Thursday, January 31, 2008
After telling a general surgeon friend of mine about my ailment, he immediately referred me to his chiropractor friend that works out of an office in Beverly Hills.
Beverly Hills? I thought. Won't that be expensive? He assured me that I shouldn't worry about it so off I gave him a call and made the appointment.
Man, he knew his stuff. After a brief Q & A, he immediately diagnosed the problem. I forget all the medical jargon but basically it was a kink in the sacrum that had to be re-adjusted. After adjustments in 3 different positions, it was done. 20-30 minutes tops. Pain - gone.
I'm supposed to rest for the next 24 hours which sucks since I haven't been able to run since Monday. But I'm a lot more confident that I'll be able to go forward with Surf City this Sunday now.
Let's just see how it feels once I lace up my running shoes for the first time tomorrow.
ps - if anyone wants my chiropractor's information, let me know. Can't recommend him enough.
Monday, January 28, 2008
In between sets, I ran off track to get a sip of water. When I started running back on to the track to rejoin my group, all of a sudden I felt a sharp pain in my lower back - almost as if something slipped or became unhinged.
Slipped disc? Pinched nerve?
I stopped immediately and tried stretching it out but it didn't seem to be muscular. I tried to see if I could still continue to run but the discomfort was pretty bad and didn't want to risk making it worse.
I cut the session home and I'm now sitting here icing it down, hoping - HOPING it'll be better by tomorrow. Or at the very least, by this Sunday. I swear, I've developed a habit of getting injured at the worse possible time.
I'll tell you about the motorcycle accident I had last year right before what was supposed to be my first triathlon some other time..
Just keep your fingers crossed for me please.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
I haven't had a chance to get a long run in yet so I arranged to meet my running buddy Natalie down by the beach at the base of San Vicente. This would also get to be my first chance to test my right hip on a run longer than the daily 6 miles I've been putting in.
The first thing I noticed I arrived was the abudance of runners out there. It was not a warm morning either. The sky was menancing, threatening to open up in a downpour at any given second. Adding to it was a strong, southwest to northeast headwind. Yet, there were dozens of runners out to brave the elements.
It must be marathon season.
Natalie knew of a route that was approximately 11-12 miles in length that started on San Vicente and Ocean, down to the bike path, past the pier, through the Venice Boardwalk, before finally turning around in Marina Del Rey and back where we came. We started off very slowly at around a 10-10:30 pace to warm up. It would take us awhile given the conditions. And it certainly didn't help that we were running into the wind.
It was an interesting run to say the least. Because it was raining in buckets last night, there were several points where giant puddles had formed. Run through and risk wet feet, or turn back and find an alternate way around. We did a little of both.
Right as we were approaching the turning point in Marina, the drizzle started. And on the way back, the sky really opened up. Lightly at first, but in buckets towards the end. We were getting drenched. I loved it.
We completed the run in a little under 2 hours when it was all said and done. Hardly record setting time, but I got what I wanted to get accomplished: a) put in a long run before the half-marathon next weekend, and b) test the hip out on a long run.
Let me tell you though...that shower when I got back home ranks in the top 10 of all time. Nice to be dry finally now too.
818 days since my last cigarette
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Whenever I find myself lacking motivation to slip on the ol' Mizunos for a training run or I'm running on fumes in the last legs of a race, this is where I tap into my reserves. This is when my the reasons of why I became a runner in the first place comes into play. This is my story.
When I Was Young..
I am the 2nd of 3 children of Korean immigrant parents. We came to this country when I was 5-years old. I am 30 years of age now. I was fortunate enough to have everything I needed growing up. And I had parents were strict enough to not give me everything I wanted. Being the middle child growing up, I always acted out. My older brother was the quiet, docile one. My younger sister, the straight 'A' student. And there I was, getting suspended for fighting and other mischief since about the 4th grade on. I was enamored with girls as far back as I can remember and school always took a backseat to having fun. The classic underachiever.Even after being enrolling in 'gifted' and magnet classes from junior high to high school, I was always a reluctant student. In fact, it probably lent to me acting out more. In high school, I got mixed in with the wrong crowd and started smoking cigarettes. Initially, I was more enamored with the image that came with being a smoker so I pretended to smoke, never inhaling. The first few times I tried to inhale, it hurt my lungs. After ceaseless teasing by my smoking buddies, I eventually learned to inhale smoke. I could never in my wildest imagination envision that I could grow an addiction to this simple act of blowing smoke in and out. So I continued.
It was purely social at first. Gave us a common thread. A bond. Then I started to smoke alone. Mostly to relieve the stress of being an angst-ridden teen. After fights with my girlfriend or parents. It became a crutch. I became a smoker. And another statistic was born.
This would continue for the next dozen or so years. Through my stint in college, through jobs, more girlfriends, etc. Every single day from that point forth was spent smoking. There were a couple of periods where I actually tried quitting for more than a day, the longest of which lasted a whole 6 months. I used the patch during that period and it worked ok. Unfortunately, it was the same reason I started smoking that made me cave - peer pressure. More accurately, it was my need to conform that did me in. The scene: early 20's, just started a job at a hip dot-com and found myself outside with co-workers who were all lighting up. I had to join the party. 6 months down the toilet. I was a smoker again.
I trudged through life for the next few years, going from job to job, girlfriend to girlfriend. Cigarettes were my only constant ally.
Fast forward to December 18th of 2004.
My life as I knew it, would never ever be the same.
I still remember it vividly. It was a Saturday morning, around 9am in the morning. I was in bed nursing a hangover from a company holiday party the night before. Across the bedroom, my phone started ringing. I let it go to voicemail and tried going back to sleep. It would proceed to ring again. And again. A fifth time. A sixth. On and on.
Who the FUCK is that?? I thought. It then occurred to me that something might be wrong. I jumped out of bed and looked at my phone. 7 missed calls. The 323 same number. The same area code as my father's business. It rang an eight time. I picked it up this time. It was Ricky, a family friend of ours growing up. He was hysterical. What he told me hit me in the gut like a jackhammer.
Your father's been shot man...your father's been shot!!
Blood drained from my face. I tried fishing for details. He didn't know of any. He just happened to stop by my father's shop (a liquor store near Beverly Hills and West Hollywood) when he came upon the scene and paramedics were trying to resuscitate him. After getting off the phone, I threw on some clothes, jumped into my SUV and sped from my West LA apartment over to Cedars-Sinai Emergency Room.
I made two of the most difficult phone calls I've ever had to make. The first one to my mother, the second to my brother down in San Diego. The rest of the time, I tried conversing with god. I asked him I'd do anything...ANYthing he asked of me if he'd just keep my dad alive. After the longest 10 minute of my life driving to the hospital, I saw Ricky there. I was the first of my family to arrive. His look said it all. I saw the doctor next. They both ushered me into a room.
He did not make it.
My heart sank. I was in shock. Something in me died along with my father that day.
Flowers were strewn all over the front of the store. Candles. Cards. Mourners. Media.
It was like this for the next week. During a time when we were supposed to be celebrating Christmas and my father's upcoming 60th birthday, was replaced with making funeral arangements, getting his paperwork in order and cleaning up the shop - a little bodega that's been operated by my dad since 1984. My family did a lot of soul-searching about what to do with the business.
About a week later, we decided to re-open.
It was about 4 months later that the grind of trying to juggle my marketing job during the day and the store at night until 10-11pm finally took its toll on me. Weekends too might I add. I gave my notice and left my job of 4 years to run the family business full-time. It was not an easy decision. It was not an easy job.
Hours heaped upon hours of monotony. Stress of trying to increase revenue. Stress of dealing with my father's murder trial (5 suspects in all were arrested about a month after the fact). Questions, comments, condolences from customers. Fear of another impending armed robbery. This would become my life. Cigarettes would briefly break the monotony of the day but it never made things any better. I need a change.
And that change would come in the form of a potential career change.
Quitting. And the LAPD
After witnessing the tremendous police work by the good folks over at the LAPD, I looked into it as a possible career. All signs certainly pointed that way. The nobility of the profession. Giving back to the city I grew up in and loved. Helping victims in their darkest hours. The media certainly ate it up: "Murder Victim's Son to Become Cop" was how one story read.
After undergoing a long and arduous process over the next year and a half, alas it was not meant to be. The LAPD rejected me based on backgroud concerns. I had pursued it with great fervor. I wanted it more than anything. Felt it was my destiny. The good part of it was that I ended up giving up smoking. I figured I had to if I was going to be in peak physical condition for the academy.
I set 10/31/05 as the target date because my good friend Serena's birthday is a couple of days beforehand and I had (somewhat jokingly) told her that I'd quit cigarettes by her next birthday. It was a good a reason as any to follow up on it I suppose.
I recall a friend of mine telling me that wellbutrin (generic form of Zyban) really worked well for him in the year or so he'd managed to quit, so I figured I'd give that a shot. I got the prescription from my doctor and about a month or so before my target quit date, I started popping the pills daily. Now, I can't tell you what exactly the pills did for me, if anything. But I couldn't rely on the pills alone to do the trick. But I wanted nicotine out of my system for good so the gum and the patch wasn't an option.
My answer?: running.
Not miles and miles of running mind you like I'm doing now. No, back then it came down to running the craving out of me. So whenever I would get the strong urge for a cigarette, I'd take off on a full on sprint until I was left gasping for air. Cigarettes became the last thing on my mind at that point.
So that became my very early introduction to running. The sprints would last for the next couple of months but waned as more time passed and I was used to a life without the cancer sticks. In its place, the running morphed into that of a more moderate and long distance variety. Furthermore, it evolved into a lifestyle.
The day I got serious about it was when a gym buddy of mine suggested that we run in a half-marathon down in Huntington Beach called the Pacific Shoreline half-marathon. We trained mostly at the track about a couple of months prior (3 miles here, 4 miles there) and got in one long run of about 9 miles. 13.1 miles however? Seemed impossibly long to a pair of neophytes like us.
Pacific Shoreline Half-Marathon, 2/4/07
My friend Charles and I rendezvous'd at my place at 4:30am and sleepily made the half hour trek down the 405 towards Huntington Beach while gnawing on a piece of toasted bagel with peanut butter. Anxiety and nervousness finally hit us when we exited the off-ramp and started following the line of cars towards the beach. At one point, we had to pull over so my friend could run into a Starbucks to go #2. Something he couldn't do when he left his house.
It was a bitterly cold morning once we arrived at the shuttle area. People were shivering in line while waiting for the bus that would shuttle us to the starting line. Once we arrived, boy oh boy, was it a scene. Hundreds of people were gathered there already either waiting in line for a porta-pottie to open up in lines at least 20 people deep, or they were huddled near the starting line doing some last minute stretches and Gu shots. The endorphins in the air was palpable.
The start of the race was done in waves from fastest to slowest estimated times. My friend and I decided to join the 8:30 minute mile wave group and off we went, my very first race. We told ourselves that we would run at a very gradual pace if we were gonna make it to the end. So we started off at an approximately 10 minute mile pace.
The course was absolutely beautiful, with a majority of it running right alongside the coast on a pretty flat pavement. By mile 6, the day had warmed up sufficiently and apparently, so had I. I turned to Charles and told him I was going to push the pace. Off came the shirt and I started running at about an 8-8:15 min mile pace leaving my friend behind. For the next few miles, it was glorious and virtually effortless. I was soaking in the clean air, scenary and the music blasting from my iPod shuffle. It was also my first experience dealing with crowds cheering us on along the course and while not many by big race standards, it was encouraging just the same.
I got the very first taste of what's commonly referred to as the 'runner's high'. Somewhere around mile 10-11, I had a smile I couldn't wipe off my face and felt like I was gliding through the course. I also experienced a very intense spiritual moment as the warmth of the sun cascaded through me and I felt my father's presence at that moment. A tear trickled down my eye. Miraculously, my friend Charles was able to catch up with me and caught me smiling like a buffoon while running. He got a good chuckle out of it.
The last couple of miles were tough as I began running out of gas. But when I saw the finish line, I broke away from Charles again and sprinted down the rest of the way past the finish line. Official chip time was 2:04:36. Not too shabby for my first time.
We were both sore as hell at the end when we will milling about snacking on bananas post-race, but it was definitely a good hurt. And more importantly, I had found something that I truly loved. Yep, I was hooked.
The L.A. Marathon, 3/4/07
Conventional wisdom would state that you should allow yourself several months to properly train for an event as monumental as a marathon. Fortunately (unfortunately?) for me, I've always defied convention.
In lieu of my strong finish at the half-marathon, I wanted to keep the ball rolling. Find a new race to set my sights on. The most glaring one was the Los Angeles Marathon. Only problem? It was less than a month away.
My running buddy from the half informed me that he was done with running for awhile. I on the other hand, was just getting started. So I signed up online before I could change my mind and resumed training on my own. I was already miles and miles behind what a normal program called for so I just tried to squeeze in as much as I could in the span of a month.
Looking back however, it could've been more diligent than what it ended up being. Logging 4 miles daily about as many times a week, with a long run that never exceeded 16 miles. That was the extent of it. Now I was about to run further than I ever had and depending on how it went, further than I ever will.
The memories of the day itself is not as vivid to me as my first half for some reason. The whole day was an overload on the system. 25,000+ participants. 26.2 miles. Thousands of spectators. 100x more cups. Just a crazy, crazy day...
Several things pop out at me whenever I think back on it. First of all, I remember that the weather in Los Angeles was consistently in the 60's and cool leading up to the event. However, I recall looking at the forecast coming up on that Sunday and seeing that the high's would reach the upper 70's. Wouldn't you know it.
And for once, the weather forecast turned out to be true. Preparing for 4-5 hours of torture under the sun, I dressed accordingly. I decided to scrap wearing a t-shirt. Applied copious amounts of spray-on sunscreen (SPF 30). A pair of short shorts. A fully charged iPod shuffle. A bandana tied to my left wrist. My ever present 'Live Strong' band on my right. A specialty headband to deflect sweat from covering my face that I purchased the previous day at the expo. Sunglasses. I was ready. Oh wait, one last thing. With a permanent marker, I wrote '4 Dad' over my heart. If I was to get through this, I needed him every step of the way.
I was dropped off at the starting line in Universal City by my mom and sister and donning a trash bag, I shuffled my way towards the starting line. The scene was tremendous. Just thousands upon thousands of people were gathered all with a similar goal and destination. Many were with their clubs, others running for a cause and some just going at it all alone like yours truly. I made some small talk with a couple of people here and there but I was too nervous and anxious to hold up a conversation.
Something I definitely wasn't expecting was how liberally people starting peeing. Women too. Behind bushes, against a wall, it didn't matter. I started feeling sorry for the businesses and homes in that area before I said 'fuck it' and joined them. A couple of times actually. Who knew when I could go next after the gun went off.
The gun did eventually go off but I certainly didn't hear it. All I knew was that the herd finally starting moving forward and saw a gaggle of sweatshirts being flung off and tossed into the air to the sounds of whooping and hollering. It was actually starting!
It would be awhile before my chip and I would actually step over the starting line but soon thereafter, there I was dodging and running around people for the next mile. Most of it from there was a blur although I tried to heed the advice of many from online forums for the 1st time marathoners to: a) take your time and to b) take in the whole experience as much as you possibly could.
The whole experience was just so amazing. Running down Hollywood Blvd. Running through Koreatown. Passing band and band, people after people, culture after culture. Spectators calling out your name. I was loving it. And as a self-confessing ham, I took every bit of it in.
The running itself was no doubt a difficult, difficult task. The weather certainly did not help. Many in the running community speak of this 'wall' that one hits anywhere between mile 18-20. I hit mine at mile 12. And it was a struggle to keep the legs churning and arms pumping for most of the race thereafter. But I told myself I would run it all the way through (aside from water stations and using the bathroom of course). And I did just that. And along the way, experienced my very first marathon to its fullest.
I finished at a pretty pedestrian (nyuk, nyuk) time of 4:58:01. It just satisfied a secondary goal I had coming into the race of crossing the line in under 5 hours. Goal #1 though of course, was just to finish. And boy, what a finish it was. You haven't lived until you come running through the heart of downtown Los Angeles and towards the finish line where there are tons of spectators cheering on your final steps. Just glorious.
The crappiest part about this day was that somehow, noone was available to cover me at the shop. So a mere hour or so after crossing the finish line, there I was in pain and cramping, standing behind the register of our family store for 5-6 hours. What a buzzkill. But I wore my medal that night, and wore it proud.
4 Health. 4 Dad.
I'm proud to say that I continued to run since then. I have run in races of different lengths, from 5K's to 14 mile trail runs, in places ranging from Malibu Creek State Park to the roads of Napa Valley. There have been 9 total in a span of almost a year. #10 will bring me back full circle when I run in the Surf City Half-Marathon (formerly Pacific Shoreline) on Sunday, 2/3/08.
As I mentioned in my last post, today is day no. 817 since my last cigarette and I'm determined to keep adding to that number. While I no longer take wellbutrin, I still run and that has been my greatest ally in my fight against nicotine addiction. That, and to make my dad proud each and every time I lace up to run a race for him.
To run with him.
I was inspired to start this blog during a 6-mile run last night. Most ideas come to me while running. Some better than others. I was mainly reflecting on how far I had come.
Around this time last year, I was in the middle of 'preparing' to run my first official race, the then Pacific Shoreline half marathon (13.1 miles). I use quotes because I really had no idea how to prepare. All I knew at the time was that it would be further than I had ever run up until that point and that was more than enough to make a man hyperventilate. More on this next post.
2 years ago, I ran short sprints to just relieve stress because...
3 years ago, I was a pack a day smoker.
Officially it has been about 2 years and 3 months since my last cigarette, or 817 days. I gave up cigarettes on Halloween of 2005 for reasons I will delve into later. Up until that point, I was a smoker for about 12 years. I started when I was 16-17 years of age because I was impressionable and could easily succumb to peer pressure. I am 30-years old now. I like to think that I've grown up some since then.
I'm not sure what I hope to accomplish with this. Sure, I can use it as a way to log and track my progress. Or to share with a small audience the random ideas that come to me during my training runs.
But if I'm honest, there's a small part of me that hopes to inspire someone - anyone - to get off their keester and shed the sedentary lifestyle that plagues so many of us Americans. Maybe you're a smoker who's been longing to quit. Or a couch potato whose spare tire is getting bigger with each passing day. Or maybe you've been dealt a tragic loss in your life (like myself) and you're looking for a way to honor their memory.
Until recently, I never got it. In fact, I used to laugh at it. People running. For what? From whom? Seemed pointless. Exhausting. Repetitive. BORING.
Somewhere along the way, it just happened. I just got it. I found bliss, immense satisfaction and therapy in running. Through sweating. From running miles and miles. Can't really articulate it better than that.
I'm not exactly breaking world records out there - far from it. I'm just trying to be the best runner I can be. The best person I can be.
This is my hope - and that at some point, I'll see you out there with me.