Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Excited For Swimming With Garmin Swim

Just a quick update about non-running. Finally got my hands on Garmin Swim ... had the watch available before but did not find time to actually go swimming. Now with my right foot hurting in a way that I can't run (or better say shouldn't as I ran both Chicago Marathon and Nike Women's Half Marathon in SF), I had to take on different activites. I am like a drug junkie ... addicted to endorphins.


I only had one session with Garmin Swim so far on Monday, it is so cool that I don't need to track number of pools I swam ... because I never remember and always get confused :D I actually swam 1 550 meters, meaning the watch got confused only 3 times, which I think is pretty good. You can easily see the values once you transfer the data to your Garmin Connect account (wirelessly through Garmin Express application, the watch comes with special USB dongle for your PC / Mac for the transfer) - shown bellow.


I think that using Garmin Swim to track my swimming can have the same motivational impact as Nike+ shoe sensor + iPod had when I took on running back in 2009 :) For more about Garmin Swim check out DC Rainmaker's in-depth review.

And just to give you complete picture, I flew in from US on Wednesday and on Thursday I already "had to" buy myself a bike trainer so I can continue exercising at home and getting my endorphines in. I  know that from short term going to the gym would be cheaper, but in long term this will be great addition to my running and will help me to build the base without overloading my joints etc.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lost Luggage Story ... Alitalia Crappy Customer Service

The Chicago Marathon race recap is coming, it is little overwhelming topic for me so far ... please stay with me. In the mean time, here is crazy story that added a little more stress to the Chicago / US experience :D

In the first place, I want to say that I really liked the on-board service of Alitalia flight attendants. But that was about it :( The lady at the Rome airport was unfriendly even though I was fllying business, didn't even point me in the right direction to the airport lounge. And how about trying to call them somewhere?!?!? 2nd exception was Fatima (I think that was her name) at the Chicago airport, she was also helpful and supportive. Apart from that, during this whole story, the most helpful were Delta employees, they even knew more about my luggage!

Get a glass of wine or cup of coffee, this is going to be long!


Day 1 - Friday Oct 10, 2014 (Prague - Rome - Chicago)

Friday (Oct 10, 2014) I was flying from Prague to Rome and then Rome to Chicago, super complicated in order to have some comfort while using my dad's miles for the overseas flight before Chicago marathon. I had over 90 minutes to change flights in Rome, so no big stress. The flight to Rome was operated by Smart Wings and they usually don't check luggage for connecting flights. Not that I requested that! The lady at the check in called somewhere and asked if she can check in my luggage to Chicago. I asked if there was a problem with my luggage and she said no, that they will check it in, so I don't need to pick it up and re-check-in in Rome. Big mistake on my side! I should have said that I am happy to do so. Later I was told that this happens with huge percentage of luggage coming from Rome from connecting flights :(

After 12+ hours on my way, I arrived to Chicago, went smoothly through the immigration office check and was waiting for my luggage to arrive. Waiting ... and watiting ... and waiting ... When an employee told me and few other people that there is no more luggage coming, I had to laugh. The only other option would be crying and I wasn't going to do so. This race seemed to be wicked. But that is story of another blog post. So I want to the baggage claim Alitalia counter, waited behind few other people. Filed complaint, filled in my address in Chicago, explained how important it is for me to get the bag the next day (Saturday) as I have my racing gear in it for Chicago marathon that starts Sunday early morning. = My BIG MISTAKE No. 2. Take your racing kit to your carry on luggage.

Day 2 - Saturday Oct 11, 2014 (Chicago)

I was told that the earliest the luggage can arrive is with the same flight next day, arriving approximately at 7 pm and that the delivery people only pick-up the bags until 7 pm. So probably if I want my bag, I need to pick it up at the airport (= 40 USD one way taxi drive). I was also told that I should keep all the receipts from anything I need to buy while I don't have my luggage and will be reimboursed (I am in process of claiming this ... based on this experience so far, please wish me lot of luck!). You know, you should not stress before important race :D So "just in case" the luggage does not arrive, we re-purchased my whole racing kit, fuel belt, nutrition etc. on Saturday ... very relaxing pre-race program!

Saturday evening after an early dinner we took taxi to the airport just to realize that the luggage did not arrive. Fortunately there we were taken care of by Fatima who at least explained us more of the procedure and she messaged Rome that I am leaving Chicago on Monday, so they send the bag immediately. 

Day 3 - Sunday Oct 12, 2014 (Chicago - RACE DAY)

Sunday after the race, after spending 48+ hours in one set of clothes we went to get me some "people" clothes finally (and a Nike finisher t-shirt), because it wasn't until Monday morning I could get the luggage. We also tried to reach the original airline and the Prague airport to find out about where the luggage was. No help there. Prague airport was friendly, but only told me that "honestly, Rome airport is the worst and your bag is definitely stuck there" and Smart Wings gave me an email address where I should send my claim. In the evening I called Alitalia in Chicago again, no success :( Nobody picked up.

Reached the Alitalia other international help line and at least added information about my next stay in New York. Also added this information in the online file system. Oh yes, there is an online "tracking" system, where you put in the file reference number and your name and it gives you details, you can also edit / adjust them. Well, it said tracking, please check back later for 3 days with my luggage!!! How crazy is that in today's world of online tracking of the smallest envelope with DHL / UPS / FedEx?!?

Day 4 - Monday Oct 13, 2014 (Chicago - NYC)

Monday after arriving to New York City, we went into the calling process again! This time it felt kind of lucky as I was told that the bag is on the flight from Rome to Chicago and yet again I re-confirmed my address in New York, I was even given Delta flight number and times when the luggage should arrive to JFK airport in NYC. Now it seemed that obviously, in Rome nobody worked in the delayed baggage dept. all weekend? How crazy is that? 

Day 5 - Tuesday Oct 14, 2014 (NYC)

Tuesday I was hoping to get a call from Delta around 3-6 pm as the bag should have arrived just before 3 pm. No news :( I called back with Delta (much easier to get hold of real  people and find proper phone numbers to call) - unfortunately they did not have my bag / file reference number in the system which ment that the bag was not yet with them!!!

I was trying to call Alitalia at JFK airport, no success ... In Chicago, there was at least a voicemail. At JFK, it said "mail box full, please call again later" - what a great service! I tried several more times and finally talked to a lady. Who explained me yet again that I don't need to call them, because when they will get the luggage, they will call me back. Not a slight bit of understanding for the fact that it was almost 5 days my bag has been missing. She at least confirmed that my bag should come on the Delta flight. So I bought some more clothes, so I can feel as a person in NYC ...

Day 6 - Wednesday Oct 15, 2014 (NYC)

Wednesday morning the things were getting serious again. We knew I had to leave for my flight on Thursday morning at 9 am. That meant that if they do not deliver the bag on Wednesday, it was probably going to miss me again. The European flights arrive in the afternoon / evening, so the airlines (at least Alitalia) don't open their counters at the US airport until afternoon (and Chicago is closed Tuesday & Wednesday as there is no flight). No way to reach the phone number, we tried to google some other local number for Alitalia NYC office, but all of the numbers were going to one of the options I already knew very well: 1) call center probably in Italy that does not know anything more than you can see in the online verification system, 2) redirect to the airport desk where you get to the voice mail most of the time.

Delta on the other hand was little easier to reach and always way more supportive and showing more effort. So finally Wednesday morning they told me my bag was with Delta at the JFK!!! HALLELUJAAAH! Unfortunately the standard procedure is that they have to hand it over to the original airline = Alitalia = that does not open until afternoon. One of the Delta people suggested that I can also go to JFK and pick the luggage up if I want to be 100 % sure to get it. Seemed like a great idea worth over 130 USD... then we realized we don't know which terminal. So we decided to try the Alitalia address in Manhattan. Walked in the building and was told that there were no Alitalia officess anymore in the building and that they don't know where they moved. (Our guess was nowehere - saving on costs only having that automatic phone number and email address you can manage from Europe.)

Well, last option take cab to JFK and guess that as the flight was domestic, we go for Terminal 2. It was almost 11 am again and we only had Starbucks as we wanted to go for a nice breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien in Central Park, yet the situation changed. At Delta Baggage Office old Chinese lady put in the file reference number and said she cannot look it up in system, whereas we knew the Delta people were able to do so. I thought se misspelled the code, but she insisted she has to put in the tag number (the bar code that is on your luggage and on the little strip that you keep on your boarding pass - people always keep this with you until you retrieve your luggage!!!). I knew the tag number was not in the system (why the hell do they put in on the bag then?). We insisted on rechecking, so the lady went to talk to her colleague. 

HEUREEEKA, she came back asking for my ID and how the bag looked. The guy started asking why we don't go to Alitalia and if they were on strike. So the US people in the airport even don't know that the Alitalia counter does open later. He told us that he went to the counter to hand over the luggage but nobody was there. Long story "short", he finally gave me my bag after more than 5 days on the journey! He wanted to keep the original of my claim to have proof for Alitalia that he handed me the bag. We suggested some hand over protocol, but as it clearly it was not in his "how to deal with bags manual", he did not want that, he just wanted to get the original, saying that I don't need it! 


Finally we made him go and make a photocopy for me as we knew this was only the first part of the story. Now it continues with the claim for reimboursement of the purchases we had to do...

I will keep you posted!

Useful numbers:

Alitalia US lost luggage: +1-800-905-9992
for JFK press 1 - 1
for Chicago press 1 - 2
Alitalia call centre: +39-06665640 (I guess this one is situated in Italy)

Delta Call Center - baggage claims: +1-800-325-8224

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hospoda NYC ... Restaurant Review

I have first seen the Bohemian National Hall (BNH) in NYC during my first trip to US back in 2005 when we flew in to race in the Team Racing World Championships held in Newport, Rhode Island (New York Yacht Club ... the America's Cup first organizer). Back in 2005 it was in ruins and the big renovation began. Since then the BNH became a beautiful cultural and business center of Bohemian (Czech & Slovak) community in NYC and US in general.

In spring 2011 we flew in for the traditional ball which also held opening of the new restaurant on the ground floor called Hospoda (meaning pub in the Czech slang). The restaurant belongs to Ambiente restaurants - Mr. Karpíšek is very successfull with all his restaurants in Prague, so it was interesting to see how he would do in the though competition of NYC restaurant scene. To give you complete info, the BNH is on Upper East Side - 73rd between 1st & 2nd.

Now after coming from Chicago we stopped by to have a nice friendly dinner with Mr. Joseph Balaz, the president of Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association. Mr. President as we call him is great character who has been present at the Bohemian National Hall since the beginning and helps it keep lively and with great atmosphere. So how is the new Hospoda in autumn 2014? The sub-title is Bohemian Beer Hall (obviously nice play with words paralel with Bohemian National Hall).


Great! As always there is delicious exceptionally well kept and treated Czech premium beer Pilsner Urquell, but there are several other ones and the new menu is simple, typical and affordable. It is themed around Czech specials that are not easy to find anywehere else: the main theme are sausages that are made in Hospoda's kitchen, there are different meat options and styles to be served or you can make your own. From other traditional main courses there is goulash (beef stew), schnitzel, cheese fired in breadcrumbs with french fries (oh those home made french fries!) and beef tartare with "topinky" (fried bread - very typical Czech way to eat tartare, it is also differently spiced from the French beef tartar).

You can also have a burger, cheeseburger or vegetarian mushroom burger ... gotta keep those Americans happy if they don't want to try something typically Czech. For starters there would be some pickles, beer cheese, smaller version of tartare and I don't remember what else :) For sides you can choose the fries, mashed potatoes or bread, some of the sausages come with typical sauerkraut (pickled cabbage). There are also daily specials, during our visit there was leek soup with lamb sausage and selection of sausages with cabbage and mashed potatoes.


What we had?

The staff was very friendly and spoke Czech :) They accomodated greatly our tasting desires, so we mixed and matched a little. We shared selection of sausages and also the cheeseburger, fries and cabbage as the sides. Home made mayo and / or sauce tartar for the fries - YUM!


As if it was not enough we had the small portion of beef tartar with "topinky" and just tiny degustation portion of goulash. Both amazingly delicious! As you know I am usually staying paleo or gluten free, but since it was my after-marathon week, I was taking it easier on myself (even though that means not feeling that well in the morning). I firstly tasted the beef tartar on its own without the fired bread. It was delicious, not made in meat processor, but scraped with a knife as it should be! Yet when I have put it on the fried bread and finishe with little salt on top, it was to die for! My mouth is watering as I am typing this now. Simply amazing! If you were to taste one thing and don't mind the raw meat, go for it!

When you visit NYC or if you are local and interested in trying something new (unless you are Czech), try Hospoda! Czech beer is the best in the world and they also newly installed to huge HD TV screens, so I am assuming it will be great to come with friends in order to watch some sports, ice-hockey world championship... 

PS: I wrote and posted this blog post on the board of Delta flight from NYC to San Francisco. How cool is that? Totally worth the crazy expensive 10 USD for 30 mins of connection :o Being little nerd, I had to try this :D Another blog post is ready for when I land, my connection time is almost up now :(

Sunday, October 12, 2014

When Life GIves You Lemons, Make Lemonade !


So you saw different race outfit in my last post, right? Well, as stated in the title of this post ... when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. My baggage is stuck somewhere and I don't know where. We hoped it could have arrived yesterday (Saturday) evening, but did not risk it. So at the race expo and then at Nike Town Chicago we re-purchased my race kit. Lesson learned - next time I am putting my kit in my carry on luggage :)

Few memories from the pre-race day, mainly in pictures:

The hotel room is pretty cool and I am glad I have been sleeping quite well for pre-race nights :)

Breakfast, some protein and lot of carbs.

My friends Betty and Andrew (whom I met on the bus to start of Boston marathon 2013 and we kept in touch ever since!!!) let me know about this cool event - shake out run with Deena Kastor and Bart Yasso. How  cool is that?

Bart introducing Deena before the run.

The group was pretty huge.

Running selfie with Bart!!! (I am glad I traveled in running gear!)

Meet my new friend Deena Kastor! She is so tiny!!!

Very exciting moment!!! My 30 seconds of fame :D

And  then we were off to expo to be there just after it opened at 9 am ... it was alredy pretty packed, but nothing to compare to when we were leaving ...

... with Slávek (from Run The World Czech running group) at the expo.

At the Nike booth ... Nike+ members got free scarf and iPhone case!

Got "few" samples at the Larabar stand and purchased all I needed ...

And this was the traditional sushi style pre-race lunch.

Now it's 5 am and I have already eaten my breakfast, the coffee from room service just arrived and I am off to get ready for CHICAGO MARATHON in just two and half hours!

Let's do some running today! :))

Friday, October 10, 2014

2 DAYS to CHICAGO !!!

2 DAYS to Chicago Marathon 2014!!! Enough said, I am on the go now, as I am not adjusting my biological clock to US time to take that to my advantage - I will have 2:30 PM at the time of start, so my body should be ready to push hard and enjoy the city :)

This would be me at the Nike exhibit at Designblok 2014 ... aka imagine me waving you good bye before flying out :)

I started carbloading yesterday (Thursday
 :D Mango-banana "pudding" at the delicious Sweet Secret of Raw.

This is perfect honey package!!! Wanted to buy small dose of honey, but this is so much better for travel :) 

And now excuse me, I am off to some ZZZ as I did not sleep that well, so I hope to use the 10 hour flight to get some rest :)

Sunday, October 05, 2014

7 Days To CHICAGO !!!


Warning! Marathon runner in taper mode :D Well I have written about this before, taper is tricky thing, training load is much lower and your mind is kinda' going crazy. Today is exactly one week to go to this year's A race: Chicago Marathon.


I am beyond excited and have two reasons to be:

1) I have been putting in harder trainings than ever, so I can't wait to put that in reality on a race day of Sunday October 12. And what better place than Chicago with such a huge Czech community! I am getting my tshirt printed with Czech flags and will be very proud wearing those through streets of Chicago. I have replayed the marathon course overview today on YouTube and guess will do so several more times before the race :)

2) I have been selected to American Development Program!!! This is HUGE! I am not really sure about how that happened, I think it is because I filled in some kind of "share your story" form back when I registered. When I came back to check if my start corral was correctly updated (I expected to start in corral A behind Elites and American Development Program based on my best performance in Prague). When I checked my corral, it said "American Dev", I checked the marathon's website to see what that meant. I really did not believe it :D So I went back and emailed the race organization to double check and hell yes, this is happening!

It is called American, but they select also some international runners with PB ambitions, fast race time ambition etc. I don't know how I charmed them, but honestly, I don't care that much. What is important is that I am in! There is about 50 elite ahtletes - check the 2014 elite field - and behind them it will be us. Don't know how many runners are in the program, but just the opportunity to be that close to the true elite athletes makes me go crazy :D Being in the program has additional benefits the main I see is private rest rooms in the pre-start area! It is also one of the first big races where my official time will be counted from the gun time - better sneak up very close to the start line. It gives me chance to run clear not having to run around people like in the Berlin Marathon last year.

As I have been getting ready for my autumn US trip this past week, I also got my start number assigned:

478

... very exciting in the field of 45+ thousand runners!

Anybody else out there running Chicago?

Anybody from / having connection to the Czech community in Chicago?

Any tips for Chicago marathon?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

More Fire (Book Review)

When I was on my vacation / training camp in Dolomites back in August, I stumbled upon a recommendation of supposedly "the best book about Kenyan running" in some article or blog post. Thanx to the modern technology, I got sample through the kindle store and I was hooked, few dollars later, I was reading like a maniac every day.

I don't really do book reviews often, but this book is really amazing. I liked the "Running With The Kenyans" and I can only recommend it, but that was more poetic and one person's experience kind of book. More Fire really opens the view on distance running in Kenya.

Author of the book is Toby Tanser, director of the Shoe4Africa charity organization. Notably, he has great knowledge of Kenyan runners and also the environment of distance running. The first part of the book covers the history of distance running in Kenya, then there is another section talking about training and its principles, third are profiles of the famous Kenyan runners also talking about their training regimens and the final section talks about how you can apply this on your own running.

The first part talking about history might be little bornin and encyclopedic for some, but I found it interesting to understand how relatively late distance running started to develop in Kenya and what where the first successfull attempts on the international field. Second part talks about the training patterns of Kenyan runners, which is quite understandable and you probably have read about them in many different aricles and/or blog posts. Reading through the runners' profiles is what opened my eyes and made me really understand those principles as you see the dedication repeat itself over and over again.

What was truly inspiring for me was the persistance of the Kenyan athletes. From my cozy and convenient central European point of view, I see young Kenyan runner coming to race and probably directly winning. Here I understood that it sometimes takes many seasons and years even for those gifted Kenyans to break through and even be able to compete abroad, outside of Kenya.

Reading about the great runners and the simple yet dedicated approach they have is great inspiration. I think that if we want to succeed as distance runners, we should make our lives simpler, dedicate time of course to gruelling training and take the resting as seriously as running. Resting and no distractions is something Kenyans are really excelling at. I can understand that this is super tough in today's hectic technological world, but we should all give it a thought.

Overall I can only recommend this book, really loved it - here is affiliate link to Amazon Kindle store if you are thinking about reading it and are OK with supporting me a little :) You pay the same, but Amazon gives me a little of that sum :)))