Surprise! It’s Bike to Work Day

Do you value your safety and personal well-being? No? Well then, have I got a holiday for you:

Today’s National Bike to Work Day!

Situated smack in the middle of National Bike to Work Month, today’s holiday is meant to raise awareness about the soaring numbers of bike commuters choosing to forgo the carpool or subway for their own two wheels — and living to tell the tale.

According to the League of American Bicyclists — which is consequently a super cool band name — 40 percent of all car trips in the U.S. are less than two miles long, meaning trading your classic combustion engine for a human-powered bike is a reasonable alternative. It’s emission-free, cheap and healthy, and swapping your car for a cycle ride from time to time can be a little way to make a big difference to both your fitness and the environment.

With all this in mind, I decided earlier this month to put my fears behind me and try my very first bike-to-work commute. And, believe you me, I learned some things in the process. If you’re thinking about joining the ranks of office-bound cyclists today, here are some helpful tips from someone who learned a few things the hard way:

  • Do a trial run. I didn’t get a lot of things about bike commuting right, but I DID have the foresight to practice on a Saturday to make sure the bike lanes connected where I thought they did. Turns out though Saturday mornings in Manhattan offer much emptier roads than weekday rush hour, so the trial run wasn’t a true stand-in, but at least I got a feel for it on a day I wasn’t racing in to punch the clock.
  • Wear bike-friendly clothing. The day you choose to bike to work is not a morning to test out your new pencil skirt. If you have a long commute and somewhere to shower/change, I’d recommend workout clothes. My commute was less than two miles, so I wore regular work pants and a t-shirt I could swap out for a more business-casual shirt in the newsroom bathroom. I probably should have packed wet-wipes, too, but I’m a gross colleague.
  • Choose a cycle-friendly bag. If you lug around as much stuff as I do (i.e. lunch, back-up shoes, seven pounds of stray Bernese Mountain Dog hair that somehow sticks to everything I own), you’ll want to swap our your normal purse for a cross-body bag or backpack that’s easy to wield on a cycle.
  • Roll up a pant leg. I don’t quite understand the science of this, but seems all the cool kids do it.
  • Wear a helmet. Even if your route has bike lanes, cars are going to be going out of their way to kill you, at least in my experience. Watch for both right turns into your lane and absent-minded drivers flinging open their doors into your path. Practice ringing your bike bell while simultaneously yelling “hey a$$hole, I’m biking here!”
  • Check the weather. I chose what I though was a beautiful morning to bike-commute to work for the first time. Turns out, I should have given this little cloud cover a little more thought.

It started pouring when I was halfway in, and I arrived at work semi-drenched — but at least I had a dry shirt in my bag. And I’m fortunate enough to have a secure indoor spot to store my bike, so I chose to leave it at work overnight and ride it home the next day when the storm had passed. So technically I biked only to work that day, not from it, but that’s what I call baby steps.

Speaking of baby steps, look who got brave enough to enter our (very scary!) back porch this past weekend … before leaping into my lap in terror at the sound of the wind blowing.

Baby steps.


Are you biking to work today?

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Songs of Good Cheer

News flash: On Saturday morning, I won the Rhinebeck Hudson Valley Half Marathon.

Don’t misunderstand me: I didn’t run it or anything. But I stood on my front stoop in the rain, blasted Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind,” called affirmations to every athlete passing by and — most importantly — had the best-looking sidekick this side of Poughkeepsie. I think we can all agree that’s #winning.

Best friends always color coordinate. 


I hadn’t expected to enjoy myself so much spectating the event. In fact, just three weeks before, I’d cursed that very same race when I realized 1. It was passing right by my house and 2. I wasn’t in good enough shape to join it.

I’ve largely let running go by the wayside since the NYC Half Marathon in March, and while I usually pride myself in being able to churn out a sub-2 half with little to no extra training, I knew deep in my soul I wasn’t in good enough shape to finish this weekend’s race and feel good doing it.

Actually, for a brief minute, I tricked myself into thinking I could: I pictured hustling back into shape, wrote down actual workouts in my google calendar, devised ways to replace rest days with extra long runs, and ran an impromptu seven-miler after a month on the couch just to show myself I still had it.

And — ooooh — the punishment shin splints have been relentless. Never go from zero to seven, people, NEVER.

So I quickly scrapped that plan (and have been wearing sneakers every day since waiting for the shin pain to subside…) and decided to reimagine myself cheering alongside the race course instead.

And I’m so glad I did. I’m not sure about the other 13.1 miles (or 26.2 miles for the simultaneous full), but I was the only spectator as far as the eye could see on my stretch of road. And having been on the other side, I know just how good a “looking good, runner!” can feel when you’re powering up a hill in the rain counting down the miles til the finish line.

Plus a bernese wrapped in a beach towel makes everyone laugh.

“I could catch you if I wanted to.”


So what did I learn this past weekend? That cheering at a race can be just as fun as running one, without any of the pesky recovery time. And that telling an environmentally friendly runner she can toss her empty gel in your yard elicits so much gratitude. And that Lucille and I wear the same size raincoat but she refuses to be seen outside in it.

“Mom, you’re embarrassing me.”


But most of all, Saturday taught me when the area’s October half marathon rolls through town, I’m gonna be ready this time. Don’t believe me? I already registered.

Who’s with me?

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Well, I’m Soul-ed

I finally did something I said I’d never do.

  • No, I didn’t voluntarily enter a haunted house.
  • No, I didn’t go to Times Square for fun.
  • No, I didn’t fly to Hawaii so these FaceTiming first cousins could finally meet snout-to-snout.

(And you thought Keira wasn’t going to get any billing on this blog once Lucille came into the picture.)

No, friends. I did something far more shocking: this morning, I went to SoulCycle.

And here’s the M. Night Shyamalan twist ending you weren’t expecting: I loved it. (Also, the Village takes place in modern-day Pennsylvania. There, I just saved you an hour and 48 minutes of your life. You’re welcome.)


For those of you living under a rock (whatup slugs of the world!), SoulCycle is a boutique indoor cycling class where riders spin and move to the beat of very loud music while a guru-like instructor shouts affirmations while surrounded by candlelight. These classes have been mocked as being trendy, elitist and that most hated of words — basic — and for years, I believed them.

Until 7 a.m. this morning, when I did a 45-minute ride at the 54th Street location in Manhattan and spent most of the class grinning ear to ear.

Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t smiling because I was physically enjoying it — I was sweating bullets and silently cursing the resistance nob under my breath the entire time. But for a spinning class, I found myself surprisingly entertained and the ¾ hour session flew by, something I can’t say’s been the case in other group cycling classes I’ve slogged through.

Key to my kept attention were several things: great music (dance-remix Whitney and Duran Duran), a break from the intense cycling about 30 minutes in to focus on hand weights, a hypnotic atmosphere and an upbeat instructor saying just enough positive things to keep me motivated.

My favorite: “You’re fierce, you’re beautiful, you’re strong, you’re here.” Turns out I eat that sh*t up.

Now SoulCycle certainly has its downsides. It’s expensive ($34 a class + $3 shoe rentals), it’s apparently hard to book spots in the most popular classes, it’s impossible to unclip your special shoes if you’re me and the shower lines were long before work. And, fine, they used words like “tribe” and “pack” and “aspirational lifestyle brand” in their IPO filings, which is pretty damn annoying.

But it was still a great workout that left me feeling energized and motivated and, above all, sweat-drenched. And maybe it’s basic, but if loving workout classes and spandex pants and rosé wine and almond milk lattes is basic, then count me in.

I realize SoulCycle is polarizing. What do you think of it?

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Lordy, Lordy: I Did 40

If someone told me they were planning to run a marathon with zero training save for a handful of 5Ks, I’d put the emergency room on speed dial ahead of their inevitable crash and burn.

So as I laced up Sunday for New York City’s 40-mile Five Boro Bike Tour — on training literally limited to cycling to an ice-cream shop to meet a friend in April — I was bracing for the worst.

“I’ll make it to Queens and then head home at the halfway mark,” I told myself. “There’s no shame in stopping early. Only a fool would try for 40 miles on about 6 miles — and one soft-serve — of total training.”

Did someone say soft serve?

That’s the funny thing about preparing for the worst: sometimes it doesn’t pan out. Or in other words: sometimes you finish the entire 40-mile tour, feel awesome doing it, and can’t remember for the life of you why you were so darned nervous in the first place.

We are the champions! Us and those other 39,996 people.

The Five Boro Bike Tour — not a race, as the organizers are sure to remind you — reminds me a lot of the NYC marathon: it leads you all around the city, it has spectacular views, and it forces you to go to Staten Island against your better judgment. But unlike the marathon, I finished Sunday’s event with zero pain and woke up Monday feeling fresh, not like my knees were going to crumble under me like I do after running 26.2 miles.

Seriously, if anyone had told me years ago biking doesn’t destroy your will to live like marathoning does, I would have traded in my Asics for a 21-speeder years ago.

Don’t get me wrong: biking events won’t totally replace running as my cardio of choice. But based on my limited experience, it does bring some key benefits:

  • It’s lower impact, meaning you hurt less afterwards.
  • You get a built-in rest on the down hills.
  • It’s kosher to ring a loud bell at jerks about to step in your path.
  • There’s no shame in carrying an entire backpack of food with you for the entire event, which doesn’t quite work when you’re traveling on foot.

Of course, everything has its cons. For the bike tour, it was mostly related to congestion: get 40,000 bikes on one course and you’re bound to come to a standstill once or twice or what felt like 37 times. As someone with a need for speed, I found this particularly frustrating.

Grumble grumble.

Still, it was all-in-all a positive experience, and a good reminder that while I feel like my fitness levels have long since plateaued, I still have some endurance in me. Huzzah!

Have you ever tried your hand at a new sport?

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Counter-Intuitive Fitness

A lot of what we now know to be true about fitness and weight loss appears at first counter-intuitive:

  • To lose fat, eat more of it.
  • To look slimmer, gain muscle weight.
  • To feel more awake, exhaust yourself with a workout.

And here’s one more: to exercise more frequently, cancel your gym membership.

(At least, I’m hoping that’s the case. Ask me in a month whether my pants still button.)

I’ve belonged to a gym in New York City for almost nine years — first New York Sports Club, then the 92 St. Y, then back to NYSC where they amazingly grandfathered me back in at the same cheap rate I was paying in 2008 following the Lehman Brothers crash. Thanks, subprime mortgage crisis!

And during each of those years, I used the gym differently. As an unhealthy college grad, I’d plug into the elliptical for 20 minutes then call it a day. During my four marathon training cycles, I’d churn out treadmill workouts then recover with a yoga class. In the months before our wedding, I’d sweat my way through two Body Pump classes a week, toning my arms primarily so I could dance to Shout and look good doing it. #priorities

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But recently, I’ve found it harder and harder to make it to the gym. If I had a personal trainer, I’m sure she’d tell me there’s always an excuse, but I swear my reasons are legit: I started a job with significantly longer hours, I uncovered my bike after a winter in storage, I moved to a building with an in-house fitness room and I got a dog who’s not so good at the rowing machine. Why race to a 7 p.m. pilates class in Manhattan when I can be at home snuggling this gorgeous face in Queens? I rest my case.

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This is my boating hat.

In fact, not only was I paying a monthly membership for a gym I wasn’t going to, I found that knowing I wasn’t getting my money’s worth at NYSC was actually discouraging me from taking advantage of other workout opportunities, too. Why go to a friend’s $25 barre class if I am already paying for NYSC? Why buy a climbing session if I am already paying for NYSC? Why cough up $40 for a 5K race entry if am already paying for NYSC?

So I did something in April that may appear counter-intuitive: I walked into NYSC, took a final Body Pump class, and canceled my gym membership once and for all.

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Goodbye forever, Dan, my favorite Body Pump instructor. 😦

And then I signed up for a $10 yoga class at my apartment building next week, because the burden had been lifted!

So who knows if quitting my gym will help me stop turning down other classes and increase my fitness levels, but it’s worth a try, even if it seems counter-intuitive. Because, hey, some counter-intuitive things really do work: like how giant dogs actually thrive in a tiny apartment. I swear.

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I’m not big. You’re big.

What surprising things have you done in the name of fitness?

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Spicing It Up

They say variety is the spice of life, but I think it’s really garlic salt. Or basil. Or za’atar. Or any number of other dried herbs and seasonings currently crowding out my kitchen cupboards.

Spices are crucially important, and not just because the search for them inspired Columbus to sail westward some 500 years ago, reshaping the future of the Americas forever. They also taste really, really good.

From cumin and dillweed to paprika and cloves, spices have the potential to transform an otherwise unmemorable dish into something you’ll make time and time (thyme and thyme?) again. Heck, there’s a reason Simon and Garfunkel harmonized about parsley and sage instead of bland, boiled chicken breast.

I’m a true spice believer, but it hasn’t always been that way. Much like every other former-22-year-old I know, I moved to New York City nine (nine!) years ago with little more than a suitcase, a laptop and a plastic bin of sad kitchen supplies salvaged from my senior year apartment. I had a wooden spoon, a plastic cereal bowl, salt shakers and some dried onion powder. I did a lot of embarrassing things my first year in Manhattan, but I’d say my “cooking” took the cake.

Also this hat. Hello, 2009!

But as I grew more interested in healthy eating, I started to expand my spice rotation. As I cooked more recipes, I learned that the secret to tasty meals wasn’t necessarily more oil or salt or sugar or bacon (though, let’s be honest, those things often help), but a better use of seasonings. I started with accessible things, like pumpkin pie spice for my oatmeal, but quickly expanded as my palate broadened, adding first rosemary and bay leaves, and then more complex flavors like garam masala and Thai red curry paste to the mix.

I now have more than 50 spice jars at home (mostly made by McCormick, because you can’t take the Baltimore out of the girl), plus hot sauce and a tub of Indian Achaar pickles on my desk at work. And my food is more delicious than ever before. With just a little creative seasoning, I can transform three pounds of veggies into a ratatouille I’ll want to eat all week long or a raw chicken into a garlicky-roasted masterpiece.

And that’s key to healthy eating: actually wanting to consume the nutritious lunch you packed for work instead of leaving it to wilt in the staff fridge and hitting up the sandwich cart downstairs. Cooking for yourself lets you better control your portions, manage what’s going into your body and ultimately saves you money. No wonder the three wise men carried frankincense and myrrh. They knew spices = the original health food.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to start a little experiment: growing my own indoor herb garden. Dried spices have a lot of benefits, namely storability and shelf life, but there’s something extra wonderful about snipping a sprig of parsley in real time to pump up the flavors. There’s also something soul-nourishing about cultivating new life at a time when so much in the world just feels hopeless and dark and sad.

But whhhhhy is my bowl empty?!

So I ordered a little garden planter on Amazon, bought some potting soil, and stopped by the farmers’ market to pick my plants. I went with parsley, basil and sage, three staples in my everyday cooking. I would have bought oregano, since 1. It’s so flavorful fresh and 2. It’s hilarious to hear a Brit say it, but the farmer only had it in big pots that wouldn’t fit into my diminutive blue-toned planter.

And look at them! They’re so darn cute!

Who knows if they’ll grow — there isn’t much room for roots to expand and lord knows whether the sun’s right — but I’m looking forward to trying. Even if I only get one batch of pesto out of them, my babies seedlings have already done much to lift my spirits.

Or maybe it was the dog hugs.

 

Who wouldn’t love this chihuahua-toy-poodle mix? 

 

What flavors spice up your cooking? And what the heck is marjoram? Still haven’t figured that one out. 

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Hitting Pause (Hitting Paws?)

There are some beautiful words in other languages that capture a sentiment we can’t quite put our finger on in English. The Danish Hygge — or a feeling of pleasant, charming coziness — has been the buzzword of 2017, but there are so many more that manage to express in a single beat things us Anglophones need an entire sentence to explain.

Some of my favorites:

  • Kummerspeck (German): Weight gain from emotional eating
  • Zeg (Georgian): The day after tomorrow
  • Tartle (Scottish): The stuttering hesitation that comes when you introduce someone whose name you can’t quite recall

But the word I wish existed is one the captures the bittersweet feeling of fond nostalgia for something that isn’t yet over, but clearly nearing its end. You know: that feeling you got those final days of the school year. Or taking a nice vacation with someone you know you won’t date forever. Or starting the final season of a Netflix show realizing, in 10 short hours, you’ll be out of episodes to stream.

Or, for me, running the New York City half marathon last Sunday with the near certainty that it might be my last road race in a very long time.

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No, I’m not dying. But I do feel like my relationship with running is on life support. I’ve been running for about seven years, and I’ve had ups and downs with the sport before, but never has my dedication been so tested as it has been these last few months. My work schedule has become too unpredictable to train after work. My sleep’s too precious to log miles before sun-up. My four-legged running partner’s the slowest pacer I know.

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My 40 pound mixed breed can do 2.5 miles at a 12:30 pace.

Add those things together, and an activity I used to love has begun to feel like a chore. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I arrived at the New York City half marathon starting line last weekend untrained, unexcited, and unbelievably surprised I didn’t hit the snooze button and sleep through the 7:30 a.m. starting gun like I’d been tempted to do. As I froze my buns off for 30 minutes in my ice-cold corral, I grumbled to myself: “I don’t want to be here.”

And then something extraordinary happened: the race began, and I suddenly remembered why I once loved this sport. I love rounding a corner to find a big cheering squad. I love pointing to a volunteer at a water station to tell him I’m coming for the cup in his hand. I love feeling the strength in my quads as I power up a hill, love doing some quick math and realizing I’m going to cross my 12th (!) half-marathon finish line in under 2 hours, love wearing my medal and heat sheet on the subway ride home and confusing tourists who think I’m a crazy person dressed as a super hero.

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Canines in this photo are smaller than they appear.

But I also love my sanity, and that’s why — despite the ear-to-ear grin I had across my face all race day long — I’m sticking to my guns and putting racing on hiatus for the time being. Last Sunday’s event was the perfect reminder of why racing was once my all-time favorite pastime, but it was also a reminder that favorite pastimes can change, and it’s OK to take some time off. Training doesn’t quite fit into my life right now, and maybe by the time it does again, I’ll be ready for it.

I’ll see you again some day, finish line.

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