Friday, May 29, 2009

Acura LA Bike Tour

EVENT: Acura LA Bike Tour
DATE: Monday, May 25, 2009
LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
RACE BEGAN: 5:00 am
FINISH TIME: 01:44:00 (estimated)


How did I end up foregoing my favorite marathon? Well, it started when this once early-March marathon I had already signed up for last year fell under new ownership and moved to President's Day. I remained in.

Then, it was set to Memorial Day. Given my issues with heat (characteristic of May), I decided to drop out and had my yearly marathon be the Pasadena Marathon instead.

It appears that many people did the same thing, as according to the LA Marathon site, under 15,000 runners finished the race this year. That number is usually well over 20,000.

Race Report:

This leads me to the LA Coliseum where I was waiting with my bike before our 5:00 AM start. The difficulty of getting to that point at that time is nothing to be snuffed at, even for someone who wakes up before 5:00 am most of the time. They were very timely about starting us, so off we went. Basically, we went though the marathon route, with some slight deviations, particularly towards the end.

The sights were pretty unbrilliant, as was probably the case for the runners as well. Residential and commerical areas of South Central LA greeted us, and it was generally too dark to see some of the views of the city that we got. My favorite parts of the race were those in which I was going down long downhills without pedaling with the cool wind hitting me. There were some inclines that seemed worse on a bike than they would be on foot. My gear-shifting skills have yet to be developed, but I noticed I was beating a bunch of road bikes on those hills. And generally, I was in synchonization with everyone in terms of when the gears were supposed to be shifted.

There weren't really too many things of note with the other cyclists. Some blared music on their iPod speakers, some rode in tricycles, unicycles, and tandem bikes. I was a bit lonely seeing those tandem bikes because generally people don't do bike tours alone, yet there I was by myself. At one point, I saw one guy take a pretty bad spill, but he seemed okay.

I was getting tired/bored at some point around mile 15, though I didn't have any way of knowing which mile we were on. I was pushing the pace a bit so I could get to my next task (keep reading for details). Anyway, before I knew it, everyone was stopped. I had reached the end. When I crossed the line, I looked at my cell phone for a time estimate. I think the course was only about 21.5 miles. I dismounted and had to walk a tiring mile with my jelly legs and bike in a crowded field just to get my medal. The food was lacking, but once again, I needed to get to my task.

Spectation (is that a word?) of the LA Marathon:

I was able to see the elite marathon runners at mile 3 (near USC). I haven't been a spectator in a race since before I started running, so this was definitely new. I took a picture of the head/lead vehicle (see left). I also saw a guy running in a testicle suit, but I did not realize what it was until the police officers commented on it. With my bike in tow, I was also carrying a sign for Tea Time. I had also written a similar sign for "The Ukrainian" on the other side. We spotted each other. I carried the sign up for quite a long time afterwards in hopes of seeing Tea Time, but figured I had just missed her in the small mob.

So I got back on my bike and made the trek to mile 10.5. I was impressed by my self-navigation skills, as I got there just fine and once again was able to cheer on "The Ukrainian" and even spotted Tea Time (just in time; I had to run a bit). It would have been harder to hit the more western miles, so I had previously told "The Ukrainian" that I would be closer to the end. The journey to mile 24 was not that bad. I had to wait for a long time for anyone to show up. During that time, some Spanish-speaking guy with a camera asked me some questions and ended up narrating a small segment that went something like this (rough translation):

A cheering spectator on Vermont and Olympic waits for [insert the embarrassing pet name I had written on the sign], her boyfriend. Also, she is waiting for her sister.

I saw "The Ukrainian" come by. He was running much more slowly than I had seen him doing in the previous two meet-ups, but he seemed to look relaxed enough. I basically ran up to him for a high-five and some encouraging words. At that point, I had to high-tail it to the finish where he would soon reach. Although I was only two miles away, this was the worst part of my biking/spectating journey, as I had to go around a bit, mostly uphill, for a long time, and as I was nearing the point, I had to dismount and walk my bike among the crowded streets.

I am so proud of the people I cheered for in this race, Tea Time for running a great time in spite of doing a marathon earlier this month, and "The Ukrainian" for exceeding his time goals. The whole time, I was somewhat jealous that I wasn't running, as it seemed fun and ideal running weather (for once). However, a part of me knew that I was not quite ready and that I would not have fared very well, anyway (beyond everything else, I was also having a bad stomach day, which didn't bother me much on my journeys).

I guess I got my own unique experience touring LA (in all its non-glory?) on my bike. I realized how far I have come, since I am essentially what they call a "n00b" with bikes. But the medal pictured above is a reminder to me as to how far I've come.

I hope to run LA Marathon next year, but given this course that I got to see for the first time on my bike, I don't know. I mostly like it because of the energy and the fact that it is so well-known.

Finally, I added a pic of my Garmin that "The Ukrainian" had borrowed during the race. I'm sure it [my watch] knew that it was on someone else's wrist, as I obviously do not clock those sorts of paces/times.

NOTE: There were photographers out on the Bike Tour route, so if I have any, I may post one here soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dennis Green Sneaker Balls, Penguin Shoe Deodorizer, and Odor Eaters Spray

Yes, after that nice entry about my "graduation", I am going to post an entry about shoe odor. I thought of this recently, as I noticed that a bit more vigilence with these products can make a definite impact on the smelliness of shoes.

I know most people are not very willing to admit it if they have this problem. They just seem to stink in silence until someone calls them out on it. Some people come forward at the brink of discovery. I remember "The Ukrainian" once telling me not to help him pack his shoes away because I "might die."

I didn't really have that bad of an issue until I started working, and for some reason, work shoes are not friendly to the olfactory nerves (i.e., they create stinkiness). So I started getting various remedies such as the two sprays below -- Odor Eaters and Penguin brand shoe deodorizer.

Both of these sprays smell similar, but honestly, I think that Odor Eaters lasts longer than Penguin. I use both of these for both work shoes and sneakers, and generally, they seem to work better with the latter (I guess that's what they are made for). Both dry clear, which is good (especially for the work shoes). I recommend using them in a decently ventilated area if there are others around who might not like the smell of... not-so-great baby powder??

Also, for my recent birthday, I received a box of these Dennis Green sneaker balls. I think they were from Sports Chalet, but there are a lot of similar products out there which can be twisted to release a fresh scent (there are many choices, but I like the smell of clean laundry) and thrown into shoes. These work decently, but they are not as effective as sprays, in my opinion. Due to their size, though, they can get near the toe box where the sprays might miss.

After combined use, my running shoes are not reeking. The key is to let them air-dry after each workout (and not stuff them immediately into a gym bag). Also, it is important not to stick a smelly work-shoe foot into a running shoe, as guess what will happen (duh, me!)?

P.S. All of the items featured above go for <$5/ea. I got the Odor Eaters from Wal-Mart, and the other two from Sports Chalet.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Graduation Day

Today is my graduation day.

I set the post time of this entry to coincide with the conclusion of my final class that will close out the requirements for me to receive a Masters of Science.

What the degree is in is not of importance (hint: it's a branch of psychology that can make clinician-level salaries =P), but by creating this ghetto rendition of a graduation ceremony picture (see right -- my major was obviously not computer graphics), I have celebrated. I am not attending my actual graduation ceremony because non-terminal masters folks like myself are recognized only in a group (not worth paying for a gown and dragging my family out for that).

However, my co-workers decided to set up a potluck soon to celebrate. They are so awesome! I've only been here for about two months, and they have been encouraging and took me out for my birthday and even got me gifts. And speaking of work, I went from a level 1 to level 3 position literally overnight, which comes with a raise that I probably need. Now that the class load is shrinking, perhaps I will finally get a chance to actually be focused on work.

These past two years have been filled with emptying pockets, sleepiness, Jamba Juice, numerous presentations, mass printing (thanks to Tea Time for doing some of that), statistics, headaches (not just from the statistics), accents, missing out on races, biases, ticking lots of people off due to my unavailability, stepping out of my comfort zones, and personal sacrifices up the wazoo. I was working the whole time -- even two jobs for a while -- and attending classes on nights and weekends, taking more than the required courseload and being the first in my cohort to finish a thesis with a respectable GPA to boot. I normally don't like to broadcast things I've done, but the level of torture (for lack of a better word) I was able to endure astounds even me, who went through it. I thought perhaps seeing it typed here would solidify it, or perhaps I need to wait the 4-6 weeks for my "piece of paper" to arrive.

Why did/do I put myself through this? (That is such a mile-22 question!!) My parents were not too keen on (i.e., discouraging) me going to school when I could have already gotten a decent job. I didn't even want to go to college when the time came, but I only went due to pushing. And not having that for graduate school was demoralizing. On the bright side, I think they have become more accepting of my endeavors, as I sometimes overhear them mentioning it to friends/relatives. But still, I had to mature quickly and guide myself through this journey and suck up all the difficulty as my own flippin' fault. I watched my sisters enjoy their weekends and free time together while I desperately tried to balance all the facets of the things on my proverbial plate.

I'm too embarrassed to refer "The Ukrainian" to my blog, so I am free to gush about his role in all of this. I don't know how I got through the first half of this program without his caring affirmations and listening ear. He texted me each time I had an exam or class presentation (which was mucho). He tried not to tempt me with plans and told me that school should come way before him in my list of priorities (not always so, my dear :]) and that he would always be ready and waiting for me.

A huge congratulations to those terminal masters (MA) students in my cohort who are now completely done with school. They have inadvertantly taught me that everyone has something to contribute in spite of their differences. While I am jealous of them, I somehow feel like I am not quite done yet. I'm not sure if I will reach *that* level of done, but I feel that I should keep trying. Because my parents raised a hard-worker. Because I want to break away from their abnormally high risk-aversion. Because there are so many people who will never have the opportunity to pursue their education. Because, at least for now... I can.

By choosing this path, many doors have opened for me, but I'm going to keep knocking. I've only reached the 13.1 mile marker, after all. Big hills ahead! Time for more training.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Coppertone Continuous Sunblock Spray

I did a review on another spray sunscreen not TOO long ago, but since that bottle ran out (so to speak), I have received these for Christmas/birthdays and have thus converted to the Coppertone brand. I just don't like having to mess up my hands with greasy sunscreen that leaves my skin white.

It always is shocking to feel cold spritz and a chemical mist on you, and the smell is sort of chemical-y. I think this smells slightly worse than other spray sunscreens but stays on better, in my opinion.

These clear-drying sprays come in SPF 30 and 50, in single or double packs. They go for about ~$8 each. One can lasts quite a while for me, since I am not as good about my suncare regimen as I should be...

I spray anytime I am running outdoors, even under my clothes for the most part and on the top of my head. For the past few months, I've even been getting into that daily sunscreen/moisturizing thing on my face (go me!). But I do spend time outdoors that is unaccounted for by my sunscreen use -- most of that is time I spend driving. I probably get a nice hour of exposure a few times a week bumpin' to my happy hardcore and Marc Anthony.

So this leads me to two simple steps I need to take as the summer approaches:

1) Get a cap to use instead of a visor for very long runs. This will protect my scalp (although I spray the top of my head when I remember). My head is large and cannot accomodate most hats; plus, I have an overheating problem that I hope to avoid with the advent of a hat. Once I find a suitable match, I will review it on this blog.

2) Get a body sunscreen lotion and use it each day, even under clothing. I think they make these in forms that don't smell like sunscreen (don't want me and my clothes to smell like that all the time).

** (NOTE: Skip the remainder if this entry if you are at all squeamish!!) **

About two years ago, I had a suspicious-looking spot on my left shoulder scalpeled out by a determatologist for a biopsy. It was a dark mole that I did not recall being so big when I was younger. Don't get me wrong -- I have tons of birthmarks/moles, but this one had uneven borders and asymmetrical, which I recall were two signs of cancerous markings. I had been out in the sun much in my early life, especially in high school when I did sports for two years without frequent sunscreen use and then again in college when I went out running/walking for hours without sunscreen. My GP (doctor) wanted a second opinion and referred me to a dermatologist, who recommended that I slice it off.

No, it didn't hurt (the healing hurt the most because it itched and scabbed). I basically got a numbing injection and next thing I knew, the skin with the mole was sitting on the doc's fingertip. Then he cauterized (i.e., burned shut) the wound. There was very little blood, if any. The biopsy came back negative. I have a permanent bump there to remind me how lucky I am to be healthy and capable of all that I do.

Sorry this product review turned into a long post. =)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Santa Barbara Wine Country Half-Marathon Relay 2009

EVENT: Santa Barbara Wine Country Half-Marathon
DATE: Saturday, May 9, 2009
LOCATION: Santa Ynez/Los Olivos/Solvang, CA
RACE BEGAN: 7:00 am
FINISH TIME: 01:41:55 (49:01, 52:53)

(NOTE: No race picture because somehow they only got pictures of my partner. What a bummer, as I actually wore something different this time!)


In spite of the fires in the Jesusita forests in Santa Barbara, "The Ukrainian" and I arrived in Buellton, CA on Friday, May 8 at a Marriott to pick up our race packets. This city of split pea soup was about 35 miles away from the fires. It wasn't until later that I found out that the town is not pronounced bulletin, bull-tin, or bowl-le-ton. At one of the two wine-tasting places we went to, we found out it is pronounced the way it looks: B-yule-tin (a-la Ferris Bueller).

medal, wine glass, grapes
In Solvang, where we stayed, we ended up hitting up the Danish bakeries and wine-tasting rooms, as well as go for a little swim. We made sure to taste the trademark dessert of the town, ableskivers (pictured), fried balls with powdered sugar and jam...


Race Report:

This race began in front of a saloon in Santa Ynez, CA. I woke up at 4:30 AM, walked over from my hotel in the small Danish town Solvang, took a shuttle, and had arrived an hour beforehand freezing outside until they opened the saloon. Most of the runners were doing the entire half-marathon, and once again, I was shirking and doing the half.

The race started nearly 10 minutes late as the straggling runners on shuttles arrived. I was nervous because I knew that my relay partner, "The Ukrainian," was probably having some sort of ordeal getting to the transition point in Los Olivos. I also found it weird that this race does not play the national anthem at the start.

I started off trying to hold back and not try to go under an 8:00/mi for the first mile because that would lead to disaster, from my experience. At the end of mile 1, we were greeted by a short tough hill. Basically, the 5.9 miles of the course I ran was a gradual uphill with some minor climbs (see diagram).

The weather was mostly cool with some sun and occasional breeze, and we were running near wine fields and empty land in general. A few spectators were clustered in some areas, which was helpful. I was starting to tire out at around the 3-mile point, as I was still under 25 minutes at the time, which is pretty fast for me. The last mile seemed to be easier, but I was feeling nauseous, most likely from overexertion or the fact that I was wearing cropped pants and an entirely black outfit.

Knowing that I was nearly done with my portion, I loosened my watch and did not expect to transition until I passed the mat, but "The Ukrainian" stopped me early and told me that people had told him to transition a few feet before the mat. So I unstrapped my timing anklet (for the relay people only... see picture) a bag from him with our room key, a cell phone, and towel, and gave him my watch as he had requested. If one had drawn a picture of this scene, it would have shown a girl kissing a puff of smoke, because he darted off to cross the mat and run his 7.2 miles of the race. Looking at the elevation profile (below), you can see that he had quite the hill to tackle.

Meanwhile, happy that my part was over and that I had done it under 50 minutes, I went to the shuttle and was anxiously waiting to get back to the finish before he came in. We ended up getting there just in time for me to run from the shuttle to the finish. I claimed my medal and got another one for him as I saw him finish a race for the first time. I was able to give him his medal, but in his attempt to gradually slow down his heart rate, he sort of just grabbed it and walked over to the water area.

We were greeted by a bunch of great food -- fresh baby carrots, grapes, bananas, oranges, and cut-up danishes, bread, muffins, and cheese. I limited myself to a few bites of muffin pieces and danish, and a few grapes with one half-slice of orange. We grabbed our t-shirts, walked over for a yogurt sample, and headed back to the hotel for clean-up, breakfast, and check-out.

We ended up placing second in the co-ed relay category, behind the first team by a minute. I wish I had been able to run a minute faster, but I think I gave it a good effort and am not sure if I would have been able to run any harder than that. All in all, I am happy with my performance and impressed with my teammate's performance as well. It was a privilege for this slow me to be able to run a race with my speedy partner in crime.

Monday, May 11, 2009

EFX Performance Technology

***Guest Review by Tea Time:

It's been awhile since I've done a review of a product but I got something new recently that Nobel4lit thought would be interesting if I reviewed on her here goes.

I was walking around the OC Marathon expo recently with Nobel4lit and a couple of other people and came upon this booth that sold these bracelets and neckbands with an embedded technology that helped with balance, flexibility and strength. The sales staff performed a balance test on me and Nobel4lit with and without the bracelet and we were more balanced when we were wearing one. I am still not sure how it works or if the test was legit since it was performed by the sales person who was looking to sell this product to me. You can read all about this technology at their site:

So I did end up buying one of these. Not sure why, maybe just curious. I've been wearing it pretty religiously for about a little over a week now and the one thing I have noticed is that my lower back is alot less sore. Actually, it feels pretty normal which I haven't felt in a long while. I've been having some lower back discomfort for about 1.5 years now and have been going to the chiropactor every month to get adjustments but wearing this bracelet has somehow alleviated alot of pain from that area. Again, I don't really know how this product works but it does. I am going to continue to wear it to see what else it can do. I will update at a later time if anything new develops. Overall, I am glad I purchased this product because despite it's voodoo magic technology, it actually did something for me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

PureFit Nutrition Bars

I've been noshing on these gluten-free, vegan nutrition bars at various race expos for quite a while now, and now I'm finally writing about them!

Besides being free of the commonly found whey that both disgusts and sickens me and the artificial sugars that taste sub-par and bloat me, these bars are high-protein (~14 g per bar, with ~230 calories) and all-natural.

So far, I have tried the chocolate, almond, strawberry, and peanut butter flavors. I actually like all of them. The flavors are there but not overpowering (particularly in the chocolate one). The texture of these bars is chewy -- you won't find a lot of huge chunks of anything in them. The moisture level is on the low side, but the bar is not crumbly at all.

I really like these bars. I haven't been purchasing too many bars lately, so I'm not sure if I will be getting some unless I need a quick meal and they happen to be around. Additionally, I'm not sure if they are widely available, but if you see them, you should give 'em a try.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Progress Report?

Out of boredom (or procrastination from my school work), I made the following charts plotting my race paces over time. I omitted the ordinate labels here because some of my race paces were just embarrassing...

The top one is for marathons. Pretty obvious trend going on over here, though I'm sure there will be an uptick for my 2010 marathon, since I'm fairly certain that this year's was a fluke.

This second one is for half-marathons. Just by looking at this, I could see that I am really inconsistent!! However, the general trend appears that the pace is going down. I could have done a couple of statistical tests to see if this was the case. In one method, I could have found the line of best fit to this data and looked to see the sign of the slope (negative = pace going down overall). Alternatively, I could have run an analysis of variance comparing 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009's averages to see if they are statistically significantly different from each other. However, I am lazy and will just eyeball it. There appears to be progress!

Avia OC Half-Marathon 2009

EVENT: Avia OC Half-Marathon
DATE: Sunday, May 3, 2009
LOCATION: Newport Beach/Costa Mesa, CA
RACE BEGAN: 6:30 am
FINISH TIME: 01:58:22

I was pretty curious about the new course for this race. I am not one of those people who looks into the details of a course before running it. Why worry about a hill at mile 3 days in advance, right? Probably not smart of me, but that's just my tendency. Anyway, I had heard that the new course had some views of the ocean, but the main reason I did this half-marathon was because Tea Time was running the marathon. Glad I was there to see it!

The race started at a very early 6:30 AM under an overcast sky at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. This held up the whole time I was running and beyond -- perfect running weather, in my opinion. I waited in the first corral behind a 1:50 (half) and 3:40 (full) pace group, but I could not keep up with them for even the first mile! This is weird, since "The Ukrainian," who has always run under 1:50, was running with me for the first mile and a half, and we were doing 8-min mile pace. He eventually passed that pace group, but they just started off unusually fast.

Anyway, without people to pace me, I ran by feel. I was trying to keep my pace between 8:50 and 9:00 per mile, since I rarely train faster than that. The first few miles were a bit up-and-down, though nothing that would disqualify the course from being called "flat." There were also some nice downhills and ocean views, as well as a nice breeze. I was running some good splits for the 5k (~26 min), 10k (~53 min), and 7-miles (just under an hour).

After that point, I started to run out of gas. I normally don't get drained so suddenly, but I felt like passing out at some points. I started stopping at more water stations and had to walk a few times. I was undertrained, and I was feeling it. The majority of the rest of the race was on bike trails, which was quite boring and more up-and-down. My stomach started to hurt. As a note, I get stomachaches during races maybe 3/4 times, but this was one of the most painful. It reminded me (slightly) of the horrible one I had during a botched 20-miler I tried recently during which I lost five pounds in the restroom. (sorry for TMI).

All that aside, I was tired and succumbed to some Powerade at one of the last water stations. I haven't had any sports drink in AGES, but it tasted good at the time. The only thing that kept me going was telling myself that I could have more when I finished (there was no Powerade at the finish, unfortunately). As I was within the last half a mile from the end, I thought I might be able to beat my PR (1:57:05), but even as my watch said 13.1, I still had to run another .1 of a mile! So I ended up with the time you see above, which is not bad for me. Of my 12 halfs done so far, this is only the third time I've done sub-2.

I was happy about the food they had at the finish -- cut-up bagel pieces, oranges, bananas, vegan protein bar halves, energy drinks, Promax bars, and chocolate soy milk!!! The bagel really helped my stomach.

On a side note, a man spotted me wearing my Surf City shirt from last year and said, "You've been caught wearing a Surf City shirt!" and handed me a longboard keychain!

My lack of training was probably to blame for not PR-ing on this relatively flat course, but I still did better than times when I did train. I am a bit embarrassed that I have to keep admitting to a lack of training, but life has been crazy, and I've been tired!! Perhaps my body is getting accustomed to the abuse. I hope this means I will improve in the future if/when I actually do decide to specifically train for a race again.

"The Ukrainian" missed his PR by less than 30 seconds but still made it in the 1:42-range after all, stomachache and all! (Yes, he had one at around the same time I did... we've been spending too much time together, perhaps.)

Finally, I am SO proud of Tea Time for running the full marathon in 4:01, which is awesome!! That speed demon was running faster than me at 13.1 miles even though she had more to go. She's worked really hard and deserves that 39-minute PR. I'm sure she'll be BQ-ing before long... Also, congrats to some of her running teammates for running their first marathons. They were SO excited about it the night before when we all had dinner together... I remember when I used to be like that.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Random Photo Entry

I have been a bit behind on posting, but I just got a laptop at work. Yes, that means more updates, or at least signs of my presence in the blogosphere. Meanwhile, here are some pictoral representations of recent things/events. I am leaving vague captions purposefully...

Above: An award I received from the same place I got my bobblehead trophy...

Above: Rock candy (one of sour apple or watermelon) from Bishop that "The Ukrainian" picked up for me because I had one last time when we went together. I forgot when I ate this, but not the same day as this picture was taken.

Above: A birthday gift. =]

Above: I took a picture of this before I cleared it off...