Back from the Dead

I’m back

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

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

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

From Running to Lifting

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

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

Updates since January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

My favorite Half marathon

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As a young lad (4 years ago), I decided to become a runner. My first race was the Brooklyn Half marathon 2011 in which I struggled to finish in 2 hours and 4 minutes. Non-existent calf muscles, kung-fu pants, and cheap bandana to a race? Yep, I had a lot to learn.

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That was the start of a new lifestyle for me. Although I swore to never run such a distance again, that distance has become the norm every weekend for 2 years now.

In regards to the Brooklyn Half, I’ve never missed an opportunity to revisit my first race course, my favorite race. In the following year, 2012, I finally ran the Brooklyn Half marathon under 2 hours (1:56). Since the end of 2012, I trained hard so that I could run it under 1:50. At the Brooklyn Half 2013, I was a minute too slow (1:51). This 1:50 barrier remained ever since. No matter how hard I pushed on any training run, the total time was always greater than 1:50.

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Throughout 2014, I barely trained to be honest. It was mostly due to a brutal winter and the shift to a different goal (Mt Rainier). At the NYC Half marathon in March 2014, after running 2 full marathons a few months prior (NYC 2013 and Disney 2014), I made another attempt to officially break the barrier. My performance wasn’t any better, but not worse; 1:51 again. Sometimes you have to accept things. Just like there is a terminal velocity for how fast something can fall, I have reached my terminal velocity for a Half marathon. For the past 2 months I’ve been running only twice a week (one 10K and one Half). I’ve been more focused on weight training (upper body), my “Crazy Abs” workouts, and my “Empire State” stairmaster workouts (100 flights with 30-40 lbs). The Brooklyn Half 2014 was right around the corner and I already had my expectations; another 1:50+ race. So I raced the Brooklyn Half like, whatever man. My finish time, 1:45:45. What?!

OFF TO THE RACES:
Brooklyn Half @ Brooklyn, NYC
May 17th, 2014. 7:00AM and 58 degrees. 25,587 finishers.
Results: 8:05 pace, 4924th place, ~81% percentile, (B-)

bkhalf_elevation I don’t recall much from the first 6 miles, but the weather was great. Once you pass the mile 7 marker, you exit Prospect Park and enter Ocean parkway; 6 car lanes wide and no uphill. Its one of my favorite moments.

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The miles just went by. At mile 12, I starting thinking that there was a chance at breaking the barrier this time. With Coney Island in sight, slowing down was out of the question. I thought “perhaps I can beat my time by a whole minute or 2”.

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Crap, just passed the finish line and my GPS lost its signal. I still don’t know my finish time. How was I to pose in the finish line photos, victorious or failure? Both?

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I later found out that my finish time was 5 minutes faster than ever before for a Half marathon. Victory! Finally, a finish time that I’m proud of. Could I reach 1:40 someday? BK Half 2015? Maybe, but first, a full marathon under 4 hours please! In conclusion, the weight training, Crazy Abs, and Empire State stairmaster made the difference this time. I wonder how much of a difference it can make in a full marathon. At the finish line party, it was good to meet up with several runners who I haven’t seen since 2013. Also, I finally met Dominick; a fellow jogger blogger http://1etc.wordpress.com who killed it with a 1:35. He may have convinced me to try out a west coast race next year.

Random Thoughts

Although I’ve been focused with the Mt. Rainier training lately (2 months left), there is still time for trying new things. The new race last year was the Spartan race, and it was cool, but not for me. This year, it’s the Color Run. I couldn’t turn it down especially since it’s only a 5K away from my building. We’ll see how it turns out this weekend. After watching Godzilla and Neighbors, I would say, watch Neighbors and just Youtube the final Godzilla scene. Also, Bates Motel is a show that entered my list of approved shows worth watching.

 

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!

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 last 10 miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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