/muggy sunset. And then I heard it, thunder. And then I saw it, lightning lighting up the sky. And then I felt it, rain, and it was pouring in just 5 minutes. This somehow made everything awesome! Rain in my face, so refreshing after weeks of heat. If you haven’t run in a rainstorm in the summer, you are missing out.

OFF TO THE RACES :
ING New York City Marathon Tune-Up 18 Miler @ Central Park NYC
September 15th, 2013. 7:00AM and 52 degrees. 5,102 finishers.
Results: 8:48 pace, 1435 place, 72% percentile, (C-)

Finally, ideal weather; low 50s. First of all, many of us were late to the race because E/M trains were down. And for the first time, the baggage lines were twice as long as the bathroom lines; just weird. The race was 3 complete Central Park loops, which means that you have to climb Harlem hill and Cat hill 3 times each. Those who signed up for this race are no strangers to these hills. Even to the bitter end, there were hardly any hill walkers. Tough crowd, they must be the 2013 marathoners, and I’m one of them, cool.

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Loop 1 (mile 1-6) was all about swerving. Make sure you have at least intermediate swerve skills for the NYC marathon. It takes at least 6-8 miles before the paces reach a steady state. We shared the Central Park roads with bikers for the 18 mile race. These guys have some serious anger management issues and will yell at any runners in their lane. In general, just follow the rules of the road even when running. Look before switching lanes and hand signal when doing so.

This cat awaits as you summit Cat hill.

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Loop 2 (mile 7-12) was all about holding on to that Loop 1 feeling. There is a transition point somewhere in this loop, when counting completed miles changes to subtracting remaining miles. And then your mind starts doing the mathematics. Time left = Miles left x Average Pace. If the time left is greater than an hour, you’re gonna have a bad time mm-kay.

Loop 3 (mile 13-18) was all in your head; mental. Trying to convince myself not to slow down to shorten the running time by a few minutes. Thinking of times in my life that pissed me off to activate rage mode which numbs me a bit. Imagining sitting in a car trying to ignore the muscle burn in my quads and my chaffing inner thigh. Also, imagining that if I stop running, then the earth will explode, so I’ll have to keep running to save the world. Skipping songs on my Ipod trying to find the one to match my pace tempo and motivate me. And the no-shirt guy kept passing me at the water stations for miles since Loop 2, I made sure to pass him at the finish line.

Summary: I managed to run the first half (miles 1-9) faster than my marathon pace (8:30). I was flirting with 9:00 pace for the second half (miles 10-18) which is acceptable. Overall, I’m on track for a 4 hour marathon, cheers.

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Training Report:
Weeks 12-14 / 21 of the training schedule. 2/3 through! The 20 milers are coming…

RunDate Distance Pace Comments
Aug 29 Thursday 5.10 9:26 Sometimes, you just don’t feel like doing it
Aug 31 Saturday 13.21 9:06 Oh my God. This was the hottest 90 degree run ever
Sep 2 Monday 6.58 8:55 Just an ordinary after work run session
Sep 4 Wednesday 7:48 8:37 Power Run!
Sep 7 Saturday 16.02 9:00 Why oh why is it blazing hot on my long run days?!
Sep 9 Monday 6.74 8:33 8:30 pace on my hilly route. I was feeling good.
Sep 11 Wednesday 6.44 9:05 I don’t remember this one, but it looks like I was still recovering from Monday
Sep 12 Thursday 3.78 9:07 I couldn’t have been happier running in a thunder-storm at night.
Sep 15 Sunday 18.27 8:40 But the official race results has me as 8:48 pace in 18 miles. My App wins 🙂

Random Thoughts
For months I’ve been thinking about new hobbies/activities. Hiking may be the new thing. For me, one of the best things about running is the exploration aspect. No wonder why I hate treadmills. A mountain summit experience has been on my mind for some time now. I finally took a first step and booked a Mount Rainier summit trip for August 2014.

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There’s something about this experience that makes a marathon seem less amazing. How amazing would it be to walk on glaciers over the clouds on top the world. Unfortunately, the training is a completely different monster, and being a marathoner doesn’t impress the mountain crowd.

Racing through the heat wave

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Just like last year, I’m fasting for the month of Ramadan. But that’s no excuse to not keep up with the marathon training. Since Saturdays are typically long run days during the morning and impossible for me to complete without hydration, I chose to not fast on Saturdays (will have to make up those days though). For non-Saturdays, I’m up at 3:45AM eating and drinking before sunrise. 16.5 hours later, the sun sets and the fast can be broken. The best time to run is right before sunset. It works out because by the time you’re finished, you can hydrate. Mileage greater than a 5K is dangerous for me especially in this heat after not having water for so long. Dry mouth after 10 minutes, fatigue after 20 minutes, and exhaustion after 30 minutes. I tried running 4 miles once last year and paid the price. Well it’s been 2 weeks already and the closest I’ve gotten to a 5K was 2.43 miles. Yea, I’ve been a slacker. If the temperature drops, I’ll attempt a 4-miler.

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OFF TO THE RACES :
NYRR Queens 10K @ Flushing Meadows NYC
July 21st, 2013. 8:00AM and 79 degrees. 6,610 finishers.
Results: 8:23 pace, 1812 place, 73% percentile, (C-)

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The race covered most of my Tuesday night route. It’s great when the start line is just walking/running distance away from your house. I met up with a few wolf pack runners (Matt, NK, Amado) and we ran most of it together (as a wolf pack). I wasn’t intending to run below 8:30 pace but you know how runners get when racing. With a sub 8 pace at mile 2, I overheated rather quickly and actually walked at every water stop which cost me 10-20 seconds each mile. Surprisingly, minus the water stops, I could have PRed. Somewhere in mile 5, a new pain emerged right below my right Achilles. I told the remaining wolf pack to sprint the last mile for me, I’m toast. This is what I get for pushing my legs to soon. Nevertheless, I’m pleased with my performance. Without racing my hardest, I was close to a PR.

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The NYRR 9+1

Aside from being a marathon superstar, raising funds for a charity, or winning the marathon lottery, there is another method to getting into the NYC marathon (but for the following year). It’s perhaps the most popular for NYers. You have to complete 9 “qualifier” races and volunteer at one race within the year. Doing it this way keeps you race ready throughout the year, provides plenty of race pictures, and adds 9 more running shirts to your pile. I may never actually buy a run shirt again. Anyway, a complete 9+1 will look like this…
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Yes, I’m planning to do it all over again in 2014!

Training Report:
The sudden drop in mileage led to a speed increase on average. My performance is back to where it was in the winter. Or maybe after 16 hours of not eating or drinking, I’m 5 pounds lighter than usual and thus run faster. Who knows.

RunDate Distance Pace Comments
July 9 Tuesday 1.87 9:23 First day of Ramadan
July 11 Thursday 2.43 8:29 Felt light as a feather, zoom
July 13 Saturday ~12 8:45 Ran with the wolf pack on the West side river
July 15 Monday 2.25 8:27 Another good one
July 16 Tuesday 2.42 8:35 And another
July 19 Friday 2.41 8:20 My fastest for the month, and 90 degrees
July 21 Sunday 6.2 8:23 Overall good race, but now have an Achilles injury 😦

Speed Jams (tunes to run that 8 min/mile pace):
I had my ‘Digitally Imported’ App streaming various electronic music, mostly mixes though. Internet radio is good when you get tired of your own playlist.

 

Water in Sweat out

For me, a 75 degree day is considered a hot day. For about a week, its been 90 degrees; a nightmare. The choices are still the same for NYC marathon training… the treadmill or run outside. The decision is always the same. I must really hate treadmills then. This post covers weeks 3 and 4 of my 21 week training program.

Thoughts in my head during a hot summer run:

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– How long should I run before it’s time to stop and rehydrate? Every mile, every other mile?.
– I’m so thirsty, and there aren’t any water fountains or stores for another 2 miles, Nooo.
– It’s too damn hot, this shirt is coming off now. There’s like a pound of sweat in it, ugh.
– Grrr, sweat in my eyes, it burns it burns.
– I just had a Gatorade 3 miles ago and I’m thirsty again, cmon.
– Why can’t it just rain already!?
– Is it me or is it hotter outside than the inside of my own body?
– 1 mile left, must race home for that freezing cold shower and recovery drink.
– I get more breeze when I pick up the pace, let’s get crazy now.

I can see why people wake up early to run. 6am-8am is an ideal period before the sun is its strongest. I actually prefer sunset or night. Why have sun at all? So I’ve become a vampire runner lately. Even my last Saturday morning long run was at night. But I can recall one long run session that was actually in the morning.

Random running tale:
It was cloudy with an 80% chance of rain. I tend to band-aid my nips to avoid chafing. Out I went looking forward to a cool and rainy 10 miler. By mile 5, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out of nowhere and just focused on me. I started to overheat so I just took off my shirt. After two miles, I ran past 2 girls who were checking me out. I thought to myself, no way, I’m not young and sexy any more. Well, I have been working out. Lemme check out my “work in progress” six pack to see what they are looking at. Oh my God, my band-aids are still there! Mehhhhh. Throughout the remaining miles, I spent the entire time trying to recall everyone in the park and streets who saw the band-aids and didn’t say anything.

Training Report:
My performance is still not where it was back in the winter but there are signs of progress. The main highlight is that I finally ran below 9:00 average pace during a July 4th 10k workout session. What happened to those good ol’ days when I would whip out 7:30s?

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So what’s my goal? The same as last year; to run a marathon under 4 hours. It requires an average pace minimum of 9:09. If I can run a half in 1:50:00 hours, then that leaves 2:10:00 to run the second half; an extra 20 minutes. Almost always, after 13-16 miles, my body goes into fatigue mode in which a 9:30 pace is considered fast. The strategy is to be at level where I run at 8:15-8:30 pace effortlessly and 9:00-9:15 pace during the fatigue stage. Can I actually pull this off?

RunDate Distance Pace Comments
June 16 Sunday 8.05 9:24 All that cruise food still being digested…
June 29 Saturday 10.02 9:17 Lesson learned when taking off my shirt
July 1 Monday 6.74 9:10 Felt good
July 2 Tuesday 6.11 9:16 Was tired to begin with, but I survived
July 4 Thursday 6.45 8:51 Best session in a long time
July 6 Saturday 6.24 9:22 It was so hot outside, even at night it was 90s
July 8 Monday 6.48 9:00 Another feel good session

Random Thoughts
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After a month of marathon training, running has officially become homework. The hardest thing to do is to convince yourself that you enjoy homework. Switching routes usually helps. Also, July 10th is the first day of 30 days of fasting during Ramadan. I can now say that I have experience training for a marathon while fasting (LastYear). 16 hour days without food or liquid, here we go again.