My Top 5 Phone Apps

10% – that’s the percentage of phone apps I use on a regular basis. I guess most people are guilty of the same. That part when you download one and you don’t want to remove it because you think you might be able to use in the future. Though I’m pretty organize having only two pages of apps so thank you for folders, keeps me sane. 🙂

I usually mention great phone apps to my friends whenever I come along some cool stuff and helpful functionalities. So for those who missed my spills and those interested to know what other interesting apps I’ve been using, here goes…

For organizing finances

  1. Splitwise. You will realize spreadsheets are so ancient once you use this app. If you share bills with friends, family or coworkers this is splitwisethe best app to keep track and manage them. Anyone can log expenses that they paid for the group. It can compute shares equally, certain amount or percentages. You don’t need to wait for someone to get to a computer to plot all your expenses in an excel and figure out who owes who. With this app, you don’t have to worry who’s going to pay the bill. You may be able to take turns paying so you can just easily offset your balances.

For earning points that converts to dollars

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  1. Bing. This is the Microsoft version of Google search. The great thing
    about this app is you can earn points by just searching on your phone. If you maximize your searches and rewardable activities every day, you may be able to earn up to $10 gift card in a month.
  1. Walgreens. It’s basically a reward card, the more you shop the more points you get. walgreensThe points you earn are converted to dollar rewards once you reached certain balances. The app also offers coupons that you can clip to your card for discounts and some can multiply your points for every dollar spend. And if you think you’re not getting enough points, Walgreens will add points if you connect your exercise trackers and log activities every day. I guess that’s their commitment to consumers for being healthy.

Get rewards for being healthy

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  1. AlwaysOn Wellness. This is actually an app associated with my insurance. Most insurance companies already offer mobile versions of their consumer portals and offer rewards to people taking preventive steps for their health. Activities that earn points can be taking health assessments, completing specific health courses, tracking biometrics, connecting fitness devices, and logging everyday activity steps. Before the year end, I was able to gather points equivalent to a new apple TV or Beats wireless headphones. Its one great way to reward yourself after a year of being healthy.

For organizing and saving on your shopping list

  1. Target. Know all the discount promotion before you actually go to the store. This is a targetuseful app if you frequently shop in Target. You can create your shopping list in the app. It will provide you any savings they may be offering for the item you listed and also gives information on which section of the store you can find them. It can be connected to a separate Cartwheel app where you can clip additional savings. It will give you a reusable barcode you can use during checkout to avail of all savings you have clipped in Cartwheel.

Enjoy! 🙂

How to Make the Best of your Amazon Online Shopping

I am not a fan of online shopping. If I can buy the items from a nearby store, I will do it. I always want to see and try the items first before I can purchase it. But there are a lot of times I need to go online, either because the items are not available from the stores or I want to save myself from carrying heavy packages home.

At least once we bought something from Amazon that we are excited about but turns out its not what we want or perceive to be. Or we waited longer than the expected time of delivery. It’s frustrating, right? So I list down some tips here on how you can make the most out of your online shopping experience, specifically in Amazon.

  • Read Product Reviews and Ratings. It’s not just looking how many stars the item has on the average. It’s also checking how many people did the review and what they can say about the product. Reading the ones who actually gave lower stars can help set your expectation. Did a number of people say the same negative or positive things about the product?
  • Read or Post Questions. If you want to know more on the product, you can actually post a question in Amazon. You can also browse the questions posted by other buyers that might be related to your inquiry. That will be faster than waiting for a response from sellers.
  • Getting a Shorter Delivery Lead Time. The easiest way to avail of faster delivery time is by becoming a Prime member, which costs $99 per year. I wouldn’t advice that though. There is actually a trial period of 30 days that you can avail of, especially if you are planning to purchase a number of items. It will be worth it. Just make sure to cancel your membership within the 30 days so you don’t get charge.
  • Another way that you can get a shorter delivery time is by selecting a seller that does so. When we search an item in Amazon, it automatically selects a specific seller for us. I’m guessing it’s usually the seller that has the lowest cost. If you can’t wait for your item to arrive after 3 weeks or so, you can actually check the list of sellers available and choose the one that has the shortest or acceptable delivery lead time. The downside on this is that the item may costs more dollars. If you are willing to risks a few dollars for a shorter delivery then that’s the option for you.
  • Check Sellers Ratings. It’s not just the products that matter here. If you read product reviews, buyers have different point of views. One who receives a defective product and one that gave 5 star rating for a well-packaged product. If the product has multiple sellers, then maybe they got their items from different ones. So it is also important to check the reviews for sellers you plan to purchase your item from.
  • Send a Review. So your item arrived. You may be satisfied or not. Either way, send a review. It will save another person’s time and money, and they may be your friends. And to encourage you more, there are sellers who offer gift cards when you do a review. That can save you some bucks on your next purchase.

Enjoy shopping!!! Post your online shopping tips as well. 🙂

6 Things I Love About Chicago Half Marathon 2015

  1. It is a well-participated race with over 14,000 runners from different parts of the world – 48 states and 39 countries. I am pretty sure that Philippines is represented as I’ve seen the flag from the Health Expo and at the finish line.I like joining events that has a huge number of participants. It gives me an opportunity to meet people. Most importantly, I am a slow runner so there’s big chance that I still have quite a number of companions at the latter part of the race.

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  1. They have a large selection of the official merchandise. There are different colors and prints of the shirts and it comes on sleeveless, short sleeves and long sleeve dry fit styles. I went back to the expo on the second day when I finally decided what I want to buy. I got a red New Balance long sleeve shirt, which I actually used during the race.

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  1. Shuttle services were provided for participants coming from downtown. Accessibility is always a big concern for me especially if I’m running long distances. And one of their drop points was very convenient for me as I live near the Millennium Park. Just a block away from my apartment and I’m off to the start line.

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  1. The route brings us to the different must-see places in Chicago. It started in Jackson Park and took us to the stretch of Lake Shore Drive that oversees Lake Michigan. At the other side, we can see the Chicago skyline. It is an easy route with not much elevation, which is good for half marathon beginners.

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  1. I attended a few big half-marathon events already but still, the beer garden is always a treat for me after finishing a race. I got to enjoy a free beer sitting on the grass and watching band performances. And I always prepare for this chance by getting my beer garden wristband a day before the event.

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  1. Last but not the least, the six –inch Finisher Medal. And I guess it explains for itself. 🙂

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[REVIEW] GOTHAM Season 1

Spoiler alert. Read with caution.

One of the fictional heroes I know when I was a kid is Batman. Not that I know a lot about him and the characters in his adventures. I don’t have the clear memory of actually watching every episode of his TV shows, animated or not. Though I did seen some of his earlier movies with the Penguin and Catwoman. And of course the recent movies of the black knight.

When Gotham was released in Netflix, I thought I might give it a try. Thinking that it was shot in Chicago, which I discovered to be in New York. Of course I have expectations seeing Batman but that is not the case. The setting of the story is from when Bruce Wayne was still a 12 years old boy struggling after the lost of his parents and trying to understand what led to their death. He is not yet ready to be the hero of Gotham City. Alfred Pennyworth, his butler, is his only companion and has the sole responsibility of raising the young Bruce.

To give further background on the story, it revolves around the city’s local crimes where two mafia groups led by Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni have a lot of contributions to. The only hope of the city is James “Jim” Gordon, who is basically the lead character in the series. He is a new cop in Gotham City Police Department with good reputations and is willing to risk the lives of his loved ones to save the day. His work partner Harvey Bullock helps him along the way, though he has reputation on police brutality, his ties with the bad guys gave the partners some advantage.

What actually kept me hooked episode to episode was discovering the different characters from the original Batman story. How will the series introduce them and in what specific backgrounds? I don’t see the episodes as mind-boggling or heart raising compared to the other series I’ve watched. But the familiarity and its association to the DC Comics story makes it interesting for me. I’m giving it a 3 out of 5 stars for this reason. Anyway, it’s just the first season. Hopefully the next one sets a higher bar.

Relevant characters in Gotham Season 1

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon 2015

I was on a two-day work-related training in Chicago last July 13 and 14, 2015. It was the third time I was in town. The first two trips were both for leisure, so basically I am quite familiar with the city. I thought I might do something different this time and what else can I think of but to join a running event. Luckily, the Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon was scheduled the weekend after my training. With a big event like this, I thought I don’t want to miss this one even if it means staying the entire week in Chicago. It will be costly but it’s worth it.

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PLANNING

Joining an event out of town is a little stressful. I’m not familiar with the place, the weather, the people and basically what to expect in the event itself. So I did list out the things I need to consider before I actually set foot in Chicago.

* Accommodation. There are two things that I checked before I booked my hotel, the distance from the race expo and the distance from the race start line. I wanted it to be near both location but unfortunately the two are 3 miles away from each other. So I thought, which one should be critical to be closest to my hotel and I decided it should be at least walking distance from the start line. But then again, there have been shortage of hotel rooms already that are near the finish line. Finally, I got a hotel that’s just walking distance from the race expo. I picked the hotel because I found out that they are offering a free shuttle service to and from the start line. And that’s good enough for me.

* Training. Getting a few more training is difficult when you are in a new place and you’re thinking that it’s a vacation. I initially planned to stay in a hotel a few nights for my work-related training, ask a friend if I can crash in their apartment for a few nights then check back in a hotel for the race weekend. Eventually, I booked my hotel weeklong. Why? Because at least I have access to a gym the whole time. I did not intend to run outside. I am not used to running around Chicago downtown where I can just bump to anyone on the road. What I made sure before I travelled to Chicago a week before the race is that I was able to complete my last long run and I did.

* Nutrition. Another reason I preferred to stay in the hotel is the accessibility of food. I checked in in a hotel at downtown Chicago where they serve free breakfast and is near grocery stores. I would just walk a few blocks and I can buy my food supply for the few days of my stay. The hotel is also surrounded by restaurants so I can just go down if I feel more of eating out.

RACE EXPO DAY

On the Saturday, I checked in at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place hotel. The first thing I did was to head to the race expo to get my race kit. The race expo was adjacent to the hotel though I did not expect that the place was a huge one and that I had to walk half a mile to reach the expo. Once I reached the entrance, I was welcomed with the stretch of race bib redemption counters lined up based on assigned wave numbers. The process was very smooth and there’s totally no lines. With over 12,000 expected half marathon participants, it was absolutely an organized event.

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The Rock n Roll Marathon expo was the biggest I attended so far. There’s an exclusive area for Brooks, one of the race event partners, where you can buy Rock n Roll Chicago marathon official merchandise, get a free gait analysis or just have fun and grab freebies in one of their game booths. The main expo,with all the other race sponsors and the rest of the participating exhibitors, is not crowded. I had fun going around checking for stuff that I can buy. I don’t really buy stuff during expo but I found a lot of running items that I don’t see from stores and are on sale. After about half an hour of checking each of the booths, I did grab a few items. I got a sun visor as I only brought a cap. It was predicted that the race weather will be hot and I need adaptive gears. I bought a new race belt which is the same brand as my old one but I preferred the design of the new one. It’s lighter and still got all the pockets I need for my stuff. Last thing I bought is Rock Tape which I am surprise to see in the expo. I already ran out of it from my previous run and I was using KT tape which I don’t really like so I was thankful that they have it available in the expo.

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I was getting tired already and I realized I haven’t taken my lunch at around 1pm. So I had my last stop at the Michelob booth. It’s where runners get a Beer Garden Wristband by presenting their IDs so we don’t need to show our IDs on race day when we redeem our free finisher cold beer.

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I had sandwich for lunch just because I don’t know where else to eat. But for dinner, I availed of the carbo loading dinner buffet in one of the restaurants inside the hotel. I had my dinner at 6pm so I can rest early before the race day.

THE RACE DAY

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Travel to Start Line. Gun start is at 6:30am. I went out of my hotel at 5am to catch the free shuttle. Once I was outside, I can feel the heat already. It was the first time I am in Chicago for a summer and I never expected the temperature can go that high in the morning. A lot of the runners are also outside and we were able to board the shuttle after around 5 minutes of waiting. We were dropped at the intersection of 13th and Indiana St. I was not able to check a map beforehand so I just followed the other runners walking to the start line. What I didn’t realize is that the drop off and the start line is over a mile. We were already sweating on our way to the starting line and I was telling myself, if I can’t walk back to the pick up area after the race I would probably get a cab back to the hotel.

Gear Check. It was more or less an hour before the gun start when I arrived at the start line. I searched for the gear check area. They are lined up alphabetically based on your last name and again there are no lines. I guess most people don’t bring stuff or are just checked-in in a nearby hotel. After checking in my stuff, I grab some banana and hydration and do some stretching while waiting for my gun start.

Gun Start. I was in wave 23. Somehow, it’s a little frustrating for me being at the back of the crowd and waiting for 30 minutes to finally start running. Most runs in the US are organized in waves based on expected finish times of runners. Though it does make sense. In the Philippines, some of the races do not have wave assignment and you can be at the front of the pack if you arrived early. Usually, the route gets crowded and faster runners gets irritated with a lot of slower runners getting on their way.

I was expecting more fun at the start line though. Like a band playing while we wait for our cue. There were music playing but could have been more interactive.

The Race. Our wave’s actual gun start is 7am. I know its going to be a lot hotter the rest of the run. So I did my best to get hydrated and consume my energy gels every hour. The hydration stations are packed enough with water and energy drinks. On the second part of the route, I was already pouring water on my head to keep my temperature lower. And in one part of the route, we were able to refresh ourselves with sponges dampened in iced cold water.

The highlight of the route is basically the music. Though I only get to see most of them on the second half of the route. I believe there are a couple of rock bands and the rest are line of speakers entertaining the runners on the route.

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Finisher. Less than a mile before the finish line, I saw a shoutout “Hurry up! I’m thirsty I need a beer.” I know it’s for her friend but every runner needs that motivation on our last stretch. An iced cold Michelob ultra beer and a feast of rock music was enough to welcome us after a hot half marathon run. But what I most love about finishing was the awesome medal. I might be running another Rock n Roll Marathon event in the future and in another city perhaps. 🙂

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St. Louis’ Lantern Festival

I got a chance to witness this magical lantern festival showcase in Missouri Botanical Garden this year. When I heard this show from a local TV channel, I planned on going one of the coming days. Luckily, a friend came in town to see St. Louis for the first time and I said we need to see this Lantern Festival. The show opens at 6pm and we arrived at past 7pm. Though I can say the best time to see the lanterns is during the darker part of the night.

The Lantern Festival: Magic Reimagined will be up May 23 to August 23, 2015. Visit Missouri Botanical Garden site for details and tickets. For now, enjoy the photos. 🙂

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List of My Running Must Haves

Whether I’m running 5k, 10k, 16k, half or full marathon, I always made sure I am ready with the right outfit and running gears. So here is my list of must haves whenever I join a running event:

  1. Running shoes

Always, the first thing that comes to our mind when we finally decide to take on running is getting a new pair of running shoes. Choosing good running shoes is important. It’s the most used running gear you’ll have. You can wear any running clothes you want, but you can’t just wear any shoes in a run and feel good about it.

When I started running, I have a new pair of Nike shoes. How I chose the shoes, I just tried to fit them in store and check which one’s feel good on my feet. And of course, which one looks good as well. Then I became a fan of barefoot stride shoes. I have small feet and bigger shoes with full support feels heavy on me. Wearing barefoot stride shoes did helped lessen the pain of wearing shoes that prevents me from moving my feet naturally while running. I guess I learned that from reading “Born to Run” by Chris Mcdougall. But it did worked for me. Running swiftly on these shoes is not an overnight thing though. I have to train my feet to adapt to it until every inch of my legs and feet are strong enough to handle the minimalist hang. And it goes with any other shoes that you plan to run with. Always remember to never use a new shoe or one you have not trained with before on the race day.

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  1. Running clothes

I usually decide the clothes I wear based on the event distance and the weather during the race. On shorter distances like 5k or 10k, I chose to have shorts or tights and any singlet or dri-fit shirt I feel like wearing that day. On longer distances, I usually have my compression tights. I prefer to use it because it helps prevent injuries and lessen pain during and after a run.

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I have experienced running under the heat of the sun in Manila where temperature averages 90°F (32°C) during summer even in the early morning and in the cold winter months of St. Louis at around 40°F (4°C). I always go for the lightest piece of top I have during hot weather. I will wear only sports bra as top if I have the confidence though. But I won’t, so let’s leave it at that. During the cold weather, it’s kind of tricky though. There will be mornings where the temperature remains almost the same and some days it goes up eventually. On those times, it will be cold at the start line but eventually during the run, your body will develop a natural heat and you won’t need another layer to protect you from cold. On my first run during the cold, I have 2 layers of dri-fit long sleeves and I put on some gloves. In the middle of my 15k run, I gave up the gloves. On my second attempt to run in the cold, I didn’t bring my gloves but I waited inside the car before the race starts. I put on some sunblock on my face and hands just to feel that my skin are not bare against the cold air. Maybe I should buy a heat cream next time.

When choosing the quality of clothes to wear, go for dri-fit and those that won’t cause chafing. Train with your clothes just so you know it won’t get you into trouble especially during long runs.

  1. Head and face gears

A couple of things I usually bring during a run, a cap or visor and sunglasses. Races happen rain or shine so I make sure I’m prepared. Weather changes even every hour of the day. During hot season, I prefer visors so my head can breadth out the heat. Sometimes when the heat is a little intolerable, I would stop on hydration stations and just pour water on my head directly. Sunglasses have multiple purposes as well. It helps my eyes against the bright light of the sun and also gives me the illusion that it’s not so hot and I can keep up with the heat. It also prevents sweat and water pouring on my eyes.

  1. Food and hydration

On short runs like 5k or 10k, I don’t really bring food or hydration. But I make sure that there are enough hydration stations during the course and intervals between stations are fine. In Manila, hydrations are placed every 1.5 kilometers. While in the US, hydrations are every 2 miles so I did train myself to run longer without hydrating.

Food is essential during long distance run. It makes up for the lost calories burned and provides quick energy boost for you to keep up with the activity. I don’t go for solid food except for banana, and only when it’s available. On long runs, my usual companion are GU gels. When doing vigorous workout, taking in hard food such as energy bars waste some of the energy due to digestion and I worry it might upset my stomach in some way.

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Aside from the must haves above, I also bring a running belt where I put on all my stuff such as my phone, GU gels, running bib and my hydration bottle. Whenever I buy a running belt, I made sure that it fits appropriately and can hold as much of my things. I have tried belts before that loosens in the middle of the run and it can be bothering. So selecting a good one can help your running performance.

Another item I wear during long runs are my rocktapes. It works like compression which lessens pain and injury during and after workouts. I put them on my feet before my run. To apply them, I just look for sites that provides step by step guide on how to put them depending on my needs. Since my foot bottom is the part that usually hurts, I uses the instructions for the same.

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After everything I’ve listed here, the most important must have is training. So keep on running guys. 🙂