Saturday, October 22, 2011

It's a wrap!!!

Several weeks have passed since I ran the Chicago Marathon, my first marathon. Why is it that, when you come back from a vacation, no matter how long or short, how far or near, the subsequent days after you check back to reality are freaking crazy??? I haven't had a chance to sit and write about the race itself, the pre-race energy and anticipation, and the post-race adventure. Too crazy a days...

I've been giving this a lot of thought. What should I write about? How much detail should I go into? Will I bore people to death? You know what...when you take up something and commit to either trying it or doing it, you normally do it for yourself...because you have an itch, and you wanna scratch it. And then, along the way, you bring people in either by sharing what you are doing with others, receiving support from others to do whatever it is that you're doing, or you are actually making a difference in other people's lives by doing what you're doing. But at the end of the day, it's a personal satisfaction to actually go through with whatever you decided to do.

So, with that said, I will go into as much detail as my memory will allow me to. And I will most likely comeback to this post every now and then to fill in some more facts, memories and thoughts as they peek into my brain. Why? Because I want to memorialize what I accomplished, what I went through, what I saw, what happened, what I felt. Why? Because I believe it's worth sharing, especially with the people who helped me get there.

The night before the race I had some pretty intense feelings roaming around. First, I wrote on my bibs the names of the people I honored by running my first marathon; people who have survived cancer and, unfortunately, others who did not. Then, I shared a picture of those bibs with my group of donors and other close friends as a closing message of gratitude prior to the race. Then a close friend sent me some well wishes, some very personal notes and a letter written to his training coach with details of race day after completing his first marathon. That same friend suggested that I should do the same: put in writing what I recalled from race day, and save it for future reference. I will do just that. Bear with me; this might become a very long read.

Later that night, after the kids had gone to sleep, and with the help of my wife, I took out all my race day gear, my on-the-course food and other personal stuff that I was to take with me to check in at the marathon's bag check. I attached the bib number and my honor bibs to my shirt. Wrote the previous blog post. Read some last minute things related to the race that I had put off. God bless procrastinators. Reviewed the course map...again. Went through my race strategy which I hadn't decided until a few days ago. And then, close to 11PM, I tried to go to sleep. I tossed and turned for about an hour. Good anxiety keeping my mind and body from shutting down. It's more effective than a double espresso. My wife hadn't gone to sleep yet. I remember having what seemed to be an REM moment while consciously being awake but with my eyes shut. Very weird.

I think I finally fell asleep around midnight. I had a deep 4-hour sleep and that was that. I had set my alarm clock for 5AM. I wanted to eat a light breakfast 3 hours before race time which I estimated at 8AM considering the gun is fired at 7:30AM but it takes almost half an hour to get to the start line. I guess it takes a while to move 35,000 plus runners. Woke up at 4AM. Hit the toilet. Everything went well, thank you. Ate my breakfast: a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and a Gatorade. I had some time to kill between then and 6AM which is when I was to meet my group of friends to take a cab down to Grant Park. I saw the race-day banners my kids had prepared. For the next hour or so, I sat in front of my computer just looking online for positive and inspirational phrases. I went to the LIVESTRONG webpage and read the Manifesto. Made a point of remembering USKPAE. Unity is Strength. Knowledge is Power. Attitude is Everything. Looked up some old Lance Armstrong Nike ads from his Tour de France days. And finally, read one of his most famous quotes and almost branded it to my forehead (then I remembered I can't read it there...but you get the point.): “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” After that I really didn't need much else but to get dressed, trust my training, stay focused on my plan and ENJOY THE DAY!!! In the end, that's what it's all about. And I did just that.

My wife had gotten up to say see you later and wish me all the best. She snapped a couple of pictures, a kiss goodbye and out the door I was at 6AM. Once in the lobby, I met my group but soon enough some were hitting the bathroom for a last minute release. At around 6:20AM we got into a cab and headed down to Grant Park. We were staying about a mile and a half north of the park. That's quite a walk if you are planning on running 26.2 miles a little later. But dozens of people were walking down from Magnificent Mile down to the start line. As we got closer, the crowds got bigger. It was still dark outside but it felt like a busy weekday at noon. The energy and the anticipation was everywhere. I tried to look at people's faces and see their expressions: anxiety, fear, happiness, sleepiness, joy, excitement, worry, relief, focus. It was all there.

Once we got out of the cab, we gathered our bearings and just followed the crowds. Along the way we were stopped to get our picture taken by the staff photographers from the company hired to cover the race. Volunteers were everywhere helping runners, family members and spectators as to where to go. We got to Buckingham Fountain and near our bag check area, and our group split. Everybody had to do their thing: leave personal items at the bag check area, stretch, take one last leak in the port-a-potties, find a good spot in the starting corrals, walk around to take everything in. I decided to hang around the fountain for a bit. I was in no hurry to hit the corrals to just wait there for an hour. I found a LIVESTRONG teammate and introduced myself. We sat by the fountain chatting for a good 15 minutes...about the race, obviously, Chicago, where we were from, what we did for a living, race expectations, was this your first marathon, when are you heading back home. The sky was already clearing up and the sun was about to come up. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky. Beautiful morning. Temperature was in the low 60's by race time. They kept saying and warning that it was going to be a hot one. The high temperatures on the two days prior to the race were in the low to mid 80's. Had a camera with me, so I took a bunch of pictures of the Chicago skyline lit up by the rising sun, the sunrise and the lines to use the port-a-potties. I hit those next. While waiting in line and about half an hour to start time, I started my iPod playlist, tied up my shoe laces (double knot...of course), and put my gels and chews in my pockets. Took a leak, snapped a couple of final pictures, left my stuff at the bag check and off I went to the start corrals. Once there, I did my stretching routine and soon enough the crowds started to move forward. A sea of runners. Just an amazing sight. I could barely see past the start line. I could see the signs for the Nike pace groups sticking out from the crowd. I spotted the 5:00 hour pace group and tried to move forward as close to it as possible. Music was being blasted from a set of speakers every 100 meters or so. I remember hearing Van Halen's "Right Now". The music drowned whatever I was trying to listen to through my earphones. As we pushed forward to the start line, I left my long sleeve shirt on a fence (all clothes left around get picked up and donated to charity) and I started to see the sea of runners but now with their heads bobbing up and down signaling that they were off and running. The start line got closer...and I suddenly was off. 7:50AM read the clock as I crossed the start line.

More to come...

Canyons | Spectators | Pedestrian bridge | Tunnel peeing | 1st bridge | Grand & Michigan Ave | Chicago marquee | Loop | Run-Walkers | La Salle | Lincoln Park | Lost blind runner | More peeing | Water girl  | Just a 10K | Surf Ave | Super Girl | Addison | Plastic bottle dresses on stage | Gay Cowboy Hoedown | LMFAO | Sedgewick | Walter Payton Prep | LS crew 2nd time | Trying to find family | Mile 12 | 2:30 @ 13.1 | Greektown | Charity Block Party | United Center Blackhawks season opener | Jackson Blvd | Cliff Shot station | Liquor store line @ Ashland Ave | Pilsen | Orange wedges | Sponges | Halsted St football catch | Bananas & slippery pavement | Chinatown | Hell by the Expressway | Mile 22 to 23 Stopped Run-Walk  | The Gap | Tom's short run | Soiled pants | Pavement lines | Heads turning right | Roosevelt Ave bridge | Turn home | Finish | Long walk | Beer | Picture | Bag check | Family meeting | CRAMPS!!!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Own Chicago

Tomorrow morning I will run the streets of Chicago and this great bunch will be waiting for me at the finish line. My strength, my mission, my pride, my all. You we're with me all the way until today. Tomorrow will be a celebration of life.

Chicago is a fine city with no reason to be envious of other great cities. I've been to several big cities in the great US of A and lived in one for several years. Chicago is truly world class. No doubt. And tomorrow I get to run all its neighborhoods. Streeterville, Old Town, Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park, River North, West Loop, Little Italy, Pilsen, Chinatown, shoot The Gap up Michigan Avenue and finishing at Grant Park. That's an opportunity not many can take advantage off.

Thanks again to all that have supported me throughout and supported LIVESTRONG. Your words of encouragement in the last couple of days have been amazing.

See you at the finish line!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

LIVESTRONG Day...and we're off to CHI-Town!

That's me...and my wife while waiting for the train after running a 5K this past Sunday which was LIVESTRONG Day. It was her second 5K ever and she improved her time by more than a minute. I gladly paced her in her first and now for her second, and will keep doing it as long as she feels she needs me there by her side. Training for a marathon takes time. It consumes a lot of time. And it requires a high and unwavering commitment level not only from yourself but from those close by...usually immediate family and friends. My wife has been a champ and my strength through these 8 months of training.  Sure she complained and some Saturdays when our kids "naturally" decided to wake up at 6AM, when typically is very difficult to get them up half hour later on weekdays, I wasn't there to help to let her catch some more zzz's. I was out running pretty much every Saturday morning since March when I joined VIP Running. Now she has caught the running fever, which kinda caught me by surprise but I clearly love it. In the end, we run to make us feel better, both physically and mentally. We run to have time for ourselves, which is increasingly difficult in the times we live in. We run to push ourselves to give our best and hardest effort. We run because sometimes the hurt feels good. I'm glad she has caught the running bug. It can only bring us closer together and make our family healthier. And when I cross the finish line on Sunday after completing my first marathon, she will be there with my kids just like she's done for the past 20 weeks or so. For that, I'm truly and forever grateful.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation celebrated 14 years this past Sunday October 2. LIVESTRONG Day marks the day that Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer 15 years ago at age 25. At the time, hdeclared himself a survivor—not a victim—and took an active role in educating himself about his disease. Armed with knowledge, support and confidence in medicine he underwent aggressive treatment and beat the disease.

Today, hundreds of people every year sign up for Team LIVESTRONG to participate in endurance events -run, bike, walk or swim- and along the way raise funds for the foundation. Our Chicago Marathon team has raised close to $220,000...and we are not done yet. Our team is excited and anxious to take on the streets of Chicago proudly wearing yellow in support of the 28 million people living with cancer worldwide.

I get on a plane in 12 hours or so to fly to Chicago. Bags are packed. Training is done. Hydration and carbo loading are well underway. All that's left is to go out Sunday and enjoy a 26.2-mile tour of Chicago.

I'll keep you posted...and thanks to all who somehow, someway have helped along the way. The journey has been rather cool.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fight Like Hell

In two weeks I will have completed my first marathon. As of today, I have raised over $1,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, while Team LIVESTRONG Chicago broke through the $200,000 barrier today, an extraordinary achievement. All the long runs have been put in, as well as most support runs. I still have several of those left in these last days of taper before the race. I have been watching what I'm eating for a while now. Basically, all the work has been completed. Now I just have to take care of myself and don't do anything stupid that would void all the months of hard training and preparation.

Yesterday, the Berlin Marathon was run. A world record was set by Kenyan runner Patrick Makau at 2 hours 3 minutes 38 seconds, an outstanding pace of 4:43 minutes/mile. Several of my VIP Running teammates  were there and their results fluctuated from 4:30 to 5:30 hours. My expectations have to be within that range. Anything below that would be unreal. It was very gratifying to see their names on the results page and read their posts on Facebook throughout the day. This morning one of my teammates wrote that now came the hardest part: withstanding the shopping marathon his wife had planned for the day after the race. Yikes!

My last long run was held on September 17th. We started running at 3:30AM. Our group was 5 runners deep but, as always, we did not finish together. I was set to complete 24 miles, and that I did. Five hours later, I was done. The run had multiple stops, a driving rainstorm in front of the Capitol where we crossed paths with fellow VIP teammates who had started later in the morning and with my Chicago traveling partner Paco who for the past couple of weeks has been doing long runs by himself, a solo stretch towards the later part after all other runners had dropped back and a final push to the end aided by Paco whom I again coincidentally crossed around mile 21. There was no dip in the ocean afterwards this time. There were tons of people out and about setting up for the International Coastal Cleanup Day. I hope they took with them all the crap they were bringing in to "celebrate" cleanup day.

I spent most of the past week in New York City on business. I arrived late on Monday. The day before, on Sunday afternoon, Lance Armstrong summoned NYC runners via his Twitter account to a flash run through the streets of Manhattan and Central Park to promote LIVESTRONG's new campaign which is being launched under the slogan "Fight Like Hell". The picture above is of a billboard on the corner of 34th St. and 7th Ave. His main purpose for being in NYC was to participate in the United Nations Forum on Non-Communicable Diseases (mainly cancer, diabetes, lung and heart disease) which took place on Tuesday. He also participated along with LIVESTRONG CEO Doug Ulman in the Mashable Social Good Summit to talk about how the LIVESTRONG Wristband is the original social network. While in NYC, I got the opportunity to run on The Highline, the city's new urban space along the West Side. It is an amazing place sitting safely above street level running unimpeded for a mile (over 15 city blocks). Being in NYC last week and coinciding with what went on brought much closer to what we will be running for and definitely brings a certain closure to all the months of hard work and sacrifice that have been put in to prepare for Chicago.

Not much will be going on between now and race day. Final preparations for our trip will take place. Some maintenance runs and therapy sessions. And getting as much done at work as possible in order to enjoy our week long trip to Chicago. My race shirt came in two weeks ago. Yellow Team LIVESTRONG shirt of course. Thanks to a tip from a VIP Running teammate, I got some race day shorts yesterday at Marshall's...LIVESTRONG too!!! My race packet and bib number also came in last week.

Now the wait begins...but before that, don't forget to wear YELLOW on LIVESTRONG day on October 2nd to celebrate 14 years of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. And, finally, if you wish to contribute to our Chicago Team and to LIVESTRONG's mission, please do so at:

Remember, LIVESTRONG helps people affected by cancer by giving them the tools they need to live life on their own terms.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rewards Start to Show

It has been 2 weeks since I last wrote in this blog. Work and family have been keeping me busy. With Labor Day weekend past us, I'm a month away from heading to Chicago to run my first marathon. Last Friday, we celebrated my wife's birthday. Over dinner, we started talking about the trip with the couple that will be joining us, and finally, I felt a sense of excitement in the group.

Since January, I've run over 400 miles. My training program for the race is on its seventh and final month. I went on a diet, trained for a 10K, joined VIP Running, started exercising and doing basic strength training, took to the pool over the summer to cross train, worked my way up into completing double digit runs, got injured, took time off, did (and still doing) rehab and therapy, launched a fundraising campaign and reached my goal, and now I've made it past 20 miles on a long training run.

The last Saturday of August, I took to the road at 3AM with a group of 9 runners on a long training run organized by my team leader, Daly Berríos. In a couple of weeks, she will be running the Berlin Marathon (one of the five world majors along with London, NYC, Boston and Chicago), so this was her last long run before the race. She recruited her father and the husband of one of the other runners to help us out along the course with water, Gatorade and food...and also to illuminate dark stretches of road with their cars' headlights. Halfway through the run the group split in half according to pace. Each group kept a support car with them. At 6AM, 3 runners joined our group to keep us fresh and alive as we started our second plunge into Puerta de Tierra and Old San Juan. Iván and Rubén also came out to cheer us on. They weren't even running, just showing their support at 6AM on a Saturday. That was very gracious of them. Both completed the Sabrina 16-mile race the following day.

On our way back from Old San Juan, at around 18 mile mark, two more runners joined us. One is a female national running champion, Yoly I think.  The other one is a personal trainer and avid runner. They managed to pace us at around 9 min/per for a couple of miles. I don't know whose Machiavellian plan was this at that stage of the run, but I managed to stay with them until we reached the Escambrón area. From there, since the rest of the group was going for 24, I headed back towards Condado by myself. While crossing Puente Dos Hermanos, I saw a couple of paddle boarders just standing there near the bridge looking into the water. They were following two manatees that had come into the Condado Lagoon to feed on bottom grass. I finally completed  21 miles in front of Chef Treviño's new dive, Casa Lola, which is where we went to dinner for my wife's birthday on Friday. Sand washed up by Hurricane Irene was still covering part of Ashford Ave. I walked down to a 24-hr market (if you can call it that) in front of La Concha to buy a bottle of water and a Snickers bar. I had to ask one the employees for a dollar exchange. Mine were soaked and the vending machine apparently doesn't like sweaty bills. He also let me use the phone to call my wife to let her know I was alive and kicking after completing 21 miles. I planned on patiently walking the mile or so I had left back to Kings Court, but Daly's father happened to drive right in front the 24-hr joint just as I was starting to walk back. I hitched a ride on the back of the SUV after convincing him that I was stinky and sweaty enough not to use the front seat. He kept insisting, though. I used to deliver the newspaper to his house 20+ years ago. That was the revelation of the run, so we'll see if my new nickname (paper boy) has staying power. I doubt it.

Back at Kings Court, I was presented with the picture above. The morning was amazing. The ocean was flat as a pancake and calm wind conditions made it look like an endless blue oil slick. Hurricane Irene had come through earlier that week and kept pulling moist air and rain bands over the island for the entire week. Seeing this on Saturday morning after running 21 miles was plain numbing. But I still willed myself to take a quick dip before heading home. How can you say no to that invite?

Yesterday I broke through the $1,000 mark on my fundraising for Team LIVESTRONG. If you wish to contribute to the fight against cancer and the extraordinary work the Lance Armstrong Foundation does for cancer patients and survivors, please do so at:

October is just around the corner. One more long run left.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Irene's Soggy Aftermath

Last Saturday, the rumblings started about this tropical system that was approaching the Island. Even though I was up early, I didn't make it to my group run on time at 6am. Started running by myself from Escambrón towards Old San Juan at 6:30am. Caught up with our 4-1 Galloway group in La Princesa and ran with them back to Escambrón. I finished up my 6 miles by running to the Condado end of Puente Dos Hermanos and back to Luis Muñoz Rivera Park. There were tons of people out and about the streets of San Juan, mostly running, but also cyclists and walkers. Many runners were getting ready for this Sunday's Sabrina 16-mile race.

On Sunday morning, I had a round of golf set up with friends that was almost cancelled. But we decided to go out even though the entire island was under a tropical storm warning, and later in the day under a hurricane warning. We got our 18 holes in before noon without a problem, and hunkered down for the rest of the day waiting for Irene. I was to run alongside my wife on her first 5K late that afternoon, but the event was postponed due to the expectation of deteriorating weather conditions. The weather was just right for running though, as the rains hadn't started by race time, but logistically it would've been a nightmare for the organizesr.

The island has been close to 72 hours under the effects of this storm, both directly and by its tail. And it has rained continuously and intensely for most of this 3-day period. Running and fundraising have taken a back seat for a couple of days. Hopefully, I can get a quick run later today or tomorrow morning, weather permitting. I know that races and marathons are typically not cancelled due to rain, but this has been ridiculous. Downpours have been thick. And certainly, it's not the same to run through a shower in the middle of a run (which actually happened last week and it was niiiiice), than to step out of your house into a storm for a drenching run.

On the fundraising front, I hit my LIVESTRONG goal for the 2011 Chicago Marathon last Saturday morning. I wish to extend my gratitude to my donors and let them know that every dollar counts - together, we are improving the lives of people affected by cancer. My original goal was $990, a product of the marathon's date (9-october-2011). With a little more than a month left until race day, I've decided to double my goal to $1,980. I truly believe with everyone's help the new goal can be reached. I will be playing in my high school's alumni golf tournament this weekend, and I am planning to do some outreach and networking.

Irene will certainly mark the beginning for my final push to Chicago, on both the training and fundraising fronts.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Busy...but on track

It was a busy week and weekend, and it won't get any easier with classes starting full time this week. The change from summer to school mode will require early morning discipline on my part if I want to get my work in before daily craziness ensues.

I ran my latest long run two Saturdays ago. Since I really hadn't completed 18 miles running, I decided if I made it to 18 miles this time without problems, I would consider going for 21 miles (distance per training schedule) depending on how I felt. Well...18 were more than enough that morning which started with a wake up buzz at 2am and by 3am we were already on the road. It was a windy morning which is quite unusual for that time of day. All bars and clubs in Condado were still packed with people after looping the lagoon twice. At around mile 14, I separated from my group and went back to our starting point (pictured above) and finished the last 2 miles circling the Ocean Park track. My right knee held up quite nicely but my body was beat up. A post-run dip in the beach made things a bit better.

Had a therapy, exercise and stretching session early last week, and got in both my mid week runs. Ran a tempo 6-mile run with 1-minute intervals of 8:30 pace followed by 2 minutes at 10:30 pace. Yesterday ran a 5K along Ramirez de Arellano Avenue in Guaynabo benefiting Team Jochi. Jochi García is a teenage triathlete who is helping raise cancer awareness through his racing and training. His father is a cancer survivor. More than 100 runners and walkers came out to support him and take part of the event. Clocked 28'09" matching my best time for a 5K but this route has more hills and is generally more difficult. Afterwards, I ran an additional 3 miles at an easy pace with a couple of friends.

My fundraising efforts have continued and I have surpassed the halfway point to my goal of $990. Thanks to all that have taken the time (and $$$) to support the cause. If you wish to contribute to Team LIVESTRONG benefiting the Lance Armstrong Foundation, you can do so at my personal fundraising page:

The Chicago Marathon LIVESTRONG team is more than 150 runners deep and has a fundraising goal of $150,000. So far, we've surpassed the $100,000 mark, and are looking forward to reaching our goal.

If you or someone you care about are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, know that the Lance Armstrong Foundation offers free, confidential, one-on-one support to anyone affected by cancer. Call 866.673.7205 or fill out the online intake form at: