Friday, September 28, 2012

A Trip Down Memory Lane Part II: La vie en France

This month's Running Times has a feature on "running buddies," a person they described as "someone who understood our passion and shared the battle and beauty of the road." Last week I also came across an recent article from my college newspaper, the Hoya, about running in school without being on the varsity XC or track team. Both pieces got me thinking about some of the people I've run with over the years.

I spent the summer after my senior year of college doing a study abroad program in Tours, France. Even though I already had my degree and didn't need the credits, I really wanted to make my dream of living abroad a reality before getting crushed by the oppressive workload of a decidedly non-creative grad school program. I had minored in French but never been to Europe so the summer program in Tours seemed like the perfect way to spend the summer.

There was never any doubt that I would keep running while in France, but it would have been tempting to simply take things easy had it not been for my running partner.

Our local track.
As part of the program, run through Georgetown, all the students lived with host families. Although my host family was somewhat far from our classes--they lived in St-Cyr-Sur-Loire, a small town across the river from the center of Tours--they were just down the street from another Georgetown student, Renée, who happened to be a quite an accomplished varsity runner.

Although I had run my first marathon less than a year before, I was still getting used to "training" as opposed to simply running (I think I had still done fewer than 5 races total). Renée, however, had a rigorous schedule to stick to and I did my best to keep up with her every step of the way.

Not a bad spot for hill work.
We did some seriously punishing intervals at the local track (le Complexe sportif Guy Drut), did hill repeats up L'avenue de la Tranchée, and did long runs along the Loire, sometimes running through vineyards as far away as Vouvray. I was really lucky that Renée put up with me. She was a much more experienced (and faster) runner than I was, but not wanted to slow her down, I pushed myself. She was also extremely encouraging and also inspiring. 

Unfortunately, I went off to grad school in New York and only saw Renée a few times after that. She went on to do some pretty amazing things, like qualifying for the Olympic Trials (though unfortunately she didn't make the team). Still, in my mind, that's the summer I really became a runner and I have Renée to thank for that.

(Maybe next time we'll talk about how that's the summer I really became a wine drinker or cheese lover, but then again, this is a running blog, right?)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Random Search Terms

It's often fun to look at the search terms that land people on my blog. There are plenty of super obvious ones (like "run" and "blog") but there are so more interesting ones too. As a somewhat random midweek post I figured I would post a few of the more interesting ones.

"Harlem river tide pool"

"Triborough Bridge lights Harlem"

"course à pied"

At least the first two have to do with Harlem. I'm not sure how the French brought someone here, though.

"photo of ugly runner"--hmm, I know I don't always look my best in race photos, but...

As for my personal favorite? That's easy:

"Who is the fastest runner in Harlem?"

Since it brought them to my blog, I'm pretending it's me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A (Mini) 5th Avenue Mile Race Report

It's been a busy last few days both running and otherwise so I'm just now getting around to posting about my weekend. Oh well, better late than never!

This past Saturday was NYRR's 5th Avenue Mile, one of my favorite annual races. It's fun because you get to watch all of your friends race down one of the most iconic streets in the world, but I also usually dread it because speed isn't my strong suit and I usually finish with a case of dry-heaving.

Although marathon training means I haven't been able to do too much extra short speedwork this year, I did two Friday Night Miles with the Metro Milers in preparation. I also did the Montpelier Mile, a road mile, back in July. These various races got me mentally prepared so that when I toed the line on Saturday, I wasn't nearly as nervous as usual.

A mile is a little too short for me to have much to report but I'll say that I felt much stronger than in years past. My only goal was to break my time from  last year and my current PR, 5:20. I succeeded and managed a 5:18. Two seconds may not sound like a ton, but I was pretty happy. Even better, many of my teammates had awesome times and our men's team managed to place 5th overall!

Although some day I hope to be able to devote more time to this race, for now it's more of a test than a goal. It felt great to have run faster than last year considering I haven't set a single other PR in 2012. I know we all have ups and downs in our running life so I'm counting this as a nice up.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Trip Down Memory Lane Part I: Freshman Year

This month's Running Times has a feature on "running buddies," a person they described as "someone who understood our passion and shared the battle and beauty of the road." Yesterday I also came across an recent article from my college newspaper, the Hoya, about running in school without being on the varsity XC or track team. Both pieces got me thinking about some of the people I've run with over the years.

Photo credit: Positive Public Image, Inc.
A sappy entry deserves a sappy photo.
I can really trace my obsession with interest in beer running back to freshman year of college. Until that time, I think the longest I had ever run was 3 miles (and I can't say I enjoyed it that much). Still, when fall semester started, I found myself without a bike (my main form of exercise pre-college) on a campus with a crappy gym.* Thankfully, one of the guys on my freshman floor, Taylor, was a runner, a fairly accomplished high school runner at that, who had decided not to go out for the XC team and didn't mind having someone slower tag along.

I remember some of our first few runs together. Taylor would usually keep the pace slow but once in a while we'd get passed by someone, and old guy or a college co-ed, and he'd have to catch them to prove he could. Other times, we'd end our runs with a steep hill and I'd be winded. In both instances I struggled to keep up. It kind of sucked, but at the same time it was very motivating.

Sometimes we'd get other guys from the floor to join. Perhaps the most memorable run was one where another friend, TJ, threw up after we got back to campus. I don't remember him joining us on any other runs.

As the school year went on the runs became a regular thing. We had a usual route--along the Potomac to the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge and back--and a usual time--after our last class, before meeting everyone in the dining hall for dinner--and before I knew it, I was thinking of myself as a runner.

Sophomore year we lived in different dorms and I didn't run with him much anymore, but having a friend to run with freshman year really helped get me into the habit.At some point, Taylor started smoking and pretty much stopped running. I can't say we're still "buddies"--he recently got married and I wasn't invited (it was a dry wedding so that was probably a good thing)--but I'm still thankful that freshman year Running 101.

*Having since attended grad school at a university with an even crappier gym, I now have a newfound appreciation for the Georgetown gym but it's still nowhere near as nice as it should be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Weekend Workout: Metric Marathon

This weekend I had the opportunity to try a new (to me) workout: the metricmarathon. This workout, created by Keith and Kevin Hanson, the coaches behindthe Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, aims to simulate racing a marathon asclosely as possible without all the physical stress of running a full 26.2miles.

Part of our route
For the metric marathon, you run 26.2 kilometers (roughly 16.3 miles) asgoal marathon pace. Ideally, you also want to simulate the course you’ll be runningas well. Since you do the workout on tired legs—you haven’t tapered like youwill before your big race—you experience a level of fatigue similar to theactual event without trashing your body.  

In previous training cycles I’ve always included some pace runs, oftenthrowing in a few goal marathon pace miles at the end of longer runs, but I hadnever done something like this before. Thankfully, our coach and captains organizeda team metric marathon on Sunday.

We started in Lower Manhattan and ended in Astoria, covering three boroughsin the process. Along the way, the Brooklyn Bridge stood in for the Verrazano,the Welfare Island Bridge stood in for the Willis Avenue Bridge, and AstoriaPark stood in for Central Park. Other key course features, like the Pulaski andQueensboro Bridges, needed no understudies. The result? A course that was verysimilar in topography to the actual New York City Marathon.

How did I do? Not too shabby; I was able to stay within a few seconds of mygoal pace for the whole run. There’s still a big difference between 16.3 and26.2, but with over a month to go, hopefully I can get myself to where I wantto be come November 4!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bronx Week Part IV: Where to Drink Near Van Cortlandt Park

As I said yesterday, without any plan on my part this week turned into Bronx week. Since it's Friday, I figured I would end the week with something on the less serious side.
Van Cortlandt Park, New York City's 4th largest at 1,146 acres, is a runner's paradise. With its miles of trails, famed cross country course, and a full-size track, there's plenty to keep runners happy. Of course, all good runs must come to an end and what better way to end a run than with a beer or two (or three, or four). You've got plenty of choices in the area so here are four of my favorites:

Taps at the Bronx Ale House
Name: The Bronx Alehouse
Location: W 238th St and Review Place
Why it's worth checking out: First, they have an awesome beer selection. This was the first, and probably still the only, real craft beer bar in the Bronx. It gets pretty packed in the evenings but they just expanded so there's a little more breathing room. Another great feature? Free popcorn! And for those of you who are veg-heads like me, the Daily News recently names the Bronx Ale House veggie burger one of the best in the city. Only problem? If you're like me, with so many good beers to choose from you won't be able to stop at one or two.

Name:An Beal Bocht Cafe
Location: 216 W 238th St (b/t Waldo and Greystone Ave)
Why it's worth checking out: Although A Beal Bocht pours a mean Guinness, their drinks aren't the reason to schlep up a steap flight of stairs to Riverdale. Why go so far out of your way? For the great live music! An Beal Bocht features live music almost every weekend night plus with amble seating indoors and outdoors this is a bar that's just as much fun on sunny afternoon as in the wee hours of the morning (not that I would know...)  

An Beal Bocht's weekly line-up.
Name: The Punch Bowl
Location: W 238th St and Broadway

Why it's worth checking out: The Punch Bowl is a dive bar in the best sense. There is ZERO pretension here but the folks are all longtime Bronx locals. Sit down at the bar and you're almost guaranteed to strike up a conversation with someone who's been boozing since before you were born. This is the kind of spot you go to do shots or drink cheap beer so don't try ordering any fancy cocktails. If you really want to live life to the fullest, go on a Friday when Dawn (possibly my new best friend) is hosting karaoke.  You may regret everything you do once you get here, but you probably won't remember enough to feel that bad about it.

Name:Mr McGoo's Pub
Location: Broadway and W 231st Street
Why it's worth checking out: If the Punch Bowl is a dive, this is a double-dog-dive. Seriously, I'm not sure I would recommend this place at all except it's so unbelievably cheap. The problem with that, though, is that the clientele are cheap too. Also, I think this is where underage kids from Manhattan College (just a short walk away) go to drink because everyone in here seemed to be around 18. On second thought, I don't recommend this place at all.

Okay, so by now maybe you've realized that this is simply the pub crawl I did on my birthday (minus the pubs I went to when I got back to Manhattan). I'm surprised I have such a good recollection of my escapades given all the cheap sh*t I drank territory I covered.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Bronx Week Part III: The Cherry Tree Marathon

Without meaning to do so, I've turned this week into Bronx theme week. I'm going to continue that trend with another Bronx-related post but rest assured, the other boroughs will get their due. Over the next month or so, I'll highlight each borough so that come Nov. 4, you'll already be familiar with the 5 boroughs.

Earlier in the year, some folks seemed disappointed to hear that NYRR had downgraded it's Bronx race from a half-marathon to a 10 miler. Losing those 3.1 miles may sounds like a drastic change, but did you know that NYRR used to host a full marathon in the Bronx?

John Kelley winning the 1961 race. Photo: NYTimes
On February 22, 1959, George Washington's birthday, the nascent Road Runners Club-New York Association held it's first marathon. The event, aptly named the Cherry Tree Marathon, started and finished in Macomb's Dam Park, just across the street from Yankee Stadium. Runners then followed the hilly Sedgwick Avenue to Fordham Road and back--three times! Ted Corbitt, NYRR's early president, won the inaugural Cherry Tree Marathon in 2:38:57, beating

The race continued to grow over the next decade but it had a few shortcomings: there were no aid stations for runners; the roads were not closed to traffic; and there were hardly any spectators. That didn't stop some of the country's best runners from turning out, though. In 1961 and 1962, John Kelley (the Younger), two-time Olympian and winner of the 1957 Boston Marathon, took first in 2:25:27.5 and 2:29:55, respectively.

When a mediocre runner in his mid-30s ran the Cherry Tree Marathon for the first time in 1969 he got an idea, move it! That man was Fred Lebow.

In the early 1970s the race was moved to Central Park where it continued to be run in February for several years until it faded away, replaced by another race, the New York City Marathon. Still, it's fun to know that the Bronx is where it all started, over 50 years ago.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Bronx Weekend: Part II, or My Bronx 10 Mile Race Report

As much as love the Bronx, it's not every weekend I visit NYC's northern-most borough twice. This past weekend, however, I had good reason to return to the Boogie Down after Friday night's festivities*--the Bronx 10 Miler. I had decided several weeks ago (right after the Percy Sutton 5k) that I wouldn't be "racing"** this one, but I was still pretty excited for it. After all, it's not every day you get to turn the Grand Concourse (the "Park Avenue of the Bronx") into your own speedway.

Sunday morning turned out to be perfect. The humidity that nearly killed me during last week's workouts was gone and the temps were down in the 60s. I mapped an easy 3.5 mile warm-up run from my place to the start, a route that took me through St Nicholas and Jackie Robinson Parks, then over the Macombs Dam Bridge and past Yankees Stadium.

The start. Photo credit: NYRR
Even though this wasn't a team points race it was pretty well-attended with over 5,000 runners. Thankfully, I had no trouble tracking down some teammates in the corrals. Almost no one on my team was racing so I started out easy with one of my teammates who actually works in the Bronx. About three miles in, we saw another two teammates a short distance ahead so we caught up with them, keeping an easy pace of just over 7 minutes for a while.

The course was surprisingly great. Along Grand Concourse we passed the Bronx Museum, Paradise Theater (a former movie palace turned concert venue), and the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage, where the author spent several of his last years.

At Mosholu Parkway the course turned west and did a loop through Lehman College (just missing the Jerome Park Reservoir, one of my favorite Bronx running spots), before heading east on the parkway itself. These turn-arounds and loops were great because we got to see and cheer for teammates along the way.  After about a half-mile out on the parkway (just after mile 6), we turned back, discovering a slight uphill, and returned to the Concourse.

Although I was having a great time running with teammates, when we got to mile 8 I realized that if I picked it up a bit, I could finish in under 70 minutes, which sounded like a nice round time. I let myself do the final two miles at around 6:17 pace for a 1:09:16 finish.

After a few minutes to gather our things, a group of us decided to run back to Manhattan. Taking the Grand Concourse to 138th Street and then heading over the Madison Avenue Bridge we got in a few miles of the NYC Marathon course. The infamous 5th Avenue hill didn't feel too bad after 15 or so miles, but I may be singing a different tune when I run it November 4.

Anyway, I had a great weekend in the Bronx and I'm sure I'll be back soon, though I owe a few other boroughs some love too.
*I'm skipping the part of Friday night that involved celebrating my birthday because some things just shouldn't see print in a family-friendly blog.

**It's really hard to explain the not-racing-a-race concept to friends. Here's one typical exchange:

Me: I'm doing the Bronx 10 Miler tomorrow.
Friend: You're racing tomorrow?
Me: No, I'm just running it.
Friend: But it's a race isn't it? So you're racing.
Me: It's a race, yes, but I'm not racing it...I'm just running it.
FriendAcquaintance: I don't know why I bother talking to you..

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Bronx Weekend: Part I

Okay, so my posting has been a little off lately. I promise you I have a good reason, and one I'll go into detail on a little later. For now, I'm trying to get back into a posting routine and promise and least two posts per week.

I may live in Manhattan, but his weekend my running life was really all about a different borough--the Bronx. On Friday after work I hopped my usual train home, the 7th Avenue Express, but instead of continuing into Harlem I transferred at 96th Street. My destination? Van Cortlandt Park. Usually I head to VCP when I want to get in trail running but on this particular day I was there to take advantage of their track.

Runners warming up under ominous skies. Photo from MM.
The Metropolitan Milers, a group founded by Central Park Track Club member and USATF-certified coach Neil Fitzgerald, holds a "Friday Night Miles" series in the weeks leading up to the 5th Avenue Mile. Neil leads runners through a series of warm-ups, offers great advice on how to race the distance, and then gives runners a chance to put that advice to good use. The women's race went off around 6:40pm and then the men went in two heats of around 10 guys each.

The whole thing was a ton of fun! I was in the second heat with one of my teammates and in spite of having run Yasso 800s the night before, I ran a respectable 5:32 (my teammate ran a 5:23!). Hopefully in two weeks time when I toe the line on 5th Avenue, I can put that experience to good use.

There's one more Friday Night Miles event schedule for this week and if you live in the 5 boroughs (or Westchester) and: (a) love racing miles; (b) hate racing miles; or (c) have never raced a mile, I really recommend it.  For just $10 you get a great opportunity to learn something and race with a bunch of really fun people.

Stay tuned for Part II of my oh-so-exciting Bronx-centric weekend.