Summer Lovin’

In even the best of conditions, staying healthy can be a challenge. Literally all the stars in the world could align — you’re in your own kitchen, your shelves are stocked with nutritious offerings, the weather is perfect for a run and your schedule is blissfully free — and you still somehow end up prone on the couch ordering pad thai.

If staying healthy is tough when you’re in complete control of your surroundings, it’s doubly hard when you’re not. Whether it’s because you’re sleeping in an airport or traversing Siberia on a train, chances are you’ll find yourself this travel season in a situation where adhering to your normal routine is downright impossible.

When that undoubtedly happens, the question is: what do you do about it? Throw caution to the wind and engage in a few days of consequences-be-damned eating and sedentariness? Or try to maintain some semblance of order in a situation where healthy choices are very much an uphill battle?

I’ve been known to do both, and read my lips: there’s nothing wrong with occasionally saying yes to all the local culinary options in order to experience your vacation to the fullest. (If you spend a week in Italy and don’t partake in the local wine and pasta on account of a rigid diet, you’re dead to me.) But on other trips, there may be some easy ways to keep your lifestyle in check and return home without a couple extra pounds of baggage. Here are a few ideas from me, gleaned from my time last week aboard my father’s boat.

Travel Tip 1: If possible, keep up your normal fitness routine. Sure, it’s tempting to sleep in when in vacation mode, but there’s often no reason you can’t pack your running shoes and log a few miles from the lake house (whatup Keanu?) or the beach. In fact, the roads and trails around most bodies of water are delightfully flat, making a vacation jog all the more pleasant. For me, my four-mile morning run from Liberty Landing Marina took me by the financial district, Ellis Island and Lady Liberty herself. Not a bad view for an easy weekday workout, plus getting it out of the way before breakfast allowed me to enjoy my on-board wine more that night knowing I’d earned it.

Travel Tip 2: If you can’t do your normal workout routine, get creative. Is there a pool you can swim laps in at your vacation destination? Is there a trail you can hike? How about a stand-up paddle board? More and more travelers are finding ways to stay active on their vacations, and if you can manage to work up a sweat every day in some way, you’ll thank yourself when you go to buckle the seatbelt on the flight home without an extender belt. When in doubt, you can always do squats and pushups in a hotel room, but engaging in some kind of location-specific activity is so much more fun. Just ask Ben.

Travel Tip 3: When it comes to food on vacations, I try to follow my Christmas-party rules. What do I mean by that? Allow yourself to enjoy the treats that are only available because it’s Christmas (pecan pie, roast beef, etc.) and avoid the junky items that are available any day of the year (Lays potato chips, peanut butter cups, etc.) The same general concept can keep your eating in (relative) check on vacation: say yes to the lobster rolls in Maine and the paella in Spain, but say no to the candy bars and pretzels you could have any old day. It’s not foolproof, and you may still end up with a belly ache if you eat in the quantities I do, but it will help you from bursting.

Travel Trip 4: Even if there’s no way to eat well or exercise on your vacation, you can still exit the trip healthier than you went in. Instead of working on your diet or muscle mass, prioritize something else important, like you’re your water intake or your sleep. Bank enough hours under a cabana and you’ll return to your normal life refreshed enough to throw yourself into your workouts again. My mom and I can verify this claim. 

How do you keep yourself in check while enjoying a vacation?

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Anne Vs The Machine

If you’d been attacked by a lion in second grade and broken your leg and your parents thought you were faking it and made you walk to and from school on your lion-mauled limb for 3 days before finally taking you to the doctor and learning you’d fractured it, it’s conceivable you wouldn’t go out and buy yourself a new pet lion for many, many years. 

Substitute lion for bicycle, and you understand my plight.

I grew up in a bike-friendly Baltimore suburb, where I was a modestly confident cyclist after many afternoons looping the high-school track, exploring the neighborhood and cruising the Gunpowder trails with my Girl Scout Troop (whatup 1106!) But then my 8-year-old self took a turn too sharply in the playground parking lot and broke her left leg, and my confidence on a two-wheeled death machine has never quite recovered.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve been atop a bicycle more than a few times since that early 90s downfall, from joining a casual college triathlon to taking the occasional beach-bike cruise — but I’ve never been enthused enough to go out and buy myself a new bike with the express purpose of, you know, using it.

And I DEFINITELY wasn’t about to get one and ride it in Manhattan, essentially one giant mini-golf-windmill constantly trying to knock cyclists off their saddles with opening car doors, turning motorists and potholes the size of De Blasio’s head. No thank you, Lance Armstrong. (Is he still a prominent cyclist? No? Whoops.)

But then I moved out of Manhattan, and suddenly the idea of cycling around the neighborhood wasn’t so terrifying. In Long Island City, the traffic is thinner, the roads have more bike lanes and — most importantly — my building offers indoor bike parking for just $10 a month. Above all, I’m trying to be more active in everyday life (running 4 miles in the morning and the sitting still rest of the day isn’t exactly balance), and I figured having a bike to my name might be just the trick to get me out the door.

So after several failed attempts to purchase a used bike off Craiglist, my fiancé and I went bike shopping last weekend, and I purchased a brand new blue Felt hybrid and all the token accessories. (I’m tentatively naming him Bagic Bike in honor of my favorite Steven Soderbergh film, but it’s a working title.) The bike salesman told me I didn’t need a “ladies bike” because that’s a myth we need a different frame, but my non-flexible leg could barely get over the high bar of the others I tried, so this was the baby for me.

My first day of bike ownership, Ben and I rode to Roosevelt Island and explored the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, a memorial I’d probably never have visited if the bike hadn’t made it so easy to get there. Then last night, I faced my biggest fear: biking over the 59th St. bridge and into Manhattan. Despite my worries my untrained legs would fail to get me over the incline, I made it over and back in one piece and not in tears, like I’d been expecting.

I’m not a strong cyclist yet, but I’ll get there with practice. And while I’d been nervous I wouldn’t remember how to ride after so many years off the saddle, I can assure you: it’s just like riding a bike.

Do you bike in the city? Any tips for a novice hoping to live through at least November?

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Summer of Sloth

If the year 2011 feels a long time ago to you, it was. That’s the year Will and Kate got married, the year Amy Winehouse sang her last note and the year the world got its eighth and final installment of the Harry Potter film franchise. (Why, yes, I do measure the years in British pop culture. Don’t judge.)

For me, personally, 2011 was also memorable for another reason, though I didn’t yet know it at the time: It was the last summer before I started doing annual marathons. I spent that summer footloose and fancy-free — staying out late, saying yes to every happy hour, choosing vacation destinations without wondering whether I’d be able to find 16-miles of passable terrain for a Saturday morning long run, literally dancing to Kenny Loggins’ Footloose. It was my final summer of absolute freedom. (Well, as absolutely free as a mid-level employee working 45 hours a week with a NYC rent to pay can feel. But I digress.)

Then summer 2012 arrived and I caught the marathoning bug. I was suddenly arranging summer social activities around my speed work and rest days, sounding a collective chorus of “who IS this girl?” from friends and coworkers alike. Summers 2013, 2014 and 2015 looked eerily similar — early to bed, early to rise — and I’d all but forgotten there was any other way to pass the months between July and October except laced into trainers.

So imagine my confusion when this summer hit and I found myself without a race to train for for the first time since the 2011 English riots. I’ll be perfectly honest, folks: I have no idea what to do with myself.

Case in point: last Friday night, I stayed in, made a healthy dinner, hydrated well and went to bed early — for absolutely no reason except that it felt normal heading into a summer weekend when I’d normally be up with the sun on Saturday to run. To be fair, my fiancé and I DID have to leave early the next morning for a visit upstate, but still, old habits die hard.

Now don’t get me wrong: I am finding some pleasure in all this newfound free time I’ve discovered. I’ve been taking some weekend fitness classes. I’ve been getting out of the city. I’ve been swimming laps in my new building’s pool, despite it being the length of a glorified bathtub.

But at the same time, I can’t help but feel I’m wasting all of these extended hours of sunshine. Sure, training for marathons can be a terrible life-suck, but it can also be a great motivator to get you outside and active on days when it’s tempting to stay inside in sweat pants and crank the AC. I mean, did I really need to rewatch Good Will Hunting on Netflix on July 4? Anne of past summers would have been cruising along the East River, rather than watching Morgan sing for his double burger. Who have I become? 

Now don’t worry: I’ve already sworn to everyone I know that I won’t be doing another 26.2-mile race this year — I figure wedding planning is pretty much its own marathon — but it feels too strange to spend the whole season not working toward at least some kind of goal. So I’ve taken a page from the compromise handbook and signed up for something a little more reasonable — a 10-miler — that I can work toward this summer. I’ve never done the Bronx 10-miler before, but if training for it means I’ll force myself out the door a few extra days this summer, then I think that’s a summertime goal worth sweating for.

Still, training doesn’t start for two more weeks, so I get to enjoy a few more weekends of lethargy before getting back into the swing of things. If you need me between now and then, I’ll be at the pool.

How are you staying fit this summer?

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Orlando

Runners, do you remember your first organized race in the days and weeks following the Boston Marathon bombing?

If your experience was anything like mine, it almost looked like a normal day. We still woke up at an ungoldly hour. We still slathered our whole wheat toast with peanut butter in one final ditch effort to carbo load. We still spent more minutes than we’d like to admit in the bathroom before pinning on a bib and hightailing our way to the starting line.

But when we got there, it wasn’t quite the same starting line we remembered. The formerly casual bag check had been replaced with a security-guarded system that took items in clear bags only. The corrals were far more gated than before to discourage non-runners from mixing into the crowds. The organizers had slung up a giant color-coded banner communicating to participants that the race before us was “alert level moderate.” They didn’t necessarily think anything was going to impact us between there and the finish line, but they wanted us all to be prepared regardless.

Prepared for what, exactly? Prepared for always being just a little bit nervous in a crowd, I guess. Prepared for suspiciously eyeing any innocently-abandoned backpack with growing concern. Prepared for understanding that the athlete’s great equalizer — the race course — wasn’t quite as safe as we all used to believe.

The Boston Marathon bombing changed the way we run races, but fortunately for most of us, the race course wasn’t the only place we felt like we could be ourselves. But what if it had been? What if it was the one space we felt like we could be who we wanted, act how we wanted, love who we wanted?

I had originally planned to write today about my self-diagnosed torn rotator cuff and all the pain it was causing me, but when I sat down to pen my complaints, all I could think about was Orlando. 

While I’d never been to Pulse, I this spring sang karaoke at The Mint Karaoke Lounge in San Francisco, and it was the friendliest, most judgment-free room I’ve ever walked into — even when I sang some terrible twangy country. To think that some LGBTQ people and allies might now show up to their favorite spaces with the kind of trepidation us runners felt after Boston makes me sick to my stomach. (So does dairy, but again, let’s save this for discussion for another time.)

I try not to get political on this blog, but the senseless murder of 49 people with an astonishing legal assault rifle in Florida this weekend isn’t even a political issue — it’s a human one, and one that makes THIS human very sad indeed. And I couldn’t let today go by without mentioning it. Today’s not a day to talk about goldendoodles.

I don’t know how you’re each mourning this terrible loss of life, but for those of you in NYC, there are several events coming up that you may want to have on your radar. The FrontRunners, a social running club for gay New Yorkers and their friends, is hosting a happy hour Thursday to raise money for GLSEN, or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which seeks to end sexual-orientation-related bullying in schools. Then on June 25, the New York Road Runners and the FrontRunners partner to put on the 35th annual pride race in Central Park. It’s sold out, but you can still come cheer on your neighbors and friends in what is always the most colorful race of the season. That Sunday, of course, is the city’s pride parade. The FrontRunners say they’re going to be marching and giving out “Nice Legs” stickers — 10,000 of which I clearly want all for myself.

If you’re not in NYC, or if crowds aren’t your thing, maybe find your own way to help, whether it’s by donating to The Center of Orlando, an LGBT community group providing support to those affected by the shooting; or by giving blood; or just by being a little bit nicer as you go about your day. We’re all in this together people, and let’s all support each other through this terrible time. Sending lots of love to you all.

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Getting the Most Out of Your CSA

Aside from TGIF and BYOB, there are few acronyms I love more than CSA. No, I’m not talking about the Controlled Substance Act or the Confederate States Army or my Crazy Seasonal Allergies. I’m talking about Community Supported Agriculture, or the season that I think rivals Christmas and Arbor Day as the most wonderful time of the year.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a CSA is a program in which consumers can buy seasonal vegetables directly from the farmer by paying an upfront cost and collecting a box of produce during pre-scheduled pick-ups. Unlike a farmers’ market, where you choose exactly what you want to buy and in what quantity, a CSA delivers what’s fresh that week and in a quantity proportional to how good the harvest was.

The pros of this arrangement are the farmer gets upfront cash to do the planting and the buyer is forced to try new veggies she might not normally buy. The downside is a poor crop means less take-home food for you, while a bumper* crop means you’re sometimes stuck with 6 pounds of kohlrabi you don’t know what to do with.

*Does the phrase ‘bumper crop’ remind everyone else of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ too? Ok, good.

Still, the rewards far outweigh the risks in my opinion, so when my company advertised a summer/fall of bi-weekly deliveries brought straight to my office, I couldn’t resist. And unlike two years ago when I bought a share and split it with a friend, this summer, I’m planning to go it alone. Why? Because I’m trying to eat more vegetables and haven’t yet found my new Queens Greenmarket. Also because when you share, it’s really hard to split a single spaghetti squash, and I’m selfish.

The first pick-up was this past Tuesday, and OH THE BOUNTY. It’s still spring, and that means mostly greens for now. We had several things I recognized, like head lettuce and bok choy and scallions and kale, but also some things I definitely had to google, like tatsoi.

Some people who buy CSAs say it’s hard to use all the ingredients, especially the unfamiliar ones, in the two weeks before the next box arrives. But with a little creativity and forward planning, it’s completely possible to eat every last ounce. Here are my best strategies for getting the most out of your summer CSA:

  • Remove the greens. First thing first (well, after taking the required CSA instagram photo), remove all the green tops from root vegetables, like radishes and carrots and kohlrabi and turnips. Sure, they look pretty as a whole unit, but the greens will keep sucking moisture out of the roots while they sit in your crisper. After you snip off the tops, feel free to keep the leaves for another use. Turnip greens are great in soups, and carrot tops make amazing pesto. Don’t be bullied into using everything though — I’ve finally admitted to myself I don’t like radish greens (too fuzzy!), raw or cooked, so I allowed myself to toss them on Tuesday. Don’t judge me.

  • Eat softer things first. You may be tempted to crack right into the sweet potatoes, but try to use your faster-to-wilt veggies first. That means lettuces right away, followed by other leafy greens and delicate produce. I only get a share every two weeks, so it’s important to save some of the heartier things for week two, like the squashes.

  • Work veggies into every meal. This is a good rule of thumb all the time — don’t eat any meal without adding something grown — but it’s especially important as you try to use up veggies before they rot. Sautéed tatsoi (basically Asian spinach, I learned this week) makes a great bacon and egg accompaniment, turns out.

  • Master some easy go-to dishes. It’s good to have a few recipes up your sleeve that can use multiple veggies at once. Bonus points if you can make it ahead and freeze it, so you have it for week two. For some people, that go-to dish is a hearty soup or a bisquick pie. For me, it’s quiche. I’ve already eaten most of one, and a second is cooling in my icebox as we speak.

  • Don’t fear the pickle. One way to get your vegetables to last longer is to preserve them. I don’t do anything fancy that will last til next winter like I’m a modern Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I do like to pickle my radishes. They’re so easy and so delicious, especially on burgers or tuna sandwiches or by the forkful. Here’s the recipe I use.

More ambitious cooks might have other tips for getting the most out of their CSAs, like making jams and canning and freezing things through the off-season, but I’m not that fancy. Fancier folks, what else do you recommend to get the most out of your CSA? (And how can I control these Crazy Seasonal Allergies?!)

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Goodbye, Upper East Side

I could attribute my successful running career [I use this word loosely; Nike isn’t sponsoring these 8-minute miles or anything] to lots of things — a rigid sleep schedule, a largely whole-food diet, an innate fear of finishing last. But I believe my achievements in fitness these past few years were mostly guided by the same forces that drive real estate: location, location, location.

That is, I’ve spent the past six years residing in a runner’s paradise, New York’s Upper East Side, and that has made all the difference.

I realize there are plenty of more successful runners from other parts of the world (I’m looking at you, Kenya), but for me at least, the UES has been the prime location for me to hone my performance. Why, you ask? So many reasons, but here are some of the main ones:

  • Proximity to Central Park: For six years, I’ve been just a half mile from 800 acres of paved running paths, dirt trails and welcome escape from the urban hustle. My tried and true routes have been the 6-mile main loop, the 1.5-mile reservoir and the 2.5-mile extended bridle path, which goes around the base of the reservoir and then up and over around the 102nd St. transverse. The park isn’t perfect, especially on tourist-filled summer days, but it sports clean bathrooms, often-functioning water fountains, and some of the best views in the city, including the header of this here blog. It’s also the home of most local races, encouraging me to sign up for dozens more that I’d have done if I had to take a train to the starting corrals.
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    My park. Also, everyone else’s park.

 

  • Proximity to the East River Promenade: Tired of Central Park? The UES is also a stone’s throw from another (flatter) running route, along the East River. Although parts are still under construction, you can still get in several miles running north from Gracie Mansion to 125th St. The path also extends south to the 59th St. bridge, as long as you pick it up on the 78th St. ramp. Feel like mixing it up? Run over the footbridge at 103rd St. and explore Randall’s Island by foot. There’s no shortage of area to cover when you’re coming from the UES.
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    Randall’s Island workout aka a chatty walk with iced coffee.❤

  • So Many Gyms: Since moving to the area, I’ve visited half a dozen gyms, from the neighborhood institution 92Y to the impressive Asphalt Green (pictured) to all three two neighborhood New York Sports Clubs. I even once ponied up $100 to attend a four-week “yoga for runners” series at the east side Pure Yoga studio, a stretch-worthy indulgence I’d gladly do again.
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    Does my head look enormous in this cap?

  • Food Options for Athletes: A food desert the neighborhood is not. There’s a Fairway and a Whole Foods right by 86th St, plus dozens of other groceries from Key Food to Gristedes. If you prefer your carbs ready-made, check out this marathon-runner’s favorite institution, H&H Midtown Bagels East on Second Avenue. The best place for food though is the Yorkville farmer’s market on 82nd St. and 1st Ave. I go every Saturday, except when the even-closer greenmarket in the 90s opens on Sundays in the summer. From fresh fruits and veggies to meats, cheeses, honey and breads, this place seriously has everything you need to eat cleanly and deliciously.
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    I’ll miss you, friend.

Why am I talking about this neighborhood like it’s about to disappear? Well, because it is — or rather, I’m about to disappear from within it. This weekend, my fiance and I finally make the big move out of Manhattan, and I’m going to have to discover new running routes and new farmers markets and new gyms to sustain me. I’m sure Queens has them, but if you have any recommendations — primarily in the Long Island City area — please send ’em my way!

Moving is never fun, as Keira can attest, but we’ll make it through. See you on the other side, folks!

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“I want to move to Queens, too! Is that driving distance from Hawaii?”

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AG6 Review, or Working Out in Marioland 

I was raised in a strictly no video game household — at least, until the baby boy of the family asked for leniency — and I’ve mostly appreciated the fact that my childhood was spent in libraries and swingsets and pools instead of in front of a screen. Sure, I loved visiting my best friend with Sega because who can resist that delightful blue hedgehog, but I never really understood the fuss about Street Fighter and Super Mario and whatever other cultural institutions of the 90s I happened to miss.
 
So when a NYC friend suggested we try a new high-tech workout likened to stepping into a video game, I was a little skeptical. What I love about my brand of fitness is it’s undeniably low-tech: a pair of shoes, a casual run, a pacing watch only on those rare days I remembered to charge it. The idea of an electricity-fueled, LED-light studded workout seemed about as foreign to be as Saipan — a U.S. commonwealth I only learned about two weeks ago when watching Beachfront Bargain Hunt. And who says HGTV isn’t educational?
 
The high-intensity, circuit-based program didn’t exactly pull at my heartstrings, but the gym was located two blocks from my apartment and the first class was free, so I didn’t have much of an excuse. I signed up, met my friend in the lobby, and we headed up to the recently remastered studio, not knowing what we’d find.

The class, called AG6 and offered by the Upper East Side’s Asphalt Green, only began last month, and it was clear from a show of hands that we weren’t the only newbies in the room. Still, the very energetic and neon-clad instructor didn’t take it easy on us. After a quick warm up, she introduced us to the seven stations we’d be rotating through in 30 second and one minute intervals. Many were cross-fit staples (or so I believe as a person who has never actually done crossfit): burpees, box jumps, mountain climbers, ladders, etc.
 
But other exercises weren’t your regular run-of-the-mill gymnasium stuff. Two of the exercises involved bounding from one light-up floor panel to another, which would trigger a sensor and activate the next panel, keeping us on our toes and making it feel like we were in a real-live video game.
 

 
It’s hard to describe, but I felt like an honest-to-god wackamole in a blinking, Bieber-filled sweat dungeon. It was manic and challenging and nearly vomit-inducing … but it was also strangely satisfying. I finished the class despite all my body’s best efforts to fail on me, and promptly high-fived everyone I could reach. For as hard as it was, I was practically euphoric when I got home to tell my fiancé about it, and today my abs are definitely feeling the burn. (Or feeling the Hillary, as I prefer to say.:)

So would I take AG6 again? Not at the $35 a class price point, but if they want to entice me in with more free offers, I might not be opposed. Of course, the Yorkville location becomes significantly less attractive once I move out of the neighborhood in five short days. Asphalt Green, can you throw in a free promo code AND a free cab ride home next time?:)

Anyone interested in trying it out? No guarantees, but the promo code I used (code: AG6WG) came from this wonderful freebie website. As the quality folks at Fit for Free NYC described it: To get your free class, register here, scroll down and click “view all,” and add an AG6 session to your cart. Apply the promo code AG6WG to get your workout for free. The code expires on May 31st, so do it now! Shout-out to Well + Good for providing us with this awesome free code.
 
Also, note that once you get the free class, you need to sign up for a specific session, with signup starting 7 days before the actual class. It sold out fast, as one of the friends who wanted to join can attest to, so you’ll want to act decisively. Do it, video-game lovers, for Sonic!

 

 

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