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.

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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-)

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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!

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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.

The Mt. Rainier expedition

Life is full of surprises. The “path to the marathon” led me to the Mt. Rainier summit; the highest peak in Washington state and the most glaciated mountain in the contiguous US. Yes, I actually reached the top and lived to share the tale. It all began with a flight to Seattle and a man from NYC with a mission to have a mountain beneath him.

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Day 0:
With just a few hours to sight-see before the gear check and orientation session at 2pm, I headed straight to the Space Needle. It wasn’t the clearest of days and Mt. Rainier blended in with the clouds from a distance. Nevertheless, the GoogleMaps view of Seattle is awesome.

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After a long walk by the Seattle waterfront and through the madness of Pike Place Market, I grabbed some lunch nearby (Petra Mediterranean, delicious) and headed to the AAI (Alpine Ascents International) building to meet my climbing team at the orientation session. Our team consisted of 8 climbers including myself and 4 guides. After the introductions, it was revealed that I was the least experienced in the group. Some already summitted Kilimanjaro, 14-ers in Colorado, or other mountains in Washington. Every aspect of this trip would be something I’ve never done. I’ve never even camped outside before. Paradise is the name of the starting point of the climb and it would be the highest elevation I’ve ever been; about 5,420 ft. Every step I take would be one step higher than I’ve ever been. That sounds great to me.

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After the gear check, the route was discussed via a GoogleEarth presentation. The best news was that the weather forecast was very good for a summit attempt. The route is called the DC (Disappointment Cleaver) route; the most popular route. The first day is a long trek with 4,600 ft elevation gain through paved trails, rocky areas, and snowfield (more than 50% snowfield) to Camp Muir (10,080 ft). The second day starts off with a 2 hour mountaineering crash course followed by a trek across Cowlitz Glacier and up Cathedral Gap (steep scree trail) to high base camp above Ingraham Glacier (11,200 ft). Starting at midnight, the final day consists of navigating across crevasses, the DC (high rockfall danger), traversing 30-45 degree slopes to the crater peak, and then walking across to the Columbia Crest summit (14,411 ft). Let’s not forget the long descent all the way back to the parking lot. In total, the final day is a 14 hour marathon of a journey. Sure, sounds doable.

Packing was so complicated and the most stressful part in my opinion. With a 65 liter pack, I struggled for 2 hours thinking about how to optimally fit everything. When it was all packed, I was finally at peace… until I realized that I forgot to pack food. Crap. I rushed outside to buy 3 cliff bars, 2 bagels with Pb, 2 sandwiches, 2 bananas, peanuts, fig bars, raisins, carrots, and 4 chocolate bars. Yea, that should do it for 2 lunches and snacks (breakfasts and dinners were taken care of by the guides). After stuffing the food in my pockets and in my backpack somehow, I was now ready to go to sleep; the last good sleep I would have for days.

Day 1:
The team met up at 6am and we were driven to Mt. Rainier National Park in the AAI van; the only vehicle with a big Rainier on the side.

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On the road, through the trees, you could see the mountain. We all “wowed” at the first clear glimpse of the mountain up close. Once we arrived at Paradise, we made our final preparations for the journey of a lifetime. At 5,420 ft and beyond, the sun stings the flesh relentlessly so the sunscreen and lip-screen had to be applied to the exposed areas quickly and at all times. Also, glacier glasses had to be worn most of the time because it was just too bright.

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And so the adventure begins. I dreamed of this moment for so long. Images of trails, snow, and ice as I marched up muggy staircases. This is the real thing! We began the journey via the Skyline trail and took our first break at Panorama Point (6,800 ft). The 40+ pound backpack had my back already soaked with sweat in the 80F temperatures.

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We then hiked for another hour through Pebble Creek (7,200 ft) where the trail ends and the snowfield begins.

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The snowfield was so vast. It took almost 3 hours to reach Camp Muir. It was an endless desert of snow and ice. 3 hours was more than enough time to have chit-chats with each of the guides and other climbers. You slowly go crazy as you look up every 5-10 minutes to see that the view of the mountain did not change as if no progress has been made. It was starting to feel like a marathon as I started to drag my legs toward the end.

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The stair training paid off though. We finally reached Camp Muir! At 10,080 ft, I felt a bit light-headed and had some difficulty breathing. It eventually went away after a few hours but still, it freaked me out a bit. And the strangest thing, I had a signal on my phone and actually had a conversation with my wife for a few minutes. The views were amazing and were about to get better. The real climb starts tomorrow.

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The AAI guides were not only pro mountaineers but also great cooks. They served burritos that night. We all had to help out and carry some of the cooking ingredients from Paradise but I had no idea that it would be transformed into something this tasty.

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And then I had the worst sleep of my life in the upper section of the shelter hut. I just couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep. Perhaps I slept 3-4 hours tops. I’m a spoiled city guy, meh.

Day 2:
The real climb begins. But first, eggs and pancakes followed by a mountaineering crash course. These guides are awesome.

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At a nearby hill, we were taught how to ascend a glacier wearing crampons and using ice axes using various techniques. Rule #1: Don’t fall. The most important thing about mountaineering is footwork. You have to be aware and focused regardless if you are sleepy or exhausted. We were then taught to self-arrest which is a maneuver to prevent yourself from sliding down after a slip. Rule #2: If you slip and start sliding, self arrest. We were then taught to put on harnesses and rope-up in 3-person teams. If someone slips, the remaining 2 can assist. Rule #3: Don’t climb alone.

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Ok, that should be enough instruction to climb a mountain. So we grabbed our backpacks, roped-up, marched across the Cowlitz glacier and up Cathedral Gap. The crevasses began to appear everywhere and we even had to step over a few. These cracks had no bottom I swear. We all quickly found out that walking through loose and broken rock kinda sucks when wearing crampons. Also, you have to be careful not to accidentally kick rocks since they could tumble down to the rope team below you. After a lot of crampon scraping and ice axe clanging, we eventually reached high base camp in the Ingraham flats (11,200 ft) above the Ingraham Glacier.

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With crevasses everywhere, we were advised not to roam around. At the tents, we prepared for the summit day by taking out anything unnecessary like a sleeping bag for example. It felt good to have the backpack weight decrease by 50%.

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The guides cooked up chicken noodle soup and briefed us on our midnight mission. They built the dinner tent from scratch, holy!

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Midnight! Yep, it was already 6pm which meant we get 6 hours sleep max. I Excalibur-ed my ice axe in front of the tent and hooked my climbing equipment to it such that everything was ready to go at midnight. Ugh, I couldn’t sleep. Maybe I slept for 2 hours or something. It’s not that comfy sleeping on a glacier. The night brought the freezing temperatures. At 11:59, headlamps were illuminating the tents, it’s time…

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Day 3:
It took 30 minutes or so for each of us sleep-deprived mountaineers to prepare for battle with the mountain. There was enough time for oatmeal and a cup of tea under the midnight sky while gazing at the stars (they are never so clear back home). Once we rope-up, there will be no turning back. Here we go…

The next 90 minutes had to be non-stop until we reach the top of the DC (Disappointment Cleaver) at 12,300 ft. The DC is 1,000+ vertical feet with 45 degree slopes of rock and ice. Crevasse after crevasse, nothing makes you feel more alive than being roped-up to other people in the dark and stepping over scary looking cracks in the ice while being half asleep with a short circle of vision from your headlamp. Within 15 minutes, we approached this 10 foot wooden crevasse bridge with a width equal to the length of my boot. As I was side-stepping it, I asked our rope-team leader to “tell my wife that I love her and that I died a satisfied man”. He responded “tell her yourself when you get back”, haha.

Even with half of the backpack weight, the steepness was tiring me out. In the heart of the DC, crampons were scraping rocks as we all held onto our ice axes without ice to sink them in. There was never a dull moment as you slip every few minutes on the endless pile of loose and broken rocks. I tried to glance at the surroundings around me and tripped every time. I kept repeating “Pay attention Jon, pay attention Jon”. The ice axe did very little to aid in my balance and I had to rely on my ability to scramble (thank you upstate NY day hikes). Not for one second did I think about going back down. After all that, I couldn’t even imagine.

We eventually reached the top of the DC at 12,300 ft where you could see the Seattle lights. It was getting quite cold and like a fool, I forgot my coat in the tent (used it as a pillow). One of the guides had a spare green one and lent it to me. Like I said, these guides are the best. Even after resting for 10 minutes, I couldn’t catch my breath. It was the altitude. There was one more thing to learn; pressure breathing. It’s quite different than the type of breathing when running fast. There is more emphasis on breathing out. As much as I just wanted to take a nap, we had to continue zig-zagging upward.

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It seemed like an eternity as we continued to kick our crampons into the ice. After a while, the 12 headlamp dots in the night became 9.  2 of our 8 climbers had to turn back after the DC. They were the strongest 70+ year-olds I’ve ever met. Whenever I looked upward, I kept seeing the same image; more mountain and headlamp dots slowly moving above me, like I was going nowhere fast. A runny nose had me wiping with my gloves and sleeves, I really didn’t care. Left step, right step, sink ice axe, repeat. Breath in, breath out, repeat. It was becoming mental. I can’t keep up, but I can’t stop. Push!

Finally, we reached the 13,400 point for the last 15 minute break. By this point, all I could do was focus on breathing. With less than 1,000 ft until the summit crater, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Another hour of ice marching, just one more. The darkness started to transform into a dark blue as we ascended to the sky. I had spaghetti legs but somehow kept marching up, one step at a time. After looking down at my feet for so long, I looked upward to see something different; not much mountain left. From that moment on, my eyes were fixed upward. This somehow brought tears to my eyes. Was I getting emotional or was it the altitude, wind, and the pain? In my head, “Jon, hang on, you can do this, show the world what you’re made of, you have to, for those who believe in you, for those who said you can’t, to make your parents proud, to make your wife proud, to be more than you are, to make your dream come true, TO FEEL ALIVE”! As the sun rose above the horizon, I took my last steps and tossed my backpack onto the Mt. Rainier summit crater. No words can express what I felt right here.

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But it ain’t over yet. There was a quarter-mile of crater to walk across and a few more feet to ascend to reach the true summit; the Columbia Crest at 14,411 ft. Using my ice axe as a crutch and stepping passed the steam vents (it is a volcano after all), victory was mine. I CLIMBED MT. RAINIER!

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It was the clearest of days with hardly any clouds. You could see all of the nearby Cascade peaks such as Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Hood in Oregon. After writing my name in the summit register and celebrating with everyone, we all realized one small detail. We have to get back down. “Going up is voluntary; coming down isn’t“. After 30 minutes of descending, I just collapsed. Oh crap, I’ve hit the wall. I didn’t know this could happen when going down. I just wanted to sleep. But you cannot linger since the rising temperatures in the morning increases avalanche and crevasse danger. Also, I couldn’t let my rope mates down. Just like a marathon at mile 20, I had to just keep going. It was quite interesting to finally see the views of the Cascade Range which we couldn’t see earlier. But then again, I was too exhausted, blistered, and sleep deprived to fully appreciate it. This was truly the toughest part. And then going back down the DC, oh my God. After 4-5 hours or so, we reached high base camp, stuffed everything into our backpacks, refueled with food and water, and then reached Camp Muir.

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Just when things became unbearable, the fun part begins. Throughout the 3,000 ft of the snowfield (from Day 1), there were plenty of glissading slopes. Glissading is a fancy name for sliding on your ass in the snow. The biggest water park has nothing on Mt. Rainier. The intense climb was worth it! I put my legs through a trash bag and glissaded my way to the Paradise trails!

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After a final long walk though the trails into the Paradise parking lot, I took one last look at the Mt. Rainier and could not believe that we were on top of it just a few hours ago. After 14 crazy hours, we returned to civilization. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Seattle to embark on our own adventures.

The Mt. Rainier climb was an experience incomparable to anything I’ve ever done. Thank you AAI for making this an enjoyable experience. I have to admit, the feeling of reaching the summit surpassed the feeling of a marathon finish line or a graduation ceremony by far. Would I climb a bigger mountain? Most likely not. But something similar, hmm, maybe. Marathoners reading this should give this a shot. Speaking of marathons, I should get back to work on that.

From the mountain tops to the city streets, seek adventure wherever you go, enjoy the journey, and never be idle.

A few days until Rainier

I’m ready.

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A mountain. Is there anything on Earth more majestic? Gazing upward too see it all. They stand tall penetrating the clouds while looking down upon the terrain. Whether alone or clustered with others, they transform our world into art. Pyramids and skyscrapers are mankind’s attempt to emulate God’s effortless paintbrush strokes. I’m a speck of dust in comparison. To see the world from their perspective gives me more than a spectacular view. At the pinnacle, there is that moment when I can see what they see, a beautiful world.

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Perhaps I was always fascinated with mountains. Icecap mountains appeared in my childhood drawings before ever actually seeing one. I’ve been looking up and admiring their beauty every time I’ve had the opportunity to do so. Imagine ascending one, touching the clouds, and standing at the summit. But why imagine? I have to know. To know what it looks like using my own eyes (not Google images). To feel the cold wind on my face at the peak while looking down at the world. To be glorious while standing at the summit of a worthy mountain. Ah, which one to ascend?

This decision didn’t take long. Given that I’m a city dweller, never camped in a tent, haven’t been higher than 4,000 ft, and have only been on about a dozen or so day hikes, I have 0% real mountaineering experience. Everest and the other major 6 were immediately off the list. I didn’t want to travel too far for my first mountain, so the Himalayas are off the list along with anything requiring a 6+ hour flight. Also, I wanted a more technical experience, not just a long walk upward. I looked up the top 5 highest mountains in the contiguous US (excludes Alaska and Hawaii), and came across 3 in CO, Mt Whitney in CA, and Mt Rainier in WA. After reading up on Rainier, my search was over immediately. Mt Rainier is the highest mountain in Washington and the Cascade Range, and the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous US. Mt Rainier is a massive stratovolcano and it’s active. Sign me up!

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The Rainier Training. I had to transform from a runner into a backpack carrying machine. It went on for about 4 months. The training consisted of lifting weights and walking upstairs with a 40 pound pack. I didn’t have to become a body builder or anything, but I had to get stronger. And as for the stairs, it was 100 flights 3x per week and a killer 400 flights once every 2 weeks. The aerobic piece of the training was covered with the usual marathon training. A before and after picture would reveal hardly any difference. As with preparing for a marathon, the real outcome of all the training is the confidence.

August 3-5 is finally here. 14,411 ft. I can do this.

Random thoughts

Just like the hurricane that cancelled the NYC marathon in 2012, the weather at Mt Rainier can prevent a successful summit attempt. Although the odds are in my favor, there is a chance that the weather will prevent my team from ascending further than high base camp. I figure that I should expect such a possibility to avoid any disappointments. But whatever happens, the journey itself will be epic.

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.

 

NYC Half and Fourteen Peaks

Although Spring is here, it seems that Summer is here as well with the numerous 70F+ days thus far. Warmer weather and more hours of daylight brings more reasons to enjoy the outdoors. After 2 years of not making the lottery to enter this race, I finally got in. This is a “Big” race with 20K+ runners. The route was slightly altered since last year, but in a good way in my opinion. The winter didn’t allow for much outdoor running but I managed to run a few half marathon distances as preparation for this one. 6 miles in Central Park in freezing weather with 18mph winds isn’t much to look forward to but hey, it’s the NYC Half! Besides, when do you get to run down 7th Ave from 59th street to Times Square with the mob?

OFF TO THE RACES:
NYC Half @ Manhattan, NYC
March 16th, 2014. 8:00AM and 31 degrees. 20,750 finishers.
Results: 8:28 pace, 5795th place, ~72% percentile, (C)

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Central Park: What do you get when you have 20,000 cold runners eager to get to the start line but only after passing through customs (security check with only 3 booths)? Madness! Good thing I arrived 45 minutes early, only to have a minute or two left to find my corral and start the race. Bang, it’s go time! Oh, by the way, I raced with a goal time of 1:50. I immediately spot the 1:45:00 pacer and just tried to stick to him as long as I could. It was only a matter of time before the hills would kill my sub-8 min/mile speed. And behold, at mile 3, the route took us up Harlem hill, Twice! It was another 3 uneventful miles until we escaped the park and headed into the concrete jungle.

Times Square (Mile 7): Immediately, the crowds are everywhere, like it was the NYC marathon. Sometimes I think that many of these people are just waiting to cross the street, hehe. This is considered to be the highlight of the race for most of us. For me, it was the mile which had the most space to run. I spotted the camera man blocks away and devised a strategy to break from the mob and get my picture without someone blocking me. Victory!

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The West Side Highway: After the brief party, it was time to run 6 more miles down the West Side Highway with the Freedom Tower in the background, all the way down to the Staten Island Ferry. Although the route was flat, it was windy and I was feeling burnt out. Mile 8,9,10, ugh, I walked for a minute to catch my breath at the water station. Mile 11, 12, nooo, the 1:50:00 pacer just passed me. Crap, now I had to chase her to the finish line if I was going to PR or even get close to my goal time. Before the last kilometer, we entered the Battery Park underpass. Wow, a tunnel without the cars. This may have been my favorite part. After almost a mile in the darkness, you see the “light at the end of the tunnel”. With less than a mile left, everybody makes their final sprint, including yours truly. So I finished in 1:50:49. Almost a Half Marathon PR, I missed it by seconds. But hey, that just leaves something to aim for in the Brooklyn Half in May!

HIKE 6: Fourteen Peaks

I have a double life. Yes, half runner and half hiker. A wolf-goat hybrid; a Woat or something. Spring is here which means that the trails are free of snow and ice (I’m not into snow-shoeing). The “path to the marathon” may have ended but there are other challenges to take on; other peaks to summit… Speaking of peaks, I embarked on a 12 mile journey through Harriman State Park last weekend which covered 14 peaks and 4,100 total elevation. With only 5 months left until my 3-day Mt Rainier summit trip, I have to step my game up. The goal is to be able to survive day 1, to have the strength and endurance to ascend 1,000 ft per hour with 40 pounds on my back for 5 hours straight. Right now, I’m not even close.

For this challenging 12 mile hike, I packed a ten pound weight, some food, and 2 liters of water in my back pack. This was really tough. Some uphill trekking segments seemed to last forever. I can’t imagine the struggle carrying 30 pounds more. The views were mostly repetitive and not as scenic as one would expect. Below are a few snapshots. I discovered the last remaining snow/ice. Also, if you focus on the last photo, although we were an hour away, you can still see the New York skyline in the background.

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Random Thoughts

Running just hasn’t been the same after the Winter. My drive isn’t there and neither is my enjoyment lately. It’s most likely just a phase. But that’s ok, I have more than 6 months until the NYC marathon. And I just found out, I actually have 5 months until the next marathon…

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That’s right, I was accepted into the Chicago Marathon! The path to a new marathon begins!

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.

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.