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.
    photo (67)
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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!

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

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!



Food Weight Loss

Whole30: The Final Day

It’s late May, and that means lots of things are coming to an end. School years. NBA finals. Allergy season. My patience in hearing “No Anne, let’s wait a little longer before we get a dog.”

Today marks the end of something else, too: my Whole30 adventure. (Though, to be fair, I now enter a 10-day reintroduction period that’s essentially another week and a half of the same, but I guess Whole40 didn’t have the same marketing ring to it.)
I know there’s nothing worse than hearing someone else talk about their diet, but indulge me just a little longer here: this diet was amazing. I’ve been following the rules and not weighing myself until day 31, so I don’t yet know if I lost any weight, but that wasn’t the point: the point was to reset my relationship with food, be more mindful in my choices, focus on whole products and learn that passing up free food isn’t the be-all-end-all I’d once thought it to be.

Of course, just because it was amazing doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard. Some days were more challenging than others, but with enough planning and my token unwavering stubbornness, I was able to pull through. And here’s what I learned when I did:

  • There is a real difference between belly hunger and head hunger, and you can teach yourself to tell them apart. If you ask yourself “am I hungry enough to eat this steamed fish and spinach?” and you aren’t, then you aren’t hungry. You’re bored.
  • Once you cut added sugars from your diet, you realize some things you take for granted are amazingly sweet. I’m not just talking apples and pineapples, though those certainly are. I’m talking carrots and parsnips and even some cuts of meat. Before starting Whole30, I added honey to my Greek yogurt daily without question. I’m excited to see whether the plain stuff by itself is enough for me now.
  • It’s OK to turn food down, it’s OK to go out with friends and not get a drink, and it’s OK to leave some food on your plate. I’m known around my apartment as “Depression Era Annie” who can’t help but consume everything she’s offered, but I learned this month that I’ll feel much better for much longer if I can muster the strength for one second to say no. No real friend is ever going to get angry that you got a sparkling water to toast their wine, or that you declined their homemade cookies.
  • Preparation is key to any healthy routine. Roll into work without breakfast in tow and you’ll end up sugar loading on cereals and snacks. Plan ahead, and you can dine on roasted butternut squash, avocado and homemade breakfast sausage, keeping you full ’til lunch. Seriously, some days I wasn’t hungry for lunch until 2 p.m. eating these big, protein and veggie-laden breakfasts. That has literally never happened to me before in my entire life.
  • I realized also that preparation time is a luxury, and one that the chronically over-worked and parents of small children in particular don’t necessarily have. I appreciate the extravagance of free time more than ever before after this process.
  • Speaking of breakfast sausage, it is extremely easy to make. Sauté some diced onions/garlic in olive oil, mix them into a pound of ground meat (I tried it with both pork and dark meat turkey), add a diced apple, a teaspoon of sage and salt/pepper. Form small patties and cook in olive oil or coconut oil until browned and cooked through. Cool on a paper-towel-covered plate. Easy peasy, and no weird additives.
  • Watch for weird additives. Most canned tuna contains soy. Most cured bacon contains sugar. Most conventional almond milk has an ingredient section longer than the list of minorities Donald Trump has offended. 

I have two more meals to get through today — including a lunch with some of my oldest friends that sadly can’t include a glass of rosé because goddamnit I’m finishing this thing to the end! — and then I begin the reintroduction phase, where I try one banned food every three days to find out what effect it has on me. I’m thinking of starting with dairy, because my black coffee is getting very old indeed, but I’m also considering starting with wine. Because, you know, these girls are in town. (At least a solid quorum of them.)

Thirty days ago, how many of you thought I was crazy to embark on this thing? Anyone inspired to follow in my paleo footsteps?


Things I’ve Outgrown 

I’m going to sound like a Buzzfeed article for a second here, but I’m going to say it anyways: the best thing about being in my 30s is allowing myself to outgrow the things I no longer like.

From wearing uncomfortable shoes to staying up late to RSVPing yes to social engagements that simply don’t interest me, the list of things I’ve (largely) freed myself of since coming into my own has been lengthy and rewarding.

Much like my future flight to visit this Hawaiian baby will be. 

And now I think it comes time for me to outgrow something else that in my 20s I’d never have imagined: the New York Road Runners.

Don’t get me wrong: NYRR is an excellent running club with organized and professional racing events, well-priced membership fees and awe-inspiring charities intended to bring no- and low-cost fitness to at-risk students who might otherwise get zero access to athletics. NYRR is wonderful for so many reasons — they put on the unparalleled NYC marathon, they gave me my new half marathon PR at the excellent NYC half this past March, they have bagel distribution down to a science — but unfortunately their competence has become their downfall. 

Their races have gotten too damn big.

I know, I know, large races are inherently good, because they mean lots of people are able to register and train and compete, which is good for both the cohesion and the health of a community. But when a race is so big the runners have to spend the first half of a race inching along at almost twice their expected race pace, that’s congestion that’s gotten out of hand.

At least, that was my feeling at Saturday’s UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, a NYRR event in Central Park with more finishers (8,033) than citizens in some island nations. To be fair, I was coming off a tiny 10K the previous week with less than 250 participants, but still: the Central Park loop was so crowded Saturday that we might as well have been sardines (mmm, sardines, my delicious Whole30 discovery) making our way up the west side.

I had hoped to run another sub-50 10K coming off last week’s surprise 7:45/mile pace — or maybe even a PR? dare I be so optimistic? — but I instead found myself stuck at an average 10:30 pace all the way to Harlem. It was so crowded I wasn’t even able to get to two of the water stations, despite needing the hydration in Saturday’s surprise heat. I’m sure many of those runners around me were also annoyed; we had, after all, paced into one of the first corrals but instead found ourselves boxed in on all sides by walkers, joggers and a sheer sea of humanity collectively unable to pick up speed.

The race thinned out around the Harlem hills and I was able to regain some lost ground, but at that point, I knew a PR wasn’t even close to in the cards. I didn’t quit the race early and turn off for home at the Engineers Gate like I was tempted to do, but I never really dropped the hammer speedwise either, finishing at a perfectly decent but several-minutes-too-slow-for-a-personal-record 53:20 time, or an average 8:35 pace. Meh. At least NYRR co-president Peter Ciaccia was giving high-fives at the finish line.

So have I outgrown NYRR races, much like I’ve outgrown Bolt buses and ending every Saturday night with a slice of pizza? I’m not sure, but I’m certainly less interested these days in traveling to a far corner of Central Park at an inconvenient hour to pay money to run slowly in a mass of strangers.

Of course, maybe this whole “I’m so done with NYRR!” thing is just a defense mechanism, since I know I’ll be moving out of Manhattan in two short weeks and my ability to roll out of bed and make my way to a Central Park race start is going to be diminished indeed. I know I’m going to miss the ease of these races, even if I don’t miss the crowds, and you never really forget your first (running club) love.

Or maybe I haven’t outgrown NYRR at all; I’ve just outgrown crowded Central Park 10Ks. Which is why I’ve just signed up for a new NYRR race altogether — a June 5K … in Queens. Hello, new neighborhood. May your NYRR races be less populous but as bagel-filled as the Manhattan ones I’ve come to love, then hate, but mostly still love. 

How do you manage a crowded race course?


Barre-ing All

I may be teetotaling this month as I round out the final leg of Whole30, but being off the sauce didn’t dissuade me from going to the bar last night. Oh wait, I mean “the barre.” As in, I took my very first barre class. Sorry folks, you know homonym jokes are my favorites.

For those of you who — like me — have been avoiding this fitness trend, barre is a ballet-inspired workout intended to lengthen muscles and tone bodies with small, isometric movements. I haven’t been itching to sign up, mostly because classes at this specific studio cost nearly $40 a pop (or you can book a year’s worth for the low-low price of $4,000 plus tax!) but also because I was afraid it would be everything I hate in this world wrapped into one, excruciating gym glass.

And guess what? It was everything I hate in this world wrapped into one, excruciating gym glass.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The studio, Physique 57, is a tiny, modern facility in a Midtown high-rise covered in glossy magazine testimonials from hotties-with-bodies ranging from Zooey Deschanel to Kelly Ripa. Other bloggers I follow rave about the workouts, and I wanted to see for myself just how effective barre can be.

After signing a waiver (should that have been a sign it was about to get real tough?), I left my shoes in a very fancy locker room full of free Q-tips, met my friends and made my way into the carpeted and compact main studio where we’d be taking advantage of a “first-class free” limited time promotion. (You didn’t think I actually paid for this, did you? Me, who had to fight the urge to pocket all the aforementioned free Q-tips and start a life for myself in the free Q-tip distribution business, paying $36 for a workout? I think not.)

The class, performed in our socks, started easy enough, with 5-pound free weights and some modified pushups. “My strength training must really be paying off!” I thought as I banged out some triceps dips without breaking a sweat. “And who said barre was hard?”

And then, my God, barre got hard. Much of this class involved pulsing in a squat position and balancing on my tip toes, two major challenges for this clumsy runner. As we moved from the barre to the mat to the floor, the exercises got harder and harder, and my quivering thighs barely got out of there alive. But that’s not what I hated most. This was:

  • The energetic instructor with a microphone learned my name and then proceeded to correct me at full volume (albeit nicely) when I wasn’t doing it right, which was 100 percent of the time.
  • Once she saw I physically couldn’t move like the other girls, she started saying encouraging things like “Looking great, Anne!” when we ALL knew it was a blatant lie.
  • She’d also say things like “10 more reps!” and then proceed to count to 12. That’s the meanest thing you can do in fitness.
  • Socks on carpet. Very slippery. I swear I CAN do a plank, but not when my feet are flying out behind me at a million miles an hour. They sold grippy socks at the front desk but that kind of commercialization of workouts makes me cringe. 
  • Everyone around me looked like a hot ballet dancer, and in the end-of-class stretching, several literally did a full split. COME ON NOW. Was that necessary? I’ve run four marathons, and I still felt like everyone could run sock-footed circles around me in that room.

In all seriousness, the class was a great workout, the instructor meant well, and the hour flew by, despite how miserable I was. And the misery was only compounded when I realized that all the things that were hurting me — my hip flexors, primarily — could have been avoided if I would just do the stretches and strengthening exercises I already know I should be doing. The most painful minutes of the class were donkey kicks and clamshells, two movements I know fully well would strengthen my hips and keep me from getting injured during future training cycles. If only I’d take my own good advice.

Going forward, am I going to try Physique 57 again? Only if they offer another free promotion — and if next time I tell the instructor a fake name.

Have you ever taken a barre class? Was it as painful as my experience?


Whole30: A Runner’s Review

Whole30 is supposed to be good for a whole host of things — curbing your cravings, breaking your bloat, advancing your alliteration (apparently) — but it’s not particularly known for enhancing one’s athletic abilities.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise — runners primarily fuel their training with carbs, and Whole30 is at its core a low-carb diet. As such, most of my runs since starting this program have felt like a slog: heavy legs, no pick-up, and even some weakness and shaking around mile 2 that I can only imagine is my bloodstream begging for glucose. Considering I usually spend the better part of a marathon thinking exclusively about when I get to eat my next pack of gummies, it seems logical this sugar-free diet is not exactly ideal for the competitive circuit.

In fact, my few-and-far-between runs have been so unpleasant since starting this challenge that I was tempted to take the whole month off racing altogether. But then local running club NYCRuns made me a Godfather-like offer I couldn’t refuse — small race, $30 entry fee, gender-cut tech shirts, a flat course, flowers at the finish line — and I did what I’ve done so many times before: I put my better judgment beside me and signed up anyways.

The race — a Mother’s Day-themed 10K on Roosevelt Island — was undoubtedly going to be painful for me: I’ve been running less than 10 miles a week, I haven’t done any speed training, I’m off the carbs and, of course, I awoke Sunday morning to find it was pouring. Still, I made my way to the bus and then to the gondola and arrived at a misty starting line prepared for an embarrassing 10K performance of epic proportions.

The rain fortunately subsided right as I checked my bag, and when the horn sounded at the start of the race, I blasted off with more energy than I’d expected to feel. “It’s just last night’s banana and the carby sweet potatoes I ate for breakfast fueling me” I thought as I rounded the first mile marker. “As soon as I burn through those, I’ll be running on empty again.”
I made it to mile 3 at a surprisingly rapid 7:40 pace, faster than I’ve been in recent races by a landslide. And that’s where I saw it: a volunteer-manned table covered in cups of delicious, syrupy, carb-laden Gatorade. Should I grab a cup and reload my legs, which were surely about to use up the last ounces of stored carbohydrates? Or should I stick to water, power through and remain true to the 30-day challenge I set out to complete?
I opted for the latter, so I mentally prepared myself for the inevitable slowdown that I expected to hit any second. But then I didn’t slow down at mile 3. And I didn’t slow down at mile 4. And I didn’t slow down — more than normal at least — at mile 5, at which point I decided I wasn’t going to let any more women pass me between there and the finish line, in the far-fetched but slightly entertainable idea that I might actually be in the running for one of the age group awards. I rounded the last corner, barreled toward the finish line, and made my way directly to the generous post-race food spread, which was full of Whole30 compliant fresh fruit in addition to the token and forbidden bagels.

At most NYC races, I head for home immediately after crossing the finish line, since with the typical New York Road Runner’s event featuring thousands of people, the chance of placing is quite literally zero. But with just 236 people running this 10K — just 44 of whom were 30-39 year-old women — I thought I might have a chance. So I optimistically waited for the awards ceremony, and what do you know?

My 7:45 pace was just enough to eek me out an age group second place win! It wasn’t my fastest 10K ever — that honor goes to the June 2012 New York Mini at a 7:40 pace — but it was my second fastest, and that’s pretty impressive considering my lack of carbohydrates.
So impressive, in fact, that I started to do some reading after the race. What I found was that there’s an increasing amount of research suggesting a low-carb diet can teach your body to run on fat, a nutrient in which my curvy body is in no short supply! I’m not sure whether that process actually took place Sunday in a short 48-minute event — and I’m neither a doctor nor play one on TV — but it’s certainly some food for thought.
Phoning a friend: How have you performed when on a low-carb diet?


Food Recipes

Spaghetti Squash: The Final Frontier

My sister has taught me a lot of useful things in life: how to paper mache, where to hide Girl Scout cookies bought on the sly, which flavors of Lip Smackers taste good enough to eat (spoiler alert: all of them.)

Two and a half years my senior, she went before me in all walks of life — first to preschool, first to summer camp, first (fine, and only) to live in Mongolia — and passed on loads of wisdom and first-hand experience along the way as older sisters are wont to do.

Like how to get a stubborn niece to participate in a Fourth of July photo shoot.

At the ripe at of 30, I thought I had completed my sister-led education, but then I visited her in the Midwest last month and she introduced me to something totally new once more: the spaghetti squash.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve HEARD of spaghetti squash — but due to some combination of fear and skepticism, I’d never actually bought or cooked one. Some of that is because it’s hard to trust something mascaraing as something else — is it spaghetti? is it squash? is it Keyser Soze?— but mostly because I simply didn’t know how to cook it.

I realize the internet is full of directions for how to prepare unfamiliar ingredients, but the masses were telling me all sorts of conflicting information: “Cook it whole!” “Slice it and roast face up!” “Slice it and roast it face down!” “Toss the squash in the trash and buy some pasta!” So I kept putting off familiarizing myself with this ingredient, much like I’ve put off watching The West Wing and other recommendations people say would be good for me.

And with so many other vegetables in my life, it hasn’t been a problem avoiding this specific one for three decades. But then I started Whole30 and I suddenly found myself needing a new vehicle for my tomato sauce. Flash forward to my visit with my sister, where she taught me to cook my very first spaghetti squash. And you know what?

I failed miserably! (And you thought I was going to say it was easy, didn’t you?) I didn’t realize you had to scrape seeds out of both sides, since I was afraid of losing the flesh that I knew eventually became the eponymous noodles. Still, once we picked all the baked seeds out of the piping hot squash halves, it was easier and more satisfying than I’d ever imagined to flake the squash into strands. We topped it with sauce and — more importantly — meatballs, and now I’m a convert.

For those of you like me avoiding this surprisingly delicious pasta substitute that doesn’t require a spiralizer, here’s how to do it:

  1. Buy a spaghetti squash. They are giant and yellow, and every local grocery store seems to have them.
  2. Wash it, cut it in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds while leaving the majority of the flesh. (I guess this is also the step where I should tell you to preheat the oven to 450 degrees.)
  3. Bake face down in a 450 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.
  4. Remove, let cook enough to handle, and then use fork to break up remaining flesh into noodles. It’s easier and more fun than it sounds.
  5. Top with sauce! In this case, Whole30 approved turkey marinara, but I imagine I’ll be doing this again with parmesan-filled pesto in 15 short days.
  6. Enjoy in front of a movie with your fiance (step 6 is not optional and is key to the success of the dish, I swear.)

What’s your favorite spaghetti squash preparation?