Sunday, July 31, 2011

Take It To The Bridge

You may have noticed from my recent ranting that I've been letting the NYC heat and humidity get to me. Whilst I still heart NY, I've not been loving what the weather has been doing to my legs or my spirits. Running has become both a challenge and a chore lately, as you may be aware if you follow my training on Daily Mile. It's all felt a bit too 'blah' quite frankly.

But guess what? I think I might just be getting my running mojo back. And it's not just because the heatwave has done a runner. It has a lot to do with this big fella here:

Since first walking over the Brooklyn Bridge back in November last year, I've been itching to run it. Somehow though, there was never the right time or opportunity. The bridge is around 3 miles from my apartment, so I need a good chunk of time (in babysitting hours) available before I can consider running there. Plus, living right next to Prospect Park, it's all too easy to get stuck in the habit of running the park's loop all the time. It's the mecca for Brooklyn based runners after all, so hey, if it ain't broke....

But a few days ago, I found a window. With Poppie at school, my lovely friend Michelle offered to have Jackson over for a play date with her boys, leaving me footloose for a whole 90 minutes (woo hoo!). So off I went - Brooklyn Bridge bound.

It was pretty hot, but just about bearable, and it wasn't long before I found my way to the pedestrian path leading to the bridge. As the path turned a corner and I got my first view of the bridge I felt like crying. I'd waited so long to do this, that it felt amazing to finally be there. Running over the bridge, my feet rattling its wooden boards with each step, it felt...

Iconic. Elating. Big Time Happy.

And the views...

Well, I'm afraid these pictures don't do them justice.

Before I knew it, I'd run out of bridge and was in Manhattan.

I'd run to flippin' Manhattan!

Now, this was by no stretch the longest run I'd done, but it felt like such an achievement to have got all the way to Manhattan. I kept going, running up Broadway, past Canal Street and all the way to Prince Street in Soho. Feeling very pleased with myself I hopped onto the R train back to Brooklyn to pick up my boy. Well, that was the idea, except for the fact that I got on the uptown train by mistake, ended up at 23rd Street and had to make a mad dash back in time to pick up Jackson, before Michelle had to go out. You see, it had all been going far too smoothly...

Running somewhere new that day really upped my enjoyment factor and helped me get some perspective on what 'distance' really looks like. When you're running the same route around a park, day in, day out, 4.5 miles (the distance I ran that day), is just a basic training run. Running that same distance through city streets, however, makes you realise just how far 4.5 miles actually takes you from your starting point. Saying to yourself, 'I want to go there' and then running to where you want to go, is so much more satisfying than pounding the same old (same old) route.

At the end of the day, I don't know what the future holds for me right now. I don't know how long my family will stay in New York, it's dependent on so many factors. But while we're here, I have some of the most interesting, beautiful and downright iconic city streets and sights right on my doorstep. So I need to make the most of them now, while I can, and not waste the opportunity I have to take them in whilst doing something I love. I need to stop plodding around the (very beautiful, very convenient) park all the time and start running the city I'm so lucky to live in.

A few days later, I took my own advice and ran over the Brooklyn Bridge again, this time crossing Manhattan to the West side and running up the West side Highway pedestrian path. I didn't even know this bit was here:

Pretty, eh? And I got some lovely views of the Hudson.

I made a right when I reached the Meatpacking district and ran along 14th Street until I reached Union Square.
8 miles on the nose. Long run done. And it was kind of perfect for a long run, too. Running the streets, I often had to stop for lights, which gave my legs a little rest (nothing wrong with that when you're running long and easy). Plus, there was so much to see along the way.

So here's the plan. For short runs, tempo runs, speed work: Prospect Park - you are the perfect host. But for long runs...New York City - hold on, cos I'm coming.

What's your favourite city running route?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Week of Extremes


I am rubbish in the heat. With my pale skin and fair hair, I'm just not suited to it. One of the main reasons I was happy to move from Dubai to NYC was to escape the heat, and live in 'proper' weather.

How naive I was. NYC is giving Dubai a run for its money this week, as a record breaking heat wave ploughs its way across the U.S., hiking New York temperatures above 100 F, and heat indices above 110. It. Is. Boiling.

Now Dubai does get hotter than this, but then in Dubai we lived in a large, airy villa with tiled floors and central a/c. We could move from air-conned house, to air-conned car (parked just outside our door) to air-conned office/ mall/ restaurant/what have you.

In New York things are pretty different. For a start we're on the 4th floor of an old limestone building. Remember what you learned at school about heat rising? Well it's all true. Heat does rise and once it's risen, it hangs out in our apartment and refuses to leave. That's our apartment without central a/c, but instead with total wastes of money portable a/cs that barely make an impact. As I write this we have 3 a/cs running in our living space and I am still sweating. And the air-conned car? What air-conned car? We don't have one of those! If you have one of those, you need somewhere to park it and we didn't fancy having to get a bus home from the nearest parking space. So, if we need to get anywhere, we walk. In the heat. With two kids. And the shopping/ scooters/ lunchboxes/handbags/what have yous.

Oh, it's beyond joyful.

And did I mention the four flights of stairs that we (me. the 2 kids) climb when we actually manage to get in the door? No? Well that's just a treat, because that's when I get to carry Jackson (all 30lbs of him) as well as the shopping/ scooters/ lunchboxes/handbags/what have yous, because Jackson has decided he doesn't like walking up stairs anymore. It's especially wonderful when we get half-way up the final flight of stairs and the temperature jumps up by about 10 degrees to 'sauna' level. That's my favourite bit.

It's looking like the heat will die down (a bit) in the next few days, so that we'll only have highs in the late 80s (woo flippin' hoo). So maybe I'll be able to get a bit of running in. This week I've managed a pathetic 3.5 miles what with the heat and Paul's work schedule. 3 of those miles were on the treadmill, which I loathe with a passion. And I tell you, missing my runs messes with my head. I'm cranky when I don't get to run. I start wanting to boost my serotonin levels by other means (i.e. chocolate). My pudding intake increases exponentially and I start to feel crappy. Rather that though than attempt a run outside. On Thursday, on the way home from the (cool, air-conned) library with Jackson, I watched as loads of runners came bounding out of the park. At midday. In 95 degree heat. What possesses them?!!! I mean I know I'm a bit of a wimp, but that's just ridiculous, surely?


So, without my usual running fix I had to find another way of getting a hit, and achieved this by going to see the fantastic 'Hood To Coast' at the IndieScreen in Williamsburg.

Hood to Coast is a documentary film about The Hood To Coast relay race which runs every year between Mount Hood in Oregon and the Pacific Ocean in Seaside, Oregon. The course covers 197 miles and is run by over 15,000 runners, all in teams of 12. Each runner in a team runs 3 legs of, on average, 6 miles. When not running, the team members return to one of two team vans that follow the runners along the course. Extreme, huh? (Do you see a theme developing here?).

Hood To Coast is not only extremely well made - quirky, funny and captivating - but also incredibly moving. It features a number of teams, and tells their stories as well as documenting their progress in the race. Team R Bowe runs in rememberance of Ryan Bowe, who unexpectedly died of a heart attack a year before at the age of 30. His mother, brother and wife run along with his friends to complete the race he loved so much.

Team Heart 'n' Sole, comprised completely of women over 50, run for the first time since Kathy, one of their members, literally dropped dead on the course the previous year, only to be revived by fellow runners. The film follows Kathy's comeback a year, and a triple heart bypass later, at the age of 67. These stories are told with compassion and unexpected humour, and I challenge anyone not to be moved by them.

Much light relief is supplied by other teams, namely 'Dead Jocks In a Box' and 'Thunder and Laikaning'. The former, a 'masters' team, including one member who has run every race for the last 25 years, and whom like his team mates, behaves more like a teenage boy than a man in his fifties. The later is a team comprised of mostly sedentary animators, who belive that the key to running the race is to eat (pizza) and drink (beer) as much as possible and to train (practice running) as little as possible.

The race course winds through unspeakably beautiful scenery, which had me literally wiggling in my seat, wanting to be there running too. As the runners make their way along it, their stories unfold further, engaging you with their experience so that when they finish, you share their jubilance and relief.

Honestly, I'd recommend this film to runners and non-runners alike. It's on Netflix, so check it out if you can, otherwise check out the website to see when and where it's playing next.

Running 197 miles is not easy. But like one of the characters says, when you get 12 people together, you can do anything. So my only question is, if I'm number 1, who are my other 11? Who's in for next year?

I'm serious.

Who wants to spend a weekend doing something unbelievable? Who thinks they can run 3 legs of 6-7 miles through the most beautiful scenery you can imagine as part of an amazing group effort to do something you never thought you could be part of?

Extreme, eh?

So come on then, who's in? And what's our team name?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Central Park Conservancy Run For Central Park - Race Recap

The Central Park Conservancy Run for Central Park was my sixth qualifying race for the NYC 2012 Marathon, and one that I'd been deliberating over for most of the preceding week. This was my third 4 mile race of the year, and the second time I'd run this course. Last time had been at the NYRR 4 mile back in April, where I'd knocked 4 minutes off my previous time and exceeded all my expectations. It was a brilliant race for me, not least as it was absolutely pouring with rain, which to my complete and utter surprise made for great running conditions: cool, refreshing and just plain joyful (picture me leaping over puddles and whooping with excitement and you get the idea).

The recent weather in New York City, however, has been far from ideal for running. We've been experiencing extremely hot days, with temperatures consistently hitting 30 - 34°C. The double whammy of heat along with high levels of humidity has made running a sticky, dead legged, energy sapping challenge. Thankfully, in the week leading up to the race the humidity eased its grip on the city. This made things slightly more bearable, but the heat remained. Even leaving the house before 7am to run, I contended with temperatures between 23 and 25°C.

So, in the lead up to this race, I've been more than aware how unlikely beating my previous time and achieving a new personal record (PR), would be. For a while I even considered not showing up, and registering for a 'cooler' race later in the year. But then I came to my senses and saw this race for what it could be: a qualifier. I needed to finish the race, simple as that. Fast or slow, once I crossed the finish line, I was one race closer to my marathon qualification. It was a no brainer, really.

Race morning was beautiful. Sunny and warm as expected, the park teemed with thousands of runners and buzzed with their collective energy and excitement.

Lining up in the corrals awaiting the start of race, we were reminded by the race organisers of the heat, and that we shouldn't push ourselves too much. 'Fine by me', I thought, and I decided to take the race as it came, to see how I felt mile by mile and to go with the flow, so to speak.

Standing in the corrals minutes before the start
The view of the corral in front of me

And behind me

And go with the flow I did. I started off easy - not least as I felt pretty sluggish - and finished the first mile in around 9.50. Mile 2 felt a little better especially as we were treated to a 'misting station' (a.k.a a volunteer with a hosepipe who showered cold water over the runners as we passed her). This instant cool down perked me up a little more and I managed to pick up my speed, finishing mile 2 in around 9 minutes. The rolling hills of the west side of the course made for hard work as the heat picked up and by the 3rd mile mark I realised that to beat my previous PR I would have to run the last mile in under 8 minutes. And that was the point at which I thought 'No. I don't need to prove anything. I'm just going to enjoy this last mile and relax'.

Of course, no sooner had I given myself permission to back off, than we hit a long downhill. 'Oh sod it!' I thought, and picked up my pace again - I mean, you can't let a good downhill go to waste, particularly as much of it was in the shade. As I turned off the loop at 72nd Street, I made one last push and sprinted for home. I finished in 37.52 and averaged a 9 min 28 second mile which I was more than happy with. Not a PR, but by no means an embarrassment, I finished 182nd out of the 435 women in my age group and that's alright with me.

Hot and happy to finish

Too often my goal has been to compete against myself, always aiming to improve or do better. Well, sometimes the wiser goal is to exert a little restraint, whether that's keeping my easy runs easy, my long runs slow, or just playing things safe. Sometimes it really is more about taking part (and avoiding heat stroke in the process). It wasn't impossible for me to make a new PR, it just wasn't (in my view) worth the effort. You have to pick your races just like you pick your battles.

Anyway, once I'd got my breath back I took a look at my phone and saw this:

Best. Surprise. Ever.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good Job! (If you can get it)

I once had a flat mate who said that if he were ever to have a child, he would name it 'Plus One'. Working in the music business, he claimed that such a moniker would get his kid on any guest list for any gig in town. I was only 50 % sure he was joking.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I attempted to earn my own plus one, although thankfully this had nothing to do with childbearing. Instead, I worked as a volunteer for the New York Road Runners (NYRR) in order to earn the '+1' I need to complete the 9+1 guaranteed entry program and qualify for the 2012 NYC marathon. If you're new to this blog, you can read about this program and my attempts to complete it here.

I'd chosen to volunteer as a course marshall at the Boomer's Cystic Fibrosis Run To Breathe 10K in Central Park, a race which supports life-saving research into Cystic Fibrosis. After a 4.15am start (ouch), I made it to Central Park for 6.30am to meet with the other volunteers and the NYRR volunteer coordinator. The meeting point was the NYRR kiosk, right behind the Fred Lebow statue at the East 90th St Entrance to the Park.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning, and while we milled about waiting for everyone to arrive, I watched jealously as runners made the most of the trails and running paths Central Park has to offer.

I mean, who wouldn't want to run through scenery like this?

By around 7am, everyone had arrived and we all got decked out in our dashing (geddit?) NYRR orange volunteer jackets. You like?

And then it was time for our orientation talk. Basically, as course marshalls, it was our job to make sure that the runners stayed on the right course and didn't veer into the part of the loop reserved for recreational walkers, runners and cyclists. In addition, we needed to keep members of the general public out of the racing lanes whilst the race was on. Lastly, we were expected to perform the most important task of all. Cheering. Easy, eh?

I was asked to work, with two other volunteers near the East 72 Street section of the course, which meant that the runners would pass us twice, once just after the start of the race, and again just before the finish.

Once the race started it was only a matter of a few minutes before the first runners came flying around the corner towards us. It was fantastic to see the front runners speeding past, running at a pace that most of us mortals could only sustain for a minute. When I've run in races before, I never get to see the front runners in action, so it was both exciting and jaw dropping to witness.

Within what seemed like seconds the course was teeming with runners, and we got on with the job in hand, which mostly involved making exaggerated waving motions and shouting 'STAY IN!' whenever someone looked like they were going to veer off in the wrong direction. It was pretty uneventful, except when a crazy woman insisted on crossing the course with her baby in a push chair, nearly tripping up multiple runners in the process. Oh, and there was the pink gorilla. He was cool.

The majority of runners passed us within the first 15 minutes of the race and then all was quiet until they made a full loop and broke for the finish. It was incredible to see the winning runners coming past, running full pelt after over 6 miles. The runners were much more spread out as they began to filter into the finishing lane. While those in the first wave looked confident to finish, as the runners started to look more and more fatigued, our cheering became more and more animated.

And this is where I had a little sticking point. I was half of a two-person cheering squad with a lovely volunteer I'd met called Jennifer. She was a great cheerer, and being American, everything she cheered sounded great.

'Good Job!'
'Nice Kick!'
'You've got it!'

All of this trickled off her tongue in an effortless and effort inspiring flow. Me, on the other hand, well I'm sorry but shouting 'Good Job!' just is not right when you've got an English accent. It just sounds plain stupid. In fact, quite a lot of things sound stupid when you come to think of it. That didn't stop me from shouting, very self consciously, the following heap of nonsense:

'You're almost there!'
'Nice run!'
'Nice socks!' (well, they were nice socks)
'Looking good!' (that's a really American one too, and I did sound pretty idiotic uttering it),
'You've got it!' (I know, all wrong, unless you pronounce got as 'gaat' rather than to rhyme with yacht).

Well I think you get the picture. I was the most self-conscious cheerer you could get, but frankly, most of the people running past us didn't look like they needed much encouragement. They all looked really strong, so you felt like a bit of a lemon yelling 'you can do it!' at them.

But then the crowd thinned out further, and we started to see the people that did need encouragement. The older runners (and I'm talking upwards of 70 here), the runners with oxygen tanks on their backs (amazing), the runners weighing in at upwards of 280lbs, the runner with a prosthetic leg, the runners who were really struggling to finish. It was when these runners came by that I started to cheer instinctively and stopped needing to search for the appropriate thing to say. I was no longer self-conscious but just plain excited for these men and women who were about to finish. You could see that for many of these runners, completing this race was a really. big. deal. And so it should be. Because when you see so many people making a 10K look like a walk in the park, you forget that 10K is a really long way to run. How many of you reading this have ever run a 10K? Was it easy?

The runners we saw in the back of the pack put their heart and soul into this race. When we cheered for them they made eye contact with us and we could see that they took strength from our encouragement. I found it incredibly moving to see them run and honoured to have helped them on their way to the finish line. I hope that every one of them is full of pride for what they achieved yesterday because they did an AMAZING thing.

Before long, the last runners were through to the finish and it was time to pack up. I made my way to the check out station, collected my free race t-shirt, said my goodbyes and headed for home.

Plus one in the bag, memories of a wonderful morning in my heart.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Woman With A Plan

I've been a little quiet, I know.

We've been on holiday in lovely Cape Cod, so blogging has taken a bit of a back seat, I'm afraid. Running's not done too well either, as I only managed to get out there twice while we were away. Whilst I had visions of running every morning, it's pretty difficult when you've got the kids with you 24/7 and you're trying to actually have, you know, a 'holiday'.

Anyway, although I don't think a round of mini-golf makes up for the running deficit, we did have a lovely bike ride along the Rail Trail, where we got to cycle past scenery like this

We hired the bikes and trailers and cycled for 2 hours and around 16 miles. The kids loved the trailers to begin with but were soon over the whole affair and completely disinterested (as you can see).

Oh well, their loss.

I have managed to get back into the running swing of things since we got back, though, and ran quite a bit last week.
I've also been having a lot of fun experimenting with some new (well new to me, probably ancient to others) technology. In the absence of having a Garmin, I'm trying out a variety of websites and apps to track my progress and log my runs. Here's what you can get up to with an iPhone and a mac....

This has a brilliant (and free) app for iPhone where you can record your runs via GPS. Start recording when you set off and it not only tracks your run on an uploadable map, but allows you to monitor your distance and pace while you run. It's also very handy if you get lost (which I did while running in the new surroundings of Cape Cod), as you can use the map to navigate your way. When you've finished your run, you can upload it to your homepage on the Map My Run website and add it to your running profile. You can also search for running routes that have been uploaded by other users (especially handy when you're running in an area you're unfamiliar with), plus the site has a social networking angle to it, where you can make 'friends' a la Facebook. While it doesn't seem to have a way of recording lap/split times, it's the closest thing I have to a Garmin and I'm loving it.

Daily mile is fab. It's similar to Map My Run, but lacks the GPS app. I prefer the way you can log your runs on this site, plus you can search for other runners in your area to see what/where they're running which is kind of cool. For instance, I was interested to see who else has been suffering in the NYC heat we're having at the moment!

It's also great for keeping a record of your runs, mileage and feelings about your run. Although you can't map your run by GPS, you can easily map it out on the website, plus if you enter your time (which I take from my Map My Run stats) it'll calculate both your pace and distance. You can see where and when I've been running by accessing my lovely new Daily Mile 'widget' that you'll see to the right of this post. There's also another widget (don't you just love that word?), which will keep you up to date with my race schedule.

I have to say though, that despite all the fun I've been having with these techy bits and with the copious amounts of ice cream ingested on my holiday, I am lacking one major thing at the moment. A plan.

When I started running again this January, my main aim was to run regularly, finish my half-marathon and qualify for the NYC 2012 marathon via the NYRR 9+1 guaranteed entry program. Two half-marathons and 5 of the 9 races in, I'm no longer worried about completing the challenge, and with no 'big' races left on my schedule, I'm lacking a bit of motivation.

So I need a plan. I'm just one of those people who feels better about things when I have a plan.

This is what I'm going to do....

I've got another 4 mile race in a week's time, so I'm going to get that out of the way, then start the Hal Higdon Intermediate Half-Marathon training program with a view to running the Staten Island Half-Marathon in October.

Now I know I can qualify for the NYC 2012 Marathon by running shorter races, but I need the challenge of another half. Whilst the first half-marathon was all about finishing, and the second about finishing a little faster, this time I want to finish, wait for it, in under 2 hours. That would mean cutting 10 minutes off of my previous time and increasing my pace to a 9 min 9 second mile (my fastest half marathon pace thus far has been 9.55). The idea is that along the way, I'll also increase my pace for shorter distances.

Can I do it? Who knows. But the Hal Higdon plan includes a fair bit of speed work, which is something so far I've just toyed with and I'm now ready to have a proper go at. There's a brand spanking new indoor track at the YMCA Armory down the road from me with free childcare to boot, so I can definitely get the track work done. It's all doable, so why bloody not, eh? Plus, the Staten Island course is supposed to be pretty flat, and blimey does that help.

So what do you think? Should I go for it?

Anyway, better go. I'm volunteering at as a course marshall at the Boomer's Cystic Fibrosis Run to Breathe 10K race tomorrow morning in Central Park. I need to get there for 6.30am so that means leaving the house at 5.10am (ouch!). Volunteering tomorrow will fulfill the voluntary requirement for the 9+1 guaranteed marathon entry program, leaving me with just 4 more races to complete for my NYC 2012 qualification. Woo hoo!

I'll let you know how it goes. Nighty night x