December 5, 2018

4:51:21 (AKA El Cheapo Runs Marathons, Too)

This past weekend, i ran the California International Marathon with a finishing time of 4:51:21.

Finisher certificate.

Granular results.

The time is almost 9 minutes faster than my most recent marathon at New York.  On one hand i'm pleased, because after three tries - i finally broke 5 hours.  On the other i'm not pleased at all, because i thought/expected that i could come in much faster in "the fastest course in the West," maybe even somewhere in the vicinity of my PR.  Oh well.  I just console myself with the thought that i successfully did "back-to-back" marathons.  After all, it's been less than a month since i ran New York.

As far as running another marathon this close to the previous one, it was probably (most definitely) a bad idea.  But i had already paid over a hundred bucks for the CIM entry in 2017, plus another fifty to defer to 2018, and El Cheapo refused to LOSE money by forfeiting outright, or (God forbid!) fork over even MORE money for another deferral.  So: i asked my friend Dr. Google how to run a marathon just three weeks after finishing one... and did it.  I guess if a non-athlete like me is going to push the envelope like that, i shouldn't complain about my finishing time.  (I realize that - in the grand scheme of things - this isn't even REALLY back-to-back, not in the way the triple 7 quest is.  But i am a mere mortal.)

At the finish, with a view of the California State Capitol Building right behind me.  Nostrils flared.

Some race notes:

1.  The weather was perfect.  I had some concerns about race conditions, given the recent Camp Fire followed by stormy weather, but it was pretty nice on the day of the race itself, starting out at crisp 37 degrees and ending at around 53.

Heading off to the race, with me decked out in my throwaway sweater and sweatpants.

2.  My legs feel a lot better this time around compared to previous races.  Not much trouble climbing up and down stairs on the day after.  Unfortunately, in the first 24 hours post-race, there was the issue of a nagging ache at the top of both feet that i literally had never felt before.  The only thing i did different at the CIM was that i consciously tried to keep my strike rate (cadence) high.  My Garmin says that i successful pulled this off, with a strike rate of around 174-185 spm (target of 180) during my running intervals.  Maybe my feet aren't used to that high of a turnover.  In hindsight, i should NOT have run the race that way, because it wasn't the way i trained.  Something to fix for the next training cycle.

3.  Billing CIM as "the fastest course in the West" with a net elevation loss sets up the expectation that it's all downhill.  IT IS NOT.  In fact, the first half seemed to be composed of a never-ending series of rolling hills.  There is one nice downhill stretch somewhere between miles 9-10, which unfortunately ends up in a fairly steep uphill climb.  It only seemed to (relatively) flatten out around mile 14 or so.

Enjoying one of the downhills.

4.  The expo wasn't really anything to write home about.  However, similar to New York (perhaps others, too), there was a big wall with the runners' names.  I had to squint to find myself with the tiny font that they used, but i was there.

That's me!

5.  A shade under 8000 is a great amount of runners.  Enough people to make it feel like a "real" event, but not enough that you constantly bump into people.

At the start.  That's about half the field ahead of me.  A lot, but not too much.

6.  The race felt highly organized from start to finish.  I was happy that one could just sit in the (relatively) warm bus up until the start of the race, negating the need to pay for a "VIP" (or similar) tent.  Porta-potties were aplenty at the starting line, and it only took me about  10 minutes to use one.  I felt very secure with the AMR bikers and cops on motorcycles constantly going back and forth, watching over the runners.  I actually liked this race so much that i think i'll do it again next year.  Perhaps i'll sign up soon... El Cheapo is definitely tempted by the early sign-up discount.  

7.  I don't know if i just bonked early, but i could not for the life of me muster enough strength to do a negative split.  This is an ongoing issue, and can probably only be fixed by adding some speed to the end of my long runs.  At least 700 people who started out in front of me seemed to slow down as well, based on this chart.  I finished the first 5K in 6826th place, and finished the whole shebang in 6112th. Still an achievement, hahaha. 

Splits data.

8.  I sometimes wonder if the run-walk-run method is holding me back from being a fast runner.  But every time i'm tempted to chuck it and just run continuously, i remind myself how many injuries i picked up in previous years.  Contrast that with my performance this year, when i ran 3 marathons with NO INJURIES and minimal aches and pains.  Pun intended: it's a marathon, not a sprint.  If i can keep running into the next several decades with no injuries, i'll be happy to be a slowpoke.  I'm already too old to go out in a blaze of glory, anyway.  Truthfully though, i feel that if i stay the course and train consistently, i'll continue to get better/faster anyway.  Or so i keep telling myself. 

So that's it, my third and final marathon for 2018 in the books.  Next stop, Big Sur.

Running to the finish.

Went for some Chinese food immediately following the race.  Tastier than the medal, to be sure.

November 8, 2018


This past weekend, I ran the TCS New York City Marathon in 5:00:18.

Five hours and change.  Honestly, i'm none too pleased with my finishing time.  It's only a minute faster than my finish earlier this year at the Phoenix Marathon, despite the higher volume and better quality of training.  I couldn't make sense of this at first, but after having some time to stew over it, i think i have it figured out: New York is a much harder course.  I mean, look at these elevation charts:

New York

Phoenix is a smooth net downhill.  New York, on the other hand, aside from the few hundred feet of net elevation gain, is a jagged series of up- and downhills that never end.  In this context, finishing a minute faster than my previous run can probably be viewed as "some sort" of achievement.  Still, finishing 21 minutes slower than the average and ending up in the 42nd percentile doesn't really do my ego any favors.  Maybe i should just keep my head down and trust that i'll keep getting better with continued training.  Or... maybe i should just stop making excuses for myself and accept that i suck.

Another bummer is that i thought i would get to see my name in the New York Times the next day.  Alas: when i looked the list of finishers, i was disappointed to find that they cut it off at 4:55.  Womp-womp. 

My personal failings aside, the race itself was spectacular.  The weather on that day was perfect: sunny and a cool 50 degrees.  The event was extremely well-organized, from the pre-race expo up until crowd control after the finish. The police presence was highly visible, and definitely felt very secure from end-to-end (security being a significant concern for me after the Boston Marathon bombings).  Personally, if cops walking around with machine guns doesn't make you feel safe, i don't know what will.

At the expo.

All the runners have their names on the wall.

At the RW booth.

The morning of.  Ready to go!  

I was afraid to take a picture of one of the cops with machine guns.  This will have to do.

And the crowds!  Thousands (tens of thousands?  Hundreds of thousands?) of New Yorkers came out en masse to cheer on the runners.  EVERYONE was supportive.  Racers who had their names written on their shirts had random strangers calling out their names every 2 seconds.  Applause followed the athletes with disabilities wherever they went.  Rock bands played on the sidewalks with wild abandon.  An entire church choir came out to sing for the runners.  And aside from the bridges (where nobody was allowed to congregate), there was a sea of onlookers EVERYWHERE.  For some reason though, no one felt compelled to yell "Go Pulmonary Associates of Stockton!"

Perhaps the font was too small.

As for me, i've never been one to "draw strength from the crowds."  I don't even know what that means, and it makes no sense from a thermodynamic standpoint.  So, no matter how many spectators cheered or how loudly they yelled, i felt fatigue and despair creep in at around mile 20 (which, retrospectively, was when the worst part of the course started).  It was at that point that i started to question my life choices and wondered how bad it would really be to just walk the rest of the way.  I was flirting with the dreaded "wall."

A visual representation of my splits.  The red line was when i started slowing down, leading to a "positive split"

The only thing that really kept me in the race was my 3:1 run-walk-run strategy.  I'm not going to belabor the point, but the walking intervals provided my legs with enough rest to let me power through at the end.  In fact, i ran my fastest mile at the finish (in the vicinity of 9 minutes) PRECISELY because I was rested enough for it.  Sadly, my finishing kick wasn't enough to overcome my cumulative slowness over the final six miles, resulting in my unsuccessful attempt to run a sub-five 26.2.  Maybe i should have started that final kick sooner.  Hindsight is 20/20.

The mad dash to the finish... Still strong, but too little, too late.

On a positive note, i did achieve measurable success with one of my self-imposed goals for the race: to drop around 20 pounds and get back to a healthy (below 25) BMI.  This was not out of vanity; i felt that if i was lighter, i would run faster (by pushing along less weight) and be less prone to injuries (by letting my legs absorb less force with each step).  My cholesterol also went up this past year, putting the fear of God into me.  In the final analysis, i dropped 17 and got my BMI to 24.9 through a combination of running 40 miles a week and "mostly" (read: sprinkled with the occasional fast food and trips to a Chinese buffet) following Michael Pollan's advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  Hopefully, the lifestyle changes that i initiated this year lead to a long and healthy life.  At the very least, some of my chub seems to be melting away.

Sometimes you have to give in to your cravings. 

New York has been on my "running bucket list" ever since i ran my first marathon 8 years ago. There was no particular reason for this, except that it's touted to be one of those major "must do" marathons.  But given the opportunity, would i run it again?  Probably not.

IMHO, it's just too big.  Because there are over 50,000 participants, being a slightly-slower-than-the-middle-of-the-pack runner meant that i was ALWAYS smack dab in the middle of a crowd.  While some would consider this to be a pleasant experience, i am not one of those people.  I detest having my soles kicked by the person running behind me, as well as having to rub elbows (and more) with the sweaty, heavy-breathing people running alongside me for miles on end.

The mass of humanity also presented a unique challenge in regards to my run-walk-run strategy, since i couldn't just stop running in the middle of the road without inconveniencing everyone immediately behind me.  I couldn't run the tangents at all, either: at any given time there were always a hundred people jockeying for position to do just that.  All told, i probably ran almost an extra mile by giving the corners a wide berth and having to weave in and out of traffic for my walk breaks.  While i'm certainly pleased that i can finally cross New York off my bucket list, once i clear the "major" marathons (such as Tokyo and London), i will probably focus on smaller ones (preferably less than 5,000 runners) with net downhill courses.

At the start.  Thousands of people ahead of me.

Somewhere in the middle.  Thousands of people running with me.

At the finish.  Thousands of people still behind me. 

Anyway, that's my third marathon in the books.  Next stop, CIM, "The Fastest Course in the West."


Random race day thoughts (for future reference, in case i ever decide to run it again, or for anyone looking for tidbits of advice):

1.  After the race is over, be prepared to WALK a significant distance.  It's about a half a mile to the main exit, and it's impossible to catch a ride (unless you were taking the subway) for blocks around.  Getting a hotel close to the finish line (Central Park) is a nice perk, but expensive and has to be booked early.

2.  HILL TRAINING is essential.  Throw in a couple of hills at the end of a long run to simulate what it's like to run the last 6 miles of this course.

3.  Even if your'e not a professional runner, or perhaps even moreso BECAUSE you're not a professional runner, it's probably a good idea to review the elevation chart before the race.

4.  NO HYDRATION BACKPACKS ARE ALLOWED on the course.  If you've been training with one, come up with an alternative.  However, there are hydration stations close to every mile marker starting at mile 3, so carrying your own liquids may not be essential.

5.  The post-race poncho is NICE.  I think i'll bring it with me to other races.

Showing off the medal in my post-race poncho.

6.  A little weight training goes a long way.  In Phoenix, my arms got sore from swinging for 5 hours.  I incorporated some light weight training into my regimen this time - enough to get toned but not necessarily swole - and avoided that issue entirely.

7.  Posture is very important.  Midway into the race, my neck and traps were burning.  Reviewing my "action pics" from the race, my shoulders were pulled up while i was running.  Tension, or just poor form?  Whatever it is, i have to fix it.

8.  The "cheer cards," while good in theory, are unclear to use in practice.  Gianina made three for me, which i never saw before or during the race.  Maybe i just wasn't looking in the right spot, but i couldn't even find them in the official app.

9.  If you're planning to buy ANY professional pictures at all (even one, those suckers are crazy expensive), "pre-pay" the service prior to race day to get a discount.  Then pose for every photographer on the day of the race to get your money's worth.

No idea why, but i think you're supposed to bite the medal.

The happy finisher.

None of this would have been possible without my family's support.


September 11, 2018

2:27:08 (AKA The Road to New York Goes Through San Francisco)

This past weekend, I ran the the Giant Race in San Francisco, with a finishing time of 2:27:08.

There was no reason why I ran this particular race.  I am not a San Francisco Giants fan.  In fact, i don't even follow baseball.  But the race was smack dab in the middle of my 16-week training program for the New York Marathon this coming November, and I had to run a 14-miler that day anyway, so i just went for it.

It was a good event, decently organized IMHO.  I also think that one can not complain about running any race in San Francisco, since it almost always seems to be perfect running weather (at least when i'm there) at somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees in the morning, with great and inspiring views of the Golden Gate bridge (course-dependent, of course).  The prospect of running San Francisco's hills can be daunting, but the course for this specific race was mostly flat.  Starting right outside AT&T Park, the course heads up the Embarcadero and turns around just past Crissy Field.  It ends up inside AT&T Park, where (if you were looking), you could probably watch yourself cross the finish line on the Jumbotron.  Fairly picturesque.

At the starting line.  Adrian was not thrilled to have to wake up early on a Sunday.

About 4.5 miles in, with the Golden Gate bridge in the distance.

Selfie at the halfway mark.


The view from the bleachers.

As far as my performance, this was slower than my previous finish at the San Francisco Marathon (2nd half), that i finished in 2:13:34 a little over a year ago (I keep forgetting to post about that).  However, at the risk of sounding like i'm making excuses, i ran a completely different race back then: it was done with a goal of finishing under 2 hours.  Meaning, i timed my performance to "peak" on that day and pushed the pace as much as i could.  In contrast, this weekend's race was "just another long run," with no taper involved and no particular time goal.  In fact, come race day, my legs were still sore from the 7-mile tempo run I did 2 days prior (not to mention the 4-mile "easy" run i did the day after that).

That being said, i'm quite happy with my finish.  As with the Phoenix Marathon, i run-walked my way to success, and had enough gas in the tank to finish strong.  In fact, there were four people who i "targeted" during the race: the tall guy in the orange shirt, the stocky guy in the orange shirt, the lady with the blue Camelbak, and the lady with the red Camelbak.  Early in the race i imagined that we would pace each other.  I took mental snapshots of them to make sure i didn't confuse them with other people.  Unfortunately, every time i slowed down to walk, they each moved farther and farther away (one at a time, they weren't running together, after all) and smoked me.  Dejected, i put my head down but stubbornly stuck to my 3:1 run-walk ratio.

Somewhere between the midpoint and the last quarter of the race though, each of my "targets" slowly came into view.  And slowly, gradually, inexorably... i  smoked each one of them in turn.  Booyah!  I know it's not nice, but a small part of me hopes that they recognized me as the slow guy they left in their dust, and despaired in the realization that a run-walker ultimately beat them.

Personally, i can't sing enough praises for the run-walk-run method.  It's allowed me to get back into the groove of things without injuring myself the way i used to all the damn time.  It lets me run at practically a tempo pace for almost the entire race, as long as i intersperse walking breaks in between.  It allows me short "intermissions" to enjoy the course and take in the views instead of just plowing through.  It gives me time to takes selfies.  It rests me enough that i can sprint at the end and not feel half dead after i cross the finish line.  Honestly, it works so well for me that i almost feel like i've found a "cheat code" to running.

Sprinting to the finish with plenty of gas left in the tank.

Let's face it: i'm never going to actually win a race and i'll probably never qualify for Boston, but to get back to marathon running at 40, to consistently do it injury-free, to enjoy myself, and to (hopefully) keep improving, that's an achievement unto itself.  So, yes - run-walk-run FTW!

So am i ready for New York?  I don't know for sure yet, since i have 8 more weeks of training to go.  But the way i feel now, i'm going to gingerly say yes.

March 8, 2018

5:01:23 (AKA 40 at 40)

This past February 24th, I ran The Phoenix Marathon with a time of 5:01:23.

Call it hubris.  Call it a chip on my shoulder.  Call it a midlife crisis.  Call it plain stupidity.  Truthfully, i think i did it for all these reasons.  Two years ago, nearing the end of my PCCM fellowship and feeling that i was quickly approaching the big four-O with nothing to show for it, i hit upon the idea of doing "40 at 40."  There was no way i'd be able to finish a 40-miler (in retrospect, perhaps i should have tried anyway), but i thought a forty (and change) kilometer-er would be doable.  After all, i'd done it before, in decent time.

Getting from there to here was no easy task.  Though i knew what i needed to do, the logistics were nigh-impossible to work with.  That same year, i had shoulder surgery and was physically restricted for several months.  When i finally started running in earnest, i couldn't really ramp up the mileage due to my busy work schedule.  Sure, i did a couple of 5Ks, a 10K, and a half-marathon, but training for those didn't come close to the physical/mental/logistical rigors required by the full 26.2.  Since i've often found that the best way to do something is to just throw my hat over the fence, i signed up for the California International Marathon (CIM) and resolved to get shipshape for that.

I scrambled to find time to run.  Eventually, i was able to find a rhythm which had some semblance of a marathon training schedule.  It was, unfortunately, half-assed at best.  Some weeks, i would get my mileage up to 40 miles... but then a week later, i would only do twenty.  There were no hill workouts, no speedwork, and no tempo runs.  Since on any given day, i was lucky to even get any sort of run in, each run was just a slow drive to a prescribed mileage.  My lack of conditioning was put on full display when i ran the Run the Parkway for my longest long run before the big race: the 20-miler.  Although i did finish, i subsequently developed a debilitating ache in my left knee.  I realized then that there was no way i'd be able to keep training and stay healthy enough to do 26.2 in the remaining weeks leading up to the CIM.

Crestfallen, i deferred my entry to the following year and resolved to just do "40 at 41," meaning, to do the marathon AFTER my 41st birthday.  Call me an idiot, but i really wanted to do the forty when i was literally forty years old.  In this, i had failed.

Two weeks after Run the Parkway, i laced up and gingerly ran 4 miles on the treadmill.  Surprisingly, i did it pain-free.  From there, i slowly built back up to a 13-miler, and remained pain-free.  My hope renewed, i signed up for Phoenix (held a month before my 41st birthday) and joyfully went back to my previous regimen.

Disaster struck AGAIN after my next 20-miler: the exact same pain in the exact same knee.  Desperate to not give up on my dream a second time, i started researching some quick fixes: strengthening exercises, compression sleeves, voodoo magic, etc.  No go.

The big breakthrough was my discovery of the run-walk-run method by Jeff Galloway.  More details can found on his website and book; however, what really piqued my interest is that - on the average - people who've applied his method have reportedly gotten faster marathon times, and some have even qualified for Boston.  Personally, i had always pooh-poohed run-walkers as not being "real" runners.  But, desperate for relief, i latched on to it as my only hope.  

So, three days after my latest disastrous 20-miler, i ran-walked 10 miles using a 3:1 minute ratio... and was completely pain free.  I did it again two days later, with the exact same results.  Reinvigorated, i continued on my previous program, mixing in some 1 minute walk breaks at the appropriate intervals.  Ultimately, i ran-walked the full marathon, running for 3 minutes and walking for 1 minute, from start to end. 

The race course has already been covered elsewhere, in a more detailed and eloquent fashion than i ever could.  Personally, i thought it was great.  Except for the hilly terrain extending from mile 4-6, it was mostly downhill and easy to run.  The weather cooperated, too: it was 32 degrees at the starting line at Usery Pass, but a perfect 55 at the end.  With a little over 2200 people running, it wasn't crowded at all.  The aid stations and toilets seemed to be spaced out appropriately, or at least i never felt that there weren't enough.

Interestingly, even though my GPS watch kept time - buzzing at the appropriate intervals - needing to maintain the 3:1 minute ratio kept me very mindful of my running.  Every time i completed a 3-minute interval, i would reassess my physical needs: was i going too fast or slow?  Did i need to drink some water, eat a gel, hit a porta-potty, adjust some article of equipment, etc.?  Despite being repetitive, it never felt tedious, because i was actively managing myself throughout the race.  It actually kept me "in the game," mentally.  Also, the regular walk breaks kept me rested well enough that i PASSED people during the last 6 miles of the race.  Believe me, there are few things that are more motivating than the savage schadenfreude of overtaking someone half your age who is crying due to fatigue.  In fact, at around the same distance where i "hit the wall" in my first marathon (22 miles), i actually picked up the pace.  And in the final half-mile... i ran.  Not a close-to-death, drag-myself-over-the-finish-line, puke-my-guts-out-from-exhaustion final push, but a decent pick-up-the-pace-i've-still-got-enough-in-the-tank RUN!


In the end, even though i wasn't completely happy with the result... i was thoroughly satisfied.

My specific goals for the race were:

1. to finish
2. strong and
3. injury free,
4. hopefully under 5 hours, but
5. preferably under 4:30.

In the final analysis, i hit three out of five targets, and only barely missed my primary time goal.  The most important thing (as Gianina has pointed out repeatedly) is that i stayed HEALTHY.  Not being a natural athlete, i am very injury-prone.  I've belatedly realized that irrationally going all-out for some self-imposed time goal regardless of the physical consequences is not a viable long-term strategy.  With the application of the run-walk-run method, i really think i can keep doing this, and potentially get even faster in future races.  I'd be lying if i said that i didn't want to run the whole 26.2 continuously, but i have come to terms with the fact that there is no shame in run-walking.  Really, anyone who says that one should only "run" a full marathon should be ready to beat the guy who walked a marathon in 3:10:34.

So that's that.  In spite of being middle-aged and overweight... Chong is back.  Now when somebody asks me what my hobby is, i can sincerely say "i run marathons," - stressing the plural - because i've done more than one.  Next stop, New York.  Maybe i can take a stab at a new PR.

So hungry.

Not hungry enough to not pose for a picture.