Running Training

Party Like It’s 1997

I might be biased by the fact that I was a very impressionable twelve years old, but 1997 was a true golden age of music.

The world gave us so many hits that year: Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping, the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony and Backstreet Boys’ Quit Playing Games (With My Heart), to name a few. We got P. Diddy’s I’ll Be Missing You, Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Life and Hanson’s MMMBop, and yes, I’ve seen two out of three of those musical acts in concert (and no, one of them wasn’t Sean Combs.)  And let’s not forget that five minute and eleven second long soundtrack version of My Heart Will Go On that graced airwaves, my family’s communal CD player and pre-teen piano music recitals for months on end as we imagined life aboard the Titanic and debated why Leo didn’t try at least one more time to get on that extremely buoyant door.

I believe I’m 11 in this photo, not 12, but 1. you get the picture and 2. what I wouldn’t give to still own that amazing velvet, pink headband.

But while billboard-topping hits including Spice Girl’s Wannabe and R. Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly Aqua’s Barbie Girl still sometimes find their way onto my upstate dance party play lists, the piece of 1997 poetry that I probably think about most often is that hypothetical commencement speech Wear Sunscreen.

Written as an essay for the Chicago Tribune in 1997 and recorded two years later as a spoken-word radio hit produced by none other than Romeo+Juliet director Baz Luhrmann, it gave listeners unsolicited advice like “do one thing every day that scares you” and “keep your old love letters; throw away your old bank statements.”

It’s chock full of wisdom, but the line that pops into my head on a nearly daily basis is this one: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” Last spring, when I was considering applying for a job that would require a cross-country move (to Southern California, but still), I wondered quite a bit whether my more than a decade in NYC had made me, as they say, “hard.”

It’s certainly made me an excellent photographer.

And in some ways, I it has: I have no patience for families walking three-abreast down a city street, I jaywalk like it’s my job and I secretly plot to destroy anyone standing still on the left side of an escalator. I’m not a monster: I’ll always try to help a perplexed tourist reading a subway map upside down. But I also once mashed a baby cockroach with my bare fist while drunkenly making post-bar grilled cheese in my cousin’s Brooklyn apartment, so yeah, you could say I’ve toughened up.

That is, I THOUGHT I’d toughened up. And then the temperature dropped to negative 9 degrees this past week, and I realized just how soft I really am.

Normally, Mongolian-like winter temperatures wouldn’t be a big deal: bundle up, stay indoors and binge watch Sex Education, which is so, so good but (public service announcement) too full of nudity to watch on an airplane or with your dad. But I made the mistake last fall of entering a game of chance I never expected to win — the NYC Half Marathon lottery – and accidentally secured myself a spot in the March 17 event.


Or in other words, not running in this frigid, cruel February isn’t really an option, at least not if I want to try for my 14th (?) sub-2:00 finish.

So I’ve made myself a deal: when it’s so cold that frostbite is a real possibility, I’m doing the unthinkable and churning out my workout on my robot nemesis, the treadmill. But when it’s 25 degrees and up, I’m layering on the Spandex, channeling my inner Bernese mountain dog, and getting outside for my miles, icicles and all.

“The Bernese mountain dogs of the world have voted and we’re never coming inside again. Please leave our kibbles in the snow.”

And yes, I’m wearing sunscreen while I do it.

How is your arctic training going?


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.


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.

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.

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.

Races Running

No Means No: The Brooklyn Half Story

I’m not going to sugar coat it for you: At least 70 percent of being a runner is talking yourself into doing things you don’t want to do.

  • I don’t want to run 4 miles before work, but I’m going to make myself.
  • I don’t want to cut happy hour short, but I’m going to make myself.
  • I don’t want to coat my entire body in Vaseline pre-marathon, but I’m going to make myself.
And by coat myself, I mean coat the inside of my belly by eating the entire jar, lid and all. On a side note, this internet-shamed dog is going to be feeling pretty lousy in a few hours’ time.

With so many hours spent every single week talking myself into fitness, today felt like a major divergence. Why, you ask? Because today, registration opened for the illustrious Brooklyn Half Marathon. And instead of trying to talk myself into running it, I spent all 52 minutes before the race sold out trying to talk myself out of it.

(Don’t really click there to register. This is a screen grab.)

You might be asking: Why would I want to talk myself out of joining this iconic New York City road race, which is both the largest half marathon in the country and the site of my last (gulp: last ever?PR? The Brooklyn Half has so many things going for it: the course is fairly flat and ends on a multi-mile downhill, the t-shirts are always top notch swag, and, given the race’s Coney Island finish, you can chase down your victory with a classic Nathan’s hot dog.

photo 2 (70)
Assuming they don’t mind you paying with sweat-soaked currency. I’m the worst.

Plus, I’m already training for the New York City half in March, so it’s not like I’d be starting from square one fitness-wise. I could just maintain for two months between the NYC Half and the Brooklyn Half, I thought as I opened the registration window. Half marathon training for five months straight never killed anyone, I thought as I fingered the edge of my credit card. I don’t have much else to do this spring, I thought as I rounded the corner to check out.

And then I remembered: I actually DO have a lot to do this spring. Not only am I working long days and trying to get to strength training classes at least twice a week, but I’m also cooking 80 percent of my meals at home, trying to read more books, targeting more hours of sleep, and, oh yeah, planning a freaking wedding for 180 of my closest friends (read: giant Irish family) this fall. Half marathon training is a lot of things, but one thing it isn’t is easy to fold into an already crammed schedule.

Which is why, against all odds, I successfully talked myself out of registering today. And when I signed back on to check the site tonight, this is what I found:

brooklyn 2

Maybe I’ll come to regret the decision on May 21 — or maybe I’ll be laying on a sandy beach that day eternally grateful not to be queuing up for a porta potty before the 7 a.m. starting gun. As a runner and — well, a human — it’s important to know my limits, and I think joining this road race would have pushed me to the end of mine.

And if a few weeks roll around and I really begin to regret my decision not to do a second half marathon this spring, there’s always the MORE/SHAPE Women’s Half-Marathon in Central Park in April, which still has a wide open roster ready for registrants. I’ve run that one at least two times, and I could be persuaded to do it again, but only if my running buddy were to join me for a third year in a row.

What do you say, mama bear? I’m only partially kidding.