The Long Run – The Park and the Bridge

I run for many reasons. To stay fit, to stay thin, to sleep at night, to have time to think, to work at the nearly impossible goal of becoming fast, and to explore.  Exploration can come in different forms. It can be exploring new trails and road, or seeing old roads in a new way.  This weekend’s long run included a bit of both new roads and time spent in familiar places.

Things began with two figure eight loops in Prospect Park.  The figure eight loop takes you down West Drive to Center Drive, across Center to East Drive, where you take a right, cruise past the lake, and up the West Drive hill, then a right back down Center Drive over the East Drive where you take a left and head up Zoo hill.  From my house and around the figure 8 is just over six miles, two of them is makes it just about ten.

The Grand Army Entrance on a perfect early spring day.

The Grand Army Entrance on a perfect early spring day.

I’ve run thousands and thousands of miles in this park — 2,858 actually, according to my running ahead log.  I’ve run through all conditions. I’ve run alone and with friends.  This weekend, it was a prefect early spring day and I did the first loop with my Saturday run buddy, Joe.  We talked about life, love, work and kids.  We talked about running, rock climbing and how fat and old we have become.  It was a great way to spend an hour.

After Joe left, I did another figure 8 alone listening to a mad decent podcast.  The roads were packed with Brooklynites running, walking and cycling.  Kids were pushing scooters; hipsters were riding long boards.  It was all “tres Brooklyn” as, allegedly, the French say.

Two loops equals ten miles.  Three more to go.  I headed down Union street through the heart of strollerfied Park Slope all the way  to the Union Street Bridge and the majestic Gowanus Canal.

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The Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn’s New York’s finest superfund site has been described by the Environmental Protection Agency thus:

The Gowanus Canal, in Brooklyn, New York, is bounded by several communities including Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Canal was once a major transportation route for the then separate cities of Brooklyn and New York City. Manufactured gas plants, mills, tanneries, and chemical plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal.

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You can’t really read it, but there’s a sign in this photo that warns you, among other dangers, not to smoke near the water.

 As a result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated water bodies. Contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics. The contamination poses a threat  to the nearby residents who use the canal for fishing and recreation.

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This gorgeous piece of waterway is crossed by five bridges. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to run them all.  In fact, inspired by Phil McCarthy’s excellent “Bridge of the Week series” I plan to spend a lot more time exploring the cities bridges. Some of theses bridges, like Union Street are old friends. Others will be new.  I’m looking forward to seeing them all.

After Union Street it was down Nevins to Dean. Its amazing how industrial Nevins still is in this area.  Seven years from now, the fabrication and demolition shops will be apartment buildings people by finance and advertising professionals, just you watch.  I’ll run the street again then, and it will be like exploring a new world.

 

Too late for 2014 goals?

Its almost April and I am finally posting about my goals for 2014.  That should tell you a bit about how my year has been going.  As you might expect, an infant son and a new job have kept me busy.

Anyway, goals.

Last year, I set a number of lofty goals for myself.  I did not meet a single one.  Sure I ran, and I studied Hebrew, and I did some push ups and climbed some plastic rocks, but I did not do any of these as much, or as seriously, as I had hoped.

The reason for this is obvious – I prioritized other things. Work, sleep, my wife, and then, in December, my son all too precedence over silly personal projects.  I don’t regret those prioritizations.  However I do think if I’d set my goals more realistically, they could have been met.

But realistic goals are boring — they lack the romance of the big prize.  I need something hard, something a little bit stupid, yet not as hard, or as stupid, as last year.   I’ve decided to strike a balance and set one hard to achieve, but not impossible, fitness goal:

run 2,000 miles by the end of the year.

I am sure it will not surprise you that I am already behind on this one.  According to the handy calculator at runningahead.com, I’m currently on pace to run 707 miles for the year.  That’s’ a long way from 2k, but it also figures in the weeks right after L’s birth when I did not run a step.  If I pick up the mileage just a bit now, and can stay healthy, 2,000 is doable, and should put me in a good position for the incredibly stupid ideas I have in the works for 2015.

You can follow along here in my weekly updates.  Though lord knows why you would, it is going to be extremely boring.

Running Streak

By and large, runners achieve their best results with a smart balance of easy runs, difficult work outs, and rest.  That has never worked for me.  What always screws me over is the rest.  I take one day off  — it turns into two.  Two turns into three, three turns into a week and suddenly… I’m building from scratch again.  This pattern has been even more pronounced since Levi was born three months ago. It has got to stop.

So, what to do? I’ve decided, at least for the time being, to reinstitute a running streak.  I know it isn’t the healthiest of ideas, but it has worked for me in the past and it has become clear that if I’m going to get in any kind of consistent mileage, I am going to have to force that consistency.

Today was day eight.  Yesterday, only one week into this thing, was the first totally stupid day.  I got off the train a stop early and ran (literally) an errand (and a mile) while dressed in street clothes and wearing dress shoes.   It was dumb, and people looked at me funny, but I’m glad I did it.

I think I’ll run again tomorrow.

The Hungry Fighter

I’m currently reading the Sports Gene by David Epstein, a fascinating book which, in addressing how genetics affects sports performance, ends up raising interesting, and challenging, questions about gender and race.  I may write more about those topics later but this morning I was reading about the dominance of Kenyan runners at endurance events and was struck by this quote from Peter Matthews, a track and field statistician:

“In these days of computer games, sedentary pursuits, and driving our children to school- it is the ‘hungry’ fighter or the poor peasant who has the endurance background, and the incentive to work on it, who makes the top distance runner.”

The Long Run – The City Slicker In Nature

I have spent my entire adult life living in urban environments.  In those years, I’ve spent very little time in nature.  I spend most of my time pounding the pavement of the streets of New York.

New York City is my home, and the urban landscape is where I am most comfortable.  I love the feel of the city – the crowded streets, the bustling parks, the sky scrapers, and the street art.  I love dodging cars on my bike, and running the crowded loop in Prospect Park.  But recently, I’ve felt myself pulled more towards the natural environment.  I can’t really explain why.  Perhaps its because in the last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to spend a couple of weekends a year here in Vermont, running, hiking and cross country skiing in Stowe.  Perhaps it’s because of the pull of outdoor rock climbing, or perhaps it’s got something to do with getting old.  I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, yesterday’s thirteen miler through Stowe wet my appetite for more miles in nature.  I started off the run with Bernie G, who knows the roads of Stowe much better than I.  He guided me through four miles of rolling hills, corn fields, and a golf course at a respectable 8:30 pace.  We split up at the Stowe Farmer’s market, where I saw E and eyed the delicious strawberry rhubarb pie she was buying.  Then I headed off on to finish the run solo on the Stowe Recreational path.

8:30 had been a little ambitious for the first four, so I took it down a notch for the rest of the run, dodging kids on bikes and following the West Branch Little River to the rec path terminus.  Along the way, I gazed up at mount Mansfield, watched the river roll by, and checked out the local hippie art.  All while listening to the Hood Internet.

I am even starting to appreciate hippie art.

I am even starting to appreciate hippie art.

From the rec path terminus, I circled back past the farmer’s market, through town and up to the house finishing 13.1 miles in 2:04:30 for an average pace of 9:31.  Not bad.  Not great, but not bad.  All in all, a wonderful way to spend a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.

For a true trail runner, my run on a rec path today would be a joke.  But for a city slicker like me, it felt like the fucking Appalachian trail.  I loved it.  I want more.  The legs are a little sore, and it’s raining, but I’d still like to get out there, get in some miles, and spend more time in the woods before I return to the asphalt and concrete of my usual daily run.

 

The Return of the Training Totals

The statistics page for this website makes clear that no one cares about my weekly training totals.*  That’s ok, if I was in this for the hit count I’d be posting about sideboobs and Miley Cyrus, not ultrarunning and ancient cultures. 

Anyway, for the seven or eight of you who care how I spent my time this week, I present the return of the weekly training totals.

This is the first week in a long, long time where I felt like I actually did some running.  Its nice when work is slow.  The only run that was of any quality was yesterday’s 13 miler.  But heh, miles are miles. 

This week, I’m on “vacation” meaning I am not in the office, and hopefully I will only be working occasionally.  I’m looking for my first fifty miles week in months, plus some hiking time.  Shit, maybe even some swimming.  We’ll see.

The Numbers.

 

Total Exercise Time ~ 6:15
Run 32.6 in 5:05:10
Bike 15.1 in 1:15:44

* even less people read the occasional stoic pieces.  Those too will continue.  Its my website and I’ll bore you if I want to.

Race Autopsy – The Brooklyn Half Marathon

I ran an actual honest to god race a couple of weeks ago.  It hurt, but in a good way.  It wasn’t the best race of my life, but it was better than expected.

In the last couple of years, the Brooklyn Half Marathon has gone from a sleepy outer borough race with a few thousand participants to a huge, twenty thousand strong, spectacle.  The Brooklyn renaissance raises all ships, including New York Road Runners which made a huge effort to promote this race, and its part in bringing business to Coney Island.  Along with the size of the race, New York Road Runners has changed the course of the race — but don’t worry, it’s still kind of dull.  This year, the race started on Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue, ran down Washington to Empire Boulevard, over to Flatbush Avenue, up the Flatbush hill to Grand Army Plaza, a loop around the Plaza, back down Flatbush, then a loop through Prospect Park and out Ocean Parkway to Coney Island where you finished with a hundred yard section of the newly rebuilt board walk.

I have run every inch of this course before, some of it many times.  I’ve done hundreds of runs through Grand Army Plaza, and thousands of miles in Prospect Park.  This was my home turf.  I wanted to do well.  But what is “well” for a guy who has struggled all winter to get in the miles?  When I work up at five thirty in the morning, I wasn’t sure.  And when the gun went off at seven a.m., I didn’t have much of a race plan.  A friend from my running club asked me what my goal was at the start – I said I hadn’t a clue. I knew I’d take it easy through the first couple of miles, see how I was feeling in the park, and take it from there.  Not very well thought out, I know.

A bad photograph of the start.

A bad photograph of the start.

Those first miles were easy and peaceful. I cruised along at about an eight minute pace.  Though the New York Marathon brings out crowds in the hundreds of thousands, I think all total there were probably about a thousand spectators for this race.  That was fine with me.  fewer people screaming meant I wasn’t feeling as pushed by the crowd to pick up the pace.

It was easy to run my own race, not worrying about the splits. I tried to run by effort and enjoy the small pleasure of running through my neighborhood with twenty thousand other people.  Soon, we were at the six mile mark and I was hearing some cheers from my teammates in the Prospect Park Track Club.  I looked down at my watch, did some quick math, and thought, if I can keep the pace right around eight minutes, I might just PR.

So that’s what I set out to do.  I broke the race down into small bit. I told myself to hold the pace for just the next five minutes, the next half mile, the next mile, getting stride by stride closer to the finish.  It hurt, but I tried to keep at it.

Unfortunately, willpower didn’t make up for under training and I let the pace creep up a little bit closer to 8:30 at the end.  I crossed the line in 1:47:11, forty six seconds shy of a P.R.

Oh well.

This was actually a better performance than I was expecting.  My fitness isn’t as bad as I thought.  There is still hope for a fall marathon PR.  Now the real work begins (again).  I know where I stand and I know where I need to go.  Time to execute.

 

Postscript – After the race I went to bachelor party that started at one p.m. and went until three in the morning.  For those keep track at home, that’s a 22 hour day.  One hour and forty seven minutes of it spent running; fourteen hours spent carousing.  Needless to say, I felt like death the next day.