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.

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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.