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.

March 13, 2017

1:00:42 x 2

This past weekend, we were up in Sacramento for the Shamrock'n Half.  I ran the 10K, while Gianina and Adrian did the 5K.  I was initially planning to do the half marathon but decided to bail out several weeks ago because... well, i just didn't want to do it half-assed.  At my current level of fitness, i could definitely finish 13.1, but not well enough for my taste.  I know my running will never be "competitive,"  but i still have standards, hahaha.  

This was kind of a big deal for me because I haven't run a 10K since i was 7 years younger and 30 pounds lighter.  I wanted to test myself and see if i could still do a sub-60.

Well, i failed.  I got in a little over 60.

HOWEVER, I don't feel as bad about it as i thought i would.  For one, my time did not go all the way up to 1:01.  While not very precise, i can still say i finished a 10K "in an hour."  Also, 16/35 for my age group is a smidge above median.  Eight years ago, despite finishing in about 58 minutes and change, i was still below 50th percentile.  Growing old (and trying to keep fit while doing it) has its perks, i suppose.

I actually ran TWO races this weekend, simultaneously.  We also signed up for the 3rd annual Pi Day 5K (10K for me).  It's an interesting concept: a VIRTUAL race which you run wherever you are, around "Pi Day," or March 14th (3/14).  I don't think we will win any prizes, but it sounded sufficiently geeky to sign up for, and is for a good cause, donating part of the proceeds to the Expanding Your Horizons Network, which helps get girls and young ladies into STEM careers.

So now i have a finishing time for that race as well.

All in all, i seem to be mostly on track for hitting my main fitness goal, which is to get back to the shape i was in when i was a "runner."  Between injuries and the fellowship, the past several years turned me into a bag of grease held together by soft muscles and sinew.  The races i run mainly serve the purpose of "checkpoints" to keep me honest/accountable.  Well okay, they're fun too.

February 27, 2017

1:31:01 AKA The Incidental Runner

This past weekend was just supposed to be a relaxing long-weekend-cum-short-vacation.  We spent a few days in Hawaii, did all the touristy things, and met up with an old friend.  However, while on the tour bus, it came to our attention that there was a little event going on on Presidents' Day called the Great Aloha Run.  Apparently it was a big deal around those parts.  After doing a little research on it (mainly to determine the distance, since I was incidentally planning to do a long run on that day anyway), I said what the hey, why not?, signed up, and ummm... ran with it.

I finished the 8.15 mile course in 1:31:01.

I'm actually somewhat disappointed with my time.  Since I'm gunning for a 10K in a few weeks, i was hoping to at least finish this race in under 1:30.  Interestingly, my mapmyrun app reported that I actually ran a MUCH longer race at 8.61 miles.

I ran almost half a mile more.  Ridiculous!  I guess if i want to clock in better times i'm going to have to learn to run the tangents better.  I suspect that bathroom break around mile 6.5 didn't really help either.  Oh well.  Not bad, i suppose, considering that i did not prepare in any way, shape, or form for the race.  Not to mention the relative warmth and humidity.  Nor the upper respiratory infection i was nursing.  Nor the big tonkatsu dinner i had the night before.  Excuses galore!  Let's see how well i do on that upcoming 10K; hopefully i won't have to come up with any excuses for that one.

Here are some pics:

Hanging loose before the start of the race.  Despite my expression, i was not under the influence of any substance.
The requisite selfie at the starting line.  Kid, why are you photobombing me?
Close to the finish, i identified a photo op, and posed like a real runner.
Requisite selfie at the finish, in the Aloha Stadium.
A little bit of wishful thinking when i wrote down my time.  Oops!

February 3, 2017


This past weekend, i finished the 8th annual St. Joseph's 5K Fun Run/Walk for Wellness with a time of 29:44.

My goal was to reclaim my old "glory" and finish a 5K in less than 30 minutes.  I have my doubts about the course's distance, since my GPS watch informed me that I only ran 3 miles, but i'll just take them at their word.  Part of the problem is that there wasn't a clearly-demarcated starting line (that i could appreciate, at least), so i only turned on my watch when i arbitrarily deemed that i had "started" running.  Perhaps i merely waddled through the first 0.1 miles of the race looking for the starting line?  Meh.  These are the problems one runs into when the race doesn't use chip time.  

At any rate, my watch says i did 3 miles in about 28:27.  So even if i had continued to run another 0.1 at a 10-minute-per-mile pace, i would've come in at 29:27.  Mission accomplished!

Moving forward - i was able to do a "recovery" run the day after the race with minimal soreness.  Meaning, i think my overall level of fitness is continuing to improve.  I "should" be ready to run a 10k (and perhaps a "full" half in the next few months).


At least i have pictures where i don't quite look like i'm walking anymore.

Dramatic finish!

January 24, 2017


Keeping fit while on vacation in the Philippines is a challenging proposition.  The caloric ratio of the bakasyonista (vacationer) skews almost completely toward the "intake" part.  The reunions.  The buffet lunches and dinners.  The meriendas (snacks) in between.  The relatives saying kain ka pa (eat some more)!  The drinking sessions.  Sometimes all in the same day.  One's guts expand to near-epic proportions while the metabolism struggles futilely to burn the overabundant fuel.  Time, the most precious commodity of all during a two-week vacation, is carefully rationed between friends and family, and the intention to exercise gets violently shoved aside in favor of another gimik (outing).  Weight maintenance becomes nigh-impossible and weight loss becomes LITERALLY impossible.

Since I have a 5k lined up for the end of January, I forcibly carved out some time to run.  Jet-lagged and woozy for the first few days, I sadly couldn't bring myself to run at all.  When Gianina and I went to Singapore (a story for another post), I was at least able to do a quick treadmill 3-miler at the hotel: my first "run" of the year.  I was only really, really able to run a little over a week in.

Afraid of getting chased by askals (street dogs), I opted not to run within the borders of our village.  But I heard that there were plenty of "exercisers" at the local SM Southmall, so I decided to drive out there and do laps.

Amazingly, there was a fantastic amount of activity going on in the SM parking lot.  For the uninformed: SM is the name of a chain of shopping malls scattered (or rather, placed strategically) throughout the Philippines.  These huge edifices usually have massive parking lots to accommodate the multitude of shoppers that arrive every day.  Prior to opening, said lots are almost completely empty, making them prime areas for activities requiring lots of space.

There were runners/walkers, who looked like they had been there since the crack of dawn.

There were kids playing volleyball.

There was a group of what appeared to be police or private security company recruits marching around in formation.  I didn't take a picture of them in fear of being labeled some sort of security risk and subsequently detained.   One can't be too careful about these things.

Most interestingly, in two separate areas of the parking lot, there were some sort of dance classes/sessions going on.  I would say Zumba, but I'd just be guessing.

Everybody seemed to really be into it.  Unfortunately, I had no context whatsoever for what was going on.  Were they organized classes that the participants had signed up and paid for?  Or did they just "organically" start from a small group of people clowning around, accruing a bigger attendance as time went by?   Personally, I wonder if this is the Filipino version of "Tai-chi in the park" like they do in China.  I did an internet search about dancing in SM parking lots but didn't come up with anything.  Perhaps we could market it as some sort of tourist attraction.  If it turns into a global phenomenon, you heard it here first!

With much difficulty (I'm not accustomed to running in 85-degree heat with 100% humidity), I slogged through a slow 4-miler.  My performance wasn't too shabby, all things considered.  For the remainder of our vacation, I ran three more times, although never again at an SM.  I don't know if my efforts actually paid off in terms of weight maintenance (all told, I gained 8 pounds in two weeks... perhaps it would have been more if I had been completely sedentary?), but at least I tried.  We'll find out at the 5k if there's been any improvement in my fitness level whatsoever.

Dancers in the background

November 9, 2016


So while the rest of the running world was focused on the NYC marathon this past weekend, another race was going on across the country called the St. Joes Half and 5K.  There's nothing particularly special about the race, but it was local and the timing fit in with my schedule, so I decided to run it.  Anyway, I finished with a pathetic time of 35:01.

Really small.  Interested parties can look at a bigger version here

I had initially thought about doing the full half-marathon (kind of oxymoronic, I know), but opted to to just the 5K instead.  I tweaked my left calf doing a treadmill workout about a month ago and had to forego long runs for 2 weeks.

I was really trying to do a sub-30 5K, but in the end my time was nothing to write home about.  Hardly anything to blog about either, but I leave it here mainly for documentation purposes and keep myself accountable.  Not necessarily making excuses, but I will list 2 reasons for my poor finish:

1.  The course was not a real 5K.  It was 5K-"ish," at 3.4 miles (for some reason, they calculated the pace based on on a distance of 3.1), and
2.  The total time was "gun time," not chip time.  As somebody who hates crowds, I usually hang out around the back of the pack when the gun goes off.  That was a few minutes wasted just waddling up to the starting line.

Encouragingly, based on what my GPS watch says, I would have come in a little under 30 minutes for a legitimate 5K.  But the official race results are not based on my GPS watch.  So... better luck next time.

There WERE some good things that came out of this race, though.  For one, I invited our office staff to participate.  Although they were hesitant to "run" the race, they were willing to walk it.  So we had a fun "office activity" that promotes health and wellness.

I hope there's no copyright infringement of any sort here

Another good thing is that Gianina, Adrian, and I did the race together.  The last one we did this was circa 2008, when I ran a 5K and Gianina pushed Adrian along in a stroller.  Note that when I say we did it "together," I don't mean that we were holding hands or were tethered in any way, but we all entered the same race and went through the same course.  Unfortunately Adrian did not have a very good experience, complaining of foot pain at multiple points all throughout.  Maybe he needs fancy running shoes too.  If he doesn't get soured on the whole running experience, maybe we can start running future races as a family.

We are the champions
On a side note, I have to practice being more "photogenic" while running.  For some reason, all the pictures of me running look like I'm walking.  Cases in point (and these are the good photos, too):

Adrian, on the other hand, just seems to naturally look good.  

Proof of evolution, I suppose

I know it says "Half Marathon," but for some reason they gave these medals to everyone.