Cooking Class and Reflections on Mental Health

I’ve always wanted to take a cooking class.  I have seen listings of interesting courses and passed the windows of Sur La Table, near the NYRR Run Center, where I witnessed packed classes in action, chopping away at parsley or kneading some dough.

My friend Keeley here in Calgary is a great cook. She enjoys preparing interesting dishes and hosting dinner parties.  She mentioned in passing taking a gnocchi making class at Cuisine et Chateau. I thought about it briefly, I love gnocchi, in fact I love anything dumplingy.  Later in the week, she revisited the idea and I decided to go, cooking class would be more interesting with a friend.

Reflections on Bourdain and Mental Health 

Irony or some weird fate would have it that I would have my first cooking class on the same day as Anthony Bourdain’s death.  Parts Unknown is one of my favorite food/travel shows.  It always inspired me to travel more and to seek locally-oriented restaurants and experiences when I get there. Although his race, gender and wealth rendered him privileged, he used his visibility to advocate for those who are often Othered, from Damon Young of  VSM,

He was a rich and powerful (and white) man who used the privilege that his riches, his power, his whiteness and his maleness provided to shed a spotlight on those without it. He was a tourist of the world who still treated people and cultures like people and cultures and not pamphlets.

He always showed deep respect and humility for the people, food and cultures he encountered and kept it real when describing the structures of oppression that contribute to the inequities he encountered.

In the wake of his passing, many friends have been posting articles about him and his life-long struggle with depression.  Many of these articles resonate with me as I too suffer from depression. Blogger Ashleigh O. describes her “imposter syndrome” even with her advocacy for mental health,

Truth is, I still struggle. Sometimes massively. I still struggle with depression, anxiety, and sometimes insecurities overtake my mind so much that I can’t stand to look at myself. I wonder why I’m here, if I’m truly helping others, am I being laughed at or mocked because of my truth? Depression and anxiety don’t have you thinking the most rational things.

Will Wheaton wrote (alliteration not intentional) about his irrational worries and “what-ifs,” something that I have also struggled with since I was an adolescent. “People who live with depression are wired differently. Our brains perceive life differently than those who do not have depression,” note Steve Safran on another blog.  It is a hard thing to publicly admit because of the [still] stigma around mental health along with notions that one can just “shake off” symptoms.  Those of us who have the illness know that this is not the case.  Also, those of us who suffer find identity in people like Bourdain, Kate Spade and Robin Williams–people who seem outwardly like they “have it all” and yet succumbed to the darkness of their illness.  It frightens me.  However, with the number of friends and colleagues who have been posting articles about common misconceptions about depression and other mental illnesses, it allows me to recognize that [sadly] I am not alone in my struggle.  But rather I am amongst a cadre of brilliant, successful and creative people who suffer the same.  It sounds weird, but I am in good company.  And in this company I hope that we can continue to support each other and help others to recognize the reality of our illness and how to be empathetic.

In the Fall, I participated in an artmaking/research workshop, Recognition… Validation… Reassurance… around creating a framework for mental wellness.  My colleague Dick Averns, asked us to address the prompt, How do you create a framework for mental wellness? in a collage. I created the following collage, I will leave it open for interpretation, but I am happy to know that it was one of the pieces chosen to be displayed on Calgary public transit sometime this year.

47 Zeine Bruja - small copy

I am on meds and go to therapy to help manage my depression.  I also run, dance and try to engage in new experiences to keep my mind active, hence the appeal of the cooking class.

Gnocchi-making

The first time I tasted gnocchi was on my first trip to Sydney, Australia.  I had a brief romance with an Italian-born guy and he invited me for dinner where his mother made fresh gnocchi.  I was in carbohydrate heaven, thus began my love affair with this food.  I tend to order it whenever I see it on the menu.  I tried once to make it but it ended up being a pot full of boiling water and potato mush.  Not edible.

During this class, we learned to make parmesan shortbread with dips (I really enjoyed the arugula, garlic and sour cream dip), artichoke, squash and sage gnocchi, and goat milk ricotta ravioli.  Although it was a 3 hour class, there was not enough time to make everything from scratch so some things were pre-made and demonstrated.  Like the gnocchi.  Apparently the trick to good gnocchi is drying the potatoes with course salt after boiling and  before putting it through a ricer and mixing with flour and potatoes.  Seems simple.

IMG_5630Gnocchi! 

We cooked and ate in succession, first the shortbread (pre-made dough with demo) and dips (we made the dips–the aforementioned along with black olive and sundried tomato dips), then the gnocchi (it had a very “cozy” taste, the squash and accompanying red wine made it feel like a late-autumn meal) followed by the desert.  Each was complemented with a glass of wine.

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Demonstrating the art of onion cutting.  As a former biology teacher red onions make me think of the plant cell osmosis lab. 

Squash, sage and onion mixture

IMG_5644Sweet ricotta ravioli for dessert

A part of my framework for mental wellness is to keep trying new things, keep running and find different ways to be creative!

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Perfect Days in Brooklyn and Dolan Race Recap

My last two days in Brooklyn (this visit) were quite as perfect as Brooklyn days go.  I got up early on Saturday and prepared for my long run.  Since I am coming off the Brooklyn Half and have not yet officially started marathon training, I decided to do about 6 miles and also decided to run down to and along the waterfront.

Waterfront Running

While I was getting dressed, my mother called to say that she was on her way to the Dr because her blood pressure what high.  I asked her “why didn’t you call me to let me know you were going?”  She responded, “I didn’t want to bother you.” My mother.  She will bother me with trivial stuff like writing checks and IMing her sister on FB but will not call me when it is something that is more important.

Lucky for me the Dr. on the running path I chose so I ran to the office to meet her there.  Dripping in sweat, I entered the office and swabbed with some rough bathroom paper towels. Thankfully my 85 year old mother is in brilliant health (she ran/walked a 6k race last year and placed in her age group, in a NYRR race!!!) so the Drs visit only resulted in a change of medication.  I left my mother to continue my run, but not without a warning from her, “Mind your blood pressure, it runs in the family and I know you love salt!” Ok mom! I love you too.

So I continued on my downhill run towards the seafront.  It was mostly on the sidewalk so  it entailed dodging pedestrians and dog poo.  I passed over the Gowanus Canal, a superfund site that has been both cleaning up and gentrifying–a harbor seal was spotted swimming there not too long ago.

I made it to the waterfront, saw and odd statue, and continued towards the Brooklyn Bridge park.

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Lounge Kayaking 

When I made it to the park I was at about 5 miles. There was a nice breeze coming of the bay and I enjoyed seeing the city skyline from the water, that includes the orange Staten Island ferry leaving its Manhattan berth.  This view never gets old and the ferry gives me all kinds of good feels from my childhood.

While I was taking in this experience, I noticed yellow kayaks on the water.

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I happened upon the early season of the Brooklyn Bridge Park free kayaking, a part of increasing efforts to get New Yorkers to access our iconic and increasingly cleaner waterfront.   In my lifetime I have seen the Hudson River go from inky black with ample dead fish floats to a more appropriate murky brown, representing the estuary it really is.  I have also had the pleasurable experience of swimming in this estuary and very happy that it is cleaner, so much so that seals, dolphins and even whales have been recently spotted enjoying the waters.

I took advantage of having no wait time and took a kayak out on the water.  As it is meant to be just public experience teaser, you could only kayak in between the two piers.  I am not a professional, but quite experienced as I volunteer for local swim races as a kayak support and have circumnavigated Manhattan while doing so.  I just wanted to be on the water.  I sat on the kayak and felt the sea rise and fall under my watercraft with each passing boat (wake).  I also lounged back in my life jacket which afforded a nice cushiony lounge chair feeling. I drifted off into a little nap, only to be awaken but the hot sun beaming on my face.  I spend the next half hour or so gently turing the kayak away from the sun and then allowing it to slowly drift back.  My feet were in the water, life is good.

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Not wanting to end my time on the water but knowing that I needed to finish my run and head home, I reluctantly returned the kayak and hit the pavement for my remaining mile.

Race Recap: Dolan 5k 

Pascale Muro trying out the age-group trophy hardware

A good friend of mine, Tamara, texted me on Sunday morning that her daughter (Alyssia Brown, an upcoming road racing dynamo and member of the Prospect Park Youth Running Club–watch out for her) was running the Dolan race at 10am.  I remembered the Dolan race, it is an annual 5K in memory of Kenny Dolan who tragically died in an automobile accident at 23 years old.  The race, organized by the Dolan family as scholarship fund, started in the early 90s. It quickly became a popular local race with a fun after party with music, beer, bbq, dancing and the award ceremony. The race starts on the downhill–the easiest part of Prospect Park loop and ends with a challenge, the infamous Battle Pass hill and grindy west side.  Again, I went out too fast and lost energy on the more challenging part of the park, but I still managed to place in my age group and contribute to the PPTC women’s Masters win (Alyssia won third place OVERALL, she is just entering her teens!).  However, the prize of the race was the post race party.  It brought back memories of my fitter and faster years where I also placed either overall or age-group along with all-you-can-eat hamburgers and hot dogs.  And there was the dancing.  Nobody does post race party like old school Brooklyn runners and more importantly, the Dolan family.

Local running legend.  He is probably closer to 70 and probably more fit than someone half his age. I was once telling a friend about him on Utica Ave., quite far from this location and lo and behold, dude dance-runs by with his headphones, backpack and signature deep squats and splits. 

IMG_5592Mad strength and flexibility skillz, yo! 

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Even Dance-runner aka Flex can’t get jiggy with these moves!

Coney Island

The weekend rounded off with a couple of stops on the Prospect Lefferts Garden house tour with one good friend, here are views from roof of a new building:

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And a visit with another dear friend Joy to my favorite spot, Coney Island! It was quite a windy day, lots of white caps on the water, so we did not walk the boardwalk too much but enjoyed a drink at a relatively new bar/restaurant in a vintage Coney Island building.

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Coney Island Art

 

All is good!

Race Recap: Brooklyn Half

I was running Brooklyn when we wore cotton T-shirts and nylon running shorts.  So yes, I was running Brooklyn before it was cool!

On FB popped up my picture from the 2016 Brooklyn Half. My knee wrapped in ice and adorned with my medal, it was during the same year that I started my epic training for the New York Marathon.  I had been relatively out of the running game for a bit; only doing a loop here and there in Prospect Park (3.35 miles) but not seriously training for anything nor participating in any road races.  It had been like that for almost a decade.  But that year, 2016, I was accepted by lottery into the New York Marathon and thought I would use the Brooklyn Half to shock my ass into training gear. I have not stopped the more ramped up training since.

Pre-Race Party and Socks

My Brooklyn Half experience started with volunteering at the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon Party (a.k.a. race packet distribution).    I did this because it offers a guaranteed entry to next year’s race. The “party” was held on Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Not a quick walk from the subway but a nice walk towards and then along the waterfront.  There has been much flood mitigation and “nature” restoration with small gardens, including salt marshes and native woodlands, a mini beach at Pier 4 and places for watercraft launches.  It was an area that was first industrial and then largely unused for a while and is now fully restored and public.

My shift was the 11-3pm shift, it started an hour before the packet pick-up actually began.  We expected large crowds because the NYRR sent out an email warning of heavy rains the next day urging race participants to pick up the packet on Thursday rather than Friday.  I signed up for the t-shirt distribution and was charged with showing runners t-shirt sizes and offering the opportunity to try one on for fit before committing to a size.  For some reason I ended up with the extra-small.  The size that very few people are yet many claim they aspire to be.  If you are petite, fine. But if you are an average sized grown woman, there are plenty of other things to aspire to! Most people went directly towards the small and medium, and since the shirts were cut small, the majority had to up a size.  I took a large because I like a looser fit and I don’t plan on wearing this shirt to the night club. After several hours of managing shirt try-on, the next shift relieved us and it was time for me to join the throngs to get my number (as well as my friend Noel’s since he didn’t want to get wet before the race on Saturday :).  Got my number, saw some familiar faces and then headed to Trader Joe’s for some carbs to cook and eat at home.

IMG_5253IMG_5255NYPD Picking up their race packets

IMG_5262Preview of the course

Rain was in the forecast for Saturday’s race.  We kept watching our apps to see if the forecast would change.  On the PPTC Facebook page and listserv numerous discussions flew back and forth about what to wear for this race; how to prepare for running in the rain. I realized that I only had cotton mix socks and remembered hotspots from last year.  I headed to Jack Rabbits to by some wool and/or synthetic socks and was also happy to get a pair of Saucouny Ride 10s on sale.  I don’t need to be trendy with running sneakers, I’d rather get a pair that I know that works for me and on sale (even on sale, running sneaks in Calgary are…whoa!).

Race Morning Garbage Bag Walk 

When I went to bed, the sidewalk that I could see from my bedroom window was dry.  It was still dry when I woke up at 5am but the leaves were wet and shook as each drop lightly hit. Eff.  It IS raining.  I decided to wear my PPTC shirt, capris, and cotton throw-away top; new Smartwool socks (feet taped and plastered with Vaseline), and CIBBOWS hat. I thought about gloves as my hands tend to get cold but opted out because I thought damp gloves would make my hands colder.  I asked my building super for a large garbage back the night before that I fashioned into a make-shift raincoat.  As my friend and neighbor Noel and I approached the start area, it was a merging sea of plastic bags and raincoats.  The rain started off misty and slowly graduated to a steady fall (this race started near the Brooklyn Museum, a quick walk from my Brooklyn apartment building).  My sneakers were already wet when I made the decision to wrap plastic bags around them.  Not a great decision or not great wrapping as they fell off in about a block.  I decided to check a bag (which I only do for either extreme cold or rain in these large races).

After passing through the security checkpoint, many of the runners were huddled under the trees.  It was still spring so the leaf cover was not that dense so the poor trees were not offering much shelter from the increasing rain.  If there were thought clouds above everyone’s head, I am very sure they would be filled with cuss words and questioning life decisions, like running 13.1 miles in the rain.

The porta potty lines were long (as usual) but there were not turning over as quickly.  When it was finally my turn, I guessed why–it was warm and dry inside. I stayed in for a little bit longer than normal while being sure to hug my plastic bag close and keep looking up to avoid the view of the pre-race toilet deposits (thankfully whatever chemicals they use kept the smell at bay).

The Race

Finally it was time to start the race.  After a rainy rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, the runners were off.  Well, kind of.  Because of the volume of runners, it took a good 10 minutes before I reached the start and actually started to run.  I started the race with the garbage bag but flung it off after about the first quarter mile, hoping that I would not regret that decision later.

The race started with a downhill which when really fast, I was below pace and no matter how much I felt that I was holding back, I was still under pace.  Even on the uphill I was under pace.  I became concerned because I knew “The Hill” was still in front of me.  The Battle Pass Hill is notorious amongst Prospect Park runners.  It is a long hill with the gift of  a slight incline when you pass the traffic light (which seems like should be the end of the hill).  No matter how many times I run this hill it always seems like a challenge–something to overcome.  Every. Single. Run.  So knowing that this hill was ahead of me, I had to put the brakes on.  I did. And the hill did not seem that bad (please don’t tell the hill).  After the hill, there are a couple of gentle gyrations and then it is a nice downhill glide to the exit of the park and a relative downhill run to the finish. Ocean Parkway was uneventful but this is also where I ran out of steam from the faster start. I need to learn how to better pace myself for these long races.

Even with the rain the rest of the race was not too bad and I even PR’d by a minute.  Yay.  It is always a nice feeling to first see the Cyclone and then run the last few meters of the race on the famous Coney Island Boardwalk.

IMG_5453Stellar (but wet) finish on the famed Coney Island boardwalk

Post Race

I was happy to finish and even happier with the thought of changing into dry clothes and especially my old dry socks.  The image of dry socks on my feet made me smile. However the smile became a grimace when I saw the angry mob around the UPS truck that had my checked bag.  Apparently the truck was late and the volunteers were scrambling to get the bags out of the truck, organized and handed out to runners. But after running 13.1 miles in the chilly rain the runners, who were quickly cooling down towards hypothermia, were not happy.  It took me about 45 minutes to get my bag, by then my fingers were nonfunctioning.  Not giving a rat’s ass about modesty, I stripped off my wet clothes and wrangled the dry clothes on my damp body.  My fingers could not handle unlacing my sneakers so I did not get to relish in the dry socks.  I shiver-walked to the subway and now dreamed of a very warm shower.  I hung my socks on the shower rail to dry.  They took two days to completely dry out.

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The “Wonder Wheel” medal (wiki link Wonder Wheel)

I did not take any pictures during this race because my phone was checked.  So, here are some pics from prior races:

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16, 17, 18 Finisher Medals

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IMG_12322017 Start with my teammate Zadine.  I love this picture. 

IMG_44622016 Sore Knees Finish 

 

Race recap: Big Fiesta Run Burnaby Lake, BC

Green.  I visited Vancouver (actually a suburb Coquitlam) for a conference and the first thing I noticed was how green everything was.  And it was amazing how uplifting being bathed in all of this green was.  Coming from Calgary, were it was still relatively drab, the grass had just started peering through the earth when I left, the green was overwhelming in a good way.  It not only felt like spring, it also looked like spring.  The green was giving me life.

Whenever I visit a city I look to see if there is a convenient race on the calendar.  I found the Big Fiesta Run, that coincided with Cinco de Mayo.  I decided to sign up and saw that there was an email for “race ambassadors.” So I emailed the organizer and got a complementary entry.  When I went to the website, I saw that there were three different levels at three different prices, but it wasn’t clear what each level meant, so I opted for the free level (with the comp), level 1. I also saw that you could buy a medal for $10.  I opted out of the medal.

The morning of the race, and after an evening of dealing with work-related emotional stuff, I decided to do some urban forest bathing by walking along the green streets to the race.  Google maps indicated that the start was about an hour and 20 minutes away.  The race started at 2pm and my hotel check out was 11 so I had plenty of time.  I left my luggage at the hotel and proceeded to walk.  I was hungry and hoped to pass a grocery store or something on the way to buy a piece of fruit and yogurt.

I started the walk along the Skytrain and then turned into the residential areas.  More green.  I decided to take the path that would allow me to walk along the path of the race–through Burnaby Lake Regional Park.  Along the way I passed some of the most massive dandelions I’ve seen in my life and recalled gathering dandelions in a bouquet for my mom when I was a kid.

IMG_5156Massive dandelions

I entered the park and running/walking path and immediately noticed that it was dominated by ferns and other marshy plants; a wetlands area.

IMG_5163Geese family

I passed a family of geese and approached a white sign that was the turn-around point of the 10k, the race that I would run in a couple of hours. The path had markings of the race–directional arrows and kilometer markings–and I was still about an hour away (walking) from the start.  I continued along the path noticing the plants, birds, trees and clear blue skies above really enjoying being out in the fullness of nature.  As I got closer to the start area, I heard the music and passed a cricket field towards the check-in. I got my number and a lei with a maraca as promised on the website. As a new take on “medal for participation” trend, the people who paid for the medal picked them up PRIOR to the run.  I don’t know about others, but I like to “earn” my medals.  I want to get it at the finish line and hang it around my sweaty neck as a testament to my valiant effort.  The medals were cute and functional– bottle openers. As I didn’t find a place to get grub, I headed over the the sports center and grabbed a granola bar and a bag of cheddar popcorn for my pre-race meal.  Not exactly nutritional, but better than running a mid-afternoon race on an empty stomach.

I have to get used to the scale of the races in new places. I am used to the throngs of NYRR and even smaller but still relatively packed local races in Brooklyn.  In this race, there were less people than one coral.  But the atmosphere was true to the fiesta theme with music, piñatas, and the obligatory conga line.  There was even a costume contest.  There was a team of tacos, including a dog…cute!. And there were the “people are not costumes” costumes.  I was impressed that the tacos ran like that for 10k.  The woman who mc’d the fiesta was a bundle of energy; she was awesome and kept the fiesta going through the pre-race and was at the finish line to enthusiastically welcome back the finishers.

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The race started at around 2pm, shortly after two raptors flew overhead. One was a bald eagle and the other I could not make out, but the wing markings were spectacular. I started at a decent pace but between a combo of having not eaten properly and getting hotspots on my feet, I faded quite quickly. Re; hotspots, this was my first warmer weather race in a while and, yes, feet spread in the heat! IMG_5211

32207774_744895435898915_6842841023832391680_oMy coach back-in-the-day used to tell me about biting my lips!

With the ending of the race was the end of the fiesta; not much of an after party. I got my bag and headed back to the hotel the sink bathe and prepare for my flight back to YYC.  I was happy that I did the race and got to spend time in the beautiful Burnaby Lake park.

IMG_5178The backdrop of the mountains was divine! 

Calgary Wilderness Climb

Another last minute decision to enter an athletic event.  My dean Lesley posted the Climb for Wilderness on her FB page to solicit donations.  I commented that I was thinking about doing it.  And thinking I was.  Every now and then I check Run Guides for upcoming Calgary races.  Facebook also does a great job of posting “you might be interested in” running and other sports-related events to my wall.  So, I see events and think about them until the last minute because nowadays it depends on weather  as I have had more than my fill of cold-weather running. Even for the Bow Tower climb, it would have meant walking to the building in the cold which I would have to make that last-minute decision to do or not to do.

During the week preceding the climb, I ran into Lesley in the office and she mentioned the climb, asking if I were going to do it.  She was psyched about the climb, saying she was going to attempt three ascensions. I said, “I was still thinking about it.” She said to IM her if I decided to do it.

I went home that evening and signed up.  I don’t know if it was because she is the dean, or it was the notion of climbing with company or because it would be another chilly day and I did not feel like running outside.  Anyway, I signed up and pledged to complete one ascension.

On the morning of the climb, I got my water bottle together (there would only be water stations at the top so the website told participants to bring water) and put on a singlet and running capris under my muppet-like Uniqlo fuzzy hoodie and walked about a mile point five over to the Bow Building.  It is now the tallest building in Calgary and the building’s website (different link) touts that all postcards had to be updated upon it completion because it is now an iconic part of Calgary’s skyline.  It is a 58 story building; the Wilderness Climb had participants completing 55 of the 58 floors.

The climb began with a little fan fare as all participants gathered in the lobby. We were all given a cool navy blue shirt with graphics of some of Alberta’s iconic and unique flora, fauna and charismatic megafauna.  One of my colleagues had a yellow tech shirt because he a) raised a bit of dough and b) based on raising that dough he would attempt 9 climbs.

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The horn sound and we were off.  We had to walk outside to the side of the building to access the staircase.  In my singlet I felt quite naked and exposed to the elements in the cold.  To think that in my younger days I would have raced a 5K in booty shorts and a singlet in the same weather.

It was a narrow staircase with views of the Calgary’s northeast.  As we ascended the stairs, there were sign posts that compared the hight to global icons.  I passed a new NY related ones–the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge.  I assume the Brooklyn Bridge on was in reference to the top of the stanchions. We climbed together at a steady pace and before you knew it, we reached the 55th floor!  wilderness climbBrooklyn in da house

31081646_10215493592113616_8061932031551995904_nHoofing it

The exit from the staircase brought us to a beautiful penthouse atrium with trees and views of the west, including the Canadian Rockies.  There we grabbed water and rested a bit.  We also saw Richard Guy, who at 101 climbed 5 floors of the Bow Building with a picture of his late wife around his neck.  This video shows Richard finishing the climb along with some of my 15 minutes of fame.

31073440_10215493590553577_353621858823700480_nLesley and I with Richard Guy

“Wow, it was not that bad, I could do it again.” says I.

“Well, I have another chip, I was going to do three but if you wanted it…” says Lesley.

“Damn, I gotta do that again,” says I in my mind, but my mouth said, “Are you sure? I would do it with you if you really did not want to do it three times.”

I am curious if her mind (and legs) was happy that I took the chip as my mind (and legs) was all “what is happening???”

So down and up we went again.  The second time around was not that bad either, maybe next year I will plan on doing multiple times. For Alberta’s Wildlife.

As we walked along the river on the way home, Lesley pointed out some trees that were gnawed down by beavers.  I ran by them in the mornings and thought some human chopped them down with a dull tool.  She pointed out the concave bite marks and I was impressed that there were beavers in the river.  I never saw one in the wild until two weeks later when I saw one swimming close to the riverbank.  Urban wildlife is also Alberta’s wildlife!

Coney Island Run

It was nice to be back in my “yard” if even for a few days.  I returned to participate in the American Educational Research Association conference and was pleased that it was in my home city.  However, balancing work and home at that scale is quite taxing and having a conference for over 15,000 people in the heart of Times Square magnifies the stress and ensuing exhaustion. As a New Yorker, I avoid Times Sq at all costs.  I worked there when I was in college–summer job–it was cool then (yes, this is the beginning of a brief back-in-the-day New York story).  There were still rated XXX theaters on 42nd St, peep shows and sex shops on 8th Ave and all kinds of activity in between.  The glamorous Broadway shows were still there but the grit around it was what defined the area.  I remember leaving the office one hazy, hot and humid summer evening and seeing a mounted police officer having a casual chat with a sex worker in a full-body fishnet leotard. Like old friends. She was doing her thing and he was doing his. Now with all kinds of LED lighted, pseudo vintage Broadway (cue jazz hands) decorated franchised establishments (i.e. Olive Garden, Hard Rock Cafe), Times Square is a glorified midwestern United States mall.  Bleah!

But running. Ah running. For running, Prospect Park is my “yard” and it was great to be back there.  I managed to get a couple of days of running in, including a long run down to Coney Island on the hotter day.

IMG_5041Cherry Blossoms in Prospect Park 

According to my Hal Higdon training schedule (which I am loosely following), I was due for a 9 mile run.  It was almost 70 degrees F when I started, I did a loop around the outside of Prospect Park and then headed down Ocean Parkway to Coney Island.  It almost follows the route of the latter 2/3rd of the Brooklyn Half Marathon, which I am going to run later in May.  Even though it was not yet summer, the heat and humidity reminded me of the summer of 2016 when I put in many miles on Ocean to train for the New York City Marathon.  It appears relatively flat but is actually a slight decline to the ocean.  I did not bring my water bottle (I left my training one in Calgary) so I had to stop at Ave P and head to the deli to get a bottle of water as I was parched by that time.  There are water fountains in Prospect Park and nothing but delis until you get to the Coney Island boardwalk.

This made me think about the long runs that I will have to do in Calgary, as there is neither fountain nor deli to quench one’s thirst.  In NY I run with the one hand bottle that I always find either a deli, hydrant or hose to refill it with. Although there is a large river in Calgary, I do not plan on running with water purification tablets so I am not yet sure what I will do.  I might have to learn to run with a hydration pack.

Back to Brooklyn.  So I made my way down to Coney Island.  A pleasant run, I am also practicing increasing my cadence as per my physiotherapist, so there has been some challenge in my training.  It seems like I am running faster than I really am (or used to running for longer distances). I have been running at a cadence closer to 165 and my physiotherapist says I should be closer to 173.  When I was running track I had no idea about cadence, but I know we focused on long strides and quick turnovers, which is not efficient for longer road races.  Thus I have been focused on increasing my cadence and hopefully my running efficiency.

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Running on Ocean Ave is uneventful.  You pass a bunch of people walking dogs, pushing giant SUV strollers, other runners,  and other people just strolling along.  The people watching is interesting as they range from Orthodox Jewish women in wigs to Eastern European-looking women wearing big designer sunglasses and active wear. It as a Saturday and it seems as if the synagogues just let out so there was a lot of dodging people in their Saturday worship bests interspersed with the Euro-glamorous women.

I reached Coney Island (different link), one of my favorite places in the world.  At some point I will dedicate a blog post to why this is so, but for now we will leave it at being one of my favorite places.

As the day was warm, the boardwalk was teeming with activity.  Not quite at the level of a summer afternoon, but close enough.  My friends have been posting about new beach grass planted in front of the New York Aquarium; I was happy to see it and cannot wait to revisit the growing grass in the summer.  The beach grass stabilizes the sand (dunes), preventing erosion.  During Super Storm Sandy a lot of the beach sand ended up either back in the ocean or on the neighboring streets.  I am not sure if the beach grass is experimental with plans on expanding but it will be interesting to watch given the amount of crowds that end up on Coney Island beach during the summer.  I do love Coney Island but it tends to get a little dirty in the summer.  Just a little bit (can I say hypoberle?)

IMG_5030The Boardwalk 

Since Coney Island (different link) opened on weekends since Easter, some of the rides were going on and you heard distant screams from the bemused.  I looked to the ocean to see if I saw some CIBBOWS, but I later saw on Facebook that they went swimming after I left.

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After some boardwalk enjoyment and sea breeze refreshment, I headed to the Brighton Beach subway stop.  At that stop there is a Russian woman who sells delicious fried bread stuffed with things (meat, eggs, cabbage, etc.) and pastries.  Although I love the fried, oily bread, I opted for the poppyseed roll and cheese danish looking pastry.  I hopped on the train and headed home to enjoy the afterglow of a decent long run and beach walk.

Race Watching

Sometimes it is just as fun to watch a race as it is to run it.  Tonight was one of those nights.  It was the Light It Up Calgary run, a charity run support cancer survivors.  I saw a sign on a highway overpass, Googled the race and thought long and hard about running it. I decided to wait until the day of and pay the extra for the race-day registration.

I am glad I decided to wait because a) I am a morning runner to begin with (the race started at 8pm, b) it was snowing, c) it was below freezing, d) it was snowing, e) it was below freezing, and f) I decided to watch the 2018 version of Jesus Christ Superstar on YouTube. In front of my fireplace. With a glass of wine.

However, since the run was on the Bow River Pathway and right across the street from my apartment, I paused the musical and stepped out to cheer the runners on.  This is another instance I realized how loud my NYC ass is.

Because of the relatively sparse population in Calgary, one rarely has people along the course cheering runners on.  The volunteers at water stations and key directional spots do a good job, but otherwise you are on your own.  So, with my loud-ass Brooklyn lungs, I stood on my stoop (IDK if it is called a stoop in Calgary as well) and yelled at the runners, “Good job!”  and”You GO snow bunnies!” punctuated with the ubiquitous race cheer, “Wooooo!”  The runners appreciated the encouragement, with a couple of people responding, “thanks for the encouragement!”  I got a number of waves and looks of curiosity, “who is this crazy, loud woman in a hot pink, fuzzy Uniqlo hoodie (that I got on sale) yelling at us from across the street?”  But I continued to yell and carry on.  I think I had more fun that I would have had running in the evening snow.  Snow is pretty and all but not in April.

IMG_4961It did not dawn on me to take pictures until the walkers started passing by.  So, here are the walkers. 

IMG_4964There were quite a few dogs in the race too! 

I returned inside, put my fuzzy hoodie on a chair to dry off and finished watching the musical.  And Mitza took her place on top of the fuzzy hoodie. I got my dosage of cold on my morning run, 10K in sub-freezing temperatures, cussing all the way. But now I am warm so it is all good until the next sub-freezing temperature run.

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I miss my running club

My teammate posted an Upworthy article about our running club.  It made me realize how much I missed my running club and my experiences of being a part of a team.

I was a member of the Prospect Park Track Club many years back when I first returned to Brooklyn from college.  Harry Murphy was still alive and in charge then. I then joined Anderson International, a team that focused on track and field (versus road racing) and competed with them for several years, being relatively locally competitive.  Fun times, getting up at 5 am to catch the 2 then 1 train all the way up to the City College indoor track for grueling workouts.  Several times a week.  We competed in the Colgate Women’s Games at Pratt Stadium, we cheered each other on and consoled less than stellar races.

During outdoor season we would take the train uptown to Harlem/125th street (from deep Brooklyn) to walk over the Randall’s Island Bridge which was then the home of a crack community (yes we stepped over empty crack vials and other good stuff as we crossed the bridge).  Once on Randall’s Island we had to walk through a field of tall grass and the occasional startled wild turkey.  Yes, wild turkeys on Randall’s Island.  Finally reaching the track, the concrete Downing Stadium, we had our afternoon session on the track, 200, 400, 800 repeats, drills, etc.  We also competed on the Randall’s Island track Although the workouts were hard, they were fun times and I enjoyed being a part of a team.

When I stopped running track (team kind of dissipated)  I joined the Brooklyn Road Runners Club–green and white–after running into the then director at a post-race pizza party.  The race was a New Years Eve loop around Prospect Park. I got third place and a technical shirt as a prize. We finished before midnight; just in time to catch the fireworks at Grand Army Plaza before heading to a local restaurant for pizza and beer.  BRRC was also a fun team–the monthly meetings were great for catching up with teammates and meeting new ones. While the NYRR races were growing to be less intimate and more corporate-feeling, many of the Brooklyn races (i.e. Robert Nolan, Sanitation, Cosme) remained relatively small and friendly.  The Brooklyn-based teams, Brooklyn Road Runners, PPTC, Mercury Flyers(?), Shore Striders, to name a few all showed up, ran and then partied after with free beer and hamburgers. There was always free beer and hamburgers after the local late spring and summer races.  There was also music and the opportunity for runners to show off their dancing skills.  As the beer consumption increased these skills deteriorated for some and greatly improved for others.

I took somewhat of a hiatus from competitive running to focus on flamenco dance. I completed the NYC marathon in 2006 (I always volunteered at the finish line and had too much fun to want to run it, vowed that once I no longer volunteered I would run), I was still a member of the BRRC, but did not train with the club, and used one of the Hal Higdon plans.  Although I finished, it was not a successful race (for another post) and I vowed a redemption run.

Redemption came in 2016 when I received the confirmation that I “won” the lottery entrance.  I remember noticing that a payment to the NYRR was pending on my credit card and instantly got butterflies, once I got the confirmation it was both “yay” and “oh shit” at the same time.  I knew that I had to train.  First I was older and second I was not in running shape.  So, I downloaded my Hal Higdon plan and looked for a running club to join.  BRRC was no longer as active, and I remembered the PPTC from my earlier days mainly because I kept seeing the red and white at races and in the park.  Best decision ever and my teammate Amy wrote “Running doesn’t have to be about winning races…” that echoes my sentiments. It is a beautiful article.

Although I did not participate in a lot of the group runs, I did join the speed classes and did a couple of the social runs.  I do enjoy doing my longer runs solo (although company is nice too) however it is very cool to be out there on those hot summer days, cool autumn mornings or brisk winter jogs and seeing someone pass by wearing the red and white and knowing that you have an instant friend, someone who if running at your pace you can join for a bit or if they are going faster you could wave and smile and both acknowledge the hard work you are putting in for whatever your personal goal.

While in Calgary I stay connected to my club via Facebook and the listserv.  I still feel like a part of the team and often wear my red and white Buff or cap (toque in Canada) to “represent,” but it is not the same as running into your teammates, flesh and blood, out on the roads and trails of Prospect Park.

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Spring has selectively sprung

It is past the vernal equinox and the temperatures in Calgary have not yet matched the date (21F).  Well, there was a quick heatwave that got us up to 40F but it quickly relented to the demands of the Snow Miser.

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Ugh.  Is all I can muster.

But I got a break from the never ending winter with a quick trip to experience spring in Luxembourg.  And, of course I brought my running clothes.  Aside: I love being in Europe around Easter because of all of the cute and yummy chocolate eggs and bunnies in every supermarket. They really take the spring symbols seriously and with chocolate.

My good friend and colleague is at the University of Luxembourg as we had some collaborative work to do, I took the opportunity to do it in relatively milder weather.  First thing I noticed was hearing the morning song birds.  There are morning song birds in Calgary but this was a different chorus of returnees looking for worms and mates.  Probably in that order.  One of the 4 and 20 black birds was plucking at a worm in the backyard amidst the awakening crocus and tulips.  I was jet lagged but I have found that a good run is a great way to help acclimate to the time rather quickly.  So I dragged my tired ass out of the door and into the local park.

The local park is a hybrid of a park and a farm.  Because it is early in the season, it was a muddy field with rows of what was left of plants that overwintered.  The park also had a cute playground and a couple of dog runs.  I ran through the field, down a steep hill and to the Alzette River.  I was hit with the desire to run along the river until I got to the old town but since I did not know what direction to run, I double-backed to the hill and returned home.

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The Easter holidays began and my friend’s daughter had a sleepover with several of her friends.  For some reason they were keen on running with me in the morning. After a night that began with planks and ended with them watching a movie, we motivated early (well, 8:30) to head out for a run.  We started at a nice clip with them telling me about the park (the renovations and the better dog run) but then slowed down and walked for the rest of the way.  They did pretty good considering that they are not runners (but would like to be).  I hope that there will be a 5K in the near future for them all!

My last run in Luxembourg was the run that I wanted to do, to the Old Town, which is situated in a valley along the Alzette.  So that I would not get lost, my friend and her mom walked with me to the start of the path (closer to town) along the Alzette.  “Keep the river on your left,” my friend said.  Me not instinctively knowing my left from my right had to keep reminding myself which was left.  It started off along the river (on my left) and passed through a cute town until I reached a “fork.” Because there was construction I did not notice the correct path so ended up on the other side of the river, the river was now on my right.  Not wanting to turn back at this point I kept along the river but going uphill so not directly along  the river but I guess kind of parallel to it, until I found a way down to the river.  I passed through some community gardens with people preparing for early spring planting before taking the construction detour that brought me back to the right (left) side of the river.  Finally I reached the old town, I am always amused that amidst these centuries old structures are us living our 21st century lives, smartphones and electric cars juxtaposed with cobblestones and old stucco.

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IMG_4891Approaching the Old Town

IMG_4890Path through the valley

IMG_4893Old Town–you could either walk/run/take a bus uphill or use an elevator

The night after my last run, I did another kind of exercise–night clubbing.  It was my first time at a proper German rave (or any rave for that matter as I am a house music-head). In order to get there we had to drive about two hours across the border to Saarbrucken, Germany Seeing the “Ausfahrt” signs reminded me of more that two decades ago of driving through Germany with friends, also to go clubbing, and my inner middle-schooler laughing at “fahrt.”

The club was a mega club, similar to the NYC mega clubs of the 80s and 90s with several rooms, each playing a different groove.  We hung out in the techno room–it had a beat that I could move to and visited the “drum base” room where my rhythm asked, “what is happening???”  The night ended with a visit to the kebab stand for rigatoni (I had a regular donair kebab earlier), each of us agreeing that if we lived near this stand there would be no need to cook. Ever. The rigatoni was 3 Euros and the Kebab was 5.

Next morning scramble to the airport and I was off and back to winter.  The Snow Miser mocks me. ONE. DEGREE.

Race Recap: Atlanta’s St. Patrick Day Parade 5K aka Running in the Green

I was recently in Atlanta (for work) and decided to try out my new age group legs in a local 5K.  There were several races during St. Patrick Day weekend and I toyed with the idea of doing one, the one closest to my AirBnB, until the last minute, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade 5K, the 4th annual.  The weather first predicted rain and then thunderstorms so rather than register in advance, I decided to wait until the morning so see what the weather brought.  I was also motivated by the picture of the cool medal that all finishers were to receive (more on that later).

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Isn’t this a cool enough medal to motivate one to run a race?

The morning came and the streets were damp, but no rain.  So I walked about 30 minutes, downhill,  to the start of the race.  It was early when I got to the start, close to 8:45, the race started at 10 so there were not a lot of people milling around.  Being a New Yorker and always schlepping with something, I brought a bag with a raincoat and water.  I asked if there was a bag check.  No bag check. WTF.  I guess most people drive so they leave stuff in the trunk of a car? Even the races in Calgary have bag checks.  Unheard of.  I was about to not run the race (the lady who was doing the registration was not helpful in that regard) with a bag flapping around my back.  So I was going to head back home when the other woman under the registration tent offered to watch it. Nothing valuable to anyone else except me and someone who might want a jacket and/or a bag.  I paid my fee, got my number and green t-shirt and was ready to wait for the start.

It was  sea of green.  Everyone went all out with the St. Patrick’s Day green for this race and I felt out of place in my navy blue shirt, so I switched into the green race shirt an also got decked out with some of the green party favors:

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The area was well-decorated for the later St. Patrick’s Day parade with clovers and little glittery hats filled with green Mardi Gras beads (the beads will figure again later in this story).

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There were green tutu’s, green socks, green running kilts, green everything, even green-sprayed dogs.

IMG_4752Traditional Irish running kilt and fuel belt

 

IMG_4755 (1)Sea of green to start the race

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The race started with a relatively steep downhill towards Piedmont Park. I went running there the day before so was somewhat familiar with the park.  It has a nice lake in the middle and gentle up and down slopes around.  I started the race at a nice pace knowing that my misbehaving hamstrings would not hold the pace for the entire race, but it felt good to pass people for a change (rather than getting passed).  We looped around the meadow and past the garden and around the ball fields.  This is where hammy said, “no mas” and I had to stop, stretch, walk a little and slow down.  I reduced my pace but still tried to keep pace (or at least within eyeshot) of others who I’ve been running with for the first 2 miles.  And, as cruel fate would have it, the last part of the race was up the same hill that we ran down at the beginning (it was a loop so duh).

IMG_4841St. Patrick’s Day loop and hill profile it was plus 144ft 

I did a lot of shuffling and trotting up the hill.  I did not feel like pushing, after all I wasn’t going to win money or anything.  I encouraged a couple of runners that a passed (they were walking) while feeling all robust and things because I passed them.  Once we reached the top of the hill it was actually a gentle downhill slope to the finish line! I took a little advantage of that slope, this means my trotting became jogging and then a slowish run.  There was one dude who tried to pass me but then I “muscled up” and out ran him across the line.  I was done.  My first race of the season.  I was exhausted but pleased that I actually made the effort to make it to that race.  I was looking forward to the medal.  However the actual medal was basically the same Mardi Gras beads that were sitting around in the glittery hats before the race.  Because of my effort, I made sure to aim for one that still had the cardboard tag.

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I milled around with other finishers and realized that all finishers receive a free beer.

Decked out dog 

I am not a beer drinker, I like wine.  Red wine. Fruity red wine.  But I was thirsty and the beer was free. I did not want a bitter beer so I asked the servers for a suggestion.  Their suggestion was good, Reformation Brewery’s Cadence:

 

It was sweeter (to me) that most beers, almost weiss-like (according to the website, it’s a Belgian-style ale).  I actually enjoyed this beer and would order it if I were to see it on a beer menu.

As I was drinking my beer an older gentleman asked me if I won a medal.  They did not call the race yet and I assumed that because I slowed down I didn’t get anything.  He suggested that I should hang around to see.  It was then about 10:30, the medals would be awarded at 11:15.  Because I don’t particularly like beer, even this relatively pleasant one, I was sipping it slowly.  Beer does not go down easily for me.  I said to the man, “I will leave as soon as I finish my beer.” My beer took me close to the 45 minutes to finish.  I was down to my last sip when they started the awards and I though, “might as well.”

I heard them call my age group and then the third place name. Not mine. The second place name. Not mine.  “Oh well, let me hit the road,” I thought. First place, “Jennifer Adams!” I. Cannot. Believe. I won a medal, it has been years since I won a medal or trophy in a race.  I racked them up in my 20s but, like I said, its been decades.  I walked up, received my medal, took a picture with Gumby and then looked for an Uber.

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Overall, it was a well organized small race.  There was a water station and ample water and food (bananas and snacks) at the finish line.  The staff and volunteers were friendly.  My main disappointment was that the medal was not what was pictured on the website.  Would I have still ran without the medal? Probably, but the cool medal was a strong motivating factor. The Publix Marathon and Half would be the next day.  This seems like it might be a good “shake out” run for those inclined to do those.

As I walked towards a space that where the streets were open ( there was a parade to start soon after the awards), it started to rain.  Pour.  But I had my medal so it was all good.