Sunday, April 29, 2007

Les Miserables, or should I say: Le Miserable

Last night I was reminiscing about my first trip to Turkey a few years back. The trip was not planned well. I hadn’t even booked a hotel. All I had was a guidebook; I believe it was let’s go turkey. I boarded my connecting flight at JFK. I had one of those midsection seats. There was this rather obese guy, 'D,' seating in an aisle seat close to the left window; I snickered when he requested an extension to his seat belt.

Later on, as we are getting ready to deplane, I happen to stand behind ‘D’ and he starts a conversation. His tone gave him away as being gay [ not that there is anyhting wrong with that ], but then again I have met other guys who sound gay, but are straight. But I digress. He asks me where am I staying. I tell him that I don’t have a place yet, and that I will use my guidebook to find a hotel. He says, oh – you should try the hotel where I am staying. I say – sure, why not. So we share a cab. That year, the Turkish Lira had just been devalued and everything was ridiculously cheap. The ride from the IST to town was $8 and I offered D $4. He would not take them.

We arrive at the hotel and he talks the attendant to give ME the same rate he was getting: $20 for a single room. He takes me to the roof of the hotel where breakfast is served daily and I marvel at the spectacular view of the blue Mosque. D tells me that he has to take a shower and that if I want to visit the Grand Bazzar, and I say sure. We are within walking distance so we walk. He greets almost every vendor we encounter. Everyone seems to know D. We then make our way to Taksim where we ride this seemingly ancient ‘subway.’ Earlier, D had given me a small bottle of Dakkar cologne. All along he is buying me snacks, and I am thinking: oh sh*t, I think this guy is hitting on me. So I find a way to let him know that I am straight, or as Ted Danson in his Sam character would say: “I like babes and babes like me.” [not in those words] He looked disappointed but he took it well.

D tells me that he is meeting a local friend that night and that if I am interested in tagging along. I say sure, why not. His friend arrives with his girlfriend in a brand new Jetta, and takes us to this café overlooking the Bosphorus. We had tea (cay). Then he takes us to this really fancy Turkish restaurant [I tried finding it the second time I found myself in Istanbul with no luck]. As I mentioned before, the prices due to the recent devaluation were ridiculously low. I had a great time with D. He would leave the next morning.

I spent two more days in Istanbul where I visited the standard touristy places. Then I had planned on making my way south to Selçuk. I took a boat ride into the Asian part of Turkey. There I took a one-hour bus ride into what my guidebook described as a nice place to spend a day or two, Bursa. I did not find anything worthwhile there; I wish I had skipped it and just continued my trip south.

The following day I take a bus to Selçuk with a planned stop in Izmir. It is worth noting that Turkish buses are quite comfortable. They serve you soda and a liquid to sanitize your hands. It’s quite an enjoyable experience.

The bus arrives in Selçuk and I look for a hostal in the near vicinity. I find the “All Blacks Hostal." I thought it was rather racist to give a hostal that ‘name’ but little did I know that the owner had spent significant time in New Zealand and was an avid fan of its national rugby team which wear all-black uniforms. The owner even had a ‘kiwi’ accent. He was very nice. Charged me $6 for a room.

A whole bunch of backpackers arrived a few moments later. Most of them where from Canada and had made it there from Greece. They had spent close to 24 hours in a ferry. Ouch. I remember having a conversation with this really attractive girl about what else but running. We agreed to go out the next morning for a run. Sadly, I did not have the heart to wake her up and did not run.

That night the owner asked us if we were interested in going to this typical restaurant a couple of miles from his place. We all said yes. There we had pides (pizza-like snacks), flavored tobacco in one of them water pipes, and beer. We all pitched in and it came out to $5.

The next day, I was given a ride to the Ephesus ruins, still considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was beautiful; it was magnificent. As I finished crossing the ‘park’ I decide I want to go visit a house where the Virgin Mary and Saint John are purported to have lived. It was a paved road and it took me well over an hour. It was rather interesting.

Then it was time for me to go to Bodrum, which is supposed to be the party capital of Turkey. However, I did not take into account that I was going in the WINTER, hello there. Suffice it to say that the town was empty. I did get to run about four miles, my one and only run in the past three months. It would not have been a big deal if I had not signed up to run the Paris Marathon in a couple of weeks. It is a nice town nonetheless.

I then flew to Ankara for a day. Alas, there was not much to see in Ankara. Luckily, I was only there for a day.

The following day I took a bus to Goreme, in the Cappadocia region. I should note that not too many people speak English and it was quite difficult communicating with people. Without the guidebook I would have been lost.

Goreme was fabulous. The caves, the formations, the open air museum, the underground cities, they were all amazing.

I then went back to Ankara for I had to fly to Vienna on my way to Prague.

In Prague, I almost had a nervous breakdown. For whatever reason I choose not to book a hotel at the airport, costly mistake. Another mistake was that I did not have a Prague guidebook with me. While waiting for the bus to take me to the subway, I strike a conversation with this teenager. I ask him if it would be possible to spend the night at his parent’s house. He looked at me as if I was deranged. And I don’t blame him. Who in his right mind would ask such a request? Not too many I am sure. So as the bus motors away, I have this incredible urge to cry. Me? Cry? For what? A few minutes later I recovered and while looking at the subway map I remember one of the exits led to a hostal recommended in the guidebook I had purchased but failed to carry with me [and the reason was that the trip to Prague was a last-minute decision on my part; I bought my plane ticket in Istanbul]. As luck would have it I found the hostal, 20 Euro a night. I had a wonderful time the three days I spent in Prague. Beer is actually cheaper than soda.

Again, I made another unplanned change to my trip when I found out it would cost me more to ride the express train to Paris, than if I purchased a ticket with KLM stopping in Amsterdam and then CDG, returning to Prague. Of course I had no intention to fly back to Prague for I had a flight to catch from CDG to the States a day after the 'thon.

Having been in Amsterdam a couple of times before helped tremendously as I did not need a guidebook. I booked the Tulip Inn hotel at this last-minute reservations place; the hotel offred probably the best full breakfast I have ever had. While there, I went to the Anne Frank House Museum. Revisited the Van Gogh Museum, walked the channels, had a brownie, or two, or three :o) strolled past the red light district. I also had probably the best Falafel I have ever had, go figure.

Then it was time for me to go to one my favorite cities in the world: Paris. I had signed up to run its marathon but failed to train. I knew I was in for a long day but I felt I could still run it under four hours. The two days before the 'thon I went to Musee Picasso [First time I had seen an exhibition byHockney], Musee Rodin, Musee D'orsay, Musee Pompidue [ Fell in love with Rothko and modern art in general] and of course the Louvre.

The day was perfect for a marathon, the course was not technically difficult, but it was probably one of the worst marathons I have ever ‘run.’ Aside from the lack of training, knee pain hit me early in the race, at roughly two miles. I ran, more like hobbled, manipulated my stride, stretched, skipped, to no avail. I crossed the finish line in 4:08 and visibly in pain. I was one miserable dude. But as Forrest would say: stupid is as stupid does.

If you made it this far, my hat goes off to you.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

NYCM Lottery

On a whim, I decided to apply for the lottery. I felt that if I got in, great, even if I couldn't make it; I could always defer. Alas, it was not meant to be. I filled out the required info in the first pop-up, hit 'continue' and I got this message: 'An unknown system exception has occurred.'

I know it's silly, but sometimes I let unexpected events decide for me. This is one of them. It's like rolling dice. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. I guess I'll be visiting NYC some other time. San Francisco, here I come. :o)

Oh, and instead of picking Tucson as my BQ attempt, I have decided to give CIM a try. Ironically, they are both held the same day: December 2nd.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Four Pillars of Running

Training: Explore what works for you. Each individual requires tweaking with Daniels, Lydiard, the FIRST program, Galloway, you name it. Increase mileage slowly, to prevent injuries. Someone recommended not to do speed work until I had ran 10,000 miles! Do I agree with that person? Yes and no. The ambiguity of my answer is that it depends on the individual. What works for Paul Tergat WILL not work for me [genetics]. However, what works for someone of similar talent [or lack of talent for that matter] just MAY work for me. The bottom line, be conservative and at the same time don’t be afraid to try something new. Caveat: do know your abilities [see below]

Know Thyself: No, this is not a philosophical statement, but rather a simple concept to know what works for you. In my case, I have been known to train too hard and THAT has led to injuries and setbacks. Now I can safely say that I know myself, and I know what works for me. For example, I know that rotating THREE pairs of running shoes has held SOME injuries at bay.

In the past, 40 mpw seemed to be the magic boundary; once I ran more than 40 mpw, I seemed to get injured. In hindsight, the 40 miles were run too hard. Now, I try to run three quality runs and the rest of the mileage is purely aerobic. Ironically, I am currently suffering from knee tendonitis. Simply put, listen to your body; it’s okay to rest from time to time.

Fueling/Hydration: Self explanatory.

Enjoyment: If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, then why do it?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Patriots' Day 2007

This satellite Boston marathon was to start at the same time as the men’s elite back in Boston. It started a few seconds behind but it was pretty nice nonetheless. The Star Spangled Banner was played. Two Apache helicopters flew over us and all 40 or so runners were ready to go.

The course was one small loop of about 1.1 miles, and four identical larger loops each measuring 6.1 miles and which included the infamous MOAH . This race was not in my plans. It was my intent to run half and call it a day, but I was pressured into running the whole thing. Now I use the term running very loosely because I knew I would walk the MOAH every single time. I knew it would cost me at least 90 seconds each time, but the enrgy conserved was much more than worth it.

I started slow, about 8:30 pace. This place is quite hilly and the course was brutal. My goal was just to use it as a long training run, particularly knowing well in advance that it was .8 miles short of a certified marathon. The first 8 miles were more like a warm-up; i knew I was in business ;-)

I was probably in 15th place when we approached MOAH for the first time. Two or three runners run it and passed me at the same time. I pay no attention, for I respect the distance, even when is short. The weather was in the low 50s with winds 10-15 mph and gust up to 22 mph. It was not bad at all. While the headwinds were a bit tough, I ran through them at the same perceived effort I had been running.

It is worth mentioning that I had always wondered how being well hydrated would feel like. I have tried in years past to drink enough the eve and morning of the race without much success. I have always felt a bit of tiredness during the early stages of ‘thons. Of course, it has not helped that I usually have three to four drinks the evening prior. So how could I ensure to be well hydrated? A thought crossed my mind [it doesn’t happen too often ;-P] what if I have a lactated ringer’s solution IV (1L)? So I had one three hours before the start of the race. And, drum roll, never have I felt better. The last two loops were run in 8 mpm pace. And the perceived effort running this course is about 30 secs slower. Oh and the elevation is 1800 feet above MSL. With the exception of knee pain for about two miles (12-14) I felt stronger as the race went on. Sure I felt fatigued after 22 or so. But I was able to pick it up the last .5 miles. I finished third over all in a time of 3:30:45, or 8:17 pace.

Once again, the day after the race (today) found me feeling fine. I will be doing some easy runs for the next couple of weeks and then start building up the volume.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A NYC Trip Down Memory Lane

After mentioning to Uptown Girl about how I went to NYC for eight straight years, all most during the month of November, it ‘forced’ me to go down memory lane.

1997: I had been bitten by the bug of running a marathon, even though I had only run one race before, and it had been a total disaster for me. I had been running semi-consistently – read: 5 miles, three times a week. To test myself I decided to run 18 miles and see if I could complete the race. I think up to then, the longest I had run was nine miles or so. While the 18 miles were not easy, they were not hard either. I knew I could do one of those what-you-ma-call-them. What marathon did I choose? Certainly not Los Angeles … Boston ? I didn’t even know one was run there. It was NYC. Why? You ask. Because I was infatuated with tall buildings (still am).

The NYCM happened to land during the weekend of my BD. So I booked a flight and made reservations at the Hilton-Millennium hotel. I went to the City that never sleeps with one goal in mind: to run the darn marathon and to see one of the greatest cities in the world. BUT, I went unprepared; I went without doing ANY research. Stupid is as stupid does.

I managed to find out that the marathon expo is taking place across from Columbus Circle , so I make my way there, walking mind you. It took me almost two hours to get there. Can you see a pattern? I get there and the expo is HUGE. I make my way to registration and I am told the race has been sold-out for weeks, that the race is so popular that the NYRRC has to hold a lottery. Could my naiveté have been more obvious?

So I walk disappointed through the expo. I stop by the Disney marathon which was still in its infancy. Mickey is there as well as the then 100 m WR holder: Maurice Greene. I see the medal they give out and I instantly fall in love with it and I know I want one. The race is being held in two months and I fill out a registration form on the spot. They make me pay an additional $15 because they require me to be a member of USATF. No worries. [I ended up running a 4:02:3X. Not bad for a debut marathon, but I walked way too much.]

My flight was departing at 6pm and I head to the 42nd Station to catch the A-train for Rockaway. Not knowing how many times the NY-MTA changes schedules, I spend an hour seeing A-trains fly by me w/o stopping. Then I see a flyer stating that the A-train to JFK does not stop there. Argh, I fret I will miss my plane.

As I am about to head to the ‘right’ station I see this guy wearing a Mylar blanket and a medal. I ask him for his time and he says 4:XX proudly with a grin. Darn, I want to run the NYCM more than ever.

1998: Three of my friends and I decide to make a trip to the east coast in early spring. We visit DC, NYC and Bahston. NYC was a blur for we only spent two days. We did get to go to the top of the Statue of Liberty. i don't remember if I applied or not to the lottery.

1999: I go to NYC during the summer, just for the heck of it. I attend happy hour at TGIFs in Times Square . Have three draft beers and some appetizers, all within an hour. I am buzzing and head towards Central Park . My dream had been ‘till then to run in Central Park . So I run in jeans and a polo shirt. It must of have been quite the sight. I am sure people thought I was crazy. I must have ran 3 miles at about 8 mpm pace.

I also get to visit the restaurant on top of one of the Twin Towers . I keep a rectangular match box, with the skyline and a blue background. I still have that match box.

I also enter the lottery and actually get in. I decide to stay in Secaucus to save dinero. That decision almost did not pay off as I frantically searched for a bus route that would take me to NYC and then catch the train to the NYC Library; I was so stressed; thankfully, I made it to the busses okay.

This will be the only time I would run the whole distance. The next four times I would walk for significant periods of time, while wanting to quit every single time. I remember how cold I was and how much I hated it waiting in Staten Island for the start. Three hours there and with the bitter cold winds made it ugly. I did get to chat with a couple of Mexican Nationals, one who would run with me for the first eight miles.

I finished in a not-too shabby time of 3:47:25. Oh and two runners pushed me during the race, how rude? Oh and the end was just so windy and cold. Walking that mile to get out of CP was just added torture to an already tough day. I also had to catch a plane at 10 pm.

2000: Do not get into the lottery. Decide not to go to NYC and go to SF instead.

2001: Do not get into lottery, but get contacted about volunteering to run it with a disable athlete at no cost to me. I happily agree. I get to visit ground-Zero and the sight is unforgettable.

I get to ride with the Achilles buses and meet Saul Mendoza and five-time winner of the Los Angeles marathon, wheelchair division. I ended up ‘helping’ out two wheelchair athletes and complete the ‘thon in just over four hours. There is no official record that I ran the race as I did it as a volunteer. I think it was 4:03 and change. I am in pain because I ran the Marine Corps Marathon the week before. The irony does not escape me that I ran two marathons back-to-back in cities where terrorists changed the American way of life. America has not been the same since; 9/11 is forever engraved in our very souls.

This was also the year that I found the Chirping Chicken the best chicken in the world; I make sure I eat there at least once every time I am in NYC.

2002: Applied and got into the lottery. Best race yet with a 3:40:39. First time I take the SI Ferry to the start. Much, much better than the busses. I don't understand why locals don't use this service. Particularly because of the fact that those busses do not stop for bathroom breaks, and they do not have facilities in them!

2003: This year would be known as the P-Diddy Marathon, or as it was advertised: Puff Diddy runs the City. I had a very rough time and HE passes me somewhere inside the Queensborough Bridge. I managed to find some grit and make my way to a better-than-expected 4:01:46 beating P. Diddy on the way.

I passed him right about 20 miles. He was constantly grabbing his calves. Poor thing.

2004: I religiously applied once again and get in, AGAIN. I have dinner at Tavern on The Green to celebrate my BD.

This is by far the most painful of them all. I swear I will stop running the NYCM. It seems so masochistic of me to come back again and again. Finish in 3:42:19. But the time does not really tell the mental struggle I went through. Suffice it to say, it was more than tough. It was here that I decided to get serious with my marathon training. It was time to fulfill my endurance potential.

2005: I break down and apply but do not get in. Still, I find my way to NYC for marathon weekend. It has become a tradition to celebrate my BD here. I celebrate my BD at some burger joint that was recommended in an article I read; its name escapes me, but the burger is HUGE and quite tasty.

I end up cheering runners nonetheless and I have a ball. It was nice to be on the other side, but my feet itched to be hitting the blacktop.

2006: Again, I apply BUT when I find out that I will not be able to be there I send an email to NYRRC and ask them to withdraw my application. They oblige. I spend my BD in Heidelburg, Germany.

2007: Right now I am on the fence as I don’t know if it’s worth applying since I don’t even know if I will be able to be there. Besides, the fee alone is enough to scare me away. I’ll wait until the end of this month to make my decision.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The 'Mother of All Hills'

One of my 'friends' wants to do a so called marathon. I refrain from calling it a 'real' 'thon because I suspect it to be short by at least a mile. The guy has not run more than 9 miles at a time, so I suggested to him that he needs a LONG run to get a taste of the distance, even if it's not a real marathon and it's only 25 miles.

Now, the course where this wanna be marathon is taking place is monstrous. It's four loops and change. Each loop includes a hill that, in my mind, is the mother of all hills (MOAH). It is about 1/3 0.21 [see what I mean, thought it was 50% longer; I run it at 11 to 12 mpm ace and my legs and lungs are spent when I summit it] of a mile and it's STEEP.

For the long training run I have suggested we do a short loop (~4 miles), 'THE' loop, where I point out that we WILL walk the MOAH, then another short loop, and 'THE" loop where once again we will be walking the MOAH.

The run went better than I expected. He was real tired for the last three miles but he survived with a just over 9 mpm pace. We ran 17.5 miles according to my Garmin 205. Not too shabby.

I have also agreed to do a 15.5 march with him where each of us will carry a minimum of 22 lbs and the route has a significant gain in elevation. I am hoping to jog parts of it. This march will take place in May.

Oh and the 25 mile race will take place on Patriot's Day.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


That's it. It is time for me to challenge myself once more in running. This time I intend on ramping up the mileage to 40ish mpw for the next two months. Then I am hoping to stay healthy and hover in the 55 mpw average for 5 months before I try to run sub-3:11 in what an acquaintance calls the stupidest distance on earth: the 'thon. That's right, you read it here first :-) I am also aiming at breaking 19 mikes in the 5K.

The plan is to mix Lydiard with the FIRST program and see what the outcome is. Stay tuned faithful reader(s). I know Mom, I won't forget to take out the trash. JK :-)