The start and finish to my Firehouse 5K race.
Exercise, Running

Firehouse 5K – Great First 2 Miles, Terrible Last Mile

The inaugural Firehouse 5K run was held today at Santa Clara University. I had heard about it only a week before and signed up just days before the event. The last organized run I had done was the Tortoise and Hare run in 2008 with my friend Felix. And, before that, my last official race was the San Dieguito Half Marathon back in ninth grade! Suffice it to say, I didn’t have much experience to draw on for today’s run.

Most of my runs over the last several months have been of the 5K distance, and I was gunning for a sub-20 minute run, which I thought would be very doable based on a successful sub-20 at the end of July and several sub-21 minute training runs (during which I know I could have pushed myself harder). On Friday, I biked the course, making mental notes at the mile markers. Starting at the entrance to Santa Clara University on Palm Drive, runners turned right on El Camino and right on the Alameda to reach the first mile marker at Market Street. From there, runners continued down Market until turning right on Jefferson. Half a mile later or so, runners turned right at Harrison Street for the second mile. They then continued until hitting El Camino, where they turned right and headed back to Palm Drive and into Buck Shaw Stadium for the finish. The circular nature of the course reminded me of my regular neighborhood route, except that all the streets would be closed off to vehicular traffic (my route has two signals and multiple driveways to watch out for). The conditions and route seemed ideal for a sub-20 minute run and possibly even a personal record. Due to these factors, I was very confident in my abilities leading up to the race.

Waiting for the start of the Firehouse 5K run.

Waiting for the start of the Firehouse 5K run.

At 7:30 am, I lined up with runners of all ages a few rows behind the starting line. I could see a couple of adults in the front who looked very fast, and I wanted to see if I could keep pace with them. When the gun went off at 8:00 am, I found myself spending a lot of energy navigating through the throng of people ahead of me, which you can see in the video below. Once I got through the crowd, I sped up and passed a number of people. The two fast runners at the beginning were way ahead, and I focused my efforts on staying behind what looked like a father and son duo running a sub-6 minute pace.

Five things made the run less than optimal:

First, and most important, I went out way too hard in the beginning of the run. Strava said I completed the first mile in 5:55 and two miles in 12:27, both personal records. Unfortunately, I paid immensely for this effort, because the last mile was done in 7:45! My mental state weakened to the point where I slowed to a walk three times for just a few seconds, allowing several runners to catch up and pass me. I knew that a sub-20 was out of the question, and I would have to struggle just to achieve a sub-21 minute run. I was sad in that final mile since I knew I could do so much better. My training runs were much better than this run!

Second, I developed a sore throat the night before on Halloween. I felt that horrible itchy feeling in my throat and was concerned that it would affect my breathing. I woke up this morning with a layer of mucus in my throat. 

Third, I got a nasty blister on my right foot, despite wearing double socks and applying lotion on my soles. After the race, I could not apply any pressure on that foot. It’s still pretty painful twelve hours later!

Fourth, my shoes were pretty worn down after nearly 400 miles of running. My left shoe had a sizeable hole on the left edge due to my supinated running style. I was concerned about my shoelaces coming untied, so I double-knotted them in the morning. I have yet to learn the Ian Knot, which is supposed to be much better at not coming undone. I’d like to have a pair of H Streets that I can just race in, but the shoe is currently discontinued. Please Puma, bring back the H Streets!

Does the H in H Street mean hole?

Does the H in H Street mean hole?

Finally, I felt that I spent way too much time waiting around for the event to begin. We arrived at the race expo just before 7:00 am, so we spent forty minutes milling around. Just after 7:30, all of the runners were led to the start on Palm Drive, where we waited another 30 minutes for the race to begin. Normally, when I run, I just go out the door and start, little to no warmup required.

Ultimately, I have to be happy that my pace over the first two miles had me well under a 20-minute 5K.

Despite the disappointing end to the run, there is a silver lining. The results have come in, and I came in first place for my age group at 21:17 (6:52/mile) and ninth overall. We had to leave early to go to a birthday party, so if there was any podium ceremony by age group, I missed it.

All’s well that ends well. Although I am personally disappointed with how the last mile went, I am satisfied with my age group and overall finish. I’ll chalk up the final mile as a learning experience to avoid the next time I sign up for a race. And, for the next 5K race, I’ll be able to draw on this experience to improve on my time.

The Firehouse Run Podium

The Firehouse Run Podium

My 20-year old bike is ready for another ascent up Montebello.
Cycling, Exercise

Low-Key Hillclimbs 2015 #1: Montebello Road

This has been a very good year for completing my fitness goals. I have been able to lose a significant amount of weight, break my high school running times in the 5K and half marathon, and build good strength through pull-ups.

Until this weekend, however, I had been neglecting my cycling. Most of my Strava friends are cyclists, and I admit to a bit of jealousy when I see their rides on my dashboard. With the new kiddo at home, it’s easier for me to go out for a 30-60 minute run near my home than to pack up the bike, drive to Stanford or Canada Road, and cycle my favorite routes.

Fortunately, I have Dan Connelly and the Low-Key Hillclimbs to temporarily get me out of my running and pull-up habit, if only for a weekend. I received Dan’s email about the start of the 2015 series last week and quickly signed up for the annual kickoff event up Montebello Road in Cupertino. Last year I set a PR in the Low-Key series 41:13 (40:19 according to Strava). Since last October, I had lost an additional 12 pounds, going from 146-148 to 134-136 pounds. Would the weight loss be enough to get me under 40 minutes? Would I be able to best my all-time PR of 39:15-39:30 that I set back in September, 2003? Though I was cautiously optimistic, I knew there was only one way to find out — climb it!

Cyclists gather at the start of the ride up Montebello.

Cyclists gather at the start of the ride up Montebello.

On Saturday morning, I arrived at the parking lot off of Stevens Canyon Road shortly after 9:00 am. The air was crisp and the forecast signaled a relatively cool day compared with last year’s blistering heat. I saw my Low-Key friends, Garrett, Stephen, Han, Larry, and Christine. Dan and Richard were volunteers this week, so they were not cycling. I warmed up with a slow ride to the base of Mt. Eden with Stephen, Han, and Garrett. By the time I got back to the start-line at the second parking lot, it was 9:45 am. I filled up my bike’s tires and waited in the back of the group for the next 25 minutes, mentally preparing myself for the 40 minute, 5.3 mile, and 1940 foot ride up Montebello Road.

During the mass start events, Low-Key riders organize themselves by groups. The first group are the fast cyclists, followed by groups 2, 3, and 4. The fifth and final group are for the “slow” riders, and that’s where I placed myself again.

What I wrote last year is pretty spot on as to my gameplan:

Montebello is pretty unrelenting for the first two miles until it evens out for 0.75 miles at the school. The last two miles aren’t as bad as the first, but they are still pretty steep… One thing that I wanted to try differently from previous rides was not spinning on the easiest gear too much. I have a compact crank on my aging 1995-era Trek 5200 and a 12-25 8-speed cassette. I stuck with the 19, 21, and 23 cogs for the majority of the ride. I figured I’d rather spin more slowly but go faster than spin quickly but go more slowly up the climb.

Besides the cooler weather, they have paved the road near the top of Montebello and I only brought one water bottle with me on the ride.

Grinding up Montebello. Photo by Tom Everman

Grinding up Montebello. Photo by Tom Everman

Han told me before the event that he was gunning for 36 minutes. I figured if I could keep him in my sights, I would be in good shape to break 40 minutes. Within minutes of the start of the climb, I could tell from his steady and strong pace that I was not going to keep up with him. I then focused my pedaling attention on this kid who must have been 12 years old (turns out he was 14 years old and completed the climb in 34:30!). Spinning his gears so fast, the kid was also going too fast for me. So, I looked at the next guy, and the next guy, and the next guy, until it was basically just me and the road all by myself for 10 meters ahead and behind. I settled into a hard yet manageable pace. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I was going that much faster, and the flat section and last two miles were especially hard on me. I felt more comfortable and powerful riding out of the saddle, but I only did that on the really steep portions. Were I to ride Montebello again, I’d go all Pantani more often. Maybe it would feel more like running. I was amazed at the two participants, John Burton and Lisa Penzel, who ran up the mountain and finished in 49 and 51 minutes! I might make it a goal next year to compete in the running division; I just need someone to drive me back down, since I know my legs will be shot!

My time according to Strava was 38:43 and the Low-Key official time was 39:09. I broke 40 minutes and bested my PR up Montebello! Congrats also go out to Stephen, who confided in me that he had no climbing legs this year and thought he would be closer to 50 minutes than the 40:40 he crossed the line at. Overall, I’m pleased with my performance, and I know I can do better. I credit this ride to my improved overall fitness; were I to have more cycling miles under my belt, I think 35-36 minutes is do-able. That would put me right around the middle of the pack, which is fine with me.

I won’t be able to attend next’s week climb up Page Mill Road, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to make Old La Honda on November 14. My fastest time up OLH was somewhere around 21:40 some 18 years ago. I’d be happy to get 22 minutes at this point.

Both Stephen and I were happy with our performances today up Montebello.

Both Stephen and I were happy with our performances today up Montebello.

Cyclists hang out after reaching the summit of Montebello Road.

Cyclists hang out after reaching the summit of Montebello Road.

My body-fat composition as calculated by BodySpec
Exercise, Running

I Got My Body Composition Analyzed by Body-Spec’s DXA Scanner, and Here are the Results

On Saturday, I went to the Brick House Fitness center in San Jose, where BodySpec was conducting body fat, muscle and bone scans using a General Electric dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scanner (DXA or DEXA) housed inside the BodySpec RV.

I spoke with the Co-Founder and CEO of BodySpec, Jason Belvill, prior to my scan. He was impressed when I showed him my photos of my 30-pound weight loss and openly wished that I had gotten a scan before losing all that weight. I agree! Unfortunately, I didn’t think about getting a body composition baseline while I was in my chubbier state.

The process of being scanned was painless and relatively quick. Ari, the x-ray tech, had me close my eyes in the beginning as the scanner started head-first. Over six minutes, I lay still as the scan head passed over my entire body; now I know what it’s like to be a piece of paper in a Xerox machine! I was a little concerned that the results would be skewed because the whole truck would shake each time the scan head moved; fortunately, the results don’t seem to have been affected. Bringing the DXA to the customers was a good idea on the part of Body-Spec. The company charges $40 for the initial scan ($55 for each scan thereafter), and it sells packages of up to four scans at a discount.

Read more about my body composition analysis »

A before and after photo of my weight loss journey.
Exercise, Running

Fit at 40… Before and After a 30 Pound Weight Loss

This post serves as a marker for my weight loss journey as I say goodbye to my 30s and say hello to my 40s. Regular readers, friends and family will note that I’ve been running and doing pull-ups like a madman over the past 8-9 months.

At my heaviest, I weighed 166 pounds. Before, I used to joke with Rae that I had a 5-point Photoshop stroke of blubber around my body. I told her that the lean, muscular Adam was always there, but he was hidden and waiting for the right moment to reveal himself. The shock on the scale, some poor health markers and the impending arrival of our son signaled to me that the time was now to get back into championship form.

As you can see, the hard work has paid off, and the difference in body composition is dramatic. Today, I weighed in at 136.8 pounds.

I might be pushing out the gut out a little bit in the before image, but the stomach had definitely gotten a little paunchy. It's in a much flatter state now!

From the side: I might be pushing it out a little bit in the before image, but the stomach had gotten paunchy. It’s much flatter now!

Read more on how I lost 30 pounds »

My minimalist closet. On the right are all the clothes that I will wear. On the left are dress clothes and my former clothes.
Decluttering, Exercise, Minimalism

The Minimalist Closet

It’s been a week since I started my minimalist uniform project; it’s going well, but I’ve made a few tweaks into the plan. First, I decided that having fifty cotton t-shirts to wear around the house defeated the purpose of the project. So, I found a deal on an Icebreaker Men’s Anatomica Short Sleeve Crew T-Shirt on Amazon1. The Anatomica is also made from merino wool, with a little lycra to give it a nice form-fitting stretch. The t-shirt in Monsoon gray color (last year’s edition) was on sale for $38.99, which is $30 cheaper than the Wool & Prince t-shirt. Sold. The Icebreaker now goes with the button-down oxford in my rotation of shirts that I’ll wear on a daily basis.

I’m a size small, but I’ll take the medium, please

This Miyajima deer doesn't care for the fact that I have worn baggy and ill-fitted clothes for many years, but I do!

This Miyajima deer doesn’t care for the fact that I have worn baggy clothes the past several years, but I do!

As I looked back on old photos of me from high school, college, and my adult years, I realized I wore a lot of clothes that were often one size too big. As I thought about why I would do this for twenty or more years, I concluded that it was to avoid accepting the fact that I had a small frame. I bought shirts in medium or larger to look bigger, but that decision just made it appear that I either (1) liked baggy clothes or (2) had little fashion sense (probably both!). Sadly, as the years went by and pounds added up, those medium shirts and jackets began to fit better.

Read the rest of this post and see the minimalist closet in action

Doing pull-ups has really strengthened my back muscles.

Pull-ups, Body Recomposition and Weight Loss

Last year, I weighed myself and was shocked to see 166 pounds on the scale. How did I let myself go so far? I couldn’t even do a single pull-up, which meant my strength-to-weight ratio was terribly off. My pull-up failure, coupled with my burgeoning waistline and the impending arrival of our son, prompted me to dedicate myself to a healthier and lighter lifestyle.

I began my weight loss journey in June by deciding what I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t interested in crash diets where I basically starved myself. I said no to a gym membership, since I wanted to do this as inexpensively as possible. I didn’t have time to journey into the wilderness on a week-long solo backpacking trip (which worked in the past). Finally, I didn’t want the pounds to come back again afterwards as they have in the past.

In addition to some diet changes (something I’ll talk about in a future post), I started by running more consistently, doing half-marathons from my house to Levi’s Stadium and back and my first ever self-supported marathon. I also added in the occasional bike ride, stroller runs with the kid, and swimming in our pool (during the summer), along with daily push-ups and pull-ups. I’ve always been good at push-ups; I was able to do 100 straight back in high school. As for pull-ups, our high school workout room had a climbing hangboard, and I remember being able to jump up from the bench press onto the hangboard and crank out five finger pull-ups. Unfortunately, I can’t recall how many I could do back then, so I don’t have a baseline for my high school pull-ups records like I do for the half-marathon and 5K.

Read more on how pull-ups are great!

"Sprint" finish atop Sierra Road
Cycling, Exercise

2014 Low-Key Hillclimbs #2: Sierra Road

Saturday morning brought the second Low-Key Hillclimb ride of the 2014 season: Sierra Road. I rode this during Week 8 of the 2007 LKHC season, ascending the 3.66 mile, 1759 foot climb in 38:34. Based on my my performance last week at Montebello Road, I knew that I could beat that time; the question was by how much? I estimated that I would do about 33 minutes; if I was feeling especially strong, I figured I could make it to the top in 32 minutes.

LKHC Sierra Road: Adam, Larry, and Han

Larry, Han, and I are smiling now, but we’ll be gritting our teeth and huffing and puffing soon on Sierra Road. Photo by Alexander Komlik.

Originally, I was planning on riding from my house to the check-in point as a 8-9 mile warmup, but I ran out of time in the morning. So, I loaded the bike in the car, drove to a spot about 1.5 miles away, and slowly rode to check-in around 9:25. Stephen Fong was in street clothes and working as a volunteer for this race, along with Christine Holmes. Larry, Han, and Richard were raring to go, however, and after a quick warm-up, we all lined up in the back awaiting the ringing of the cowbell that signals the start of the race.

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