Over the River and Through the… Brooklyn

Most things in life are better in dozens. Hey, man, I made you a dozen cupcakes! Surprise, honey, I bought you a dozen roses! Way to go, Jesus, you have a dozen friends!

I’m not sure the same can be said for miles. I logged a dozen miles this morning as my last long run of this half-marathon training cycle, and – my god – that’s a lot of miles.  So many miles, in fact, that they couldn’t all be run in Manhattan.  Yes, people, it’s as bad as you think – this morning, I had to run in Brooklyn.

To be fair, many of my first and fondest memories of this city were made in the Brooklyn borough. While I may bemoan its sparse taxi population and unreliable express train service, I’m actually quite fond of its ironic eye-glass emporiums and flash artisinal cheese markets. But while there may be a secret Brooklynphile lurking below this hard Manhattan shell, the idea of running there – and back – at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning into the 20 m.p.h. January wind wasn’t necessarily at the top of my list. (“Rolling in a pile of puppies” holds that coveted spot.)

Nonetheless, I mustered some inner strength, bundled up and made my way out of the building for my first dual-borough run. And to be honest, I enjoyed the change of scenery. Although I’ve logged miles in some far-flung cities, from Baltimore to Paris, a startling 100-percent of my runs completed in the Empire State up until today have taken place on the 22.96-square-mile island of Manhattan. It was time for that to change.

My route took me from Murray Hill to the East River Promenade, through Chinatown, over the Manhattan Bridge, around Brooklyn Heights, over the Brooklyn Bridge, into a Gatorade-selling bodega and back up the East River to a hot shower and delivery bagels. About half of my energy was exerted dodging fish heads on the Chinatown sidewalk (Who throws away a perfectly good fish head?  Honestly.), but the other half was free to enjoy the views. Not bad, Williamsburg Bridge, not bad at all.

With 12 miles down before 10 a.m., I was fully prepared to rub my productivity superiority in my boyfriend’s face all day long – until he decided to one-up me by building his own computer from scratch today.  Touché, boyfriend.

What are you doing to stay active this three-day weekend? (Lifting steins of beer during the Ravens game totally counts. Stay tuned for more on that scheduled workout tomorrow.)

Speed Work

My first year of running has blissfully existed outside the realm of calculated pace times and organized speed work, but everything I’ve read on the subject suggests that’s going to have to change if I want to achieve my ambitious marathon goal time without the use of a non-regulation hoverboard. (Had to ruin it for everyone, McFly?)  To be fair, I’ve been aware that speed work existed, with some of my training plans suggesting logging miles at a 5K pace or at a half marathon pace, but since I only have one pace  – running – I never heeded those workouts much mind.  That is, until I plopped my recent 10K time into a fancy internet calculator to extrapolate my anticipated marathon time and realized I’m going to need to do some fancy footwork if I’m going to shave off 11 minutes and 38 seconds between now and the fall racing season.

Enter speed work, stage left.

Speed work encompasses any number of targeted workouts, from striders (which I gather to be traditional ‘sprints’ for guys who prefer two-syllable words) to intervals (which are discussed in the next chapter of my running book and therefore won’t be explained here.)  Since my next big race is taking place back in the mountainous acreage that is Central Park, I opted for another form of speed work this morning: hills.

When I looked up hill workouts online last night, they all started something like this: Locate a hill 400 meters long with an incline of 7 to 9 percent and an asphalt-to-gravel ratio of 3:1 on a street whose name begins with a W. With those mandated and very specific distance and incline requirements, I didn’t know how to go about finding the perfect hill for my hill sprints without an old prospector in tow.  Hell, most of my hill education until now has come from the Duke of York.  I ultimately decided any hill was better than no hill and after logging two quick warm up miles, jogged my way down the block-long pedestrian-only incline by my apartment for five 0.15-mile hill repeats.

The workout itself was full of ups and downs (jokes!), but was ultimately uneventful.  I sprinted up, then jogged down, and then repeated four more times. Most of the online workouts said I should have fully caught my breath by the time I’d completed the jog back down, but – blame in on my undisputed canine heritage – found that wasn’t the case.  You win this round, gravity.

How have you worked speed work into your routine? Would hiring something rabid to chase me help hurry along the process?

The First Race of 2012

As my bedside alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 6:40 a.m. yesterday – that’s a Saturday morning, people, meaning a day of rest in many religions and a day of sleeping late and ordering in bagels in mine – I couldn’t quite remember whether I liked racing enough to justify the painfully early start. I had signed up for the first New York Run Runners race of the year a few weeks ago knowing that having the race on my radar over the holidays would help keep my gingerbread house consumption in check (it didn’t), but the idea of doing a full park loop at 8 a.m. in January suddenly seemed less enticing as race day dawned. As I reluctantly dragged myself out from under my duvet and set about coring apples and pears for the winter fruit salad (note: winter is a really boring season for fruit) I was making for my post-race brunch, the sun hadn’t even crested over the East River yet, and a small but very vocal part of me wanted out.

Luckily, we don’t decide things by oligarchy over here, so I laced up my running shoes, pinned on my bib number and made my way over to the park. And I’m glad I did, because as the starting gun went off and my corral started inching – then trotting – then running – forward, I was quickly reminded of something I first learned on Broad Street last year: I love racing.

I wish I could say I love racing because I always come in first and take home some hefty (and in my fantasy, tax-free) prize money, but – shockingly, I know – my 8:39 pace doesn’t always earn me a spot on the podium.  It does, however, get my heart racing and had me grinning ear to sweaty ear before the first mile marker, Harlem Hills and all, and that’s something.

And now, folks, the top three reasons I like racing.  Drumroll, please.

  • The intersection of the public and private.  Never a practitioner of the buddy system, running is typically a very private activity for me, performed just before daybreak in a delightfully silent Central Park. When I leave the apartment for my pre-work miles, even the most ambitious of tourists hasn’t yet rented his clunky $35/hour bicycle, meaning I can churn out my 4 to 6 music-free miles in absolute peace.  But even the lone wolf in me can appreciate the palatable energy a crowd of 5,000+ runners creates and maintains over the course of a race. Even though I went the full 10K yesterday without a word to anyone else on the course, I still felt an overwhelming sense of community as I wove in and out of the crowds.  Pardon the obscure 1973 children’s literature reference, but racing almost makes me feel like Swimmy the fish, who teams up with his other small, insignificant fish friends to swim in the shape of a giant fish and scare away the local fish bully. Anybody?  No?  Moving on then.
  • The fact that it makes my running log colorful. Hey, it counts. Like many runners, I track my miles on runnersworld.com, and while short runs, long runs and hill workouts are all delightful shades of blue and green, raced miles are recorded in bright red, making my log look less like GB stronghold of ROYGBIV and more like Liberace.

Just try to tell me this doesn’t look awesome.  Just try.  (Unless you’re color-blind. In which case, stop trying. It’s never going to happen. Too soon?)

  • Post-race refueling. Hands down, the best part of racing is eating in the hours after you cross the finish line. Like the good hydrator I am, I always make my way to the water station first, but then it’s over to the food station to see just how seriously each race takes itself. Saturday’s selection included a very respectable and New York-appropriate offering of bagels and apples. Not bad, but I was more impressed by Broad Street’s bananas and soft pretzels or the Baltimore Half’s Maryland crab soup and double-fisted Bud Lights. Stay classy, Baltimore.The fueling continued at the post-race brunch I hosted for a couple of running friends, a couple of their running friends and an accompaniment of nice boyfriends in jeans, including my own, who came out to support their speedy girlfriends but whose preferred kinds of runs are to the liquor store. I made the aforementioned winter fruit salad (using this recipe, minus the salt and pepper, because that sounded weird), this fiber-full bread in muffin form and a delicious and surprisingly healthy egg bake (subbed turkey breakfast sausage for pork sausage, skim milk for whole milk and a multigrain baguette for the Wonder Bread in this recipe).  A full belly and two mimosas later, I was ready to crawl back into bed for a glorious mid-afternoon nap, which was undeniably a more noble and deserved return to sleep than a 6:40 a.m. snooze button would have offered.

Why do you race (or bike or ice dance or whatever it is you love to do)?  And do ice dancing competitions distribute free bagels at the finish line?

Live from New York

I love two things in this world – running and food.

(Please ignore that first sentence if you’re my family or boyfriend or every dog in New York City. I’m trying to start this thing on a declarative note.)

Running and food are intimately related, as any carb-loading athlete knows, but especially so in my life. Had I not loved food quite so much in my first 25 years, I may not have made the life-changing resolution on Jan. 1, 2011 to lose 30 pounds. And had I not set that goal, I might never have reluctantly agreed in an e-mail four days later to join a group of friends in the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia on May 1. And had I not responded all to that perky e-mail, I perhaps never would have traded in my twice-weekly elliptical jaunts for a Hal Higdon novice 5K plan and – one year later – a new resolution:

To run a marathon.

(My other resolution this year is to floss. My boyfriend thinks it’s sweet that I have a “hard” goal and an “easy” goal, but – to be honest – after four days of dental floss usage, I’m not so sure I know which goal is which. But I digress. )

I’m launching this blog in order to track my progress from a casual Central Park jogger to hopefully a successful marathoner over the course of the next 10 months. I’ve learned a lot of things about motivation and moderation in the last year, but considering I honestly only looked up the definition of ‘fartlek’ this morning, I know I still have quite a bit to learn. Ideally, this blog will allow me to document that education, share some recipes and tips, and help keep me accountable when it comes to my running goals. (Accountable, eh? Perhaps I should launch a flossing blog, too.)

My first race of the New Year – and my first race ever with the New York Road Runners – will be the Joe Kleinerman 10K on Saturday. A new racing distance for me, I’m guaranteed a PR even if I crabwalk, but stay tuned anyways for a race recap and/or some photos of big city dogs in sweaters. I forgot about dogs in sweaters – I guess I love three things in this world.

What are your 2012 resolutions?  And more importantly, how many of you just googled fartlek?

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