Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why I need to show up on time for races...

When I went to pick up my race number for the Join the Voices! 5-miler, I was super psyched to see I had a YELLOW race number!! This was completely unexpected. That's the 2000's - third corral!!! (In NYRR-land, the race numbers and colors coorespond to corrals according to how fast you are... Blue, Red, Yellow, Green, Orange, Light Blue, Pink, Purple) This was a pretty big year for me race-wise - I've moved up FIVE corrals in the past year! I moved from pink, to light blue, then orange, completely skipped green (!), and now I'm up to yellow!!  However, I was running late and didn't have the luxury of lining up amongst my yellow comrades. I actually did arrive at the race with 5 mins to spare, but still needed to check my bag. By the time I located the bag check and jogged back to the start, the race had already begun.

I really need to start showing up for races on time. That way I can start in the correct corral and run the way I want to run. Since I was so late, I ended up catching the tail end of the runners as they filed through the starting chute. I spent the first half of my run weaving all over the place and just trying to get past the slower runners. It was highly aggravating. It took nearly 3 miles for me to get to a place where I could run somewhat comfortably at a pace that felt natural to me. It was extremely crowded and very annoying - just like the start of the Brooklyn Half Marathon (when I was also excessively late).

The first part of the race wasn't so bad - I ran freely along the small side path for as long as possible before being forced to re-enter the running masses. I was constantly getting stuck behind people and unsuccessfully trying to pass them. There was also an awful stench in the air; the first part of the race went around the lower part of central park, where all the horse drawn carriages relieve their horses. Who thought it would be a good idea to design the first mile of a race through a ton of horse shit!? I was breathing in shallow breaths to minimize the smell, but shallow breathing is not very conducive for racing.

I mostly stayed to the far right so I wouldn't have to deal with all the runners. Consequentially, the NYRR course marshalls were constantly yelling at me to move to the left. I didn't listen. I was one of those obnoxious runners who stay outside the cones and ignore the volunteers. I didn't even care; I was partially zoned out, way too focused on plowing forward and trying to get as far ahead as possible. I had no clue what my first mile pace was, since the clock hit 16 minutes by the time I made it there... but each consequential mile's pace was right around 8:00-8:30.

Right as we rounded the corner at the 72nd St transverse and entered the finishers chute, I kicked it into high gear and started my standard sprint for the finish line. Unfortunately the chute was still pretty crowded and I had to weave around people even at the very end of the race. Just as I approached the finish line, I realized with a sinking feeling that there was a roadblock of about three runners taking their good old sweet time, practically walking across the finish, right in front of me and there was no was around them. I nearly ran up on their heels and had to slow to walk just steps away from the finsh line. It was such a bummer. I wasn't able to carry my all-out sprint and push through for a strong finish, like I normally do for races. It was all I could do to restrain myself from plowing right into those runners and pushing them over the finish line...

Sadly, I am not joking.  I HATE crowds!!! If too many people get in my way and prevent me from going somewhere, I feel trapped and completely freak out. The day before the race, I had a near panic attack from battling the insane crowds of tourists in midtown... slow-moving crowds really really REALLY get on my nerves. To have this race experience the very next day, it was almost too much to handle. I nearly cried at the end from disappointment and frustration.

My pace turned out to be 8:19, which really isn't so bad, all things considered. Ironically, I ran the exact same pace (8:20) as the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge, where I was stuck behind runners nearly the entire time. It's encouraging to know I could have raced so much faster, but it's disappointing to know that I robbed myself of the opportunity to prove just how fast I really can be. If I had only showed up on time... I could have started in the proper corral and actually raced the way I wanted to. Now there's a great incentive to show up for races on time!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I ran this morning!!!

I ran this morning!!! and it was awesome! My jaw was just unwired yesterday, and I was so immensely thankful that I was just itching to go for a run.  Who cares if I only did 1.2 miles!? The important thing is that I got myself out there. This was my first morning run in months. The last time I went for a legit run (with the exception of the Ben Franklin Bridge Race) was sometime around mid-September.

It felt so great to be outside. The second I started moving my legs, a huge grin spread across my face, and it stayed planted there throughout the entire run.  The weather was chilly and damp; the air was thick with condensation and the sky was so foggy that I couldn't even see the tops of the buildings across the river in NJ.  Nonetheless, I truely appreciated the scenery despite the limited visibility.  In spite of the dreary weather, I was having a fantastic time.

The first time I head out for a run after a long hiatus is always the best. I realize all over again why I love running in the first place, and I approach my runs with renewed energy and motivation. Especially when the break is due to something beyond my control (like major injuries, illness, or surgery), once that magical day arrives when I can finally run again, I'm so overwhelmed with immense gratitude for the sheer ability to run, that I just have to go out there.  At times like these, I don't run because I enjoy it... I run simply because I'm grateful that I can.

I would have loved to keep going for another couple miles - it's been so long! - but I purposely kept it fairly short this morning... I was actually on time for work and wanted to keep it that way. It was wonderful though. I'm so glad I went. Now I just need to go out for a few more morning runs, and then it should become a habit once again.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dear blog

Dear blog,

I understand you've been feeling very neglected lately, and I am sorry. It's completely understandable. I haven't written in here in ages.

So I just wanted to let you know that I still think of you often. Please don't go anywhere because I may still need you someday.

Love always,


Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Half Marathon That Never Happened

The banging on the door jarred me from a deep sleep. My roommate was knocking on my door imploring me to turn off my alarm, which had woken her up (in the next room!), while I remained in a comotose state. I vaguely remember the first alarm going off at 5:20am, and I don't even remember hearing the other two. I remember thinking "I don't want to get up I don't want to get up." I wasn't even that tired; I was just more or less feeling lazy and really wanted a good night's rest more than I wanted to travel down to Staten Island at 6am and run 13.1 miles. So I went back to sleep. I slept in and missed the Staten Island Half, and I'm perfectly okay with it. 

I woke up again around 9ish or 10ish, did some easy stretches in bed, and made myself breakfast. Even though I wasn't racing, I made a typical pre-race meal anyway: toast with pb & honey, grapes, orange, pineapple juice, and a cup of tea.  I needed to fuel for the 13 mile run I intended to do regardless, or at a minimum 8 miles. It was a beautiful sunny day, and whenever the sun's high in the sky all I really want to do is get out there for a run. I wanted to head over to Palisades Park in NJ and explore the trails, but I took too long with breakfast and ended up only having an hour to run.  I made the most of it and ran over the GW Bridge. 

I always thought the bridge route was 6mi from my apartment, so you can imagine my complete shock and utter disbelief when I got home and discovered I had only been running for 47min... That would mean I ran sub-8min miles, which is complete insanity. It's impossible! Especially considering how sore I was. This was not an easy run, and the first half wasn't even fun.  Although I was moving at a fairly consistent pace the whole time, my legs felt kind of tight and my stomach felt completely nauseous. On second thought, my abs were probably just really sore from my 4 min plank last night, but regardless my abdomen was in pain.

By the time I reached the turnaround, things got easier, and the second part of the run went by a lot faster. The majority of the route back was downhill, and I knew I was heading back home, so I picked up the pace within my comfort zone.  Besides, by then I finally fell into a groove. Once I got in my groove it felt great to be out running again. I always forget how much I miss running, until I take a break from it, and then eventaually get back into it. 

As it turns out I actually ran 5.8 miles, which translates into an average pace of 8:10. Incredible!  I'm shocked that I easily kept up that pace for nearly 6 miles without even trying or pushing it. I continually amaze myself.  Not a bad substitute for a half marathon that never happened.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Exploring Palisades Park

Running the GW bridge in the rain has got to be one of my most favorite things to do ever. Actually, running in any kind of inclement weather is easily one of my favorite things in the world. Almost no one else is around. You have the road entirely to yourself and the solitude is completely unmatched. I was pretty much by myself the entire run - I passed a few runners and a couple bicyclists, and a father taking his three young boys out for a walk, but other than that the world was deserted.

As I started out along Riverside, I did pass a few runners wearing bib numbers heading in the opposite direction. Later on the bridge, I passed another runner with a bib number that was so mangled and unrecognizable, it looked like he'd been out in the elements for at least the past 12 hours. Like the first few runners I passed, he was wearing a baseball cap and plastic sheet protecting the back of his neck. I could only guess that some sort of ultra was happening this morning. This was intriguing, and slightly annoying. Darn NYRR cancelled a measly little 5K in Harlem at 8:30am, long before the wind or rain had even become remotely dangerous, and here were these runners, who looked like they're been out braving the elements all morning (and possibly all night). Someday... someday... I will be one of them. But I digress.

At the end of the GW bridge, I contemplated venturing into NJ. Mind you, I always turn around and head back home once reaching the end of the bridge. NJ is completely new and unchartered territory for me. My friend Dave once told me about these amazing trails that run along the NJ cliffside, overlooking Manhattan, and I had yet to find the start of said trails. Figured today could be the day. I didn't have anywhere to be in a hurry, so I made a left and went exploring. Immediately on the other side of the bridge overpass, I came across a gigantic staircase that went up so high into the trees that I couldn't see the top of it. Without hesitation, I forged up the stairs. The staircase was pretty nifty; it had a special ramp for bikes that looked like a trough running down the entire length of the stairs. Halfway up, I found the enterance to the GW bridge north walk (which was closed - of course! I don't think I've EVER seen the north walk open in the entire time I've lived in Manhattan). However the stairs didn't stop there. The uphill climb continued and I finally ended up smack dab in the middle of the woods! There were trails! There were even signs with trail distances on them! I was so thrilled, I literally jumped for joy and squealed out of glee. I was completely beside myself with excitement - I love trails! They are so much fun! The ground was muddy and mucky, which is to be expected after all the rain we've been having. I pranced along through the soft, mucky ground, until I found a lookout point on the cliffside, where I paused and contemplated the view. I didn't venture too far into the trail, because I was only wearing my Vibrams and didn't want to risk hurting myself. After all, I was already planning to do 6 miles and had already gone farther than that - the longest run I've EVER done in those shoes - and I knew I was going to pay for it the next day.

One sign mentioned that most visitors find the park trails surprisingly rustic, probably due to the proximity to NYC, no one ever expects to find something so rustic so close to the city. One sign warned against poisin ivy and ticks - yikes!!! They also warned against rattlesnakes. I spent a good amount of time studying the trail maps and then headed back out of the park. I was positively elated.

I left Pallisades Park with a renewed sense of purpose and by the time I got back on the GW, I really fell into a groove, just cruising right along. I felt fantastic. I had energy to spare. I was refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated. The air was damp and cool. I was soooo thrilled to finally discover these trails! I can't wait to go back and explore. Exploration totally would have happened right then and there, but again, I didn't want to push it with my Vibrams, and didn't know how the minimalist shoes would handle the "surprisingly rustic" trails. At one point there was an acorn stuck between my toes and even that was painful! My poor left middle toe was throbbing by this point and only got worse as the run progressed.

After crossing the bridge, I made my way to the Hudson River Greenway to finish up this awesome run. I bounded down the ramp at 178th street, followed the pedestrian tunnel underneath the highway exit, emerged in the woods on the other side, veered to the left at a fork in the trail, went around a turn and under yet another pedestrian tunnel, past a creepy guy crouched on the ground who called out to me, emerged on a walkway that went over the railroad tracks, and finally down the staircase to the waterway. (Reaching the Hudson River Greenway uptown is no easy feat.)

When I finally got to the waterway, the sky opened up and it started to rain. This couldn't have been more perfect. (That's not sarcasm, it really truly was perfect.) I had been craving an outdoor adventure for days now, and had the strongest desire to be outside and embrace the elements. I was genuinely hoping it would rain. I wanted to experience Mother Nature in all her majesty - for better or worse. After being confined in the office for the past 5 days straight, with little to no lunch break and coming home after dark, I just wanted to be outdoors; I needed to be outside, no matter how bad the forecast was.

Over the next few minutes, the rain got progressively heavier, then it ended just as soon as it began. As I bounded along the waterway in all my glory, I was enjoying myself so immensely that I kept going past the 155th street exit. I kept trucking right along to Riverbank State Park at 145th. The only way I knew to get to Riverside Drive from there was to climb the gigantic staircase at the parking garage, so up the stairs I went - 5 flights to be exact.

I was really in an exploratory mood and remained on the lookout for another greenway entrance around 145th. After running along Riverside for a whopping 3 blocks, I noticed a partially hidden staircase behind a little playground. Wanting to prolong my adventure, I headed down the stairs, which took me over a walkway and down more stairs and over yet another walkway and down even more stairs and finally under a tunnel which opened right onto the waterfront behind the tennis courts. Awesome! I totally knew where I was. Gathering myself for the finish, I sprinted as much as one can possibly sprint with dying calves and throbbing toes through puddles and mud, and FINALLY reached the 155th street exit (for the second time that day), walked up the stairs, over the overpass, and jogged up the ginormous hill. I only stopped to catch my breath once I reached the top of the hill.

As I neared the final stretch, 2 blocks away from my apartment building, a random guy shouted "hey! a hurricane's coming! want to go out!?" or maybe he said "want to make out!?" Either way, people have a lot of nerve around here, I'll tell you that much.

I've been craving an outdoor adventure for days now, and this run most certainly did it for me. I felt the earth beneath my feet, ran over rocks, pebbles, twigs and branches, splashed in the mud, ran in the rain, and danced around puddles. I felt light and weightless for most of the run. Most importantly, I was just out there to run for the sake of running and being outside. I embraced the elements and the elements in turn embraced me right back.

Souvenirs from todays run include: a terribly jammed, sore middle toe, an awkward blister in a very odd place on my big toe, mud covered legs, smelly shoes and cramped feet. Most likely I won't be able to bend my calves AT ALL tomorrow, considering the farthest I've EVER run in my Vibrams was maybe about 2 miles. Even after just one mile I remember waking up the next day to rock-solid calves that refused to bend for anything in the world. Nearing the home stretch on today's run, I could feel my heels starting to drop. It took a very conscious effort to keep them lifted the entire time, right up until the very end. Today's run involved a ton of stairs and a lot of steep inclines and declines. My legs most certainly are going to let me know about it in the next couple of days.

But it was all worth it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

The Hurricane is Coming!

It started to rain moments after I woke up.  I immediately feared that I missed my chance to go running before the storm hit.  Yes, there was a storm on the horizon... or rather... a hurricane.   A major hurricane (category 2 to be exact) was heading straight for NYC.  The state decided to prepare for the worst case scenario, and in the process managed to freak out nearly half the population of NYC.  The governor ordered a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas and decided to shut down the entire MTA mass transit system beginning at noon on Saturday -- the first time EVER in NYC history. Yeah, because that's not going to make people worry or anything.  I totally bought into all the hype and was legitimately afraid to leave my apartment building on Saturday.

My body had other plans though; I was awake, I was ready to go, and I had loads of energy to spare.  There was a very slim window of opportunity and I wasn't prepared to let it pass me by.  As I lay in bed reading live weather updates, I was pretty convinced there was already a torrential downpour outside my window - it might have helped if I had actually looked outside my window, instead of relying on the likes of Twitter, NY1, and weather.com... every moment that passed was another moment closer to the start of the storm... in those precious few moments I debated: run? or bike ride?  Since I imagined a torrential downpour was already happening, and didn't want to put myself in unnecessary danger on a bike, it looked like I was going for a run!  I downed two bottles of water, threw on my Vibrams and headed out.  The plan was to run to the GW, possibly run over the bridge, and come back.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Who can hold a plank for 4 minutes without resting??

Who can hold a plank for 4 minutes without resting?? ...that's right, this girl can.  

It must have been the planks. That's the only thing I've been doing differently. My entire body feels stronger- abs, legs and arms- and it must have paid dividends in my running. Either way I'll take it.

My regular plank routine consists of 5-10 minutes of multiple plank variations: fully extended, bent elbows, side, back, twisting, raised leg, raised arms, leg out to the side. It's incredible how much stronger i feel just by doing those few simple moves.  Without time, energy, motivation, or money to go to a gym, the planks are a phenomenal workout and make me feel fantastic (even if I have to deal with sore abs every other day).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fourth of July Marathon

I didn't have anything else to do on Monday morning, so why not run a race!? Sometime over the weekend, I found out via Twitter about the 4th of July Marathon (thanks inwoodrunner!) and with less than 36 hours until the starting line, I decided a holiday morning race sounded like a great idea. That's how I ended up in the Bronx at 9am on the 4th of July with about 300-400 other runners, ready to run through the trails of Van Cortlandt Park. About 85% of the course was through the woods. It was awesome. Hard, but awesome. I love trail running. I rock at downhill running - it's such an amazing feeling to just let gravity take over and fly down the side a hill.  The uphills are another story altogether; I seriously struggle on the way up, sometimes slowing practically to a walk, but I really make up for time on the downhills. 

The course was a 6.55mi loop, so 4 loops would equal a full marathon. But you also had the option of running as many loops as you wanted. I opted to do the half marathon, which was 2 loops. Fairly ambitious, considering this was my first trail race since... high school! Besides I just ran a rough half 2 weeks ago and my feet and quads were still recovering.  

This race was rougher than I imagined!!! The trails were incredibly deceiving, and the first loop was so challenging that I nearly stopped after just 6.55mi. The course just dragged on and seemed to take FOREVER... When we came out into a clearing, I thought for sure we had done at least 5 miles. I eagerly pulled out my phone to check the time, and I had only been running for 37 minutes! Based on my average pace, this means I couldn't possibly have gone farther than 4 miles... let alone 5 miles. Then I turned a bend in the trails, and there was another steep uphill staring right at me. Gahhh!! I would have killed for just a glimpse of the finish line.  

I spent the next 2 miles debating whether it was insanity to continue or not. However, once we got to flat ground I felt better and convinced myself it wasn't all that bad. When I finally reached the elusive start/finish line at the 6.55mi mark, I plowed straight through, grabbed a water bottle and commenced my second lap. 

Somewhere during the first loop, a ton of runners blew past me. Actually, runners continually blew past me throughout the entire race. I don't know where they came from, or where they got all their energy from. Maybe they were just doing the 10K. Either way, it was a bit disappointing, because despite the never-ending trails, I felt pretty great. I was really giving it my all and moving along at a fairly swift pace... at least it felt quick. So although countless runners were blowing past me at every turn, it wasn't as demoralizing as it could have been. 

There was incredible support from the field of runners. Half the people who passed me encouraged me along, and I dont think anyone actually had headphones in. I haven't experienced an atmosphere like that since... right, since high school!  I was only racing against myself anyway. And I knew I was doing the best I could possibly have done while still being kind to my body. I know I could certainly afford to push my own limits a little more often, but even so, I am happy when I base my performance on how I feel; it's good to know you're taking care of yourself.  Only one minor injury occurred; I actually lost both my second toenails. Somewhere between Fairfield and the 4th Half, they completely separated from my toes. Ah the consequences of being a distance runner. (At least I still have both my big toenails! *knock on wood*)

This race was a serious small town operation.  Nothing fancy, just a bunch of runners who love running for the sake of running.  It wasn't even officially timed. We were held to the honor system to track our own time and write it down in a notebook at the end. I loved it. They even handed out festive bandanas, jelly beans in little star shaped bags, small American flags, and dog tags. It was all cheap stuff from Oriental Trading, but it was awesome! Our race bibs had a 74 on it. I'm still trying to figure out what that stands for.  I tied a bandana around my forearm, and at a few crucial points during the race, I actually glanced down at the bandana, and thought to myself, "You are so badass. You have a bandana on your arm! You can totally do this!" Judge if you must - it worked.

The race was completely free but they did ask for donations. Suggested donation was just $10 to cover materials. I only had a dollar, so I dropped it in the donation box. I definitely feel the race was easily worth $10-$20 and gladly would have contributed more if I had more cash.  

After heading home, I was totally wiped out. I also felt slightly nauseus (this has been a recurring theme over he past week or so) so after showering, I laid down in bed.  I honestly felt so sick that I didn't even know if I'd be up for going to fireworks that night. I didn't get out of bed for the rest of the day. After waking from a short nap around 7pm, I felt a little better; then I ate a huge salad with roasted sweet potato fries and I felt dramatically better. So I quickly got ready and headed over to my friend's place in Hoboken to see the fireworks. 

Apparently a small group of runners spearhead races on ever major holiday as part of a "holiday marathon" series. The next one is Labor Day, and I've pretty much already made up my mind that I'm doing it! 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fairfield Half Marathon

My standard three alarms were set in 5-minute increments (starting at 6:20am) but thankfully I didn't need any of them. My eyes shot open before the first alarm even went off, and I was wide awake at 5:45.  I didn't want to risk going back to sleep for just 25 minutes, so I laid on the couch and read my book. I think my friend Ron nearly fainted when I texted him that I was awake. He responded: "oh glorious day! it's already amazing!!"  And that about sums it up.

I went into this race feeling fantastic. I felt strong, capable, and ready. I was optimistic, energetic, and actually quite excited about running through my old college town. Every time I'm in Fairfield, I get that warm fuzzy feeling like I'm "home" again. 

By the time Ron arrived, promptly at 6:50am, I was ready to go. Since I had laid out my clothes and set aside my sports beans the night before, basically all I needed to do was throw on my clothes, wash my face and head out he door. I grabbed a slice of bread with peanut butter & honey (standard pre-race fuel) about T-minus 1.5hrs until the start.  The only things I brought with me to the race were my credit card, a $10 bill, chapstick, and sports beans, all which fit nicely in the pockets of my nifty Adidas running shorts. I also brought my phone and water bottle, but left them in the bag check with Rons stuff. We parked at the Fairfield train station and took the shuttle bus to the beach. I still can't believe how early we were - the timing was perfect. We had plenty of time to pick up our numbers and wait in line at the porta-potties without being rushed. I even snagged a small tee shirt!  It was a nice relaxing way to start a race. At one point, while scanning the crowd for Ron, I noticed John Fields from my graduating class at Fairfield. What a small world.  I chatted with him for a bit and wished him good luck, then proceeded to the bag check.  

The humidity factor had already skyrocketed by 8:30 in the morning.  The announcer kept advising everyone to hydrate well - before, during and after the race.  I decided to heed his advice and took full advantage of the water tables before the race even started. I'm so glad I did!  I remembered my experience with the Fairfield Half 3 years ago, and it was NOT pretty (I was sick to my stomach and nearly collapsed in a pile of misery and tears just before the finish line).

Ron and I parted ways and made our way to our respective starting lines (the start was split by men/women for crowd control, which I think was a fabulous idea).  The race started out pretty well. I ran along the sidewalk for the first mile or so, comfortably passing most of the crowd and working my way up to the runners going my pace.  The separate starts helped a lot to alleviate congestion, and before the end of mile 2, there was enough room to run freely, and I fell into a comfortable groove.  

The initial comfort level was extremely short-lived.  This race was TOUGH!!!  I remembered Fairfield being hilly and hot, but I completely forgot just how hilly and hot it actually was! It was brutal. I was pouring sweat before I even crossed the starting line.  The sun beat down on me nearly the entire time and I could actually feel my face start to burn.  I slugged up every single hill, slowing nearly to a walk pace, while dozens of runners flew past me. I made up for the uphill struggles by letting gravity take over on the downhills; I flew down the hills but destroyed my toes in the process. The fire hoses set up on ladders spraying the road were my salvation. I ran underneath the water sprays with the determination and glorious ecstasy that usually comes with crossing the finish line. I was so afraid of dehydrating that I stopped for water at least 4-5 times. I could not have survived without the multiple water stops. If it weren't for the fire hoses, water stops, and the occasional stretch of shaded road, I probably would have died.

Somewhere in the first half of the race, I saw Ron up ahead, caught up to him and matched his pace. His plan was to run 8-min miles, so you can imagine how shocked I was to find him.  Granted, he was taking it "easy" but I still couldn't believe I actually passed him! Ron is a super star; he qualifies for the first corral at NYRR events. 

A little farther into the race, I overheard two girls behind me talking about CPTC and I could have sworn one was runnerskitchen (Megan if you are reading this, were you or your friend wearing red sunglasses?)  Those girls seemed to be taking it so effortlessly, and kept going at a conversational pace throughout the entire race. It's ironic to me because I was legitimately racing this race, and we were around the same pace... anywho I couldn't believe how fast I was going and kept calculating my pace in my head, thinking I might PR. I racked my brain, trying to remember my previous half PR, but that was years ago. I didn't think I would get it, especially when I noticed my pace dropped significantly in the last half of the race. 

At another point, I overheard tons of people cheering for someone named Maggie. As I slowly closed the gap between me and this girl Maggie, I realized that she was one of my old tutees!! Again, what a small world. I congratulated Maggie on her awesome pace (this was her first half marathon) and then plowed on ahead.  It's all kind of a blur at this point. I ate 4 sports beans somewhere around mile 7 or 8. They tasted really sugary and gross and kind of bothered my teeth.  

I had to do so much self-talking and coaching throughout this race. I kept wondering when the hills would end.  I didn't want to tire myself out too early if lots of hills awaited, but I wanted to give maximum effort on the uphills if there were only a few left. As it turned out, I needed to give maximum effort anyway, just to avoid walking up the hills. I kept searching desperately for each mile marker.  Once we reached mile 10, I picked up the pace, thinking I could survive with just a 5K left. After that, it seemed like FOREVER before the next marker sighting; I actually thought I missed mile 11 and would be coming up on mile 12 soon. WRONG. When I finally saw the 11 mile marker after what I thought for sure was 12 miles, I nearly cried.  The course was taunting me. 

Ron came up behind me around mile 12 and put on an incredible kick for his last mile.  I tried to follow his lead, but he was out of my sight before I could even process what was happening.  When we approached Penfield beach I was pretty much sprinting and thought for sure I could push it at that pace just a few more yards. Then we turned the corner and I found out we had another .25 miles left. I wanted to give up then and there.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that I gave this race 110%.  I ran fast, I ran hard, and I never stopped. I felt optimistic going into this race, and I surpassed all my own expectations. I got a PR!!!!  My standing PR was from 2009 - 2 years ago! - and I killed it by almost 2 minutes! I was so surprised that I nearly cried... but surprisingly I didn't. Despite continually pushing myself through the entire race, enduring extreme agony for the last 2 miles, and being on the verge of tears nearly the entire time, this is the first half marathon I can remember where I didn't cry. 

The craziest part of all, is my time improved by 12 full minutes in just four weeks. Unbelievable! (I just ran the Brooklyn Half about a month ago, and didn't even break 2 hours.) It's even more incredible because I haven't even been training. The longest run I did between Brooklyn and Fairfield was 8 easy miles. I've been doing my standard 1-2 mile morning runs, with the occasional (3-6mi) weekend run thrown in, but that's the extent of it. Then I just got up and ran a half marathon PR on an extremely tough course. Go figure. I'm positively thrilled.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The iPhone armband: to buy or not to buy?

My phone usually gets left behind on runs. It's too bulky and annoying to carry, plus I'm always worried about dropping or breaking it. I know I should bring it, even just for personal safety, but knowing and doing are two entirely different things.  Hence, the search for the perfect armband commenced.  It took a few months to make up my mind. After countless trips to the accessories sections of JackRabbit, Lululemon, Foot Locker, and Sports Authority, I settled on a lightweight armband with a clear window that allowed access to the touch screen.  It was made by Nathan - the same company that made my waist pack (which I am very happy with).  Even after all that careful decision making, I still couldn't bring myself to cough up $35 on a running accessory - I mean, the only use I would really get out of this was on occasional long runs.

After nearly a month of continued deliberation, I got a 10% discount at JackRabbit from a City Running Tour, and finally treated myself to the armband.  I loved it immediately!  However, my beloved armband quickly turned out to be extremely annoying.  The actual band was tight on my arm and the phone felt clumsy and awkward bouncing on my arm.  I needed to take it off every time I wanted to check my phone.  The fancy earbud cord saver was just bothersome and unnecessary because I never run with headphones.  The phone barely fit - I needed to remove it from the case every time I wanted to put it in the armband.  Even then, it was a struggle to get in and out.  Now that I have the iPhone 4, it doesn't even fit at all!  Needless to say, I no longer use the armband and it was probably the worst running gear purchase decision ever.

(On a happier note, I received a free armband at the Revlon run/walk, and it fits my iPhone 4. Even though it covers the screen, it's way more comfortable to wear. By far one of the most functional pieces of promotional swag I've ever gotten.)

Running is not complicated

I started my running career in high school with a few pairs of $7 cotton Soffee shorts and a bunch of old tee-shirts. Pants from Walmart or K-Mart completed my ensemble in winter, along with sweatshirts - yes, I wore good old fashioned Rocky-style crewneck sweatshirts - and drawstring sweatpants. Sometimes I even rocked the sweats with rubber around the ankles. Running doesn't require any fancy gear. You can get out there and run in anything.

However, after I'd been sweating it out in 100% cotton for a few years, I slowly came to realize that tech fabric clothing might be worth the extra $$. Special synthetic fabrics with moisture-wicking technology are far more comfortable then ordinary cotton.  It is also true that as a distance runner, you will need to carry certain things, primarily your keys, and possibly some food/fuel, money, and maybe your phone. For these reasons, I truly appreciate innovations like runners shorts with built-in pockets, and a waist pouch to carry things.

Yet, I never could convince myself to buy any fancy new clothing until I started working at specialty running shops. After a few months at both the New Balance store, and Greenwich Running Company, and being exposed to the specialty running apparel nearly every day, my resistance eventually wore down... and I wanted everything! (The employee discount certianly didn't help matters.) At New Balance I ended up buying arch supports and special cross-trainers for the gym. (prior to that, old running sneakers would simply be downgraded to gym shoes) I bought a special lightweight breathable fleece, and quite a few pairs of tops and capri pants. At Greenwich Running Co, I ended up purchasing "The Stick" and nearly bought a foam roller but decided it was far too painful.

Greenwich Running Co was definitely the reason I decided to try Sports Beans; considering they were sitting next to the register taunting me nearly every time someone would grab a handful of the brightly colored little bags like candy. I also became intrigued by Clif Shots, which were good, and GU Chomps, which were flavorful but a little too sugary for my taste. (Note: To this day I still can't stand the idea of consuming straight GU, and would much rather chomp on gummi bears and Sweedish Fish during a race than put anything that literally looks like "goo" into my body.)

Even though my running accessory purchases have been few & far between, I've managed to accumulate quite the collection over the years. Here's a quick snapshot:

- New Balance running fleece - bought while working at the New Balance store. when you're exposed to something you want for days on end, you tend to eventually cave, and so it was with this fleece. After weeks of deliberation, I decided I must have it.

- Wind-resistant mittens - free back stock from NB store. althought they aren't attractive, they DO block the wind and cold, and actually keep my hands warm (no small feat!) through the worst winter months.

- New Balance women's running tanks - my first real "tech" fabric tops. also used at the gym.

- Nathan waist pack - bought at the expo the day before the Philly marathon. Thank goodness I purchased this! otherwise I would have been running with a plastic bag of candy literally in my hand for the entire marathon!

- Saucony running shorts - purchased while working at Greenwich Running Company. I spent the better part of an afternoon trying on every single pair by every single manufacturer in the entire store, and deemed these the best fit and most comfortable. My very first "tech" running shorts.

- LL Bean reflective arm bands- gift from dad so I wouldn't get hit by cars at night.

- Reflective ankle bands - bought recently at the bike shop to supplement arm bands for added visibility. original intent was to use for night bike rides, but I soon realized they could easily be used for night-time running visibility as well.

- Lululemon arm warmers - fantastic, fantastic purchase. LOVE THEM. they cover my hands and have a nifty hole for the thumb. reflective strip running along the entire arm. 'sticky' lining at the top to help keep them from falling down, pockets on the hands for keys and whatnot.

- Lululemon wrist pouch - great for holding keys, Metrocard, credit card, and maybe some cash... when I don't have any pockets. all the accessories at Lululemon are so innovative and amazing but usually a bit too expensive for my taste. The wrist pouch and arm armers were just "could not pass it up." I even tried to get the matching winter gloves with a special static finger tip for operating the touch screen on my phone, but sadly I didn't move fast enough and they completely sold out...

- Smartwool headband and neckwarmer - splurged at JackRabbit this past winter in hopes of insulating myself from the freezing temps and protecting myself from the harsh freezing winds.

- Fluorescent orange arm warmers - snagged at the NYC running show, supposedly made of the same day-glo fabric that construction workers wear for visibility

All of this stuff is great - and certainly very useful - but not necessary at all. I don't think any of this really makes you a better runner.  It's just a luxury.  You can buy all the fancy stuff, or you can completely go without.  Either way, you can still run!

Even with all my gear, I'm nowhere near as 'decorated' as other runners... I see people wired up to their iPods, mp3 players and gps devices. People have chips in their shoes and gps technology in their watches. They wear heart rate monitors and fuel belts that make them look like they're about to go on a mountain trek in the Appalachians. I'm not criticizing... Everyone needs to do what works for them. If music helps you tolerate your run, and if extra fuel & hydration helps you go even farther, then go for it! A little help along the way is fine - as long as it enhances your running experience, and doesn't detract from it.

It's just for me, running is all about freedom. It's about feeling weightless and flying along without restriction. About escaping the monotony of daily life. About clearing your mind.  I would hate to complicate things beyond that, or feel burdened by extra accessories. I don't want to have to worry about securing my arm band, or setting my gps, or finding a place to carry my phone.  I want to be able to lace up my sneakers and dash out the door. The essence of running is beautiful and natural; to me it's simple and requires nothing more than a desire to get out there. Let's try to keep it that way.

PS - I would however argue that a good pair of sneakers is absolutely essential.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Brooklyn Half Marathon

At 6:57am Saturday morning, you could find me frantically jogging around the edge of Prospect Park searching for the Brooklyn Half registration tent. I literally ran about 2 miles from the subway and rushed straight up to the registration booth, right as the volunteers were packing everything - and within seconds I had my race number and tee-shirt in hand.  I dashed to the bag check area, and before I knew what was happening, another volunteer had tied up my things in a bag and tossed it on the truck.  My bag literally was the last one to make it on the very last truck - what a relief.  After taking care of all the necessary pre-race arrangements, I stopped for a minute to pin my number to my tank, attach my armband, and run the D-tag through my laces. Once all that was complete, I glanced at my phone: 7:11am. Oh my. The race started 11 minutes ago and I still wasn't even at the starting line.

How did I end up in this unfortunate scenario?  For once, I did everything right. I went to bed decently early (at 11pm) and woke up bright and early (at 4:30am) the second my first alarm went off! (I had set FOUR alarms to make sure I was up -- didn't want to miss out on this race) I got all my stuff together the night before. Bag was was packed and clothes were picked out, ready to go. I got up, showered, dressed, continuously drank water all morning, and ate 2 mini bagels with pb & honey before dashing out the door.  I grabbed a cab to make the most efficient use of my time, and got on an express subway at 96th street.  Then, the 3 train ended at Times Square... for whatever god-forsaken reason, that particular 3 train was not making any stops south of 42nd street... grrrrr.  Instead of waiting for the next 2 or 3 train, I dashed across the Times Square station and patiently waited for the Q... and waited... and waited. There were other runners, so I thought I'd be okay, but the darn Q train just wasn't coming. I dashed back across the station, back to the 1-2-3 platform, and jumped on the next 2 train headed for Brooklyn. By then all hope was lost of arriving on time.

Needless to say it was a very hectic way to start a race. As I approached the starting line, and saw throngs of runners moving along, I merged right in with the crowd, relieved to finally be on my way. However, the starting line was nowhere in sight; that's when I realized that I had accidentally hopped on the course a couple of yards in!  Despite how late I was, I really wanted an official chip time, so I did a quick about-face, jogging around spectators and making my way back to the start, all the way around the barricades, and finally through the corral.  There was just a spattering of runners left in the starting chute - in fact, just as I crossed the starting line, I overheard the announcer declare that he was about the pull of the mat!  Whew!  Just made it!

Amidst the mad dash to pick up my number,  I noticed the volunteer handed me a light blue bib number - I made it to the 5000 corral!  This is huge, people.  Sadly there was no time to celebrate properly, because I had a race to run.  

The 5000 number was a great confidence booster, especially because I was actually nervous!  It's been 8 months since my last half marathon, and with the exception of my 14-mile leisurely excursion through upper Manhattan 2 weeks ago, I haven't ran more than 10 miles at once since last November. Heck, I haven't even raced at all since December!  Glancing at my running log the night before the race was a very bad idea. It just made me realize how pathetic my running efforts have been lately.  My regular mileage fluctuates anywhere from .8 miles to 3.5 miles, and I haven't ran more than 9 times a month since November. That is a really scary "training" plan for someone about to run their first half marathon in 3/4 of a year. But I digress.

From the beginning, the race was smooth sailing. The weather was perfect, and I felt great, cruising right along, passing tons of people. (Obviously, I entered the race so far back that I was surrounded by all the 10+ min/mile runners. They clogged up the roadway and really got on my nerves, until I figured out I could pass everyone by staying to the far right... as long as I didn't get trampled by the elite runners who were already lapping us before we even completed the first mile.)  At one point I actually got elbowed hard in the forearm as I attempted to pass a throng of slow-moving runners taking up the entire roadway. At another point I noticed one of the JackRabbit employees passing amongst the front runners. I shouted hello and received a peace sign in response. That was pretty cool.

A few observations about showing up late: -- Benefits: there are absolutely ZERO lines to wait in to pick up your number and drop off your bag, and you don't have to wait in the starting corral forever before the start --  Drawbacks: you get stuck behind slow runners, and it is very difficult to gauge your pace by the mile time clocks.

In all honesty, I really had no idea how to prepare for this race. It's been so long since I've raced - I'm out of practice!  I had no idea what to wear or how to dress for 70-deg weather and threat of rainstorms. I ended up wearing UnderArmour leggings, shorts, arm warmers, a tank and tee-shirt.  It was so muggy and hot, that I quickly realized I was overdressed.  The arm warmers and tee shirt came off & were deposited in the bag check. Since the leggings were under my shorts, I was kind of stuck wearing them. There was no time to change, so I prayed that it would be okay.  However, about halfway through the race, I was drenched in sweat; it became painfully clear that I would soon get overheated and very uncomfortable.  So, I made a spur-of-the moment decision at mile 6, and waited in line at the portapotties to change. It felt like an eternity; I must have wasted at least 5 minutes by stopping to change.  Despite that huge setback in time, it was the best decision I've made all day.  After I removed the leggings I felt free!

The rest of the race was effortless and enjoyable along the straight downhill 7-mi stretch to Coney Island. Running on the highway was probably the highlight of the race for me. Since I don't drive anymore, being able to go down an entrance ramp and quickly merge all the way over to the left lane was an amazing feeling... even if it was on foot going about 7mph instead of 70mph... We finished on the boardwalk, which was very cool! It was an incredible feeling, feeling the loose boards give beneath my feet, surrounded by crowds and sunshine overhead. Definitely a great way to mark the beginning of summer.

Immediately after finishing, I ran into Cipriana from the RFR JackRabbit campaign - it was like meeting a celebrity. I was actually a little star-struck! I was also on the verge of tears due to my standard fresh-from-the-finish-line overly emotional state. An incredible rush of emotion always overcomes me whenever I complete a particularly challenging race capped off by a stellar finish.  I also felt light-headed and my brain would not function properly for a while after finishing, I kept dropping things left and right.

I was supposed to meet up with my friend from CT before the race. Obviously that didn't happen. It would have been awesome if he could have paced me (like we planned), but thankfully I felt great enough to push myself throughout the race. After congratulating Cipriana, I made my way to the "late baggage claim" to retrieve my bag and finally met up with my friend.  His legs were trashed after running a PR 5K just 2 days earlier, so we didn't stick around Coney Island for the post-race festivities.  It was okay because I had brunch plans in Park Slope anyways.

I'm really curious how I did. I forgot to glance at the clock when I first crossed the starting line, so for the entire race, I really had no idea how I was progressing.  I was far too preoccupied with keeping pace and not stopping, maintaining proper form, and passing people, that I couldn't stay focused on the clocks anyway. There weren't any expectations going into this race. No time or pace goals. No racing strategy. It's been so long that I literally had no clue what my pace would be. I'm fairly certain I broke 2 hours though.  I dug deep in the last half mile and had an awesome, strong finish.  All things considered I am very happy.

This race totally re-affirmed my love for running. I love racing. I love the energy and the excitement. I love half marathons. I love the feeling I get during a race when pushing myself beyond my perceived personal limits. The incredible feeling once I've recovered from a race and realize what I've just accomplished is unmatched. It almost makes you feel invincible.  I am already looking forward to the next one.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

To the tip of Manhattan - and Beyond

Before I even departed for today's run, I sat with my laptop and mapped out an approximate 12-mi route. So, I had a vague idea of where I was going, and didn't anticipate getting hopelessly lost. However, once I exited Inwood Hill Park, I didn't recognize anything and wasn't sure where to go. Noticing a sign for 207th St, I decided to improvise and ran east, following 207th St.  I ended up going over the W Fordham Rd Bridge into the Bronx.

Right at the end of the bridge, I heard a loud screeching noise, looked up in surprise and witnessed a car accident.  While I waited at the intersection for the light to change, there was a shirtless guy covered in tattoos doing dips on the side of the road; he took a break, walked up to me and asked if I ran very far.  I mumbled a yes as I dashed across the street, running away from the tattooed guy, partially out of fear, but mostly from a desire to keep my heart rate up. I had no idea where I was going and proceeded to get temporarily lost in the Bronx. Thank god for the iphone and Google Maps - it saved me! If it weren't for Google Maps, I swear I would spend 95% of my life being lost somewhere.  Thanks to the iphone, I found my way back into Manhattan via the Washington Bridge, which dumped me onto 181st Street.

It was time to head back home. My friend from CT was driving to the city and would be arriving in about an hour - I still had to run home, shower and change! But, he was stuck in traffic, so I had an unexpected extra hour or so to run.  I briefly considered adding the GW bridge to my route, then decided against it.  Then I changed my mind. Literally at a standstill on a street corner, I stood there trying to make up my mind where to go. After at good couple of minutes, and changing my mind about another 20 times, I finally talked myself into running the bridge - after all it only added 3 miles onto my route. Just another 4.5 miles and I'd be home free. 

Earlier into the run, my toes started jamming up against front of shoes - HARD. My feet were in so much pain after just a few miles. Every single time I stopped running, my toes started throbbing and I literally cried out in pain.... The pain subsided while I ran, so the only thing to do was keep running.  Only once I got home and checked my old sneakers, I realized that I bought my brand new running sneakers 2 sizes too small.  Two sizes! No wonder my toes hurt so much. Guess it's been so long since I bought New Balance sneakers, that I completely forgot what size I am!!!  This is such a bummer.  Not even sure if I can return them at this point... there aren't ANY NB stores left in NYC, and the sneakers have already been used anyway... and running shoes are not cheap! 

All in all, I was outside for nearly 3 hours. I ran through two states, two NYC boroughs, over 3 bridges. Ran to the tip of Manhattan and back.  Went down the Greenway, through Inwood Hill Park, got somewhat lost in the Bronx, and finished with a great tempo pace on the GW bridge, and along Riverside on the way home.  This run wasn't for time, distance, or pace. I was actually disappointed with my time... Sure, I wanted to get in a bare minimum of 8 miles as a "long" run before Brooklyn. I left the apt thinking, "I will do at least 8 miles. If I am feeling up to it - and if I have the time - I might go for 12 miles." Since I actually ended up doing 14 miles, the run was a huge success (if you base on mileage alone). However, it took me 2.5 hours to cover those 14 miles in perfectly clear conditions. Why? because I stopped constantly. I was enjoying myself so much that I pulled out my phone every chance I got and snapped pictures of the views. I paused to admire the scenery whenever I felt moved to appreciate the nature around me.  I stopped countless times to consult the map on my phone, figure out where I was, and determine how to get where I was going. Accounting for all the times I stopped along the way, I'm confident that my pace was pretty decent, so I'm not worried.  I love leisurely long runs. All in all, I had a blast. 

Unchartered Territory in Northern Manhattan

At the last possible minute this morning, I finally forced myself out the door for a long run. I guess today's excursion could count as a "training run" for the Brooklyn Half, but considering the fact that I'm not following any real training program, and today's run was anything but fast, I will just call it a leisurely long run.

It was a positively gorgeous day, starting out along the Hudson River Greenway. The sun was shining, the grass was green, trees were blooming, and the pedestrian paths were completely clear. ( After the horrific winter we just endured, images of frozen icy pathways have been permanently etched in my memory.  No matter how many times I go down to the greenway in the springtime weather, I am perpetually shocked to actually see grass!) Every single time I see a clear pathway, I rejoice a little inside - I'm still not used to it! The intense sun made me feel slightly overheated from the second I started... but other than that the run along the waterfront was fairly uneventful....

As I approached Inwood, I ran past the usual baseball and soccer fields, until the path ended, but instead of turning around and heading back home, I climbed the staircase at the end of the waterfront park, took the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, and found myself in the woods of Inwood Hill Park! After running up and down a few glorious rolling hills, the next thing I knew, I ended up at the Henry Hudson bridge... I made it to the northern tip of Manhattan!!! I was so excited I literally jumped up and down, clapped, and let out a shriek of joy - I've reached a new milestone in my New York running career! This has been a long-standing goal of mine since moving to the city.  It was such an incredible feeling to finally be there!!!

It's such a thrill to consistently push the boundaries of what you know, venturing outside familiar territory, and discovering new running routes along the way. In my early days as a NYC resident, I was seriously afraid to go anywhere for fear of getting lost - or worse - raped, attacked, or mugged. Eventually, as I gained confidence in my new surroundings, I tentatively ventured down Broadway and Riverside.   I quickly discovered the Greenway entrance closest to my apt, and eventually discovered how to get over the GW bridge. I also found my way from the apartment to Ft Tryon (The Cloisters) and Inwood Hill Park.

It's amazing to think of all the places I've explored in the city through running. Within my first year here, I ran the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge. I've raced in Central Park and Prospect Park, ran around the Central Park Resevior, ran through Battery Park City and to the southern tip of Manhattan. I've been along parts of the Brooklyn waterfront and along the East Side of Manhattan. I led running tours in Williamburg, Park Slope, Chelsea, and Downtown Manhattan. I've explored The Cloisters and ran along Morningside drive in Harlem. I've ran down Broadway on a crowded Sunday afternoon and made my way along Houston St on a bustling weeknight. I've traced the perimeter of the west side waterfront piers, ran from 72nd St to Chambers along the Hudson River, and ran to Chelsea Piers from my office. All along, one of my lingering "wishes" was to run to the northern tip of Manhattan, and I finally did it! It's time to check yet another goal off my NYC running "wish list." 

Sadly, there isn't much unchartered territory left. I definitely want to follow all the waterfront pathways around the entire island of Manhattan (by running OR cycling). That's next on the list. One day I need to find the trails at the end of the GW bridge that trace the NJ cliffside along the Hudson. It would be neat to make my way to the Bronx Bontanical Gardens, or to run back to my old home in Port Chester. 

Northern Manhattan truly is a fabulous place to live if you are a runner - there are countless options for scenic routes, exploring, and adventures.  So, after taking in the view from the base of the Henry Hudson, relishing in my accomplishment, and snapping a few photos, I continued on through Inwood Park. Along the way I passed baseball fields, family picnics, fathers on park benches playing catch with their sons, and little girls with ice cream cones. The humanity was simply beautiful. I emerged from the park and found myself on 207th street, not quite sure where to go next.

((To be continued)) -- See "To the tip of Manhattan - and Beyond"

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Getting to the grocery store

I was determined to make up for Sunday morning's disaster of a run. It was getting late on Sunday and I was faced with a dilemma: run or grocery shopping? I wanted to run and I needed to get groceries, but time was quickly running out for doing both. Then inspiration hit. Why not run to the grocery store?

A quick search on Google Maps comfirmed that Trader Joe's was only about 4 miles away. "I can do that!" I thought to myself. So, arming myself with debit card (to pay for said groceries), MetroCard (to get back home), and apt keys (to get INSIDE said home), I was out the door and on my way. It was glorious. A huge smile plastered on my face practically the entire way there.

Running along Riverside drive meant I didn't have to deal with ANY traffic or lights, and basically no hills, so I could just cruise along to my hearts content. Except for the few slush puddles it was relatively smooth sailing the entire way. Couples, dog walkers, and fellow runners were out in droves on the promenade. Probably getting in their exercise time outside before the big game

As 79th street approached, my spirits soared even higher. The run went by in the blink of an eye! However, I misjudged the distance... Trader Joe's was actually at 72nd. So I had to dig deep and continue to push myself in and all-out sprint along Broadway for an extra .4 miles. I arrived at my destination pouring sweat and positively elated. Took a moment to collect myself then headed in to gather up some groceries for my next cooking experiment. Yay!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Should have brought my ice skates

Still totally jazzed after yesterday's incredible run, I woke up early this morning and headed out with high hopes. Today's goal was to explore my way through Inwood Hill Park to the northern most tip of Manhattan. That dream was ridiculously short lived.

The Hudson River Greenway was even WORSE than yesterday!!! Unbelievable. The sun was shining and the temps were pushing 40 degrees, so I mistakenly thought most of the ice would be gone. No such luck. All the sun succeeded in doing was to melt the existing ice into a giant skating rink. The entire path was just one solid sheet of smooth, slick ice. Less than 10 minutes into the run, I actually fell on black ice and probably screwed up my knee. It was literally impossible to run. I was slipping and sliding all over the place. Even when I stopped to walk I could barely keep my balance. There were actually other runners out today, and none of them seemed to be having trouble. They were all cruising along without a care in the world, while I was slip-sliding around petrified of loosing my balance and breaking my neck. I only made it as far as 168th street before desperately searching for dry, solid ground. Feeling thoroughly dejected, I made my way back home.

If I plan on running in weather like this more often, I might need to look into chains for my shoes. For some reason none of the other runners seemed to have a problem, and they were all wearing regular sneakers. What is their secret!? I would have killed for some extra traction on that ice. Maybe it was my shoes? Perhaps my Sauconys (which I wore today) just don't have an much friction as my New Balance 1225 (which I wore yesterday). Regardless, today's run clocked in at 45 minutes for about 2.1 miles; it was an all-around disaster and I was thoroughly disappointed.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The GW bridge is open!

Within 10 seconds of leaving the apartment, my face was completely frozen over. Miniature ice pellets pelted my face and stung my eyes. I could barely keep my eyes open. It's been ages since I ran in the rain, and not only was it raining in NYC, it was freezing rain.

With no pre-planned route, it seemed like a good idea to head down to the Hudson Greenway. HUGE MISTAKE. The ground was completely covered in ice. When my feet weren't crunching through ice chunks, they were slipping and sliding all over the place. The precipitation in the air was so thick I couldn't even see New Jersey on the other side of the river.

I was the only runner outside today. Seriously, I didn't pass anyone else the entire time I was out. Guess I'm the only idiot who decides to run when there's a winter weather advisory for icy road conditions. Regardless, the solitude was wonderful!

So there I was, shuffling along, skating all over the place. I lost count of how many times I nearly took a nose dive. Running was practically impossible in such hazardous conditions. I was so fearful of falling on my face the entire time - and I thought last week's conditions were bad - ha! I literally had to cling to the railing at 181st, just to keep from sliding backwards down the ramp.

These are the days when a gym membership comes in handy so you can pound out the miles on a treadmill. Then again, I would prefer shuffling around on ice over sailing along on the treadmill any day. Being outside and dealing with the elements is part of the whole experience of running - regardless of the weather conditions.

Just before leaving for the run, I had been looking through old race photos from 2008-2009 (the heyday of my running career). The photos took me right back to the days of racing regularly, pushing my personal limits, and living with a perpetual runners high. I was genuinely inspired by my former self and realized something very important: I can - and will - be an avid runner once again. I am capable of pushing myself harder than ever before. I am capable of running as hard and as fast as I can... and even when I feel like quitting, I will keep going. So, as I left for my run today, I was mentally psyched. I was ready to fly and see how fast my legs would go. Unfortunately the weather wasn't ready to cooperate. Spring needs to come asap!!!

Since the route was flexible, I checked out the GW bridge. The south entrance was open!! I wound my way up the ramp, excitement building tremendously with each step. After shuffling around for nearly 2 miles, my legs were itching to let loose and just GO. It was so great, with no traffic, no ice, and no other people to contend with... I finally got to just RUN as fast as I wanted! Somewhere along the way I splashed right through a huge puddle, creating small water reserves inside my sneakers that sloshed around with every step. The air was thick with freezing rain. It stung my eyes and soaked my clothes, and the whole experience was absolutely incredible. Can't wait to go back on a clear day and take in the views!

The best runs are always the ones where you have no idea where you're going. You just head out the door on a whim, and see where your legs take you. Today was one of those days. The run was fantastic, although I'm surprised I survived unharmed. On another positive note, I think the ice rain did wonders for my complexion. My skin looks amazing!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dear Winter

Dear Winter,

I love you but this act is getting old. Snow, slush, sleet, freezing rain, ice storms... I'm just so tired of it all! You're really putting a cramp in my running routine. I WANT to run. I NEED to run. For the first time in a long time, I am actually in the MOOD to run. Every single morning this week I've woken up refreshed with a mindset to get outside and run before work. Yet, because of you, I couldn't!!! I'm not even making excuses - it's just too dangerous to go sliding around on the sidewalk that you magically turned into a solid sheet of ice.

Don't get me wrong, I think you are truely beautiful and I love seeing you. But once you start getting in my way and preventing me from exercising, we have a MAJOR problem. So please move on with your life.


A frozen New Yorker

PS - Tell Spring to come soon! I can't wait to ride my bike and go for long runs in the sunshine!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Snowy Adventures

Dark silhouettes of trees and houses created a striking contrast to the white snow-covered New Jersey cliffside. The partially-frozen Hudson River boasted large floating ice chunks to the east, while strong chilling currents rushed along the west side of the river. The snow-dusted GW bridge looked splendid against the white cliffside, with the light grey sky above and silvery waters below. It was a picture-perfect scene in every respect. This is the kind of day when I wish I would bring my camera on runs... or at least my iphone. Running along the Hudson River Greenway this afternoon was such a treat - the views were simply breathtaking!!

Once again, I was a lonely runner braving the elements in sub-freezing temps. Running in solitude is one of my favorite pastimes - the luxury of being out in nature, alone with your thoughts and the beautiful world around you. It's a time to feel truly alive, with your feet striking the ground in time and your rhythmic stride carrying you forward.

The run began on relatively clear paths; the sidewalks around the apartment were essentially snow-free. The hill leading down to the Hudson Greenway was also fairly clear (minus a few strategically placed ice patches). I didn't hit snow until the wooden footbridge that passes over the West Side Highway... the staircase had become a solid slope of snow! Turning sideways and clinging to the railing for dear life, I slowly inched my way down the icy slope with tentative baby steps. Upon reaching the Greenway, clear pathways greeted me once again and it was smooth sailing for a while.

As I neared the end of the greenway (by the Little Red Lighthouse) and wound my way up the hill, the terrain got progressively worse. The path was completely covered in snow, where footprints from adventurous pedestrians left an uneven snowy obstacle course. I braced myself and plunged up the hill, slipping and sliding and nearly falling over the entire way... it was a pathetic excuse for a run, yet I could not resign myself to walk. By the time I reached the 181th St footbridge on the Henry Hudson Parkway, enough was enough. The pathway ahead was covered in packed snow as far as the eye could see. Trying to keep my balance was an awesome core workout, but at the end of the day who wants to be constantly worrying about slipping every 5 seconds? Not my idea of fun.

Since the GW bridge was right there, I endeavored to find the pedestrian entrance. This has been a goal of mine since moving to the city 10 months ago. However, no matter what random roads or paths I explored, I never stumbled upon the right place. Today, as I headed down 177th searching for the elusive bridge entrance, a man walking in the other direction shouted at me "It's closed!" I didn't really care if it was closed, I just wanted to know where it was. I tried asking him but it was futile. Don't think he understood English very well. All he could say was "It's closed! Come this way!" And so we went to scope out the entrance on the northern side, which was guarded by a locked gate. Apparently both entrances had both become icy snow slopes that were unsafe and therefore closed. Not minding at all, I continued onwards, completely thrilled that I FINALLY discovered the pedestrian entrances.

Shortly after the bridge a ramp on my right beckoned to me. It appeared to lead down to the water level. My adventurous streak took over, and having no idea where I would end up, I plunged into the unknown. Skidding down long rampways and jogging down snowy slopes, my immediate goal was to reach the bottom as quickly as possible without falling. I ended up alongside the beginning of the Henry Hudson Parkway - go figure. Knowing where I was didn't necessarily mean I knew where to go from there, and all around, pathways were covered with an even layer of completely untouched snow, about 16" deep. There was no choice but to continue onwards, so with high knees, and even higher spirits, I jogged through the knee-deep snow drifts. My socks were completely drenched, snow was caked around my ankles, my leggings were soaked, and my toes were going numb, but I was having the time of my life!!! It was like being a kid again, frolicking in knee-deep snow. Pure, white, untouched snow is such a rare and beautiful luxury in the city, that for a brief instant, I nearly forgot I was in New York.

The dream was short-lived and reality hit again when I reached the edge of the highway ramp. Continuing alongside the ramp, I ended up on Riverside Drive - finally! - and proceeded home. For the rest of the day, my mind kept flashing back to moments from the run... the breathtaking views of the Hudson River, the snow covered hills and slopes, the forest filled with pure untouched snow... it was all so perfect and peaceful.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow and Slush

Neck warmer: check. Smartwool headband: check. NB Running fleece: check. Two pairs of LS shirts: check. Two pairs of pants: check. Thick socks: check. Two pairs of gloves: check. I packed up my pink Shape bag (which I got for free from Pilates for Pink in Union Square) with all the necessary paraphernalia and headed into work. Today I had a running date scheduled with a running buddy, Coleman, and I was totally jazzed about it!

Despite the fact that NYC just had a huge snowstorm the day before (and the morning of) our scheduled run, we both held on to hope that the sidewalks would be clear. Literally the only thing keeping me going was the promise of company on the run - the fact that a friend would hold me accountable gave me the extra incentive to get out there in sub-freezing weather the day after a snowstorm. As the workday drew to a close, Coleman informed me that he was stuck at his office later than expected and encouraged me to go ahead by myself. Neither of us knew the conditions of the roads, or if the West Side Highway was even clear enough to go running. However, I had already decided I was running that night, no matter what, so the encouragement was a bit unnecessary, but welcome nonetheless. After all, I didn't go through the effort of packing my pink Shape bag for nothing! And so I ran.

Thing started off well; the sidewalks just outside my office were completely cleared. Then I reached an intersection and things went downhill. It was a mess! Snow piled up right in front of me blocked my route and forced me to venture into the street, where I was greeted by a vast stretch of slush puddles. With an awkward stride, I cautiously jogged through the slush, trying to avoid splashing on myself as much as possible. Things were even worse on the West Side Highway. The sidewalks weren't clear AT ALL, forcing me to run in the highway towards oncoming traffic. This is scary in any conditions, let alone at night, in the snow, slush, and ice! I proceeded with caution, but never stopped running.

Finally crossing the highway and reaching the Hudson River Greenway, I was thrilled to discover it had been cleared! Except for the occasional ice patch, the Greenway was in great shape. My pace quickened rapidly as I found my stride and started cruising along. Although the greenway was clear, intersections remained a challenge. Dirty slush puddles are just a by-product of winter in NYC - wherever the sidewalk dips down and meets the street drainage, snow melts, thousands of people walk every single day, dirt accumulates, and you end up with miniature swamps - deep puddles of gross melted snow the size of a small pond. These can be completely unavoidable, and sometimes you are forced to step straight into the unknown, not knowing when your foot will hit solid ground... and wholeheartedly embracing the fact that your footwear is going to be completely soaked hereon out, for the remainder of the run. Regardless, I astutely navigated the minefield of slush that faced me at each intersection, and successfully completed 3 miles. It was exhilarating. The best part is, no one else was out on the Greenway. I was one of about five runners who actually ventured out in the snow tonight. The beauty of the solitude provided by the nearly-abandoned waterfront was an incredible added bonus for being out there. I returned to the office to gather my things, completely rejuvenated and ready to enjoy the rest of my evening!

Yay for running at night in the snow & slush!!! It's such a confidence booster. I'm extra psyched because the odds were stacked against me tonight. The city streets were a snowy, slushy mess, it was late, I was sleepy, and my plans fell through with Coleman. Despite all that, I still got myself out there for a run. As an added bonus and reminder of my rare January night run in the snow, I am already sore (and I finished less than 2 hours ago!). Yay!