I Love the Nineties

Measuring one’s health, much like measuring the size of Donald Trump’s hands, is very much up to interpretation.

Really: what is it that makes someone “healthy” anyways? Is it their weight? Their BMI? Their pant size? Is it the number of miles they can run (26.2, baby) or the number of push-ups they can complete (no comment)?

From “carbs consumed a day” to “gluten consumed an era,” people measure health in all sorts of different ways, and those yardsticks continue to evolve each time we learn something new about science. Seriously: can you imagine telling your 1998 self she’d be trading in her Olestra-laden potato chips for full-fat coconut milk in 2016? (Or telling her about the 2016 election cycle, for that matter? She’d have thought you crazy on both accounts.)

There’s at least one measurement of health, however, that hasn’t been proven obsolete by some new report or study. The most surefire measure of whether someone’s healthy: can they live to 90?

Well, I know someone who has: my grandmother Marie. (Also, the queen.)

And in case you’d like to live to 90, too, I’ve got her tips for healthy living right here. Step on up, folks, and see the future.

I sat down with my grandmother earlier this month ahead of her epic birthday bash that, no joke, had more guests than my wedding will, and asked her what’s her secret to nine decades and counting on this fine earth.

Gin,” she told me over the breakfast table on her backporch, before laughing and redacting her statement. “Don’t write that! Ok fine, you can write that. Everyone will think it anyways.”

And you wonder why I love this woman.

But it’s not just her 5 p.m. cocktail that keeps my grandmother spritely and sharp. Although she said she has no special regimen that explains her continued health, I still quizzed my favorite nonagenarian on her habits and have compiled a useful list for all of your personal betterment. Enjoy:

  • “Always eat breakfast.” During this specific conversation, my grandmother was having yogurt, orange juice, decaf coffee and sliced bananas in milk, and she says that’s a pretty typical morning meal for her. Even if something else is on the menu, she always works in fruit — a practice we could all pick-up.
  • “Sit down for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” In our modern world, it’s easy to inhale fast meals standing over the kitchen sink or straight out of the refrigerator, but sitting down makes the process slower and more deliberate. My grandmother doesn’t just sit; she also always uses a placemat. Classing it up at mealtime can never be a bad thing.
  • “Have an activity every day.” At 90, you may not be running ’round town or uni-cycling down the street, but my grandmother still has something on her to-do list every single day. Maybe it’s cleaning the windows, maybe it’s lunch at her favorite restaurant, maybe it’s bridge with friends. Having something to look forward to (or maybe not, if we’re talking window cleaning…) is a great motivator that keeps us from staying in our pajamas every day — a great temptation for yours truly some mornings.
  • “Surround yourself by super amazing grandchildren.” Ok, ok, so my grandmother didn’t actually say this one, but I’d like to believe having 14 grandchildren (plus kids, spouses, great grandkids, and granddogs) helps keep her extra busy. Selfies don’t hurt, either. 

So here’s to a happy birthday (month) to my lovely grandmother. May we all learn from her healthy habits, but may we also remember it’s not worth being healthy if you can’t celebrate from time to time with a splash of gin. 

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Joining the Mile High Club (Well, Kind Of)

New York City may a hotbed of chic, on-trend fitness classes, but you’d be hard pressed to find me at any of them. While the masses may be flocking to SoulCycle or FlyWheel or some other combination of two fancy words without a space, I’ve largely avoided them, and for plenty of reasons:

  • These classes tend to be full of beautiful, flexible people in swanky outfits and I spend all 55 minutes unhealthily comparing myself to them
  • The flashing lights and electronica dance music are hellish on my country-western-trained ears
  • The idea of spending $30+ for a single class seems obscene to me when I already have A) a monthly gym membership and B) two legs that can run for free

That said, every now and then I stumble across a promo code for a free class, and usually my experience goes a little something like this: 1. I attend for free because who doesn’t like free things, 2. I suffer through an excoriating workout, and 3. I ultimately solidify my belief that everything I thought was terrible about chichi NYC studios is, in fact, terrible.

So that’s exactly what I expected to happen at Mile High Run Club last week when I signed up for a free group workout using the promo code RUNRIGHT, which may or may not still be usable (good luck). For those of you unfamiliar, Mile High Run Club is a treadmill-based running class where dozens of runners, all facing the same direction, work their way through intervals of speed work and hill training from the comfort of their own machine. In case that doesn’t sound elegant enough to you, I’ll note that the studios, located in annoying named neighborhoods NOHO and NOMAD, sport Ionized Kangen water filling stations or bottles of water for sale. Hello, fancy.

I signed up with two friends to HIGH 45, an endurance class that said it was good for any skill level. We booked treadmills in the very back in hopes that we wouldn’t be seen as we suffered through, changed into our gear in a comically small locker room and prepared for the worst.

But the worst never came.

In fact, this group workout class was downright delightful. Ohmygod, who have I become? (Someone who wants this shirt, that’s who.)

The thing that makes this workout so great is that everyone sets their own treadmill speeds based on their perceived levels of “easy” and “hard.” Unlike in other workout classes, where it’s obvious to the whole room if you can’t do a shoulder stand, here everyone is really, truly free to go at their own speed. Between hard sessions, some of us slowed to a jog and others came down to a walk, and the room wasn’t dripping with judgment as a result. I also liked that 1. It forced me to do speedwork I might not otherwise want to do, 2. I never got to a point that I felt like giving up because I couldn’t do it and 3. The instructor, Scott, didn’t shy away from the country music. Yeehaw.

I also liked that my friends and I went out for a class of wine afterwards under the Flatioron Building, but I’m not sure that’s mandatory practice.

Heck, I’m even playing with the idea of buying a 5-class series for the weeks leading up to the Bronx 10-miler. I know I could do free speed work at my home gym instead, but I’m much more likely to actually do it if I’ve paid $26 a class to attend. I guess that’s the same argument SoulCyclers use to justify their addiction. Ah well: call me converted.

Have you tried a group treadmill class?

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Run If By Land 

When you like two things separately, it only makes sense you’ll love them doubly together.

You know what I mean: Like peanut butter and chocolate? You’ll love Reese’s cups. Like animals and football? You’ll love the Puppy Bowl. Like Muppets and Apple products? You’ll love FaceTiming with your niece in Hawaii, even if she doesn’t feel the same way.

Given that so many good things are made great through the act of sheer combination — wine & cheese, pizza & beer, Chris Pine & shirtless scenes — it’s amazing that it took me so long to try what was such an obvious and inevitable combination: running and the beach.

I’ve liked the beach as long as I can remember — from riding the waves to walking the coastline to soaking in the sun for more hours than my Irish-heritage skin should have allowed. And I’ve liked running for years and years, as you should have gleaned from this blog unless you’re terrible at context clues.

So why then did it take me 30 years to put those two things together and go for my first run ON the beach? Maybe because I was afraid of getting sand in my shoes, or because I tend to sleep in on vacation, or because I was nervous that running in sand would feel like being in that awful slow-motion dream where you can’t pick up any speed despite your enemy nipping at your heels. Whatever the reason, I’d never been for a beach run, and this past weekend in Long Island I vowed to change that.

And, wow, I loved it, but wow, it wasn’t easy. Running in sand takes about 1.6 times more energy than running on a hard surface, according to competitor.com, and believe me, my glutes and core could tell. I had less bounce than on the roads and had to work different stabilizing muscles to keep propelling forward. Unlike on a normal run where I could just tune out and go, I had to keep hyper aware to avoid stepping in holes or getting my feet wet when a wave came up further than usual.

Still, the pros outweighed the cons. By running on the beach instead of the asphalt on a hot summer morning, I was able to take advantage of the cool breeze and go longer without overheating, a major plus for summer training. And whenever I wanted to stop and splash water on my face, there wasn’t any shortage of ocean to choose from. Add on top of that a gorgeous backdrop, accidental resistance training and more dog sightings than I’d ever imagined, and the experience was a net positive one.

I’m not near a beach in the city, so I doubt this will become part of my normal routine, but I think it will inspire me to seek out other surfaces besides pavement for a few of my runs each month. Whether that’s the bridal path in Central Park (I miss you, my friend!) or some other yet-to-be-discovered-by-me alternative in Queens, something tells me you’ll be seeing me offroading a bit more going forward. Especially if that offroading leads to friends and a vineyard, another winning combination.

Do you run on the beach? Any tips for a burgeoning Hasselhoff?

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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 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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