Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Getting Ready For My First Marathon – The Shoe Episode

At some point in 2011 I decided to get back in shape. And not just any shape, but my best possible one. To accomplish this I picked up running. Having played soccer my whole life, this seemed like a good fit. You would think that having been an athlete growing up I would have a fairly good idea about how to train somewhat adequately, but this is not the case necessarily. I made lots of mistakes, and I continue to learn so many things as I prepare myself for my first full marathon: The 2015 San Diego Rock “n” RollMarathon.

To be honest, even as I completed a few races and half marathons over the last couple of years, the idea of running a full marathon was not appealing to me. At some point I even made it a point to vow not to do it. It just seemed like way too much work, and stress on my body for a marginal satisfaction. But in the summer of 2014 I saw the story of an 80-something triple cancer survivor lady that started running when she was in her sixties, AND had already completed something like 20 marathons. I will confess that I did feel a little ashamed of myself.

I have no excuse.

So, as I said earlier, I made a few mistakes in the past, and I am working on doing things better this time around. When I started running I kept the same pair of running shoes for something like TWO years. I kid you not. The sorry things were falling apart and gave me as much cushion and comfort as a pair of cardboard boxes would wrapped around my feet. When I bought the new pair leading up to the 2013 San Diego Rock “n” Roll Half Marathon they felt like my poor feet were being comforted by clouds. I’ve been rotating shoes every 6-8 months since.

BUT I would still usually buy whatever pair I could find that was on sale and had decent reviews.
Some friends had recommended me to visit Road Runner, a store that specializes on running gear, to get tested for my best running tennis shoe fit. Now, I don’t know if it was skepticism, or pride, or maybe I was just intimidated by I-don’t-know-what, but it wasn’t until last week when I decided to pay them a visit. I needed new shoes; I am training for the marathon, so the timing was just right.

Here are the 5 most significant points I learned from that visit:

  • The first shocker at the store was to learn that I was using one full size too small tennis shoes. They actually recommend you to buy slightly bigger shoes for running than what you normally wear. I was used to the tight soccer fit, so this was totally new for me.
  • The second finding wasn’t as big of a surprise, but it is an important one nonetheless. When they did the running test to analyze my stepping I learned that my once my foot is fully set on the ground it slides just a bit over outwards at the ankle. This seems to be pretty common, but it was an indicator that I need shoes that can give me some added stability.
  • I also learned that cotton socks are not ideal for running or even exercising in general. They retain moisture, and this creates additional friction which can lead to blisters. They recommend synthetic fabrics. You can get a 4 pairs of sport socks at a Target for $10. They are fresher for your feet, and give you a tighter fit.
  • Some tennis shoes don’t offer as much support with their insoles. I wouldn’t immediately buy a customized one, but an affordable alternative can give you all you need in terms of adequate cushioning. I still think it’s a good idea to run with your shoes for a bit to see how they feel, and then decide if you need them.
  • My last takeaway for the evening was to remember to pamper the soles of my feet. I have never done this! Rolling a ball with your feet apparently can have many benefits (reduce pain, loosen up muscles) since this is where many important nerve and tissue networks that go as far up as your head begin. I am doing this now.

After trying a few styles with similar features, I decided to go for the Nike’s LunarEclipse 4. I didn’t get the customized insoles they offered me at the store (they were almost as expensive as the shoes), but I might get a decent pair later depending on how the shoes feel.

So far, I already completed a couple of runs with them, a hearty 5 miler (8:40 mile pace) and a slower 4 miles (9:51 mile pace) and they felt great. I can feel a significant difference from my last pair in terms of shock absorption; the new shoes are a much smoother ride. And I also noticed that the distribution of work is more evenly spread throughout my legs with less effort on my part with these shoes. So, I learned my lesson. I will be more careful when picking my gear.

Countdown to the Marathon: 16 weeks.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Year of the Run

Edgar A. Morales
I don’t think this is the year I have run the most, but since it is the only one where I have tracked my progress it will work as a parameter for what will come next. It has been a lot of fun, and I am very interested n improving my performance as an athlete.

I picked up running a couple of years ago as preferred method of exercise after a long break. I will fully recognize that part of the reason why it took me so long to get out there was my overall attitude after a relapse on an old knee injury. But bygones are bygones.

Sometime around early March I set as a goal to run 600 miles before the end of the year. To be honest, I don’t know if I will make it. I am sitting at 511 miles, and enjoying a strained calf with less than a month to go. But I can honestly say that I have no regrets, and still feel pretty accomplished about what I did throughout the year.  

I managed to run two half-marathons, The Rock & Roll Half Marathon in June and the Silver Strand Distance Classic; both challenging, but very different from each other. I might write about them later on. I was also able to run a 10k in Balboa Park in October, and completed several long distance runs ranging from 8 to 12 miles. A few years ago, this probably wouldn't have been in my schedule. But now it is, and I am very glad of this.

Shoutout to all the people who were cheering me on and were kind enough to show interest in my progress: Mario, Alfredo, Manny, Isis, Tim, Christian, Sandra, David, and of course my beautiful wife Tania. 

Below are some of my best times this 2013, and I guess the marks I will try to beat this 2014!

3 miles – 23min 28s 
Jul 3 

4 miles – 31min 17s 
Nov 15

5 miles – 41m 37s 
Sep 26 

10k (6.32 miles) – 49m 30s 
Sep 29

½ Marathon (13.27 miles) – 1h 51m 
Nov 17

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to Run a Half Marathon with Zen – Part 2.

Part 1 HERE.

When I started to run with the half marathon in mind, I was already in a somewhat OK shape. Last year I had dropped about 18 pounds by making adjustments in my eating habits. I reduced flours and sugars significantly, and increased my veggies and fruit intake. I was feeling good.

I started running 4, 5 and up to 8 miles and feeling strong at the end of each session. I had a good selection of different routes, with hefty climbs or long stretches of upward roads. I was happily looking at finishing the race in less than 2 hours. Just about 6 weeks before the race I had a particularly physically challenging weekend which included basketball and a road trip. When I came back, I went out for a run (against my better judgment) and I pulled my calf.

I knew I was tired and still went for it. Yes, I felt a bit letdown by myself for allowing this to happen. I knew I was pushing my body beyond what was capable or even necessary, and I was now facing the consequences. It was one of the longest walks back home. Limping. Angry. Sad.

As soon as I got home, I iced my leg and hoped for the best. The pain was not excruciating, but I knew I was looking at a 2-3 weeks recovery time. I had undergone similar injuries in the past (twice maybe?) and I wasn’t too concern about recovering for the race. But I knew my estimated finish time was going to be affected.

I tried going for a run two weeks later and the first mile was fine, but going into the second one I started to feel discomfort and had to slow down to a walk. It wasn’t until 4 weeks after the injury that I was able to go for a decent run. I did squeeze in several walks during the time I was not able to run. The race was now just two weeks away and the longest distance I had run throughout the whole process was 8 miles, but this had been a month and a half prior. I went for a few 3-4 mile runs and felt a little tired, but my recovery time was good.

One week before the race I went for a 5 mile run that I completed at a 9min/mile pace with a couple of splits as fast as 8 min/mile. When I finished this run I recovered some of my confidence and once again felt like I was actually going to be able to finish the race. But I was not about to call it just yet. I decided to forget about the < 2 hour goal. The remaining of the week I went for one more 3 mile run and a few walks with my family. I was in as good of a shape as I could be given the circumstances and going for any other run at this point would probably just get me tired for the race rather than help me. 

I decided to walk to the start line from home. I made it my warm-up. It was only about a mile away, and I got to see the people running the full marathon as they sped down the road. When I made it to my corral, the energy level of the place was incredible. I had been placed with the group that had a projected finishing time of 1:50 and I knew that I was easily going to be able to keep up that pace for the first 6-8 miles. After that I would have to reassess and adjust as needed. As it turned out, there was no need to adjust.

After I crossed the START line, everything became a hum of bouncing soles. All I focused on at any given time was the next step I had to take. There were some scattered voices here and there, but then we went back to the thousands of gentle taps on the concrete. There was some encouragement going on, and people handing out water, Gatorade, Vaseline, salt, mimosas, beer and tequila shots, but all the energy was in the humming of the tennis shoes. There were bands playing music along the way. There was a group of runners dressed as Elvis pushing a jukebox in a cart. There was a guy dribbling two basketballs. There was Manny and Adrianne. There were people tripping and some even passing out. There were some hills, buildings, trees, and policemen guiding traffic.

And then Tania and Dante waving and cheering for me at mile 10.

I finished the race in 1:51:54. I will share that I did feel very tired in the last three miles, but still managed to make the last one my fastest. Crossing that finish line was a pinnacle, but so it was each mile I covered. The recent injury loomed over me at different points during the race and there were some fleeting thoughts that I might not be able to finish. Again and again, I gently reminded myself that all I had to do was center in each step, swing my arms, and keep my head upright. And I did.

I am now training for the next one.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

How to Run a Half Marathon with Zen – Part 1.

Photo by Tania Franco
I finally did it. It was one of those things that has been somewhere in my mind but always ended up in the back-burner with the stove turned off. You probably know the feeling. But this summer I ran the San Diego Rock & Roll Half Marathon in 1:51:54.
I started to run again only in the last two years or so. Mind you, I wasn’t the epitome of consistency by any standards, but it was a new beginning. See, I always led an active and athletic life. I played organized soccer in high school, and local clubs. Then I suffered a pretty severe knee injury when I was 19. I recovered from it and managed to play college soccer and at different division one clubs up until I turned 29 or so, then I stopped.

After this period of inactivity, I lost a good degree of strength in my legs and when I wanted to come back, I couldn’t play anymore because of knee issues.

I was a bit bummed for a while, and pretty much gave up for a couple of years. I gained a few extra pounds and I wasn't being disciplined with the gym. One day I saw myself in the mirror and the man in front of me wasn't who I wanted to be. So I went back out there with renewed energy and  determined to be the best version of myself from then on.

Last year I logged quite a few miles, and it was picking up towards the end of the year. I also went to the gym more regularly. Then the winter came along and 2013 started off a bit slow as I didn’t run or exercise as much during the cold days. 

But in March I decided to make a comeback and set a goal to run 600 miles before the end of the year. I have completed 150 so far. The truth is that setting goals may not exactly be “Zen,” but it is something that motivates me presently, and it serves as an indicator of the physical progress I make.

I knew the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon was in the summer, and I had mentioned to Tania that I was interested in participating. Incidentally, I had said this before about other things and nothing happened. I think I could have easily come up with an excuse and just plan to run it “next year.”

But then along came Manny.

He is a co-worker and friend. I knew he was running regularly and one day he just showed up and told me that he had signed up to run the San Diego City Half Marathon. Just like that. We talked about his training as the date was approaching and the excitement creeping in. He would tell me about his splits and increasing his running distance closer to the 13.1mile mark. I was genuinely excited for him, and I started to look at my regular runs differently.

Back then I was running 3 miles at a time, tops. When I saw him the day of the race at the 10 mile mark after a killer climb, I knew that I had to do it. It was inspiring to see hundreds of runners from all kinds of walks making a tremendous effort to accomplish something, but more about this later. We got together for a couple of beers to talk about the race, and he was kind enough to share his experience with me. That evening we agreed to run the 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, and after that day I started training with that objective in mind.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

There is a free spirit in my room

LiberaciĆ³n by Tania Franco
There is a painting in my house you can’t help but to smile at its sight.

The painting alone could light up any room, and it is not because of its vivid colors, it is certainly on the bright side of the spectrum. It was painted a few years ago by a very talented young woman.

It features a girl. She is wearing a white dress and her arms are lifted. It is as if she was hugging the world and because of this the world is happier. She has that kind of power.

I think she is hugging herself too.

The way I see it, and let us remember that art is always subject to interpretation, it’s the painting of a warm fall. The sun is setting in the background and a soft breeze cuddles the girl in the painting.

The girl has no defining facial features, and why would she? A feeling this liberated cannot be limited to an exact expression. That kind of sensation is a lot more than that, it’s more than a face, more than an unblemished smile.

The floor underneath the girl, as well as the tree next to her, have to know of her joy, otherwise they wouldn’t be as festive, colorful and full of life.

They all make a whole (or at the very least a feeling of wholeness).

There certainly is an air of intrigue in these characters. When admiring the beauty of their feelings one cannot help but to feel joy a hint, jealousy, and wonder: what does it take to be that way?

Realizing that there is such a sensation could be the first step.

I have seen this painting everyday for the last few years of my life. It makes me smile inside and out. She is a spirit that has realized that she can be happy, and I want to share that with her.

She is the love of my life, and she is free.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In the Shape of a Heart

Photo by: Edgar A. Morales
I consider myself a very fortunate individual. Even though I am not swimming in money I have, in one way or another, obtained everything I really wanted. Sometimes I worked for those things, and others they were just given to me. 
I am grateful for all.

But there is one present in particular that meant a lot to me, actually there are two, and they were given to me by the same person at two different times in our relationship. To be able to know what those presents meant you would have to know the context in which they were given, but this time around I’ll only tell you about the first one.

You would have to know that I fell in love with her long before I got those presents, and that I was certain that she loved me back. I am not going to go into too many details, but I’ll tell you that our relationship has been one of steady growth.

We went out on a picnic once. It was but a couple of months into our courtship, and we were getting along famously. I had actually been looking forward to this day because she said we were going to a place she enjoys very much.

She made a prosciutto, mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and garlic sandwich that was absolutely delicious (even accounting for the excessive garlic) and come to think of it, I hope she makes me another one those soon (hint). We accompanied that with a merlot and headed for the beach.

She loves the beach. She can spend hours upon hours contemplating the sea, thinking and admiring its beauty. There is a spot somewhere in Baja, five miles away from Rosarito, behind an old beach house that has a bench facing the ocean. It’s like a balcony with some loose stones underneath and the beach right after. When the tide is high enough it reaches the rocks beneath the balcony.

We sat there and had our picnic. We spoke. We laughed. We contemplated the sky and tried to make sense of the different shapes in the clouds. We saw the ocean and some lights out in the sea, I thought they were boats, but she said they were tiny bonfires in the middle of the nothingness, and I believed her. We saw the sunset too.

We went back home and when I was dropping her off she went inside her house and asked me to wait for her in the driveway. When she came back, she asked me to close my eyes and extend my hands. She placed something in them and when I opened them I saw a rock in the shape of a heart.

She loves to walk on the beach and collect rocks that look like hearts. They are not easy to find, believe me I have tried. She said she found that one just a few days earlier walking in the beach. She said that when she found it she was thinking about me. And now I was holding it in my hands.

I don’t know if that was her heart that she was giving me to care for, or if it was my own heart that she had found after all these years. Nowadays, I like to think that it is a combination of the two.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Love at First Sight (Part 3 of 3)

I thought about how many more posts to write about this story. The truth is that if I wanted to I could probably write a medium size novella about the whole thing. But I’ll keep it decent. I will conclude the account today.

She made the caramel latte with such a natural flair, unpretentious but self-assured. You know, like someone who knows that it’s capable of many wonderful things, but is in no hurry to get there. It was almost as if she was taking a day off just to make my coffee and was enjoying every step of the process. Pour the milk in the metal carafe, place it under the steam wand and warm it up with just enough artistry and at the right angle to have a substantial layer of foam to top the latte. Grind the coffee beans fine to give the espresso shots a smoky texture when the boiling water extracted those mystical flavors. A few stripes of caramel syrup to top the creation with which I would gather enough courage to tell her that she had been on my mind since the first time I saw her.

“Do you believe in signs?” I asked her almost out of the blue.
She smirked while looking down as she was tidying up her work area. She vacillated, looked at me like figuring where I was going with this conversation, and then almost under her breath said “Yes,” like she was remembering that she did in fact believe in signs. She was quite pleased with her answer. It was almost as if for some reason she had forgotten it a while back and I had just reminded her.

“I don’t even know where to start,” I said. “It’s just that the whole thing is so fantastic that I just have to say it. If I told you that I was thinking about you on my way over here, would you believe me?”
“I don’t know,” she smiled. “I don’t think so.”
“It’s kind of odd I know, and I apologize for being so forthcoming, but I’ll tell you why. About a month ago I was doing some Christmas shopping with my family in the mall by the border and I saw you in the coffee shop. I wanted to talk to you, but it didn’t seem appropriate. I’ve been thinking about you since then and now I run into you here! That has to mean something right?”

She chuckled genuinely. If I was telling the truth, it was kind of charming I guess. But even if I was making the whole thing up, as far as pick up lines is concerned, this was a pretty good one, I thought. I don’t really know what I was expecting. I mean, I know I wanted to ask her out on a date, but what were the chances of her saying yes? At the same time, as if the situation wasn’t odd enough on its own, I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable.

“I guess all I’m really saying is that I would really like to get a chance to talk to you, get to know you a bit more. I have a feeling we would get along really well.”
“Well,” she started, “I have to say that I appreciate you being so frank, but I don’t know. I would feel weird giving my number to a stranger, I mean, it’s not something I do.” She smiled again and continued “but you are talking to me now, right?”
“Yes!” I said holding my breath as a glimmer of hope peaked.
“Well, talk then,” she said amused.

I figured I had about five minutes to have a convincing argument before more customers arrived. She had to have some information about who I was and what I did for a living. She needed to know that I was genuinely interested in getting to know her, and that I was not just flirting frivolously. I told her about some of my adventures as a reporter which she found entertaining, and she told me that she was finishing her professional practices as a psychologist. As you can imagine, I was thrilled with every bit of her that she shared, I thought it gave me a slight better chance of seeing her again. She was exactly the kind of person I imagine her to be: quirky, sassy, funny, genuine and smart. We were hitting it off famously, I thought, and in my mind there was a good chance we could set something up. Then the door opened and a customer came in. If there has ever been a more inappropriate intruder, it had to be that lady.

“I’ll tell you what,” Tania said as she looked at me. “I like that you are audacious. I respect that and for this reason I’ll take your email. I might write you,” and she handed me a pen and a piece of paper. My time today was up. It was like one of those moments when you are walking amid some foliage and run into a hummingbird. It hovers for a moment right in front of you flickering its wings so fast that they are just a blur, but you feel like you can almost touch it. But it’s only an illusion, a moment later it flutters away in a dash just as gracefully as it had arrived.

I wrote my email address in my best handwriting and gave her the note. She took it, verified it, folded the paper in half and placed it in her back pocket. It was a bittersweet flavor for me of course. Admittedly, more sweet than bitter yes, but still. I started backing away, slowly, as the customer intruder lady who had been looking the stuff on the retail shelves approached the counter and I didn’t want to get in the way. I thanked Tania for the coffee, which was delicious, and was about to leave when a fleeting thought crossed my mind.

“It was really nice talking to you,” I said to her. “It was just a moment, but I enjoyed it a great deal. I’ll be checking my email. But you know what? I have a feeling that even if you don’t write, we’ll run into each other again sometime.”

She smiled as she directed her attention to her customer and I left.

Yes, I checked my email every hour in the course of the next few days, which soon enough became weeks, and later months. On more than one occasion I thought about going to the coffee shop where she worked to say hi, but it didn’t feel right. I thought there was probably a good reason why she didn’t write. At times, I considered the possibility that she might have washed her pants with my email still in their pockets. What if she had the piece of paper in her car and it was blown away in the freeway? What if she put the note in her purse and it was stolen? Or even worse, what if she just threw it away as soon as I left? Whatever it was, I had to be stoic. I had to stand by what I felt the very first time I saw her. I recognized her. She had always been with me, transcending time and existence in our present form since back when we were still light traveling across the universe, there was no doubt. I knew it in many different levels, and in some odd way I thought she knew it too.    

Nine Months Later

I was on my way to the newsroom to work on a story that was due, when I ran into tree of my best friends. We joked for a bit as we hadn’t seen each other in a few days and they ended up talking me into having sushi with them before going to work. There were two possible sushi places we could go to, and I picked the one closest to my office. We took the second next table by the window facing the parking lot and ordered our food. As we waited for our lunch, we caught up on current happenings and events in our lives; it was a period of many exciting changes for us. I sat in a bench with my back against the wall facing the door, like Wild Bill.

A girl walked in, but I couldn’t really see her as my friend in front of me blocked my sight. She ended up sitting next to me on the bench, taking the table right by the window. I was involved heavily in the conversation with my friends when out of the corner of my right eye I saw the way her hair fell on her shoulders as she leaned to read a book. I turned my head to see her delicate and unmistakable profile.

It was a warm Thursday of September, and I have to agree with Keats: Who cares about the songs of spring? Fall has its music too.

We’ve been together since.