Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Track Woes

I know President's Day was last week, but allow me to invoke our founding fathers for a moment (God knows the presidential candidates have been invoking them on an hourly basis). Our founding fathers recognized that we have certain unalienable rights--the right to due process of law, the right to just compensation in cases of governmental takings, the right to religious freedom--but it's obvious none of our founding fathers was a runner.

If there had been runners in that first Congress at Federal Hall in New York, surely one of them would have included the right to a track!

What am I talking about? It can be really difficult to find a good all-weather 400 meter or 440 yard track. In New York City, there are a handful of tracks, but most of them fall into one of four categories:

(1) Weird distance - It's hard to run 800 m repeats on an unmarked 330m track!

(2) Weird shape - It's tricky to maintain speed on a track with 90 degree angles (plus, these tracks usually also fall into category (1))

(3) Limited Hours - Some of the nicest tracks are only open certain times of day, times that don't really allow people with jobs good options for getting in a workout.

(4) Pay-per-use tracks - There are a handful of indoor tracks in the city, but these require you to pay each time you want to use them and they usually fall into category (3) and sometimes categories (1) and (2) as well.

There's also a fifth category for tracks that are just too far away for me to get to on a weekday. There are great tracks at McCarren Park, the Redhook Recreation Area, Van Cortlandt Park, and Forest Park, but there is no way I can get to those places before work. There are two tracks close to me, one that's approximately 320 meters with 90 degree angles and one that doesn't open until 6am. I guess when you have Manhattan real estate prices to deal with, tracks just aren't a winning proposition.

For now, I'll continue to make due with the Central Park reservoir loop but I'm not going to stop dreaming about a day where I can live across the street from a pristine all-weather track!

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Rest Day Trek Across the Harbor

Because I've switched this week's training schedule around for next week's race, I had a rest day yesterday. It's very rare for me to take a rest day on the weekend so I figured I would take advantage of the extra time by heading someplace distant--STATEN ISLAND!

Yes, you read correctly. I actually chose to go to Staten Island. This is hardly the first time I've visited the forgotten borough (I had my birthday dinner at Denino's Pizzeria and Tavern, an island institution), but I haven't been in several months. Since the last several weekends I have visited all four other boroughs, I figured it was time to mix things up.

I picked my destination (more on that soon) and headed to South Ferry. Just to give you an idea of how distant Staten Island is, it takes roughly 30 minutes on the express train to get to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal from Harlem. Then you have to take a 25 minute ferry ride.

Assuming everything runs smoothly and you have no waiting time, you're looking at an hour to get to St George. Taking into account that this is the real world and things never run smoothly, you're looking at 75 to 90 minutes.

The Staten Island Ferry trip is always relatively pleasant. Because the boat passes the Statue of Liberty and offers great views of New York Harbor and the downtown skyline, it's usually pretty packed with tourists looking for free photo ops. I snapped a couple photos but mostly contented myself with the book I had brought.
If only you could run over this bridge year-round...
When I arrived in St George I had no problem finding the bus I wanted. The great thing about the DOT-MTA relationship is that they have the Staten Island buses timed to the ferry schedule so you usually wait no more than 5 minutes. Even better, this was a brand new bus, much fancier than anything I ever ride in Manhattan.

My destination was less than two miles from the ferry so in a matter of minutes I was back off the bus. Time from my door to my destination? 1 hour, 45 minutes. I can visit all four other boroughs in the same amount of time--now you see why I don't get to Staten Island all that often.

Anyway, now that you are about to pee yourself wondering about my secret destination, it's after the jump.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Windy Triboro Run

If the harder the wind blows, the more it sucks, then today it sucked pretty hard. This morning when I woke up I could hear  the windows rattling. Because there was a race today, the Dashing Whippets folks didn't have a gropu run scheduled--that meant any run would be a solo effort. I spent a good couple hours wasting time on the interwebs trying to find the courage (or stupidity) to get out there. Finally, I managed to get my but out the door.

Since the winds were out of the west, I figured I would head east as much as possible. That meant I could either run in the Bronx or Queens (run east in Manhattan and you get wet pretty quickly). I don't like to play favorites, so I chose both. I headed north into the Bronx over the Madison Avenue Bridge and made my way to the Bronx span of the Triboro.

Those who have been reading my blog for any length of time (or those who know me in real life) know that I have a thing for bridges. Well, I think the Queens' span of the Triboro (the East River suspension bridge span) is pretty hard to beat: it offers an amazing view of Upper Manhattan all the way to Midtown; it offers a great view of the Hellgate Bridge (one of my favorite bridges to look at); and the bridge's Modernist style is just plain beautiful.

One of my favorite anamolies is the outdated sign at the Queens' end of the bridge. It shows Wards' Island and Randall's Island still partially separated by Little Hell Gate (today the two are fully connected by landfill and most people just think the whole thing is Randall's Island).

Now firmly planted on Long Island soil, I headed to Astoria Park. In spite of the weather there were plenty of other runners in the park. Looking at the giant pool--the oldest and largest in the city--made we wish for summer!

The Hell Gate Bridge
After running under the Hell Gate Bridge, I headed east along 20th Ave heading towards LaGuardia. This takes you past a giant ConEd plant as well as the Steinway & Sons Factory where they still make pianos (one of these days I'll take the tour). I took a little detour so I could pass the entrance to Rikers--not a place I ever want to end up, but I've watched too much Law & Order not to be curious.

This is where my photos stop. My hands were getting cold and taking my iPhone out was adding too much time to the run. Long story short, I toook a circuitous route past Citi Field, through Flushing, College Point, Whitestone and other parts of Queens I've never even heard of (Malba, anyone?).

After stopping for a bagel I caught the LIRR at Murray Hill and headed back into the city. Here's a quick plug for something I just discovered: City Ticket. On weekends you can ride MetroNorth or the LIRR for $3.75 anywhere within the city! If that's not a good excuse for some urban exploring, I don't know what is.

Today's rambling runs was a lot of fun but boy did it take a lot out of me! I think I'm ready for a nap.

See my route after the jump.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Random Friday Post: Jogging in Jeans

I haven't had a day off of running in 11 days and it's Friday so I'm taking a rest day. Just because I'm not running, though, doesn't mean there needs to be radio silence here in blogland. I thought I would devote today's post to one of the most fun running related sites out there: Jogging in Jeans

We've all been out for a run or at the gym and seen someone who looked out of place. Last week I saw a man going for a run on the west side in slacks and oxfords. It doesn't sound comfortable to me, but he didn't seem to mind. Even stranger, though, is the whole sub-culture of folks who regularly run in denim. What's that, you say? You're unfamiliar with this amazing phenomenon? We'll fear not because the folks at Jogging in Jeans have you covered.

Some of the runners in these photos seem to be in on the joke (i.e., they wearing their jeans as a costume, not as their regular running outfit). But there are plenty of others who appear to don their jeans as naturally as the rest of us don our moisture-wicking-technical-don't-put-me-in-the-dryer-shorts.

I don't mean for this post to be a total throw-away: I have a point, sort of. I am a technical fabric convert. You won't see me running in cotton, but I have no problem with people who do. This whole idea that there are correct clothes to wear for a run seems to be a relatively recent development. I say run in whatever feels comfortable to you.

What this comes down to is one of my favorite things about running: there really is no special equipment necessary. Anyone can give it a go and anyone can have fun doing it.

Happy Friday!

Note: All photos in this post are from

Thursday, February 23, 2012

You Snooze, You Lose (on Race Registration)

Earlier this winter I was contemplating running the Broad Street 10 Miler in Philadelphia. I've always wanted to do a race in the City of Brotherly Love but the Philly Marathon comes too soon after the other fall races and I refuse to do the Distance Classic now that it's been taken over by the evil Competitor Group.* I knew the Broad Street Run was popular but I didn't know just how popular until February 15 when it sold out in 5 hours!

As time goes on, it seems like all large races are hitting their caps earlier and earlier. Boston is probably the prime example: the 2009 race sold out on January 26; the 2010 race sold out on November 13; and the 2011 race sold out in 8 hours and 3 minutes! As a result, BAA (the group that puts on the race) completely reconfigured registration. Similarly, while the 2011 Chicago Marathon sold out in 31 days, the 2012 edition filled up in just 6 days.

Quite a few well-known races have now switched to lottery systems to handle the increased demand. The New York City Marathon is probably the most famous example, but plenty of other big races like DC's Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, New Hampshire's Mt Washington Road Race, Atlanta's Peach Tree Road Race, and the Houston Marathon use similar systems.

When you get shut out of these races because they've filled up to fast or you don't get picked in the lottery, just use it as an excuse to find a smaller local race. I know I've talked about NYCRuns before. With their comprehensive local race calendar, you can usually find a comparable alternative race. You can also search, or check with your local running store. The other bonus about smaller races is that they are usually less expensive.

In the end, it's probably good for me that Broad Street sold out so quickly. It's only three weeks after Boston and I know I won't have recovered fully. I'll just post-pone my return to racing and save a few bucks on transportation costs too.

*Okay, calling them evil may be an exaggeration, but just like I won't shop at Walmart, I won't run a Competitor race.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Tuesday Night in the Park

I knew I was going to be sore yesterday after my Monday long run--in a three day period I managed to run over 45 miles! Given this inevitable fact, I decided to take yesterday easy. I skipped my morning run and told myself that if I needed to, I could take a rest day.
Midtown from the Reservoir at Night--I wish this photo could do it justice.
 Well, by the time work was over, I was itching to get outside. The run I was supposed to do, 8 miles with 10x100 at the end sounded doable so as soon as I got home I laced up and headed out the door. My quads felt exhausted so I was a little worried about the strides, but I figured I just go by feel.

Tuesday night is a big night for team practices in the park so there were a fair number of people out on Park Drive. When I passed the Road Runners Kiosk there must have been 30 people milling around!

After a circuitous route by the Great Lawn, I made my way to the reservoir for some strides, all the while praying: Please don't be too crowded! Thankfully, the reservoir was pretty empty (though as usual, about half the folks using it were going the wrong way!).

My strides ended up feeling great with each one faster than my set last week. It just goes to show you that sometimes even tired legs can still get in a good workout. I'm glad I didn't blow yesterday off because now I still have an earned rest day that I use another day this week...or not.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Go North Young Man!

I had the brilliant plan of getting my 15 miler out of the way this afternoon. Rather than doing the smart thing and picking an easy (i.e. flat) route, I decided to head north to the Bronx since it's impossible for me to get their during the week (and since I spent a fair amount of time in Brooklyn and Queens over the weekend). I headed to the Hudson River Greenway for my northward trek.

Usually when I'm heading to the northwest Bronx, I'll take the Henry Hudson Bridge. For my first several years in the city it was closed to pedestrians but now it provides a nice direct link from Inwood in Manhattan to Riverdale in the Bronx. Today, however, I mixed things up and took the Broadway Bridge. Going this route not only adds some serious distance, it also adds some nice rolling hills.

I worked my way west to Riverdale and traveled along Palisade Ave which is bordered by Riverdale Park, the Metro North Hudson Line, and the river. There are some awesome views through the trees, especially in the winter when there are no leaves. I stayed on Palisade Ave all the way north to the College of Mount St Vincent before heading east again.

Usually I would head south again at this point and catch the 7th Avenue local back to Manhattan, but since I had more miles to get in I decided to continue east towards the Jerome Avenue line. I mainly followed McLean Ave which is a winding and predominantly Irish thoroughfare in southeast Yonkers. The Times had a story about this stretch back in 2002. I could not believe how many Irish bars there were! At least one on every block!

Finally I made my way to Woodlawn Cemetery and caught the 4 back to Manhattan. This was a great run to explore, though with all the hills it was hardly and easy one. Now I just need to find time to come back and check out some of the great pubs I saw!

See the map after the break.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bright Lights, Big City

Although I'm almost always a morning runner, sometimes I switch things up and run at night. Tonight was one of those times.

After yesterday's 20 miler, I had planned to take today off altogether. I spent the afternoon at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria (they've got a great exhibit on Jim Henson going on until March 4 which I highly recommend!). For some reason, though, when I got home around 6, I had an overwhelming desire to go for a run.

I figured I would do one easy loop of Central Park and call it a night but somewhere along Park Drive I found myself transfixed by the Midtown skyline. I've been reading a book on the history of Rockafeller Center--which is really more of a history of early 20th century urban architecture--and I thought, why not go see Rockafeller Center right now?

As I approached Central Park South, I could see that the sidewalk wasn't super crowded--it was 7 o'clock on a Sunday, after all--so I left the park. I turned onto 7th Ave and headed towards the lights of Time Square, running in the street, hugging the parked cars. This is proof that you don't have to give NYRR $90 bucks to run through the Theater District!

At 50th I turned east and ran past Radio City Music Hall and the RCA Building to 5th before looping back to 6th along 51st. There were plenty of people out, but the traffic in the streets was relatively light so I stayed in the road the whole time. Finally I was back at 59th and I reentered the park.

The rest of my run was nice and quiet. I saw perhaps three other runners on my way home. It was a wonderful contrast to my brief foray into Midtown. The whole run was a wonderful experience, the kind you can only have in New York. Without even realizing it, my easy 6 turned into 9 but I felt emotionally refreshed by the whole experience.

Alright, now I have to go watch the season finale of Dowton Abbey!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Long Weekend? Long Run!

Early this week one of my favorite running bloggers, Megan over at Runners Kitchen, blogged about long run anxiety. I don't know if anxiety is the right word for me, but I definitely get where she's coming from. Long runs don't seem like such a big deal anymore--what's 20 miles when you've ran 15 a couple days ago? But, they take a lot of time and it's easy to talk yourself into post-poning it.

Oh, maybe I'll just read a little bit more of today's Times, or I really need to catch up 30 Rock...

The longer you wait to get started, the harder it is to get out the door. The first way I try to deal with this is by doing my long runs on Saturday, not Sunday. That way I get them out of the way early in the weekend. Back during school I often did them Friday mornings (although, let's be honest, that was partly so I could go out Friday night...).

It's still easy for me to push them off. Thankfully, this weekend for the second time I ran with members of the Dashing Whippets. That meant I had to be out of my house and on the subway by 8:30 to meet them at Union Square. This was great motivation. It wasn't too early so I felt rested but it kept me from post-poning my run.

I have to say, though, the route today was tough!!! I've posted it after the jump. It involved a relatively flat first 10 miles, but then we hit Central Park and had 4 loops of the Harlem Hills! It doesn't help that my apartment is just a couple of blocks north of the park. Every loop I thought

You could just run off right now. You don't have to do another loop.

Thankfully I was able to stick with it. This kind of mental training will really help me come April. The hills in the final miles of Boston require stamina that is as much mental and physical so it's important to be ready.

With 20+ miles under my belt, it's time to relax and enjoy a 3 day weekend!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Has the Marathon Hurt the US Running Scene?

Yesterday I read a very very interesting post on Flotrak about how the growing cult of the marathon may be hurting the track and field scene. Although the article focuses on track, its premise probably holds true for distance events like the 5k and 10k to some extent as well.

Basically, Kevin Selby, the author, argues that professional runners are getting into the marathon too early in their careers before they've truly tapped their potential on the track. Here's Selby's argument in a nutshell:
Americans are a lot better off if they stay on the track through their 20’s.  A move to the marathon should only come once significant international track experience is achieved for the top tier Americans.  The marathon will always be there, but improvements may be halted by turning to 26.2 too soon.
The biggest worry plaguing Selby, however, seems not to be that these runners are sacrificing their potential, but that they are damaging the popularity of track events. I certainly wish running got more public attention across the board, but we have to start somewhere. Right now, the marathon seems to have captured the public's attention, at least to a certain extent.

NBC broadcast the Olympic trials (not live but at least they showed them at a time when people were awake) and NYRR now has a deal with ESPN to broadcast the NYC Marathon. I think the public is starting to care, at least a little, about the marathon. I actually think our best bet for enhancing the popularity of shorter events is to tap into this excitement surrounding the marathon.

Following Selby's argument, runners would simply stay out of the marathon and we would get the kind of exciting narratives like Ryan Hall's record-breaking in-all-but-name performance at last year's Boston Marathon. Call me crazy, but I'm excited about the sport's prospects.

What are your thoughts? Should Americans wait later to enter the marathon? Are we shooting ourselves in the foot by going long too soon?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Beer Review! Our Special Ale 2011

So, this may come as a shock, but now that training has really kicked into high gear, I'm not drinking as much beer. It just doesn't fit into my schedule that well when I'm posting double digits runs and waking up at the crack of dawn on a weekday. That said, I still love a good brew on the weekends and last weekend I visited one of my favorite spots, Flair Beverages, a retail-wholesaler in Inwood. Since you can buy beer in singles, I picked out a mixed six pack so there should be some fuel for further reviews.

The first one I cracked open was Anchor Brewing's Our Special Ale 2011 (their Christmas brew). Why buy a Christmas beer in February? Because somehow I never got around to trying the 2011 version and I remembered liking it in 2010.

At first when you pour this beer it looks almost black but hold it up to the light and you notice it's a beautiful dark reddish brown. The head is light and cream colored. I got notes of baking spices (cloves, cinnamon, maybe some anise?) but also some evergreen notes like pine (I could have held my nose in the glass for a long time trying to pick out the different scents but someone also had to drink the darn thing).

This is not a highly carbonated beer and it felt much lighter than I expected given it's appearance, but unlike a certain other beer, this wasn't a disappointment. You could taste the roast malt and the spices mentioned earlier but there is also a slight sweetness wrapping the beer. All in all I would recommend this one. It's surprisingly complex for such a sessionable beer. Now I only wish I had picked up a second bottle!

What Happened to Winter?

I'm not complaining, but it almost seems like winter forgot New York this year. Sure we've had a handful of cold days, but we've had almost no snow and plenty of above average temps. Last year it seemed like we had the winter that would never end. I remember being forced into quite a few treadmill runs simply because the road was too icy. This entire week, however, it's been near 40 when I've hit the pavement.

This lack of snow and ice has removed one of the biggest downsides to winter running and the other, perpetual darkness, is on it's way out. It's finally starting to get light early enough that at least part of every run has some sunlight. That's a big improvement over earlier in the winter where I could do my entire run in darkness and only see the sun between my apartment and the subway--it was gone by the time I finished work.

The good thing about this mild winter is that I'm not spending every moment complaining about the cold and wishing for summer. The bad thing? It has me worried I might be pushing my luck. I've run Boston the past two years and have been extremely fortunate with the weather both times. However, Old Man Winter still has plenty of time to rear his ugly head. I just hope he doesn't decide to come back from vacation just in time for Patriot's Day!

What do you think? Do we still have a dose of winter on the way?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Joys of a Brooklyn Bridge Run

Yesterday you learned that I am a teeny bit competitive. Well, today it's time for another confession: I've got a huge thing for bridges. Suspension bridges, drawbridges, cantilever bridges, lift bridges, you name it. I probably would have put "bridge" in the title of this blog if there weren't so many other similar running blog titles out there.

Now I just happen to be in luck because New York City has 2,027 bridges (makes sense when you have more than three dozen islands). The point is that quite a few of my runs involve bridges. I try not to play favorites but certain bridges get a lot more attention from me. One that surprisingly doesn't is the Brooklyn Bridge.

What?!? No love for the Brooklyn Bridge? No, it isn't that. It's that there's too much love for this beautiful bridge. On the weekends it's swamped with tourists who congregate on the Manhattan side of the walkway to take pictures and block the path. Because I don't like fight with all these gawkers, I usually opt for the Manhattan Bridge if I'm downtown and need to cross the East River.

Today, however, I did another commute run--a 15 miler--and had the luxury of being downtown early on a weekday. I was also coming from the Brooklyn side which can also make a difference. Sure, it's the "Brooklyn" Bridge, but a lot of folks who come to see it never make it to the other side, much to the chagrin of Marty Markowitz.

As I ran across the bridge this morning, I slowed down and looked up. Watching the beautiful cables climb up to the towers, each stone monument crowned by a flapping American flag, it's hard not be awed. I know I certainly was. I might have to start reintroducing this bridge back into my runs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Too Competitive for my Own Good

To say I was sore yesterday would be an understatement. My neck hurt, my left hip hurt, my right shoulder hurt...the list goes on. Now none of this was serious pain, but it was mildly uncomfortable, I-shouldn't-have-pushed-so-hard-both-days-this-weekend-and-not-gotten-enough-sleep pain. Today, my goal for my 13 was to take it easy.

I had another commute run planned, this time along the West Side. Things started out fine, I ran at a comfortable pace along the Hudson Greenway, passing only a few other runners in the pre-dawn hours. Unfortunately, somewhere around Pier 40 all that changed.

There was a guy who had entered the Greenway around W 10th Street a couple of blocks ahead of me. I had slowly gained on him, not deliberately, but just because I was running faster than he was. As I got closer to him, however, he sped up, just enough to stay a yard ahead.

Let me pause here for a confession--I'm a little competitive. No, I don't have to win all the time, but I can never turn away from a challenge, even when I know it's a bad idea. If only someone had warned this guy...

He started speeding up to get ahead and then slowing down until I caught him. As far I was concerned, the gauntlet had been thrown. I sped up, caught him, and then sped up again. By now we were at Battery Park City and I knew I had fewer than 3 miles left. I was prepared for any pace it took to stay ahead. Thankfully, it didn't take much. I could tell he was trying to catch me, but I wouldn't let up.

Somewhere around the Museum of Jewish Heritage I realized I had completely lost and I let up just in time to take in the view of New York Harbor. I haven't run this stretch much lately and I forgot how amazing it is to look out and see the Statue of Liberty, the Verazano Bridge, the Colgate Clock in Jersey City. If that guy had still been behind me, I might have missed all of this. I guess the point is, I need to work on reminding myself that some days it's okay to run slow.

How about you all? Do ever struggle to keep your pace down on an easy day?

Monday, February 13, 2012

For the Love of Basketball (With a Little Love for the Treadmill)

I don't have cable TV. I know I'm one of the few folks out there, but 90% of the time it just doesn't seem worth it. Most of the shows I like are on network television and if not, they're on Netflix or Hulu. However, there is one big problem with not having cable--NCAA basketball.

Photo credit: Richard Lipski/Associated Press
I'm a Georgetown grad and while I may not watch every basketball game (I didn't get season tickets until my senior year), I try and keep up with the Hoyas as much as possible. Unfortunately, without cable, it's hard to watch most games from the comfort of my own home. Usually I have to go to a bar to catch a game and going to a bar means consuming a variety of things that don't really contribute to my training and spending money I don't really have.

Well, yesterday I found the perfect solution--they gym! The treadmills at my gym are all hooked up to TVs--TVs with ESPN. Now I hate running on treadmill so much I call it the dreadmill, but my love of the Blue and Gray is strong enough to counteract [some of] that hate. With a recovery run on the schedule, it was easy enough to pick a pace and an easy incline, plug in my headphones, and almost forget I was running on a treadmill.

I will say that watching such a close game between Georgetown and St John's was a pretty good distraction. I ended up logging 9.2 miles when I had only meant to do 6 just because I didn't want to miss the end of the game. This may become my new healthy way of cheering on the Hoyas.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Running with [New] Friends

I've been thinking about joining a team for a long time. There are literally dozens on running teams in the New York running scene and they definitely make up a large portion of folks at any given NYRR race. It was really difficult when I was in school to commit to any sort of team schedule since my hours tend to be all over the place, but now my schedule tends to be a little more regular.

On Saturday I tried my first run with a team, the Dashing Whippets.They're a relatively new club but I've heard some really positive things about them so I figured I would try joining them for their Saturday morning long run. By running to the meeting point (72nd St and Central Park West) I was able to get in the couple extra miles I needed since they were going to be doing 15 and I had 17 scheduled.

If there was ever a perfect day to run with a group, Saturday was it! It was cold, snowing and gray and not the kind of day where you want to do a 2+ hour run outside. When I showed up, though, there was a pretty good turnout of other runners. With folks running several different paces, I was able to find a couple of guys looking for more of a 7:30 pace.

During the run, along course specially designed to celebrate the birthday of one of the team members, I chatted with two other runners and learned more about the team. They seem like really great folks and I'm pretty sure I want to sign up to run with them. Perhaps the biggest upside to all this talking, however, was how it distracted me from how fast I was running. During our final lap of Central Park we had some sub-7 miles and at the end I even tacked on an extra lower loop with one of the guys (bringing my total mileage to over 19 for the day). My average pace was just over 7 minutes, much faster than if I had gone it along, and much more pleasant too.

How about you? Do you run with a team? What are some of the benefits you see?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Running for Lunch

In case you can't tell, I'm still getting used to being part of the working world, at least the 9 to 5 working world. I finished grad school back in May and spent the summer working at a bakery in Seattle so this is my first foray into the "real word" of the 9 to 5 office job.

Photo credit:
Lunch time is kind of weird. Some days I have so much work to do that I feel guilty leaving my desk (so I don't). Other days, I may not be as busy, but I feel too tired to go anywhere other than our cafeteria. The point is, lunch doesn't tend to be that exciting. Well, inspired by my first running commute, I decided to try something new today: the lunch-time run!

Instead of heading to the cafeteria today I headed to the locker room and suited up--or suited down? Anyway, I managed to get in a decent 5 mile run along the East River. It was a little windy but the temps were good and best of all I got to do the whole run in sunlight! (It's funny how much I appreciate that now, but it really makes a world of difference). There were plenty of other folks out enjoying the weather on their lunch hour (and one jerk smoking a cheap cigar in the middle of the bike path).

When I got back from the run I ate at my desk while working to make up for lost time but I felt a lot more focused the rest of the day. I'm not sure I'll have time to do any sort of regular lunch run regime, but I will definitely be adding this to my occasional running repertoire.

Random Friday Post: Race Fees!!!

Most of the time running is one of the cheapest forms of exercise. Your only real expense is shoes. Yes there are things like shorts and t-shirts, but even if you didn't run, you would probably already have these things. Unfortunately, even the most minimalist runner may want to race from time to time and races cost money.

These days there are a handful of super cheap races out there. NYCRuns, a new outfit in the NYC area puts on $5 5ks in the summer and they did a $10 10k in December. For that price you get chip-timed and you get some delicious post-race hot chocolate. In other words, these are definitely no-frills races.

At the exact opposite end of the spectrum, you have the New York City Marathon. This New York Road Runners race may have cost $5 back in 1977, but today for a non-NYRR member, it will set you back $255 plus the$11 processing fee--that's a $100 increase since 2008 when it was $155 for non-members and $125 for members! If you want to go back to 2000, it was just $58. 

In inflation-adjusted dollars, that $5 entry fee from 1977 equals around $20 today. Obviously that doesn't tell the whole story, because even the cheapest marathons cost more than that (excluding free marathons like the Holiday Marathons in Van Cortlandt Park).  Today races tend to include more goodies like tech tees, medals, and a whole bunch of other useless crap.

I like the tech shirts, but I don't need them. My suggestion? Races should cut down on the extras, or at least the "mandatory" ones. I signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler last week (I got an entry through work) and this is the approach they take. Want a tech tee instead of a cotton one? Check a box and pay more. Want a medal for your "accomplishment"? Check a box and pay more. This approach could help keep down costs.

I say could because I can already think of at least one good counterexample out there: Bay to Breakers. In 2010, the first time I did this race, it was $44 for most runners (it was cheaper if you were one of the first 3,00 to register--I wasn't). That entry fee included a t-shirt and plenty of post-race food. This year, it's being sponsored by Zazzle, an online business that specializing is customized apparel, and it now costs $57 for "basic registration." What does that mean? No t-shirt. Want the shirt? Sign up for the $72 "plus registration." Did I mention this is a 12k?

I like big races so I won't only be doing $5 5ks, but I don't plan on running New York this year. For the same price, I've signed up for Boston, the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, and several other local races. I have to make my limited race registration dollars go farther.

What about you? What are your thoughts the steady increase in race fees?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What I Talk About When I Talk About Rowing

A Harlem River Regatta
I know I mentioned a few posts ago that I would talk about rowing--well now I'm making good on that threat. I've recently started to incorporate rowing into my training, not as a substitute but as a supplement and now I’m a big proponent of the benefits of running and rowing.

I don’t think every runner needs cross-training—I have gone large periods of time without doing any exercise other than running—but if you can find time to work it into your schedule, I think it can definitely aid your running. [Note: I AM NOT a healthcare professional or a certified anything so I offer this all as my opinion—take from it what you will].

Let’s talk about why rowing is great (I’m speaking about an indoor rower, but I assume this is all true for real rowing too):

1. It’s non-impact. If you use proper rowing technique, you can get a great cardio workout while giving your joints a chance to recover. That means, generally, you can row without compromising your recovery during a busy training week.

2. It can improve your posture. A lot of runners have terrible posture—I am definitely no exception. Rowing helps strengthen your core and back leading to better posture and better running form!

3. It works your whole body. Rowing works your legs, back, core, and your arms all at the same time. As someone who doesn’t like (and ergo rarely does) weight-lifting, rowing lets me get in a little upper body work.

4. It improves your flexibility. Running tends to leave your muscles pretty tight (especially if, like me, you frequently “forget” to stretch). The large range of motion in rowing actually improves the flexibility in the hamstrings and calves.

How do I incorporate rowing? I add it in as a recovery workout 2 to 3 nights a week. I typically row 5000m but I’ve been doing this for long enough to have worked up to that point. Rowing is tough stuff started out so I would recommend starting by setting a time goal for yourself and selecting a lower resistance like a 3 or 4.

Below the jump is an excerpt from an article detailing proper technique.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

...and it begins with you.

This morning I did 9 miles in the park with 10x100yd strides (they should have been 100m strides, but I used the reservoir which has 20yd markers). The run wasn't anything exciting so I won't bore you with any more details. Instead, I'd like to bore you with something else--running related--that I've been thinking about the past couple of days: acknowledging other runners.

There has been plenty of ink spent on this topic already, I know, but it's one that never goes away. Here's the scenario. You are running and you see another runner approaching you going in the opposite direction. As he or she gets closer, you wonder to yourself, Do I say hi? Do I waive? Do I sheepishly smile? Do I nod? By the time you get to the end of this list you and the other runner are within inches of each other and you give a halfhearted Charlie-Brown look that falls somewhere between "I really need to use the bathroom" and "I spend my spare time memorizing dialogue from Silence of the Lambs." The other runner, however, just gazing in the opposite direction pretending not to see you (or maybe he or she really does need to use the bathroom and that internal struggle requires all of his or her concentration).

Anyway, the point of the above rambling is that, at least in New York, there is no real protocol for greeting other runners. Generally, there is little to no acknowledgment. I don't know why this is. I've noticed on my runs in Van Cortlandt Park that as soon as I cross the county line into Westchester, the number of hellos and waives I give and receive jumps exponentially. It must be something about city living. I guess it makes sense when you're running in Central Park at 7pm on a Tuesday when the roads are choked with runners, walkers, and even "joggers" moving in every direction. But what about at 5am on a Friday when there are four people on all of East Drive?

My theory: we city runners view these interactions as a game of chicken. No one wants to be the first person so say or do something polite in case the other person doesn't return the gesture. One of the announcements on the subway ends with the following, "Courtesy is contagious and it begins with you." Maybe I'll make that my goal for the rest of the week, spreading a little courtesy to other runners. It's possible nothing will change. But then again, who knows how many I may be able to infect?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Two Legged Commute

Today my schedule called for a 14 miler which meant getting up really early and struggling to stay awake at work--at least, that's what it usually would have meant. For the first time since this summer, I decided to make my run my commute. We have showers and a locker room at work which turns out to be a huge plus. Yesterday, I brought an extra set of work clothes and a towel with me and left it at the office overnight. That meant this morning all I really had to carry was my ID badge. The best part of this strategy is that it let me sleep in a full 45 minutes later! I felt almost guilty when my alarm finally went off: Am I cheating the system?
Photo Credit: Jessica Krause Smith

If I were to run the most direct route to my work it would only be about 9 miles so I had to be creative. to get those extra miles. I ran through Central Park (have you notice a lot of my runs involve Olmsted and Vaux?) and over 60th to the Queensboro Bridge and into Queens. By the time I got to the bridge, I could see the sun rising over Long Island City. I made my way to Vernon Blvd which runs along the East River and was amazed at how many people were out and about. There's a ConEd plant here and many taxi garages so it makes sense there was so much activity, but on weekends when I usually here this stretch is often deserted.

I crossed into Brooklyn over the Pulaski Bridge (the halfway point in the New York City Marathon) and turned onto Eagle and then Franklin. I don't usually run on Franklin so it was a nice change of scenery to pass all the cafes and shops that line the rapidly changing street. I continued onto Kent, this whole time running along the East River, watching the Williamsburg Bridge get closer and closer, passing new condo after new condo. By now it was actually light outside! Who knew you could run in the sunlight on a weekday? When I made the turn onto the Williamsburg Bridge pedestrian path I could feel the 9+ miles I'd already run in my legs. Still, seeing lower Manhattan in the early morning sun was more than enough to make up for any minor soreness.

The rest of my run took me along the East River and underneath the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges before turning into the Financial District and ending at work. It was a perfect day for a run and I plan on doing the whole commute-on-foot thing again soon!

Do any of you ever run to or from work? Let me know in the comments.

Below the jump there's a map of my route.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A South Bronx Sunday

Sunday morning, after I had recovered sufficiently from my hangover to look out the window, I realized it was a beautiful day. It certainly took a while to get myself going, but I knew a run was in order. As with last week, I wanted to do something new, explore some (for me) uncharted territory. I decided for a run in the Bronx. I’ve done plenty of runs in the Bronx before, mostly in Riverdale, Van Cortlandt Park, and other areas in the northern reaches of the borough. I have not, however, done too much exploring in the South Bronx, that is, until yesterday.

I quickly consulted DOT’s bike map and came up with a rough plan. When I do these rambling runs, I don’t like to plot every move before hand, I just like to have some general idea about which direction to go. It’s a good think I was flexible, because the Willis Avenue bridge, which I had expected to cross, didn’t seem open to pedestrians (although they’re clearly working on a new pedestrian ramp which should be great once it’s complete). I ended up taking the Third Avenue Bridge instead which spit me out onto Bruckner Boulevard.

Running east along Bruckner I passed a kid who asked me if it I wasn’t cold running in shorts! I laughed and said the weather was fine as long as you keep moving. I finally turned north on St Ann’s Avenue. So far as I can tell, the street takes its name from St Ann’s Episcopal Church which was built in 1841. It was built by the Morris family (the area’s historic name is Morrisania) of early American fame. 

I  detoured from St Ann’s Ave to circle St Mary’s Park (named for a nearby church that was torn down in 1959). It’s one of the borough’s six original parks dating from the 1880s. The park has plenty of rolling hills and interesting paths that criss-cross in every direction. There’s a track there too but I didn’t see it on my run.

After leaving the park it was back to St Ann’s on my northern journey until I got to Boston Rd where I veered left and continued to Crotona Park.  Like St Mary’s, this is one of the borough’s original parks, though it’s decidedly larger. It was named it after Croton, an ancient Greek colony famed for its Olympic athletes so it seemed a fitting place for a run. It’s a really nice park with tons of ball fields, playgrounds, and the borough’s largest swimming pool (which was decidedly closed yesterday). I’m surprised they don’t host any road races up here.

Following my loop of the park it was off to the 170th street IRT station for my return to Manhattan. During my 8 miler run I saw some interesting stuff but now I really want to return for some more exploring.

There's a map of my run after the jump:

Post-Run Pizza, or Food is the Best Motivator

I don't listen to music on my runs (except for the occasional treadmill workout), so my mind has lots of time to wander on my long runs. On Saturday, however, I was pretty focused the whole time. Was I focused on my pace ask? My form? My RPE (rate of perceived exertion)? No. I was focused on pizza! One of my running friends, Bobby, lives and trains in Brooklyn. Back in November he ran the inaugural Brooklyn Marathon. I had just run the New York City Marathon so there was no way I was going to run another 26.2 but I did volunteer. The race consisted of a series of loops around Prospect Park (7, I think). That many loops is enough to make anyone loopy so I had promised to run the final two laps with my Bobby. I talked and tried to distract him so he would forget that he had already run 20 miles.

Flash forward several months. As a thank you, Bobby offered to take me for to L&B Spumoni Gardens, a famous pizza shop in Brooklyn's Bensonhurst neighborhood. I've always wanted to go, but it's quite a schlep from Manhattan. Bobby has a car, though, so I was able to meet him at Borough Hall and hitch a ride. Alright, now that you have the background (probably too much background), let's talk about the pizza experience! When it first opened, L&B Spumoni Gardens was basically an ice cream stand--they sold spumoni (an Italian ice cream) and Italian ices. They still sell these frozen treats, but they've expanded. What they're known for today are their Sicilian (square) slices which they been serving up since the 1950s.

Two delicious slices! Look at that nicely charred edge.
Even if you're a square slice connoisseur, you've never tasted anything quite like this before. The crust is very thick while simultaneously being light and airy. The bottom gets a nice char from the pan so there is a bit of crunch too. On top of the crust they sprinkle a layer of mozzarella which they then cover in their house made tomato sauce. The sauce itself is incredible--thick with fresh tomato flavor and just the right amount of sweet. Finally, on top of that, there's a dusting of Pecorino Ramano that ads a nice nutty and salty balance to the sweet sauce. I ended up having 3 and half slices of this pizza and would have eaten more if it weren't for the fact that I didn't want to go into a food coma. Long story short? If you're looking for the best square slice in the city, you've got to pay a visit to Spumoni Gardens. And when you go...take me with you!

A Hilly Northern Manhattan Long Run

On Saturday it was time for another long run. I usually let myself wake up without an alarm on the weekends (which means sleeping until around 8) and then leisurely prepare for my long run. This week, however, I had an important commitment--a visit to the famed L&B Spumoni Gardens! This meant I had to make sure to be done with my run by 11 but I still got to sleep in until 7:30 which was heaven! For the run, I set out going north along the Harlem River Drive bike path. I love this short stretch because even with all the cars, being sandwiched between Highbridge Park and the Harlem River makes you feel like you miles from the rest of Manhattan. Few other runners use this path so you also usually have it to yourself--a rarity in the city.
At Dyckman Street I headed west and did a bit of a loop through Inwood Park, another great spot for running that many people who live in the southern reaches of Manhattan never experience. Then, because I am training for the infamous hills of Boston, I decided to tackle some of the hills of Washington Heights. This entailed a nice run through Fort Tryon Park and a visit to Manhattan's highest natural point. Finally, I traveled back down to the Hudson River Greenway and followed it to 72nd Street. The run ended, like so many of my long runs, with a fresh bagel and cream cheese!

See the elevation profile after the jump:

Friday, February 3, 2012

Where Everybody Knows Your Name, and Your Training Schedule

I'm a big fan of the classic sitcom Cheers. This probably makes me sound like a dumb tourist, but one of favorite my post-Boston Marathon traditions is getting a beer at the actual Cheers bar in Beacon Hill. It's not the cheapest beer or best food in Boston by a long shot, but it's always hopping (with tourists). Disclaimer: I used to live by the Seinfeld Diner (Tom's in real life, Monk's Cafe on the show) and I enjoyed an occasional grilled cheese and milkshake there too so maybe I have a thing for these famous spots.

Why do I bring up Cheers when I won't be in Boston for another 2+ months? Well, last night I was watching a rerun (the one where Sam plays softball against a team of Playboy bunnies) and something caught my eye (not what you're thinking! Okay, not just what you're thinking). Towards the end of the episode, Sam and Diane are in the pool room and there's a sign on the wall that reads: "Boston Barleyhoppers"

It turns out the Barleyhoppers was a real running group started by Eddie Doyle, the bartender at the Bull & Finch (the former name for the bar that was used for the show's exterior shots). On Monday nights, folks would meet at the B&F and run a couple miles to another bar where they would drink a beer or two before running back. Their motto was "run for fun, roam for foam." Apparently some 22 marriages resulted from this running club!!! Even if the place has turned into a tourist trap today, it certainly must have been a pretty great local pub back in the day. I just wish a bar near me had such a great running club.

Doubling Up, or the Lengths I'll go to for Extra Rest

Yesterday morning while I was out doing my early recover 5 miles, all I could think about was how nice it would be to sleep in. For my MLRs, I have to get up between 4:30 and 4:45 am. For my 5 milers, I could get away with waking up at 5:45, though I tend to wake up at 5:30 because I don't like being rushed. Anyway, I had a 9 mile tempo run schedule for Friday with 4 miles at LT (lactate threshold) pace. I knew this would require another early morning and I really wanted sleep.

How did I resolve this conflict? I did the LT run last night! Well, I did an abbreviated version. Since it was my second run of the day, I cut my warm-up to one mile, did my four LT miles (all between a 6:11 and 6:15 pace--roughly what I estimate by 15k pace would be) and then cooled down with half a mile. I felt great during the whole run. I was a little worried because I haven't done much in the way of speed since Houston which was almost 3 weeks ago but I guess my body enjoyed the break!

It may not have been quite the same as doing the full distance today, but I'm hoping to get in an early LR tomorrow and extra rest just sounded more important today.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Beer Review! Cozy Sweater

Not every good run deserves a good beer, but certainly the occasional mediocre run does. After my Forest Park run this past weekend I was a bit chilled. When I got home, I decided the best way to warm up would be to open one of the bottles of suds I brought back with me from my last trip to Seattle.

Given the crisp weather, I opted to try Iron Horse Brewery's Cozy Sweater. This beer caught my attention because it's a vanilla milk stout. Every since I first tried Duck Rabbit's milk stout back in 2009, I've been hooked on the style. I'm also a huge fan of one of Iron Horse's regular brews, Quilter's Irish Death so I figured this one would be worth a try.

This beer pours very black with a light off-white head. The nose was dominated by coffee and chocolate more than vanilla but just looking at it, I had high hopes. Unfortunately, the taste didn't quite meet my expectations.

First of all, it had a very thin mouthfeel, not something I was expecting from such a dark milk stout. It had a nice roast malt taste but there wasn't much of a vanilla. It also had less of the sweetness that I would expect from the lactose. It was not a bad beer, but it also wasn't all that special. I'd love to try it on tap, but I won't be devoting any precious cargo space to another bottle next time I visit Seattle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

To lift or not to lift?

Today was another early morning MLR. This time I ended up with 11.5 miles in Central Park. I had planned to do the same 11 miler I did last week via the East Side, but at the last minute decided I would rather skip the traffic lights and stay in the park. The best part about running in the park so often is that I can always make a pretty accurate guess of how long a run is so on days like today where I change my mind, I can still make sure I meet my distance goal.

Okay--now I want to talk about something other than running: I want to talk about lifting. I hate doing weights. I don't know why, but I do. Nevertheless, we often hear that running alone isn't enough. Every "serious" runner does some form of strength training too. I go through cycles where I'm good about doing strength training on a regular basis (2 to 3 times a week) and then I go through cycles where I won't touch a weight for a month.

Lately, I've been rowing a lot for cross-training (I'll address this in a post down the road) but the past week I've hit the weights a couple times too. I'm curious how many of you (haha! he think's he has readers!) incorporate strength training into your running focused training. Do you lift on a regular basis? Do you think it helps your running? Let me know in the comments.