Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Running With a 'Seven Psychopaths' Hat

It was a little colder in Griffith Park this morning, but still not cold enough to where us Team to End AIDS runners were forced to wear layers of clothing. Even though it is now the week before Thanksgiving, we still have 70 degree days out here in Los Angeles. Still, it’s nice to be able to wear my shorts in November as my jeans are proving to be a little too tight around my waist… Yes, I said too much.

On this day we were to run 8 miles, and I made sure to have some breakfast before I went. It came in the form of a cookies ‘n’ cream flavored Promax energy bar. Those usually do the trick even though I usually prefer the chocolate chip cookie dough flavored bar as that flavor continually proves to be one hell of a guilty pleasure. 

Once again, I was delayed by the IFC channel as they were showing re-runs of the 60’s Batman series. God I loved watching that show when I was a little boy. Does it hold up after all these years? No comment.

Today I decided to add something new to my run and decided to wear my Seven Psychopaths dog face hat that I got at a screening of the movie at Arclight Hollywood. It’s the same one Sam Rockwell wore in the movie, and I never got to wear it in public before so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to make use of it. Upon my arrival at Griffith Park, it didn’t take long for the hat to become a hit with my fellow runners. Some of them were disturbed when they saw the Seven Psychopaths logo on the back, but others were aware of how much fun that Martin McDonagh film is to watch.

There was one problem though; I forgot to bring my Ironman watch with me. For some bizarre reason I put my Bluetooth headset in my pocket instead. Don’t ask me why because I don’t have a clue. Needless to say, I wondered why I would put that in my pocket instead of the watch. Scientists are currently looking into this situation and we will be in touch with you as updates arrive.
Coach “GOOD MORNING T2” JC had us doing warm ups again and also talked to us about particular running injuries we need to look out for. When he said that, I started hearing Laurence Luckinbill’s dialogue from Star Trek V in my head.

“Your pain runs deep. Each of us hides a secret pain. Share yours and gain strength from it.”
Of all the Star Trek movies that could come to mind, I just had to come up with the worst one of the bunch. Still, I enjoy watching Star Trek V even if it’s for the wrong reasons. It also asked a lot of important questions about God and the meaning of life. Case in point: “What does God need with a starship?”

This week took us outside of Griffith Park and down Victory Boulevard to our familiar running grounds. For several in the group, this was the first time they had run down these streets of Burbank and the first time they got a look at the beautiful houses on it. They serve as a reminder of how much money we don’t make these days, and all I can say to that is the following, “Thanks a lot Burbank! Geez…”

My fellow runners continued to comment on my Seven Psychopaths hat, and some asked how warm it was making my head. Truth be told, I haven’t worn a hat to keep my head and ears warm for ages. I typically wear one just to keep the sun from burning my head off, and even then I don’t wear hats much as they rarely ever fit my head comfortably. Heck, the last time I wore a hat for the purpose of keeping warm was when I visited New York back in the early 90’s during winter. My mom insisted I put one on as we were walking down the street, and I was convinced that I wouldn’t need it. It took walking down only one book to realize how mistaken I was. 

I do have a confession to make; I did not do my maintenance runs this week. I deeply apologize for that as I have no excuse, and saying that I had no time to do them is like saying you don’t have time to read a book. You make the time! For what’s it worth, I did go on some long walks from my apartment to The Grove, and I walked with purpose each time as I headed out to see Dumb and Dumber To (disappointing) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (good but not great). Walking there can take a good 15 to 20 minutes for me, and it also allows me to save money on parking which is a skill worth learning when you live in Los Angeles.

But although I failed to do them, I still did well on this run and did not fall behind. All the same, I do need to make the time to do my maintenance runs. 

I also tried to keep up with what I call meditating during running as I kept checking my body to make sure I had the right posture. I kept fearing that I was leaning over too much and not keeping my chest open. When my chest is open, more oxygen comes into the body and my body loves oxygen A LOT. My mind still wandered here and there as I kept thinking about Star Trek V and I kept pondering how I survived my video interview with Tommy Lee Jones this past week.

So that concludes another week of training for the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon. Next week will have me out of town for a Thanksgiving vacation, but rest assured that I will continue running no matter where I am, be it on the road or (heaven forbid) on a treadmill. Besides, with all the food I’m going to end up gobbling down, I’ll need to run as many miles as I can to burn it all off.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: The fundraising train keeps moving along at tremendous speed, and I’m hoping you can get on board as these donations are always put to immediate use! As of right now, I have raised $761 which puts me at 76% towards my fundraising goal of $1,000 for AIDS Project Los Angeles. I truly believe we can make it to goal before the end of 2014, so let’s make it a reality!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Running Up Mount F.U.

Well, the weather in Griffith Park was a little cooler than last week, but winter still seems a bit shy about coming out in Southern California. We should be feeling relatively frozen by now as we are approaching the middle of November, but some of us are still getting away with wearing shorts during the week. Perhaps by next week we will start living the lives of ice cubes for once. Everybody in the news keeps talking about the polar vortex, so the chilly weather has got to be around the corner.

This week’s Team to End AIDS run comes one day after National Pickle Day. Darn! I should have celebrated by buying a jar of Claussen pickles from my local Ralphs Supermarket. Then again, they probably weren’t on sale as is usually the case. But being that the Bolivars had made their annual trek from West Covina to deliver us a wealth of snacks including those highly addictive peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers, many of us were going to have a celebration even if it was a day late.

I made it to Griffith Park at a little later than usual as I allowed myself to get caught up in watching To Live and Die in L.A. on cable. Just be happy that I didn’t wait for that car chase on the wrong side of the freeway because then I would have been really late. When I arrived, Coach JC was there doing something different for his morning speech: he had us doing a group warm up. There was the rolling of the head, the shaking out of our legs and we also rolled our feet both clockwise and counterclockwise. Then there were the high knees which almost always has me falling over. I can never get my knees to touch my hands because God decided I had no right to be that flexible. Still, the warm up helped.

Coach JC announced to us with a wicked smile on his face that this run would have us running up our first hill in this training season. This announcement was met with a couple of audible groans, but many others applauded the news because they were either up for the challenge or they just knew that this had to happen at some point. Coach JC once again reminded us that the Los Angeles Marathon is as flat as the planet Earth, which is to say not at all. Even though it has us running down to the beach in Santa Monica, there are some hills for us to ascend along the way. After we finish the LA Marathon next March, we will all be thankful that we ran up any hills during training. To all of you who are running your first marathon ever, please trust me on this.

Coach JC would later refer to this particular hill as “Mt. Elfi” and “Mt. F.U.,” and both descriptions proved to be very appropriate (especially the second one). 

Today’s run kept us inside Griffith Park for a change as we kept traveling down Zoo Road and past the Gene Autry Museum. After all these years in Los Angeles, I still have yet to visit that museum. What’s wrong with me?

On this run, I found myself getting stuck in my own head to where I ran a bit faster than my pace should allow. Life has thrown me a number of curveballs in the last few years, and I still find myself trying to climb over them in the hopes of becoming completely self-sufficient once again. It has not been easy to put it mildly.

When it came to conversations I had with my fellow runners, I got to tell Drea that I interviewed Tommy Lee Jones this past week for his movie The Homesman.  In some ways, interviewing him and getting him to chuckle a little felt like a bigger victory than any marathon I’ve ever ran because he’s a notoriously intimidating and difficult interviewee. The realization of that made this 6 mile run seem easier than it usually is. Of course, I may just be exaggerating.

When we did get to the hill, I finally came to realize how ridiculously fast I was running. Usually I’m on pace, but I guess I got lost in my own thoughts more often than I usually do. By the time I started ascending the hill, I was already out of breath and reduced to speed walking my way up. Now usually at this point I have Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” or Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” going through my head, but this time I had Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” playing at a reasonable volume in my own head. This probably has to do with the fact that I got the “Houses of the Holy” remastered deluxe edition this past week on CD, and the music still sounds as sweet as ever.

“Hey lady--you got the love I need
Maybe more than enough.
Oh Darling... walk a while with me
You've got so much...
Many have I loved - Many times been bitten
Many times I've gazed along the open road.”

When I look at these lyrics, I’m reminded of how timeless Led Zeppelin’s music is, and also of how these lyrics have little to do with running or training for a marathon. Because the word “hills” was in the song title, it just had to pop in my head. Go figure. Still, it made more sense than hearing The Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill” in my head because that song has too slow a tempo for me to run to.
On our voyage through the hilly areas of Griffith Park, we came across Robin Russell who once again was pounding away at his drums. That’s right, after all these years I finally learned his name, and it’s always nice to put a name to a face. The beat he was drumming to was the same one I saw him drumming from a distance during the 2009 LA Marathon, a couple of years before I ran my first. It’s that beat of his that gets me through the tougher parts of a long run. Keep on drumming Robin!

Despite my challenges running (or speed-walking) up that hill, I managed to keep up with my pace group. I even had a nice conversation with Floyd who kept wondering when those endorphins were going to kick in. That’s the great thing about running; it’s a great way to get high, and it’s a lot less expensive than the hard stuff. Robin Williams said it best, “It only costs you a pair of fucking shoes!” I started reciting Williams’ take on marathon running to Floyd, and we both had a lot of laughs over it.

And as always, the Bolivars were on hand with a ton of snacks, facial tissue, red vines, sour gummy worms and of course those delectable peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers. These crackers are the kind Coach JC loves to death (no not really, he hates pickles). I ended up overdosing more than I usually do to the point where I expect someone to yell at me, “STOP HOGGING ALL THE CRACKERS BEN!!!” Not to worry, there’s more than enough to go around.

On the way down the hill, I kept myself in check to make sure I didn’t go at warp speed. It’s always tempting to let yourself go and race down the hill, but that’s how injuries happen. Plus, Scotty from Star Trek will be yelling at you and saying, “You can’t do it Captain! You don’t have the power!”
To keep my mind from wandering, I kept checking on my running form throughout. I made mental notes to keep my chest open so that I could get more oxygen and to not allow myself to slouch forward. Doing that certainly keeps me alert, and I refer to it as meditating while running. I don’t care what the naysayers say, such a thing is humanly possible.

So that concludes week five of 2015 LA Marathon training. Regardless of what I have just written about this hill, we’re still going through the easy stuff. I know it freaks people out that I just implied running 6 miles is easy, but for us marathon veterans it’s nothing. Next week our mileage will again increase and we will face new challenges that will include, but are not limited to, watching out for cars and bikes coming at us from the opposite direction. We need stay closer to the side of the road next Saturday.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: I have to date raised $711 for AIDS Project Los Angeles, and that puts me at 71% towards my fundraising goal of $1,000. The progress we have made so far is astonishing as I usually find myself struggling at this point in training. Let’s keep it going and get those tax deductible donations taken care of before the year is out!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Burning off a McRib

Just when summer thought it was out, Southern California pulls it back in!

Those of us who have trained for the Los Angeles Marathon previously love that we get to train during the coldest months of the year, but the weather in Southern California is proving to be as bipolar as ever with climate change wreaking havoc around the globe. I knew it was going to be warmer than usual in November when I arrived at Griffith Park, so I didn’t bother dressing in layers like I usually do at this time of year. 

For me, my main goal was to burn off that McRib I had at McDonald’s the other night. That’s right, the McRib returned to one of America’s far too famous fast food restaurants and, even though we are aware of how these sandwiches are made, people continue to flock to the nearest McDonald’s to have one or two as if Elvis has come back from the dead or something. That either means that people in America have a death wish or they just want to live on the edge for a little while. These days, eating at McDonald’s constitutes a major health risk as there’s no doubt that their food will be clogging your arteries mercilessly. Still, I was seduced to have a McRib as they are only available once or twice a year, and they are sinfully delicious and a guilty pleasure. Also, they are messy as hell and I lost track of how many napkins I made use of while I was eating. Many trees died to keep my hands clean. I probably should feel bad about that.

Coach JC was back in town after having completed the 2014 New York Marathon along with several other Team to End AIDS runners. Their accomplishment is all the more profound when you take into account how harsh the weather was in the Big Apple with runners having to deal with 40 mile an hour headwinds and frigid temperatures which made those 26.2 all the more challenging to conquer. While it may not have been as insane as the monsoon that was the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon, you have to give these runners a lot of credit as they were running in actual fall weather.

Before this 5 mile run began, Coach JC made sure that we had our water bottles on us because, as our mileage increases, we need it and Gatorade now more than ever. He also made it clear that, at this point in our training, we should be eating breakfast before the run. Among the suggestions for breakfast was half a bagel with cream cheese or an energy bar. JC, however, made it clear that a breakfast of bacon and eggs was not a good idea (damn). Since I had that McRib sandwich, I skipped breakfast this morning.

The 13 minute pace group once again proved to be the hip group to be in as we accumulated a few more runners. Chris and Drea decided to rejoin the 13 minute pace group as running in the 12 minute pace group was faster than they would have preferred. Drea also remarked that I have lost a lot of weight. God, I so want that to be the case, but my metabolism continues to betray me. Then again, I did have that McRib.

Our run took us down Victory Boulevard, and then we made a right on Sonora which of course had us running around the Disney Imagineering Studios (they just love to take away the T2EA signs). It also had us running past that building which continues to give off that wonderful smell of yeast which is just intoxicating and has me yearning for a slice of sourdough bread. We also passed by the Jack In The Box and Carl’s Jr. restaurants which had those signs outside advertising their delicious breakfast burritos, cheeseburgers that have at least two patties and Ranch Fries. We’re always tempted to snag one of those egg biscuit sandwiches, but it doesn’t take long for our common sense to kick in. Hmm, I wonder if they have a McRib McMuffin sandwich with egg… 

Actually, I didn’t find the breakfast burritos all that appetizing, but that may have to do with the one I got from Dunkin Donuts last summer while vacationing in Baltimore, Maryland. I didn’t exactly have a good experience with that one, and it was a hell of a lot smaller than it had any right to be. All the same, no fast food restaurant is gonna keep me from doing my Saturday morning runs, but if any of them have the McRib…

Today’s run also marked the ever so welcome return of those peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers that the Bolivers just love to make for us year after year. I couldn’t get enough of them, and it got to where I almost lost sight of my pace group as they chose not to stop (they would on the way back though). WHOOPS! Oh well, at least I found something a little more addicting than the McRib.
When we got to the train tracks, that’s when we really got backed up. The gates came down for what we thought would be the Metro link or an Amtrak barreling its way down the tracks to a far off destination. Instead, we got this Union Pacific train that was hauling a countless number of cars behind it to where Floyd remarked that we were going to be waiting around for a while. It didn’t take long for us to see that he was right because those cars kept coming and coming, and I kept looking from side to side like I was Patrick Swayze looking through those subway cars in Ghost. When that final car passed us by, we were both shocked and glad that the train was gone as we feared we’d have to wait 20 minutes before we could cross.

But aside from that, it was another good run even as the unseasonably warm November weather bore down on us like we were lizards. We all stayed on pace, and we’re getting to know each other well (names are still a challenge to remember though). I also won a T2EA headband for being one of the runners  who has raised at least $500 so far (please donate). I’m not sure if I look good in a headband or not, but I guess we’ll find out at some point. 

So from here on out, the mileage will increase even more and I will need to start having some breakfast before driving my ass out to Griffith Park in the morning. Rest assured, I will not be having a McRib in the morning before I go. I’m just glad I burned this one off… Now I want another dammit.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: I’m still at 69% to my fundraising goal of $1,000 for AIDS Project Los Angeles, and I have raised $686 so far. My hope is to get there before the end of 2014, and any donation no matter how small will go a long way to helping those afflicted with this terrible disease. The midterm elections are now over, so any money you didn’t give to Democrats, Republicans or any third party candidates would be best donated to this very important non-profit group.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Here Comes the Rain Again (and Finally)

The rain came down hard in Los Angeles on Halloween night. The following morning still had clouds hovering in the sky, leaves and branches were strewn all over the street, and my car finally got the wash it had been begging for constantly (but I’ll still need to take it to a car wash anyway). Yes, fall has arrived in Southern California, and it took the beginning of November for it to finally make its long overdue appearance. Of course, even with all the rain, it still won’t be enough to cure California of its current drought.

Although another Halloween has come and gone, the spirit of that wicked holiday still remained strong with Team to End AIDS. Then again, every day in Los Angeles is Halloween; it’s just that October 31st is one of the few days where we can embrace all the craziness with a ton of joy. 

Anyway, it was a small gathering at Griffith Park this morning, but it wasn’t because of the weather. Many of the T2EA runners were out of state getting ready for the New York Marathon which will be far stormier and have its participants dealing with headwinds that will undoubtedly slow them down in an incredibly frustrating way. Still, more power to them as the New York Marathon is, so I am told, one of the best and most entertaining marathons to run.

It was the annual costume run day which usually proves to be a good way to get people to donate to your efforts. One woman was dressed up as a delicious double cheeseburger, the kind we all see in those Carl’s Jr. and Burger King commercials. Of course, when you get to one of those fast food joints, the burgers never end up looking that great. Still, looking at that costume made me hungry and it felt like my cholesterol level went up a few points as a result. 

Then there was a guy who was dressed up as a hot dog. Not just that, but it had mustard on it as well. I don’t know why there was no ketchup on it, or maybe I wasn’t looking at the costume closely enough. At one point, I couldn’t help but ask the guy, “Do you relish wearing that costume? Is it ‘chili’ wearing it in this weather?” This was greeted with a couple of laughs and numerous audible groans, but I had to ask. My brother couldn’t stop telling me puns when we were younger, so I get it from him.

As for myself, I didn’t bother getting wearing a costume this time out. After seeing one of my forms of my employment come to a shockingly abrupt halt (temporarily mind you), I was too bummed to shop for a new costume. I considered putting on my Jason “Friday the 13th” Voorhees costume on, but I was tired of wearing it again. So instead, I just put on my usual running gear and a black rain jacket on top. If I had put a black poncho on and put the hood over my head, I could have said I was Bruce Willis’ character from “Unbreakable,” one of the few decent M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Today’s run had the newbies running 4 miles while the alumni ran 5. Since most of the people in the pace group were new (or so I thought) to marathon training, I figured they would only want to run 4, but I was surprised to see that the majority of them were willing to run 5. Was I cool with that? Absolutely! As much as we should be taking it easy with our marathon training, I was getting increasingly eager to rid myself of this spare tire which has formed over my stomach.

We went outside of Griffith Park again, down Victory Boulevard and towards Pickwick Gardens and Disney Animation Studios. We had to keep our eyes out for puddles, but what really made this run especially treacherous were all those broken branches and wet leaves we could easily slip on. And just when you thought it had stopped raining for good, it came pouring down once again. Memories of the 2011 LA Marathon went through the minds of its survivors, but they pressed on regardless.

I again kept the group on pace as I remembered to bring both my watches, one of which has interval time and a broken strap (which I hope to get fixed someday). I did, however, screw up at the beginning when I forgot when our first walk break occurred. We ended up running for 7 minutes straight as a result, and that forced me to carry my interval timing watch in my right hand to make certain this did not happen again.

I also have to give a special thanks to Winston for helping me let the runners know when to run and when to walk. I did my best to keep my fellow pace group runners on pace, but if they couldn’t hear me then they could certainly hear Winston. It’s always nice to have someone to back you up in anything you do.

This 5 mile run ended up making for a nice post-Halloween day. As the run came to an end, the sun started climbing out of the clouds and shone down brightly on us. At the same time, it was still raining softly and the sight of it against the sun was beautiful to take in. It reminded me of when Ron Shelton, in his commentary track for Bull Durham, talked about how he used machines to make it rain for certain scenes even though the sun was out and how embarrassed he was by that. Stopped being embarrassed Mr. Shelton (assuming he’s reading this) because it does happen and it does look beautiful like it did in your classic movie. 

Someone left us some utterly delectable chocolate fudge treats which proved to be completely addictive once you took your first bite into them. I had a couple but eventually had to force myself to lay off them as others had yet to finish their run and have them, and there is the issue with that spare tire I was talking about previously.

So it feels like we’re all off to a good start as we survived running 5 miles in the rain without slipping and breaking a bone in our bodies. Part of me misses the people who I have trained with in the past like Jessica, Annette, Marta and Tom among others, but I know I’m in good company with the ones who have decided to train this time around.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: Things are still progressing a lot faster than I ever expected them to. I have now raised $686 for AIDS Project Los Angeles, and that puts me at 68% towards my fundraising goal of $1,000. Let’s get to goal before the end of 2014!

ONE MORE THING: I just want to say congratulations to JC Fernandez, Kerry Quakenbush, Kevin Costley, Bart Tangredi and Christina Diaz Harris for running the 2014 New York Marathon this past weekend and for finishing it triumphantly. Way to go everybody!