Wednesday, February 11, 2015

LA to the Fullest

I went to LA a long, long time ago, when I was in elementary or middle school.  I visited San Jose, LA, and San Dieego, but I only have a couple of snapshot memories of the San Fran bridge, playing with toy cars, and watching an elephant poo at the zoo.

I was excited about getting to go back to LA and to explore it with the ability to explore and remember more of it.  With the time zone changes, I would be able to fly out on Saturday morning and still land before 11am. 

I had to get in an 18-miler, so I wanted to find good running routes, allowing me to see something cool while getting in the miles.  At first, I was set on going to Angeles National Forest, but the drawback was that it was an hour's drive each way.  Then, I googled running routes in LA, and found a site that said that Griffith Park, which is right in downtown and home of the HOLLYWOOD sign, was a favorite of marathoners, who could just do as many loops as needed to get in the prescribed distance of the day.  My highly recommended Frommer's Day-by-Day guidebook also had a section just on this park.  Perfect!

I drove out, parked, was so happy to find restrooms, and then set out.  There were no maps, but with the comment about loops in the website, I figured that I'd soon loop back around and get a good idea of the available trails.  The park seemed to be about 2 mi x 2 mi.  I started, and soon discovered how steep these trails would be.  I wondered how the marathoners did loops of this!  This is some serious hiking.  I got my first views of the HOLLYWOOD sign at the peak of the first mountain and was very excited.

I had only gone about 3 miles, though, and it was a slow 3 miles with all of the incline... I had started at the very base of the mountain.  This could potentially be a long 18 miles!  But I figured that whether I did 18 miles or just stopped when I reached 3 hours, it would be a good workout. 

I continued on, and the more of the park I saw, the more I realized that it was an extensive network of trails winding in all sorts of directions.  There were many different paths you could take to various overlooks.  Some were wider than others.  One was really pretty, with palm trees and tropical plants, although it ended at a drop-off to the road that involved some careful climbing down.

At this point, I saw that there was a way to actually get to the sign, so I started following the dirt path next to the road.  It then led me to some trails that ended at great views of the sign.

There were people up on a ridge above the sign, so that was the next goal.  Up another steep road.

It started raining a bit just as I started heading back down.  I was glad that I got to see the views before the rain started.  My next goal was the Griffith Observatory.  On the way down, I ate a Luna Bar, since I was getting hungry.  The observatory had some exhibits that explained how eclipses, seasons, and night-and-day worked.  They also had a pendulum that would knock over batteries along the outer edges of a circle, to show how the earth would subtly rotate and change the orientation of the pendulum swing with respect to the building, or something like that.  There were also exhibits about earthquakes and planets. It's nice that the city has something like that which is free and open to the public.

After this, it was getting a couple of hours away from sunset, and it was still drizzling or at least wet.  I decided to go down to an outdoor cafe with vegan food, which was recommended by the guidebook.  I got an avocado and soy bacon bits sandwhich, to which I added a ton of mustard and hot sauce.  It probably had 1-2 avocados on it.  It was good.

Now, I had to find a way to get back to the car.  I was still about 6 miles off from my target mileage for the run.  I decided to just go back the shortest way, though, as the sun would soon be setting.  The thought of either ascending the steeps again or descending those steeps, which is more treacherous than ascending, wasn't appealing.  I got to the car, with a good run logged.  There was a lot of stop-and-go, with the picture-taking, the Observatory, and the giant avocado sandwich.  Still, it was about 15.2 in 2:55:18, 11:32 estimated average.  With so much stop-and-go and incline, and one case where I forgot to re-start my Garmin, it's only an estimate.

I had hoped to visit some man-made caves in another section of the park, but the sun was setting, and that part of the park was closing.  I therefore just headed to my hotel.  Once at the hotel, I decided to stay in, rather than walking a mile down to the Santa Monica Pier.  I would rest up for the next day, where I'd try to pack in a bunch more sightseeing.  I did stop at a Starbucks to redeem a birthday treat, though.

The next morning, I headed out before sunset to drive on the Pacific Coast Highway and reach some beaches in the Malibu area.  Traffic is notorious in LA, and parking was supposedly limited, so I wanted to get there early.  It's also good to do sight-seeing for stuff that doesn't have opening hours, early in the day, so that you can maximize your time.  There ended up being plenty of roadside parking.

It was a pretty epic morning.  Got in some barefoot running and rock-hopping.

Next, I went back to the motel to check out, and then I walked to the Venice Beach Boardwalk.  It's a place with many interesting characters around. 

Towards the end of the boardwalk was the Venice Canals, which was originally intended to replicate what Europe had, although there is just a handful of canals that remain.  It was very pretty, though.

After that, a vegan Pad Thai where noodles were replaced with sea kelp noodles.  Then, a walk down to the Santa Monica Pier, where Route 66 ends.

After that, I went towards the downtown area, to Hollywood Boulevard, to see the Walk of Fame and then take a tour of Celebrity Houses.  Many of the names on the stars were unfamiliar, but some, I recognized.  There were also random ones like Kermit and Lassie.

(Lady Gaga's house)

After the tour, I went back to the Chinese Theatre, where I found the Harry Potter trio's prints.  They even had wand prints!

Fun day!  Work next day. 

Monday, Feb 9:
6.0 in 48:48, 8:08 average.  Legs felt worn but full of endurance, after the weekend's runs.  I had contemplated doing intervals, but my body wasn't up for it, and even my arms were sore after doing a rope climb and some pullups at the Muscle Beaches in Venice and Santa Monica.

Flight back on Wednesday... awesome few days, though!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Home Again, Home Again

After about 5 weeks of being away from home (other than 24-spurts here and there), I was back home for a couple of weeks.

Now that I was home, there were fewer excuses not to hit my marathon training targets.  Because I had swapped the 6-mile and 14-mile weeks, I had to move straight into a 16-18-20 progression.

Tuesday, Jan 26:
4.0 in 28:41, 7:10 average.  I did my first speedwork session of the year (and of the marathon cycle).... it's about time.  This run was after a decent amount of dinner and a nap.  My legs were feeling a wee bit used and inflamed, but runnable.  I nearly didn't do the run, but I'm so glad that I did.  My legs felt great and poppy, once they got going, and I decided to go for it and see if I could manage an intervals session, and it worked!  I feel like I was waking up the beast.  4:02 warmup for 0.5 mi, 3x[0.75 mi in 5:00, 0.25 mi in 2:00], then 1:41 for 0.25, and 1:57 for 0.25.
Wednesday, Jan 27:
Another workout!  My leg muscles were craving some exertion, so I fed it with 5.0 of hill intervals in 42:38, 8:32 average.  Average incline was 4 degrees, by alternating 5 degrees with 3 degrees, every mile, then ending with 4 degrees.  3 degrees feels flat compared to 5 degrees!  In the last mile, I started feeling the effects of digesting dinner.  It took mental tricks to do that last mile.  

Thursday->Saturday, no running, to let my body recover from all of the travel, and my parents were visiting, which throws of my usual schedule.

Sunday, Feb 1:
I had to get in 16 miles that day, especially after phoning it in a bit with 2 of the long runs for Boston training already.  My dad came along, and walked on the trail, while I ran my 0.87 mile one-way out-and-backs.  16.0 in 2:13:46, 8:21 average.  My first legitimate-distance long run of the cycle.  No water or food needed, since I had a cookie and chocolate immediately before the run.  Score.

Monday, Feb 2:
60 min body weight strength session.  Used it to flush out the metabolic waste from the long run.

Wednesday, Feb 4:
New Kinvara 5 running shoes arrived.  Now that I'm putting in more mileage again, I need some new cushiony shoes.  Tested it out during this 6.0 in 49:52, 8:19 average, 3 degrees of incline = 7:41 effort.  Still stiffer than I would've liked... I liked the Kinvara 1's the best.  My feet also swelled up and got numb during the run.  It does have reflective material over lots of the shoe, though, which is cool.  I'll have to see if the swelling happens again next time.  For the first couple of miles of the run, I was struggling to not fall asleep while running!  So hard to keep my eyes open.  You know you're tired when you're almost falling asleep while running.

Thursday, Feb 5: 
So hard to get myself out of the door after a nap.  The run dragged on forever, but I had to get in a second run of the week, with a day to recover before a hopeful Saturday long run in Los Angeles.  If you want time to stand still, try running when you're really tired.  4.5 in 36:38, 8:08 average, 3 degrees of incline = 7:31 effort.

Off to LA!!!

Chicagoland - Trip 2

It was another quick turnaround... got back from Canada just before Midnight on Sunday.  On Monday night, I was on my way out to Chicago/Wisconsin again.

Monday, Jan 19:
After landing and driving to my hotel, I got in a midnight run at the hotel.   I hadn't done the 14 miler that was scheduled the previous week.  I had planned on doing it after work and before the flight, but I wasn't able to get it in.  I decided that I'd swap weeks, and that the previous week would be the 6/6/6 week (6 miles, 3x that week), and that this week, I'd do the 5/4/14, instead.  5.0 in 41:28, 8:18 average, 2 degrees of incline = 7:58 effort.

Didn't run Tuesday or Wednesday.  Dinners out with colleagues.

Thursday, Jan 22:
55 min body weight strength session in the hotel.  Legs were too dead/not awake to run at 5am, but I felt like the strength session would give me decent cardio, and it was good.

Friday, Jan 23:
At 6am, got in 5.0 in 50:27, 8:30 average.  Last night, I had ambitiously thought that I may be able to get in 14 miles before work and woke at 5am, but no, haha... slept in a bit more, and only did 5.  Nose-breathed the whole time.  My head felt either dehydrated or oxygen-deprived afterwards, although I had felt fine during the run.

Later that day, I explored Milwaukee.  That took a while to learn how to spell.  Friday night was for Milwaukee, and the weekend would be reserved for Chicago.

I went to a Jelly Belly Warehouse (not factory) tour.  There was a train that made a loop around the building, with stops where they showed videos that taught you about the history and the making of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans.  I customize software [and therefore tour and ask many questions about and design processes] for Warehouses , so it was kind of interesting to see how similar warehouses for my company were, to a warehouse for a jelly bean company.  Afterwards, you got free samples, and you got to shop around for irregularly shaped reject beans at a great prices.  It was a cute, nice way to de-stress after a work week.

 (Beer-flavored jelly beans!  Nothing remarkable about the flavor, though.)

After that, I went to Lakefront Brewery, for a factory tour and the most sampling that I've ever done.  You got 4x tokens for 8-oz samples, plus a voucher for a free pint-full at a local bar.  I got there early, so that I could pace myself.  I ended up using only 3 tokens, and I saved the last one.  And for the pint, I only drank the tiniest bit.

Good­ beers, unscripted and funny tour.  After the tour and a visit to the gift shop, I jogged (to limit the cold) over to one of the local gastro pubs, where I got a kale and shrimp salad, and a pint.  After eating, I was determined to see the marina on the lake.  It ended up being too dark to see much, and the downtown had a lot of restaurants along the way, but there weren’t many large buildings along the waterfront.  

Saturday, Jan 24:

The next morning, after breakfast, I drove down to Chicago.  Since check-in wasn’t officially until 3pm, I parked close to the lakeshore and decided to do my 14er in the morning, and to hit the Lincoln Park Zoo at the turnaround point, since I had wanted to see that anyway.  A couple of weeks ago, it was snowy, and visibility was limited.  This time, it was bright and sunny, and most of the snow had melted.  The water was strikingly bright blue.  Same as last time, though, there were many fast-looking runners out.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at a zoo in the middle of a big city.  It was cold, too, so I wasn’t sure how they’d keep the animals out.  It turns out that they have a good mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits, and the animals didn’t seem to mind the temperature so much.  I was so happy that there were indoor exhibits and bathrooms.  They had different sections for primates, African animals, 4-legged mammals, and farm animals.  I’ve liked giraffes ever since I commandeered a stuffed animal giraffe that my mom impulse-bought at a grocery store (my mom’s so cute).  Their antennae are so odd.  Another odd animal, which I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen before in-person, is the camel.  They’re huge, and their humps are not as symmetrical and consistently shaped from animal-to-animal, as I expected.

The trip back felt much shorter than the outbound trip, although my legs were feeling much more fatigued now.  I picked up lakeshore pebbles at the beach and stuck them in a pocket in my backpack, as I neared the end of the run.  It turned out, though, that it was the same pocket that held my Go Pro Hero, and it took me a while to figure out that the sounds of the rocks banging against each other weren’t natural.  I remembered that my Go Pro was in one of the pockets, and I pulled out my now scratched up Go Pro outer case.  Ouch.  On the bright side, it was kind of out-dated anyway, and it was in the plastic casing.  But now, the pictures taken from within the casing probably won’t be the same again.  #regret

It wasn’t a continuous run because of the zoo visit, but in total, I got in about 13.3 miles in 2:16:46, 10:16 average.

I checked in at my hotel, then went out on foot to explore the Navy Pier, the Hancock Tower, and the Magnificent Mile shopping street.  I was glad to have found a relatively cheap hotel with free parking, because the rates in downtown were ridiculous.

It was cool to visit the Ferris Wheel from Divergent, and to visit the Hancock Tower from Divergent.  Between the two, I got hungry, and happened to pass by Bombay Wraps, which offered Indian Food in whole wheat Roti.  They had sweet potato fries, too.  It was fresh, healthy, fast, creative, very reasonably priced, and awesome. 

The sun was already setting, so I missed the opportunity to watch the sunset from the Hancock Building, but I headed that way anyway.  For $5 extra, I got a day-and-night ticket duo for the Tower, which allowed 2 visits within 48 hours.  The views were nice and well-worth it, even in the dark.  I ended up hanging out there for quite some time, soaking in the views from different sides of the building.  The east side faced towards Lake Michigan, and the only thing you could really see was the Navy Pier and the Ferris wheel.  Towards the South, you had the best views of the city skyline, including the Sears Tower, which is taller than the 100-story Hancock Tower.  To the West, I could see the Rock-and-Roll McDonalds, which is the 50th McD ever, and which has a 2-lane drivethrough.  It was right in front of my motel, so I could see that, too.  Then, towards the North, I could see where I had been running earlier that day.

I had hit some stores on Michigan Avenue along the way, like the American Girl store and the Garmin store.  On my way back, I stopped by the Water Tower, Ghiradelli, and Eataly (Mario Bartolli’s grocery + restaurant + brewery… a foodie’s paradise), where I bought some pesto, Nutella on bread, and Hazelnut spread.  

Sunday, Jan 25:
The next morning, I had a few hours before I’d have to head out for my afternoon flight.  I had wanted to see more of Grant and Millenium Parks, and given the parking costs, running was the most efficient way.  It wouldn’t hurt to get in a bit of a jog, either.  It ended up being raining… not snowing, which would’ve been preferable, but raining and cold.  It didn’t look like it was going to let up, and I was losing time, so I went out anyway.  I saw the Michigan Avenue bridge with lots of magnificent buildings around it, although visibility was limited due to the rain.  The Bean was remarkably deserted, since it was not long after sunrise, and it was raining.  I made it my goal to head to the Museum district at the far end of the park, then head back.  It ended up being about 7.4 mi in 1:13:23, 9:55 ave.  I debated on whether to log this as a run because it was slow, and because there was stop-and-go with taking pictures, but I did get in blood flow and cardio, so I counted it.

After a shower and checkout, I headed out on foot again, to hit Chicago Raw, a raw food vegan cafĂ©.  Too many choices, too little tummy capacity.  I had a “Mock Tuna Pate” sandwich, where the tuna is replaced by ground almonds, and seriously, I wouldn’t have known that it wasn’t tuna.  It was very flavorful, too.  I noticed a Whole Foods across the street, where I did a bit of shopping (got a vegan cheesecake slice to save for later), before heading back to the Hancock Tower for another visit.  Because of the rain and the poor visibility, I was the only visitor up there for half of the time, and there were only a couple of others who came in later.  It was better at some times than others, but generally, visibility worsened.  It was still good to get a different perspective on last night’s views, though, and I also tried “The Tilt”, which tilts you 30 degrees forward, above the roads.  After getting my fill, I headed to the airport to go home.