NJ Balloon Festival: Running With The Balloons 5k Race Report

Race report from the 2017 QuickChek NJ Balloon Festival 5k

Last month I ran in the Running with the Balloons 5k at the 2017 QuickChek Festival of Ballooning in NJ . It was an interesting venue with a unique start to say the least, and a very fun experience. This race report is a little late, so I’ll keep it short and sweet.

  • Distance: 5k
  • Goal: sub 18:00 and get a new PR
  • Date: 7/30/17

So let’s talk about this race!

The race starts out in a grass field, after the hot air balloons have made their morning ascent. That was an incredible sight to take in. After the balloons were off in the distance, it was race time.

The first half mile or so was on that grass field, and the footing was a tad tricky. There were large tire tracks (maybe tractor tracks) on the ground, so I had to be extra careful with how my feet were landing. It was nice and flat at least.

After the grass section we got to a gravel road, which then led to a normal paved road. On the paved road there were a couple of hills which I was not expecting. I thought the course would be almost entirely flat since it was on an airfield, but the off-airfield sections had the hills.

For the first mile I was in a group of about 5 people, chasing the lead pack. I soon realized that if I wanted any chance to catch the leaders I’d have to make a move early, so I separated from the chase group and took off on my own.

The course was pretty uneventful until you get back to the airfield. Unfortunately the leaders were too far ahead and I was never able to catch them, but the chase group didn’t catch me either. I finished about a minute behind the leaders, but also a minute ahead of my chasers, all on my own in that awkward little not-lead pack but not-chase pack spot.

My time was 17:40, a 22 second PR! I was really pleased with that result. It earned me 6th place overall and a little age group award medal.

After the race I hung out with my friend at the festival, picking up as many freebies and snacks as possible, and we stuck around for the evening balloon ascent where I was able to get a bunch of pictures.

All in all it was a successful race. It’s not every day you get to set a personal record and attend “the largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival in North America” (according to their website).

 

Have you participated in any special, unique races? Let me know!

Being Optimistic Before A Run

Why you should go into each run with an optimistic mindset

Ever have a run planned where you’re dreading getting out the door?

That you know is going to suck.

That your muscles will not be happy that you’re doing..

 

I thought my easy run yesterday was going to be rough.

The previous day (Tuesday) I put in 12 miles with some track intervals, and then at night played tennis for almost 2 hours. Oh, and it also hit 90 degrees and was humid. Needless to say, I was pretty beat up by the time I got to bed.

So I was not looking forward to my scheduled easy Wednesday run.

 

Finally Wednesday afternoon comes, time for the dreaded run.

I lace up the shoes and get out the door, and after a little while I start wondering where the pain I was expecting is. Where’s the stiffness? Where are the random aches all over my legs? Why are these hills so easy to climb?

I felt great. I felt fast. I finished my easy 8 miles with a quick one to close it out. As much as I wanted to keep pushing, I thought it best to still leave it as an easy day, there will be other runs to push hard, and that wasn’t the purpose of this run.

 

Maybe I just got a really good night of rest, maybe I hydrated perfectly, or maybe that late night mac and cheese dinner was just the antidote I needed to recover from the post-workout day aches.

I have no idea why I felt so good.

What I learned from this, and what I hope to remember in the future, is you never know when any given day can be your day to feel good and feel fast. I’ve definitely been guilty plenty of times of going into a run expecting the worst. Expecting my body to rebel.

But that defeated mindset is pointless.

Sure, you really might be sore, and the run really might be uncomfortable and painful. It’s totally possible your run will suck and you’ll have to tough it out to get through it.

Or

You could feel amazing and rejuvenated, and have the ultimate pick-me-up; a good run.

 

Only one way to find out.

 

Marine Corps Marathon Training Strategy 2 Months Out

Training strategy for the Marine Corps Marathon

With just about 2 months to go until my next goal race, the Marine Corps Marathon, I wanted to quickly check in with my training and talk about my progress leading up to that race.

Rock The River Race Photo

For my previous marathon, the 2017 Los Angeles Marathon (check out my race report here), my training was lower mileage (peaking at a 71 mile week), and focused more on speed work, with lots of progressive and fartlek runs.

For the Marine Corps Marathon, my goal is to beat my LA Marathon time and finish somewhere around 2:46. To do this, I’ve decided to try focusing on elevation gain and higher mileage. My last 2 weeks of running have been my highest recorded mileage weeks ever according to Strava, at 95 and 90 miles respectively. I’ve also been averaging about 3,500 feet of elevation gain per week for the past month or so, which isn’t a ton but it’s almost triple what I was averaging in the past.

My overall average pace has been slightly slower than in the past, but I’m not worried about that. I’m hoping that speed will come with the mileage I’m putting in. I still get out to the track for a little speed work, and add some fast marathon pace miles into some of my runs, but as a whole I’m less concerned with running fast during training.

We’ll see if this strategy works out, but I have a good feeling it will. I can tell that my legs are much stronger than they’ve ever been due to the miles and elevation. My only concerns are staying healthy, and whether my legs will remember how to go fast.

 

What do you think is more optimal for marathon training when trying to get a fast time: more speed with fewer miles, or less speed with more miles?

 

Thanks for reading!

Intermittent Fasting For Runners

Thoughts on intermittent fasting and why it can benefit runners.

Intermittent fasting (IF) has played a key factor for my running success, and without it I would likely be heavier (and slower) than I am today. I want to share the basic strategy of IF and its benefits, but as a disclaimer I am not a dietician. This will just be my personal strategy and thoughts / opinions on the topic, and why it works for me. It won’t work for everyone, but if you’re struggling with appetite control, I think it might be worth considering.

Man Eating Pumpkin
Hungry man trying to eat an entire pumpkin

Before diving into what IF is all about, let’s get one thing straight; the RUNGER is real.  Runger, or running hunger, is the increase in appetite you feel as you increase your mileage and the calories you burn. It’s a pretty simple formula; more running + more calories burned = bigger appetite. Your body has a good idea of what it needs, and as you burn more fuel it pushes you to replenish that fuel. The problem is, some people (myself included) have a hard time turning that hunger impulse off. Once I start eating, it’s hard for me to stop.

That’s where intermittent fasting comes into play. Intermittent fasting is a dieting strategy gaining in popularity that can be a beneficial option for people who have a hard time keeping their appetites in check. It takes some discipline to get into the habit, but once you do you will be able to continue to eat foods you enjoy in the portions you enjoy them, while not gaining weight.

IF involves a long period of fasting, and a short eating window. A common ratio of fasting to eating for people following this strategy is 18:6, 18 hours of fasting with a 6 hour eating window. An 18 hour fasting window may seem daunting, but it’s actually not as difficult to attain as you may think.

Cup of Coffee
Black coffee

Let’s consider the normal daily schedule of a hypothetical person named Bob. Bob goes to bed at 10pm and wakes up at 7am. Bob doesn’t eat a couple of hours before going to bed, so he is done eating for the day by 8pm. So from 8pm – 7am Bob doesn’t eat. That’s an 11 hour fasting period, which many people probably already do. Bob also skips breakfast, electing to only have black coffee and water throughout the morning (black coffee is both great for waking you up and for suppressing appetites). By doing this he can hold out until a late lunch before eating. So if Bob eats his first meal at 2pm, he can eat all his daily calories within the period of 2pm – 8pm.

Now, you may be thinking that sounds miserable; waiting until the afternoon to eat your first meal. However, you can adjust the schedule to fit your needs. If you love breakfast and lunch, but can do without dinner, flip the schedule so your eating window is in the morning and afternoon, and stick to tea / water at night. As long as you go about 18 hours straight without eating, you’ll be practicing IF.

 

I don’t want to sound like I’m pressing this on people or make it sound easier than it is, so let me explain why it works for my specific situation.

I am horrible at controlling my appetite. When I start eating, shortly after getting full I’ll become hungry again. This would be a serious problem if I were eating all throughout the day. So instead, I’ve trained my body to not eat until after my daily run in the afternoon. I sip coffee all morning, and since I almost never eat breakfast my body doesn’t expect it and doesn’t crave it when I wake up. I’m also able to run on an empty stomach without issue, so as long as I can make it to my afternoon run, then I have the rest of the day afterwards to get my calories in. As big as my appetite is, it’s not easy to consume 3,000+ calories (my total daily energy expenditure given my size / gender / activity level) in a small period of time. So I can still have a big dinner, and a big second dinner, and come in right around my caloric goal for the day.

Now, some people say eating many small meals throughout the day is healthier and key to losing weight, others say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The fact is, different eating habits work for different people, and at the end of the day if you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning, you’ll lose weight. Some people like to micromanage exactly what they consume, and that’s great! I wish I could be that scientific about it, but I’m not. I’m a slave to my cravings, and I’ve found that by at least controlling when I allow myself to eat, I’m able to keep how much I eat in check.

 

What do you guys think about IF? Do you have any experience with it, or do you have another dieting strategy to help you control the runger? Let me know!

 

 

Purpose Of A Run VS Plan Of A Run

Why being unable to run at the pace you planned to does not make that run a failure.

As we all know, weekends were invented to give runners time for our long runs. Some people prefer Saturdays, others prefer Sundays. I’ve used both and like them equally, but this week my long run was slated for Sunday.

So today I had a 20 mile run planned, and I wanted to have 2 sets of 4 miles at my projected marathon pace (MP) in that run, hopefully somewhere under 6:25/mi. I’m a proponent of some long and medium long runs having race pace miles worked into the mix. The purpose of this workout was to run long with a couple sections of fast miles, in order to exhaust me while also allowing me to complete that long distance.

I started out with 5 comfortable miles, then crushed the next 4 in about a 6:22 average as planned. It was tough, (and hot), but I spent the next 7 miles recovering, fueling (raisins YUM), and hydrating, and got started on my second set of 4 miles at MP. The first went alright, but the next two I just couldn’t get myself to keep the pace up, and about halfway through the final mile I gave up on trying to and settled into a slower pace for a bit, before pushing hard at the very end. I wanted to average around 6:22 again for these last 4 miles, but instead my mile splits at the end were 6:18, 6:48, 6:42, and 6:56.

So I failed… I couldn’t complete the workout as planned.

Just as I was starting to feel down on myself, sitting on a bench trying to catch my breath, exhausted, I thought about the purpose of this workout. The purpose was to go on a long run, with a couple of sections pushing the pace hard. I had a plan for what that pace should be, but in the grand scheme of things the purpose wasn’t to run those exact splits. I ran a long run, and there were two sections where I pushed the pace and was left exhausted, and that was the real goal of this workout.

There’s no way to know for sure what your body will be capable of on any given day. You can plan to run X miles at Y pace, but behind the scenes your body may have other plans.

Every workout should have a purpose, and you should do all you can to run with that purpose in mind. You can and should have a plan for your workout as well, but when things don’t go to plan, it’s not the end of the world. Your run wasn’t a failure just because you couldn’t do what you planned to do. You still went out there and ran, and that in and of itself is something you should be proud of. And if you ran with purpose, your run was a success.

Apple Watch Series 1 With Strava: A Runner’s Review

Review of the Apple Watch Series 1 with Strava

The Apple Watch Series 1 is Apple’s second attempt in the smartwatch category. This review will be focusing on its capabilities as a run tracking watch when paired with Strava (as of Strava’s August 7th update, version 16.0.0). After owning this device for about a year now, I think I’m ready to give a thorough review of it in this regard.

As a quick disclaimer, this was my first activity tracker besides my phone, so I can’t compare it to other, more dedicated running watches like the ones Garmin and Tom Tom make. I do however understand that the Apple Watch has its limitations when compared to higher end fitness focused watches and trackers. That seems like a good place to start, let’s talk limitations.

The most obvious limitation of the Series 1 is its lack of built-in GPS. This means that you need to have it tethered to your iPhone to track your runs if you want it to track your distance and where you go. That right there can be a major deal breaker for some. Personally I like to keep my phone with me at all times so it hasn’t been an issue, but I can imagine the benefits and freedom of being able to go out for a run with nothing but a watch. The Apple Watch Series 2 added GPS, so if you’re interested in being able to use GPS without your phone then that device would be better suited for you.

The next major limitation when using this device as a run tracker is its battery life. Usually I can comfortably make it through a day without needing to charge, unless I went on a particularly long run that day. I estimate that if starting with a full charge, you’d be able to get about 6 hours of running in before it dies. Fortunately I haven’t gone on a run of that length. Combined with the battery drain from normal daily use though, if I go on a 2 or so hour run I might need to juice it up for a few minutes at some point during the day to ensure it can last me to the end of the day.

The Strava Apple Watch app has its own limitations. First of all, you can either start a run from the watch, or from your iPhone. If you start it from your phone you can’t track the progress on your watch, and the same goes for if you start it on your watch. They basically act completely independently from each other, except for the fact that you need your phone with you regardless of how you want to interact with Strava for GPS purposes. I always start my runs from the Watch app, but that comes with some drawbacks. My biggest complaint is the lack of audio feedback. That’s a feature you can only get if tracking the run from your phone instead of from the watch. Want a voice telling you how fast that last mile was? Too bad, for some reason that’s not possible. I’ve also had issues with non-voice split notifications. You can get notifications on your wrist after each mile, but half the time they never come through.

Apple Watch on Wrist Strava App
Strava interface on the Apple Watch

Another drawback of the Strava Apple Watch app is the touch interface. While this isn’t the fault of Strava, it is very difficult to interact with the app with sweaty fingers. Likewise, in rainy weather it’s virtually impossible to interact with the watch; better get used to bringing a rag with you (and have a way to keep it dry) if you want to run in the rain.

Wow, this post unintentionally turned into an airing of grievances. Based on what I’ve said so far you may think the Apple Watch isn’t useful at all as a run tracker. It does have a couple of redeeming qualities though (again, I’m specifically focusing on running related features).

The screen is beautiful, bright, and easy to read. Seeing the data it displays is a breeze, I have no problem glancing at my wrist to check my split pace or average pace (you can choose which it displays), total elapsed time, total distance, and current heart rate. And speaking of heart rate, the sensor has proven to be accurate, with only occasional glitches and misreadings.

The Apple Watch paired with the sport band is also very comfortable. I have nothing to compare it to, but I’ve had no discomfort and it’s very easy to put on and take off. Being able to rinse it off to clean it when it gets salty from sweat is handy as well.

Ultimately the Apple Watch Series 1 is useful as a run tracker, but most of its upside comes from its abilities as a smartwatch. I purposely didn’t talk about that side of it since this post is focused on running, but I may make a separate review of the watch if there’s any interest in that. So while there are a few aspects of the watch that make it good for running, there are more downsides. If you are looking for a device to be a dedicated run / fitness tracker and don’t really care about smartwatch features, you’re probably better off passing on the Apple Watch for now until they make some improvements in later iterations.

 

OFFICIAL ARBITRARY RATING:

6/10

(this rating was made of the Apple Watch as a running watch and not as a device as a whole)

2017 Los Angeles Marathon Race Report

My attempt at going sub-3 at the 2017 LA Marathon

On March 19th, 2017 I ran my second ever marathon, the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. This race holds a special place in my heart as I’ve made frequent trips to this city to visit my friend who attends UCLA. Already being somewhat familiar with parts of the course, and having trained harder than I ever had for any other race, I was confident I could improve upon my previous marathon time of 3:09 and hopefully manage a sub-3. At the very least I wanted to avoid blowing up in the last few miles like I did at that prior marathon, but that’s another story.

My training loosely followed the Hal Higdon Advanced 1 marathon training program. I basically did easy runs on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays, speed work consisting of track intervals hill repeats or fartleks on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a long run and medium long run over the weekends. My mileage peaked at a 71 mile week during this training block, and I had a 1.5 week taper leading to race day (I’m not a fan of tapering, it’s so boring, but important).

The day before the race my two friends Adam and Marissa and I attended the expo / packet picket. This was quite an ordeal. After jogging the mile to the train station to keep my run streak alive, taking the train to downtown LA was fine and finding the expo was a breeze, but man was that place packed. The actual packet pickup section was ok, but the expo… that expo was like a beehive of runners buzzing around. I wound up waiting on line for 15 minutes to buy a Skechers Los Angeles Marathon branded hat and a singlet (I’m a sucker for functional souvenirs), but we didn’t stay around for too long after that. There were some snack freebies (not too many disappointingly), and I picked up a couple of GUs for the race, and then we got out of there. If you’ve ever seen the movie Finding Forrester, it started to feel a little like the scene when William gets separated from Jamal at the basketball arena and hides under a staircase. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, hydrating, and focusing.

Waking up the next morning at 3:45am wasn’t so bad, and I took a Lyft to Santa Monica City Hall to catch a shuttle bus to the start of the race, Dodger Stadium. As luck would have it, our bus driver missed his exit and got lost! But with a little help and direction from a passenger we got to the area we needed to be with time to spare.

After stretching for a bit I just sat on the ground and waited until it got close to race time, to save my legs for the hell they were about to go through. Fortunately I got to start pretty near the front in corral A, so passing and bumping into people wasn’t an issue.

Los Angeles Marathon 2017 Start Line
Start Line of the 2017 Los Angeles Marathon

After the gun went off (or was it an air horn, I can’t remember), I settled into a comfy pace. Miles 1-13 consisted of some pretty steep downhill sections, and a long uphill one that was tiresome but since it was towards the beginning it wasn’t a race-breaker. There was some good crowd support and the aid stations were all nicely stocked. I passed the 13 mile marker right around 1:28, so I knew my pacing was pretty on point.

The second half of the race was where I realized my time could be better than I thought possible. Running through Hollywood and Beverly Hills was really cool; I wish I could have taken more pictures but settled for looking around at everything.

Beverly Hills Los Angeles Marathon
Somewhere in Beverly Hills

Around the 20 mile mark, my friends captured this quick video of me passing by, and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity for a couple high fives!

The race ends with a gradual downhill section for the last few miles, so I decided that if I felt good that’s where I’d open up my pace, and as luck would have it, I felt great. I closed the race at about a 6:10 pace over the final 4.5 miles (5:40 pace from 40km – finish), and finished with a time of 2:54:21, easily surpassing all of the goals I had for the race.

After crossing the finish line and walking what seemed like another mile to the finish festival area, (seriously, that walk needs to be shorter, we just ran a darn marathon), I got my medal which was awesome and super heavy, and met up with my friends again. I got myself a free beer and a ton of random free swag (bottle opener, thunder sticks, chapstick, and a bunch of delicious Clif bars, amongst other goodies).

And thus concludes the story of my 2017 Los Angeles Marathon adventure. Almost everything went smoothly, the course was great, and I smashed my goal. I’ll be trying to improve upon my marathon time this October at the Marine Corps Marathon, and I’ll be sure to post about that race leading up to and after it.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about this race or my training (or whatever) feel free to drop me a comment.