New York City Marathon recap

It’s been a while, but I was chugging along with the marathon training.  And I say chugging because it was an up and down process, especially the long runs.  I did my last long run (before the taper)  and it was exhausting–more exhausting on the mind than on the body.

I had to stop several times just to regroup and talk myself into finishing.  I don’t run with headphones as I have yet to find ones that are both comfortable and stay put.

If I daydream too much I end up tripping and falling on something so I need to pay attention to where I put my feet.  My mental entertainment was birdwatching (which often means stopping and looking) and avoiding scat while trying to figure out whose poop (lots of urban wildlife in Calgary).

In early September Calgary had an early and heavy snowfall.  When I woke up and saw the blanket of snow, I cussed the sky and used my free voucher for a session at the local gym.  I had been avoiding joining the gym for a while because the prices here are definitely not Planet Fitness or Blink.  But with the snow and desire to maintain my training schedule, I had no choice.  There is also Orange Theory, but I am not into the whole group-fitness-personal-trainer thing.  Having a coach and group workouts towards goals of running faster and farther seem different, maybe it is because it is what I am used to.  But to me, these new era group fitness things seem too bling and whistle and bell for my comfort.

With all of the training behind me–hours of mentally and physically taxing long runs as well as trials with nutrition strategies–I was ready to toe the proverbial line on the Verrazano Bridge, probably one of the most iconic marathon starts.

Prior efforts

I attempted the marathon twice before.  In 2006, I had to walk most of the race–from about mile 10 onwards, due to GI issues.  I got what felt like a gas bubble in the throat that never seemed to go away.  It made breathing hard and therefore running difficult.  However I vowed to finish no matter what.  I also vowed to run a “redemption marathon” where I would run the whole thing.

Ten years forward and I entered the 2016 race.  I entered via the lottery and remember the odd feeling of seeing the charge pending on my credit card–knowing that I got in but was awaiting the confirmation.  I got in, elation quickly turned to what-did-I-get-myself-into.  Like getting that grant, yay! I got the money.  Now I have to do the work…

I trained that summer but did not necessarily focus on nutrition.  I used some energy chews.  I ran to Coney Island–ending at the beach was always refreshing; ran to Riis Beach and did a couple of long runs loosely following the marathon route through Williamsburg and Queens. Things seemed to work fine until my final long (20 mile) training run where the throat bubble appeared. Frantic, I booked appointments with a GI and got an endoscopy done which was negative for anything significant. I had not idea what it was and why it happened (again).  I became afraid of the energy gels and blocks and opted for more “natural solutions,” like dates and activated charcoal.

That year I started the race without incident and felt fine, but was very hesitant about drinking or eating anything (which is a big no-no in marathon running, especially on a warmer day).  I almost passed out on the Queensborough Bridge and found myself in an ambulance for about an hour.  Determined to get my medal, I walked 10 miles to the finish.

Like the race 10 years before, I was with the walkers.  When you are with the walkers, it feels like a lonelier race as the crowds are thinner, the water stations are collapsed (there are less tables and volunteers handing out water), the bananas are done, and, with daylight savings time, the darkness comes early.  Walking those two races make me appreciate the persistence of those who walk most of their races–the ability to keep it moving without the support of the crowds that the NYC Marathon is famous for.

I wanted to experience the thrill of the crowds, I wanted to experience the famous wall of sound when coming of the Queensborough Bridge. So I resolved to run the race again.

In 2017 I ran nine NYRR races and volunteered for one (the 9 plus one) for guaranteed entry to the 2018 Marathon.  I registered.  I anticipated the training all year and Googled the heck out of my symptoms in order to try nutrition strategies.  July rolled around and it was time to start the 18 week training.

Through all of my Internet doctor work, I settled on my self-diagnosis of GERD affecting my run–that marathon running was triggering acid reflux.  I have acid reflux off and on but that it also affected my running was like revelation.  The symptoms–lump in throat feeling, burning sensation–fit.  I also started to pay attention to how what I ate affected how I felt and connected wheat products to producing gas–constant belching. I know, not pretty but heck, it’s physiology. I decided to focus on using “gluten free” energy gels and limiting wheat in my diet.  I also paid more attention to FODMAP in foods (see link, too much to explain) and see which of the FODMAPS contributed to the gassy, indigesty, bloaty sensations.  I stated to limit my diet, stopped eating bread and other wheat products, opted for gluten free foods (never thought I would ride on that bandwagon) and limited wine during the last two weeks up to the marathon…the latter being the most challenging.

Fueling strategy 

My fuels of choice became GU–salted caramel and HUMA–mango (even though mango is a high FODMAP food, the mango FODMAP does not seem to produce symptoms) and the strawberry-lemonade HUMA plus.  I also tried a pre-run drink of CarboPro or Trailwind, with the latter ending up being the go-to.  I did this strategy a couple of times with very little symptoms.  So, I opted to do that on marathon day.

Marathon week

I did my last couple of training runs during the taper week and days leading up to my flight back home to NY (NY will always be home).  I have always loved marathon week.  It is one of those events for me that signal a season.  When I was younger I spent hours volunteering for the marathon until I eventually got one of the coveted finish line spots.  The finish line spots meant more visibility, more critical tasks and, importantly, better swag.  While I never got a pair of sneakers, I did get a cool Gore-Tex jacket one year.  I didn’t run the marathon back then because I enjoyed working the finish line so much.

Going to the Expo always brings back memories of the energy the marathon brought to NY during that week.  Even with NY always being an energetic city, the marathon brings its own energy with the international runners and mobilizing tons of volunteers across the boroughs.  I also remember days of yore when you got tons of free stuff–even technical socks. I would leave the expo with bags of goodies. Not so much now, but it is still fun to check out all of the both new and tried-and-true running accoutrements. I picked up my T-Shirt and debated on whether or not to buy marathon swag to wear back in Calgary.

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Marathon eve

The day before the marathon is a time to rest and prepare for the race.  In the week up to the marathon, much of my meals consisted of steam jasmine rice with a little butter or coconut oil, chicken or Alberta beef with just salt and pepper and plenty of fluids (no alcoholic).  Bland, bland, bland. Hard to be back home and not able to eat a slice of pizza.

I ate my last meal around 7 pm to give enough time for digestion.  There would also be several hours between waking and running the next day so I planned my breakfast–overnight oatmeal that consisted of water and a little maple syrup.  I don’t like cold cereal so I nuked it in the morning. I also brought a banana and a bottle full of Trailwind with me to the start village.

I laid out my running outfit–PPTC shirt, compression tights, compression calf sleeves, my Smartwool socks in which I did much of my training runs, gloves, sneakers, headband, running belt and the throwaway clothing to keep warm before the race. These clothes are donated to Goodwill. I went to bed but had an anxious sleep.  However the night before I got the better sleep, which is optimal.

Race day 

*Deep breath* here it is. Eighteen weeks of training and obsessing over my GI would culminate on this day.  I took an antiacid in the morning and ate my oatmeal.  I met my friend and headed to the ferry for the schlep to the start at Staten Island.

It was a beautiful morning, the sun was casting a red hue over the lower harbor and Statue of Liberty.  The ferry was full of anxious and chatty runners already for our five borough running tour.  We disembarked and the ferry, took some busses and entered the start village–security and cute bomb-sniffing “hold your bag low so he can smell it” dogs all around.

View of the Statue of Liberty and the Ferry full of runners

Entering the village I stopped at the loo–I have been hydrating so needed several visits before the start. I found the PPTC tree and proceeded to prepare for my race.  I donned my fuel belt and placed 8 gels–four HUMA and four GUs–extra antiacid, my iPhone and tissues inside.

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Start Village

It was time for my wave.  Well I missed my wave (wave 2) because I did not hear the announcement, but like other wave 2ers in my situation, we just ran with wave 3.  We moved up to the bridge, I was quite close to the start because I was in Coral A.  On the way I picked up a discarded Sharpie and scribbled “you got this” and “STRENGTH” on my left forearm.

Starting line and clothing discarded on the bridge

The cannon when off and we were off.  I felt good.  As I closed in on the three mile mark, I opened a GU and took a small sip and then grabbed a little water.  My strategy–sip a little and sip often.  I took a little gel and a little water at almost every water station.  I found the HUMA has a more easier consistency than the GU. I also noticed my energy ebb and flow along with the fueling, I seemed to feel a surge kick in at about 10 minutes after each feed.  My stomach seemed to hold up.  While I felt gassy at times that required some slowing, I managed to burp it out.

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Looking and feeling good at mile 14.5

I approached and passed the 8 mile mark where I started to slow down during the 2006 race.  This is also the spot from where I watch the race when I am not running it. I fed on the energy of the crowds and kept moving.  As I approached the QB bridge, I took a little extra HUMA and a couple of deep breaths.  It was a slow climb up.  By now, my knees were feeling painful so it was hard on the downhill part, but I passed and kept it moving and heard the 1st AVE crowds towards the end of the bridge.

I experienced the wall of cheers.  It was AWESOME.  I was in pain but it kept me moving.  I looked at my Sharpie motivators on my arm and kept it moving. By now I realized that I would be doing this, I would be RUNNING this marathon.  I kept running but had to do walk/runs towards the end of the race because my left leg was in pain. I kept with my fueling strategy up to the last 3 miles.  I entered Central Park.  The finish line was close.  However, this was the grindier part of the race with the rolling hills.  I walked/jogged up and jogged down.  When I entered the part again at Columbus Circle, I was elated.  I saw the finish line.  I ran to the lights. I finished! I got my medal.  I kissed my medal.  I took some pictures (which I almost never do).  My marathon done!!!!

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Well done race and well earned medal!

Now I am planning my next race…

Marathon tips (especially with those sensitive GI people):

  1. Practice fueling strategies especially if you have a sensitive GI.  Whatever works, stick to it on race day, don’t be drawn to the blinky lights of new stuff you may come across at the Expo.
  2. Opt for the gluten free options.  The more basic the fuel the more likely it will be gentle on the stomach.
  3. Hydrate during the days leading up to the marathon. Drink water and hydration drinks. Try to avoid the sugary drinks as they may do the opposite. Monitor your urine to make sure it is a pale (even with vitamin supplements, it will be brighter in color but still pale).
  4. Stick to your fueling strategy on race day.  As appealing as the orange and banana slices (along with the occasional beer offered), don’t do it.  When you cross the finish line, you will be able to eat anything to your heart’s content.
  5. The mantra “nothing new on marathon day” rings true.  Everything I wore was familiar and comfortable, even down to my underwear :).
  6. Always remember that no matter what, “you got this.” Trust your training.
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Consolation Run

 

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I was in Paris last week for an OECD workshop and when I am elsewhere, I like to run to “accumulate” running in different cities on my Garmin app.  I like to revisit the little maps as well as the elevation just to revisit the running “landscape.” It is in addition to collecting refrigerator magnets.

I also [thought] I had the good fortune of my trip coinciding with a road race.  Ah, running through the streets of Paris with thousands of fellow runners.  Sounds romantic, no?

I tried to stick to my marathon training plan so I ran along the River Seine. Very different from running along the Bow River in Calgary.  For one, there were many more fellow runners. Also, there was much morning bustle, opening of cafes, preparing of tourist boats and restaurant barges and vehicle and pedestrian traffic at the upper level of the river walk.  It is always nice to experience running in a big city.  Always something to catch my attention and re-direct my focus from my huffing and questioning my decision to train for a marathon. I was pleased that I stuck with the number of days run, but not necessarily the number of miles.

As I mentioned, I was in Paris at the same time as the La Parisienne, what I later learned is a premiere road race for women.  Seven kilometers through the streets of Paris with a couple of tens of thousands of your best girlfriends.  I was excited to participate in a big race! When I browsed the website for the start time, it was not clear, they had this SAS du depart that I interpreted as waves. I was also due to “depart” that day, to return to Calgary with my flight leaving at 1:20pm so I wanted to ensure that I had enough time to participate.  I thought if I were to run the “SAS Bleu,” it would have given me enough time to run the race, return to my hotel to shower (about a 20 minute walk from the race) and get to the airport in just the knick of time.  I signed up.

When I went to get my number and asked for clarification of the start time, I then learned that the entire race started at 9:45! (Which still confused me given that the SAS Rose and the SAS Vert seem to be after the start of the raceRealizing that this would not give me adequate time to run and fly, I grew gloomy.  I tried to work out different scenarios in my mind that would allow me to run and get to the airport on time but nothing turned up feasible or cost-effective.  I went to the venue for clarification, one of the volunteers spoke English (as do many Parisiennes nowadays) and she explained the start of the race (however I still do not know what SAS means).  Despondent,  I begged for my medal and promised that I would run the distance of the race on my own.  After speaking with the people in the tents (every big race has those higher-ups in tents), she produced my medal.  I shed a few tears since my option of not running was now finalized.  Thanked her, took the medal and proceeded on a long walk through the streets of Paris, some of which included the course.

The next day, my departure day, I got up, as promised, and embarked on a long (12 mile) run along the Seine.  I started slightly before sunrise and experienced a little of the start prep activity.  It reminded me of my days of volunteering for the marathon–streets blocked and people in official-looking clothing with credentials and walkie-talkies milling about.  I left the race area and proceeded along the river, passed the Notre Dame and did a quick diversion to the Centre Pompidou.

 

Miro fountain; running along the Seine

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Dali mural near Miro fountain 

As I made my way back to the hotel, I saw the throngs of runners arriving, each with their colourful bib with their number and name.  I was a little miffed but felt vindicated in having done my consolation run that was more than twice as long as the race.  I returned to my hotel, showered and made it just in time for my flight.

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At the OECD

 

 

9/11

I have a meeting scheduled today, 9/11. I remember seeing that date and immediately thinking that I did not want to have a meeting on that date.  I did not want to do anything on that date; not anything that required planning and noting the date.  I always want it to be like any other date, just another day to go about my normal schedule.  But that it will never be.

As a kid my Dad often walked us over the Brooklyn Bridge to burn energy–we were an active bunch.  Our summer staycations included these walks and visits to many of our city’s monuments. As we walked over the bridge, we always noted the Twin Towers.  They were the tallest buildings of the Manhattan skyline and a prominent feature of the southern tip of the island.  My Dad was the first to take us to the observation deck.  Our ears popped because the elevators were climbing so high and so fast. I remember the roof painted in swimming pool blue.  My siblings and I hated it because it reminded us that we would rather be swimming somewhere–ocean or pool–than at the top of a tall building looking over the harbor (another reminder of what we would rather be doing).  Nevertheless we appreciated these trips; even as youngsters we looked forward to these family outings, times with Dad (Mom often stayed home with toddler and infant foster kids). He reflected on watching the buildings being built and remarked that the heavy equipment used to dig the foundation were buried under the buildings because they were worn out.  I don’t know if that was true, Dad was good at telling us stuff to make our imaginations run wild.

The Twin Towers featured in The Wiz.  It was Oz’s palace.  I immediately recognized the fountain and arched windows at the bottom. The socialites in the City of Oz changed color according to what Oz said was in style…Mean Green, Dead Red and Mellow Yellow.  No blue.

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(got this image from pinterest)

On 9/11/2001, I got out of the subway and went to the ATM to get lunch money.  The screens were acting funny. I had to go to several machines before I got my cash.  I walked from 72nd Street up to the American Museum of Natural History, where I worked at the time.  Freddy, the security guard said, “a plane hit the Twin Towers.” I responded, “Oh?” while in my mind thinking it was someone’s Cessna that went wildly off course. I pictured this poor little airplane stuck in the tower.  I went up to my floor and saw people looking very dazed.  My boss, Maritza said, “a plane hit the World Trade Center, I have not heard from Alicia.” Alicia was my co-worker who took the Path to the WTC before boarding an MTA train uptown to work.  The magnitude of the situation still did not hit me.  I walked down to my office and my officemate Jim was glued to his screen.  Face in shock.  I turned on my computer and, like I always did, glanced the news.  There was this image of the Twin Towers in flames.  Large flames. Smoke.  This was more than a Cessna.  My stomach started to turn and I ran down to my boss’s office just as my co-worker ran in, hysterical.  She saw one of the planes hit.

Since the museum was a landmark and all landmarks became immediately vulnerable, we had to evacuate.  Five of us who needed to head downtown left together and wandered the streets of the Upper West Side.  We had no clue what was happening but knew that, simply put, it was not good.  We passed a police station and a cop said to us, “one of the buildings collapsed.”

“What?”

“A building collapsed.”

“How could that building collapse?”

I recalled my childhood visits and how sturdy those buildings felt to me. I remembered that only less than a year prior some of my colleagues and I went there for some odd party at the Windows on the World restaurant and overlooked the expanse of the city lights and dark harbor of the night.  Buildings like that don’t just collapse. We were having a hard time processing that information.

We decided to get something to eat before the long and uncertain walk home and went to Uno’s Pizzeria where the news was on.  Before our eyes, the building collapsed.  The second building collapsed. Dust, smoke, papers, people covered in ash, dazed, walking, running, crying, gasping.  This was not a catastrophe in a dystopian movie.  This was our city.  This was happening just a few miles south of where we stood and watched it unfold on the TV.

We left the restaurant and entered Central Park to cross over to the East side and head south to Brooklyn.  The sky overhead was blue.  It was clear.  It was early September so the trees were still green.  Bright green contrasting against the blue sky.  Beautiful.  Everything was okay in the park.  Everyone was okay in the park, some people seeming oblivious to the unfolding horror (they were probably there for a couple of hours and therefore had no clue as the weather was pleasant).  We exited on the East side and were jolted back to the reality of the current events as we saw throngs of people streaming uptown.  Schools, offices, buildings etc. were closed.  People evacuated, many not knowing where to go as the trains in Manhattan were all shut down.  People wanted to get back to their loved ones. Buses were rerouted and no traffic was allowed downtown. We ended up walking over the Queensborough Bridge and got a train in Queens to downtown Brooklyn.  As we crossed the bridge, the sky overhead was an afternoon reddish-blue and eerily quiet with just a couple of jet fighters streaking by.  Blocking the descending sun was a large, thick and dark plume of smoke blowing towards Brooklyn.  This plume and those jets were the only things in the sky.  Neither cloud nor, strangely, birds.

As we approached Queens, we thought about donating blood. Pia had a car and asked about donating her time to transport patients if necessary.  Sadly, neither the blood nor the transport was needed.  Triage beds stood empty outside of hospitals as the hordes of victims never arrived.

At home that night I smelled the burning plastic, the plume of smoke was thick right above my head.  I smelled and saw that smoke for weeks after as the rubble smoldered.

About a week after the towers fell, the city began to slowly creeped back to a new normal.  The subways were eerily quiet–no conversations, no overheard music–only the strange and rhythmic screech of the brakes on the relatively new R142 subway cars.

I have still yet to visit what became known as Ground Zero. I don’t think I will.  The closest I’ve come was on a ride back from New Jersey on the Path and having a view of the site from the train as it passed by. This was maybe a couple of years after. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground it reminded me of the ashes that fell that day.

 

Running and Dancing

I am back in smokey Calgary (British Columbia wildfires) and reflecting on a particular active weekend during my last visit home.

I am at the initial phase of my 18ish week marathon training, which means gradually increasing mileage and strength and doing my best to remain injury free.  I love doing my long runs in NYC on the weekends because a) there is always an interesting spot to end, b) with a Metrocard I don’t have to do a loop in order to return home and c) everyone seems to be marathon training during the mid to late summer.  I was lucky because my August NY home days corresponded with Summer Streets, three Saturdays in August where 7 miles of NYC streets are closed to traffic (to encourage biking, walking and, of course, running!).  During this event, runners take advantage of logging the long run miles. I started at my Brooklyn apartment, headed down Flatbush and over the Brooklyn Bridge to enter the Summer Streets in lower Manhattan.

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Save runners and a few tourists, the Brooklyn Bridge was uncharacteristically empty. I did not have to dodge the usual throngs of tourists and bikers.  I don’t know if it was because it was so early (around 7 am) or the impending storms (clouds were dark over New Jersey) but it was nice to have so much space on the Bridge.  I came off the Bridge and entered Manhattan and joined the stream of early morning Summer Streets runners.

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Facing North-ish

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Facing South-ish 

One of the things I love about marathon training in NYC is that it feels like everyone is doing it.  On the Summer Streets there were runners of all shapes and sizes in characteristic bright colored running gear and race shirts.  The configurations ranged from individuals (like myself) to small groups to larger ones, like the charity groups running for some cause (Fred’s Team was a notable one in their bright orange singlets).

As we were running, it started to lightly rain,  a welcome reprieve from the heat and humidity.  As I passed Union Square and approached Park Ave, the rain grew steadily harder and eventually a full-on down pour.  Because it was hot, the rain was welcome, but still challenging as it was pounding and my socks and sneakers became water-logged (as did my clothing). I could not avoid running through puddles (which were more like small seas).  Even in this heavy rain, the runners continued to plug (or plunge) forward.  The bikes all but disappeared and the walkers tucked under doorways and awnings.  But the runners kept splashing ahead.

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The rain eventually slowed then ceased.  I was drenched.  In between the rain and the ceasing, I stopped by the sponsors area and tried samples of Nuun, an energy drink, iced tea and jerkys.  I also could not resist the free yogurt and coconut water. I took one bottle of each.  I still had two point five more miles to go.  I got a free reusable bag from NYC recycles and continued with bag in hand. Not the most efficient run, but I did not want to pass on the free goodies.

I finished my drenched run, 12 miles, at approximately the halfway point of the Brooklyn Bridge.  I was happy with my run and happier to enjoy walking the rest of the bridge and reminiscing about walks with my siblings and Dad across the same bridge many decades earlier.

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Post run, is it rain or sweat???

Kittening and Gogoing

When I finished run, I took out my phone and noticed a message from my burlesque group seeking a replacement for a stage kitten for the evening performance. Maybe it was low blood sugar, runner’s high or elation with finishing a long run, I responded with an “I’m available, please call me.”  Foxy Belle Afriq, the producer of the show called me about 5 minutes later, just as I was walking through the Fulton Mall.  She explained to me the details of the show, which would also include go-go dancing.  Go-go dancing??? “Will I have to take off my clothes?” “No” she responded, the continued to explain that my role, as a go-go dancer, was to help keep the crowd hyped in between burlesque performers.  I accepted the position. My first thought soon after went to what to wear. For this Flatbush never fails for providing affordable bling-bling and the numerous dancehall oriented boutiques.  I found a halter unitard at a store that would be soon closing, probably due to the rampant gentrification in the area.  It would totally suck to loose these stores as they always come through in a pinch for a visibly spectacular outfit.

I became a peripheral part of the burlesque community last summer with the completion of a burlesque workshop and performance with Brown Girls Burlesque Broad Squad.  It was an 8-week introduction to burlesque, including the history of Black women in burlesque and the opportunity to create your own choreography and costume.  Costumes are all about the bling…glitter, sequins and shiny things.   Perfect for my alter ego as my day-to-day self minimizes the bling and attention-getting.

My stage name is ZeineBruja Broadreach shortened to ZeineBruja.  In this space, the burlesque space, I am referred to by this name.  As I am not in this space as often as I would like to be, I sometimes forget, like when Belle Afriq (who probably does not remember my birth name) had to call “Bruja” several times before my brain made the connection that she was referring to me.

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As a stage kitten, my job is to make it easier for the performers.  On the stage, you will see the stage kitten cleaning up after the dancer, picking up all of her/his clothing after the strip-tease, but there is much more behind the scenes.  Tasks include, helping to get the dancers dressed, grabbing drinks for the dancers from the bar, selling raffles, communicating between the producer, M.C., performers, Djays, etc. etc. etc.  I enjoyed the running around, even with my left ankle being stiff and sore from the morning run.

“What song do you want to dance to?” I did not realize that I had to come with my own songs. When I am at home and dancing like nobody’s watching, there are numerous songs that I think, “I would love to dance to this.”  Of course at this moment my music brain farts. Saved by Grace, I thought of “My Jamaican Guy.”    Perfect for Go-Go dancing and classic enough to be recognized by many.  However, the DJ was a hot mess (he mis-played several songs for the burlesque dancers) and played my song during the intermission.  So I had to think quickly.  Still at the altar of Grace, I chose “Pull up to my Bumper.”

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As the song began to play, I made my way to the stage and gyrated my way through the song.  I worked the crowd.  Although I am an introvert by nature in my love of solo time and being low-key, put some music on, give me a stage and an audience and I am in my alter element. I get a high from performing, it is like I am in an alternate universe of self when all eyes are on me–dancing.  Of course, there are moments of self-consciousness–not wanting to appear “too sexual” or questioning doing this at “my  age”; if the audience is questioning my age on the stage, do they know how old I am on this stage…all kinds of internal dialogues, but thankfully the music drowns them as quick as they surface. I was tipped. It as a small crowd but I still made 5 bucks.  Five well-earned bucks.  Five cherished bucks because something I did resonated with a member of the audience.

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When I got home I Googled “go-go dancer.” I learned that it originated in the 60s (something I intuitively knew) that they are hired to keep the energy going in crowds in nightclubs and at concerts and shows.  This is to be filed in career-I-wish-I-knew-about-decades-earlier.  Now I wonder if it could be a viable side-hustle at my age???

After the show, we walked a little through East Village and came across the Pyramid Club.  With everything that gave the East Village its edgy and creative character disappearing or turning into yet another sanitized franchise, it is nice that this club still stands.  Many memories…

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FEMSS Wedding

As I’ve mentioned before, Coney Island is a magical place. It is even more so in those dusky/dawny hours add a wedding and exponentially up the magic factor.

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Capri, the doyenne of open water swimming, always posts about the summer Friday Early Morning Sunrise Swims. Since I saw the first posting, I’ve to-do listed it. However because the sun rises early in the summer, which means catching the Q train at somewhere between 4:30 and 5 am, the FEMSS remained unticked. That is until I saw that my aquaphilic friend Bonnie posted about her desire to to this as well. After a few back and forth comments, we made the loose commitment to go, “I’ll try to set my alarm…”

Commitments became more firm when we found out that two CIBBOWS members were going to tie the knot during the upcoming FEMSS. I found out during my volunteer stint with CIBBOWS for the Grimaldo mile, I told Bonnie who also knew one of the to-be brides; this tightened the loose commitment.

As I boarded the train at almost 4:45 (after waiting for 20 minutes) I reminisced about my association with Coney Island and the subway at this hour, it was usually a return home after a night of rides, sideshows, fireworks and boardwalk people-watching. Now I’m on the way there to swim, frolick in the ocean at this duppy hour.

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Pre-dawn wedding crowd on the boardwalk

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Ready for the wedding (c) Bonnie Frogma’s camera

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Getting ready for a pre-dawn swim (c) Bonnie Frogma 

When I was told about the wedding I envisioned a small, very informal gathering. Two people who fell in love in/near the ocean and this beach and deciding to celebrate this life event there. The first hint that this was more were the candles in the sand creating a path to the water. As we approached the waters edge, we saw the crowd, many of them swimmers but most of them not, gathered around a lifeguard chair. This was more than a small, intimate gathering. While not huge, the couple had gathered an impressive group of friends, family and swimmers to share this moment, at this early Friday morning before sunrise hour.

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Path to the altar 

Me

Ready to jump in! (c) Bonnie Frogma 

Some of us, including Bonnie and myself, jumped into the surf as we waited for the events to unfold. The water was a little chilly so I got wet up to my knees while Bonnie and others dove straight in. Just when I was about to get in above my knees, the crowd moved towards the chuppah that was placed where the candle path ended and the ocean began.

Flanked by a few family/friends, Alison and Kathleen walked down the candlelit path towards the officiant. They had a beautiful ceremony which ended with more friends/family creating and umbrella bridge that led them to their first dip in the ocean as a married couple. This was followed by a celebratory swim for much of the guests-jumping in the waves in celebration of love. Showing care for their loved ones, the couple hired lifeguards to keep an eye on swimmers from the shore (the City lifeguards were not on duty until 9 or 10).

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Happy Brides! 

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Umbrella Archway! 

Eventually the crowd in the ocean thinned leaving a few of us to swim, tread and negotiate ocean waves. After a few minutes of shivering, the ocean felt nice and refreshing. I treaded, did some dolphin flips (or flops in my case) and counted strokes along with the other open water swimmers.  While we were treading and chatting, the issue of “food trucks” kept popping up.  “I heard that they hired food trucks.” “I don’t know but [I forget who was named] always goes to the one in the Home Depot parking lot afterwards.  Maybe that is it.” We continued “playing” in the water until the inevitable, people had to leave for work. Bonnie left around 6:30 we all followed soon after.  I worked from home that day so had a relatively flexible schedule and was torn between staying and leaving.  With deadlines looming like shark fins, I decided to leave.

As I approached the boardwalk, I saw the wedding crowd gathered in a boardwalk ally…and…food trucks!!!! Dilemma…should I crash or should I head home for some blueberries in the fridge? I saw a couple of familiar faces in the crowd so I decided to blend in.

Full on gourmet breakfast from a food truck–omelette station, fresh fruit, pastries, grits, BACON, fresh squeezed orange juice, juice station (beets, ginger, kale, etc.), another station for egg sandwiches, corned beef hash…food, glorious food.  I had a plate full, toasted the brides and ate some more.

As I was about to leave (and before I gave the brides hugs and well-wishes) I noticed a tattoo on the calf of one of them. It is a tattoo I noticed and admired when I saw her swim last year and I paraphrase, “always keep swimming.” A nice metaphor for the morning and reminder for me.  (Schmaltz alert): They are two people of age who were in each other’s circles for a while (from what I heard) and never had the chance to connect until about a year ago.  When I say of age, they are women who have experienced life, met many people, most likely have had prior relationships (and possibly even marriages), I think one of them has adult children. Both of them have managed to “keep swimming” and found each other, find happiness and love through doing the things that they love.  As long as you are living, keep swimming because there are always new adventures ahead!

 

 

 

Race Recap: 5 Peaks Calgary Trail and then I floated

Since I’ve been in Calgary I wanted to try a trail run/race.  I went to see a man about a bike when I first moved to YYC almost a year ago and he told me about the 5 Peaks Race series. Still somewhat limited because I have not yet obtained a car, I was unable to get to the ones further afield last year.  This year, I noticed that there was one within city limits (and LRT (train) range) so I-at the last minute-signed up for it.  This one was in Fish Creek, one of the largest urban parks in Canada, a narrow provincial park with lots of trails and vistas.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve run an off-road race.  Probably since my cross-country days and from this one race, trail racing is quite different from cross-country racing.  There were two options, the Sport course at about 6km and the Enduro course, about 14.3km.  Since I had to run long that day anyway I opted for the Enduro course.

Not knowing what or how to prepare,  I stuffed my backpack with a bunch of random items–two pairs of socks (a shorter and longer one), hat, sun glasses, water bottle full of water (email said to come with water), wet wipes, post-race clothing, extra running shirts, dates and some other items I am not recalling at the moment. I thought I would see what other runners are wearing and then decide what to put on.  The temperature was 46F when I woke up (yes, in July), further complicating my “what to wear” issue.  So, I put on a couple of layers and gloves and left my apartment early to get to the start of the race. Google maps said that the start was an hour away.

I arrived to the start without issue and picked up my packet-my number and a pair of technical socks.  I was excited about the socks because a) good running socks are expensive, b) you could never have enough running socks and c) who needs yet another technical race t-shirt? I thought about putting on the socks then and there, but saw that many other racers had similar socks to mine’s so I did not change.

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I know that they say never to try anything new on race day? Well, I did.  I got a hydration vest a couple of months ago in anticipation of my long runs in Calgary summer and early fall without too many options of water (neither faucets nor delis).  However, I at this point I had not yet tried it on.  Since the email said to carry enough water, I thought my hand bottle would not have been enough so I brought the vest.

The race director gave instructions–trail was marked with orange pin flags and the Enduro course is about 16km. Wait…what???  I signed up for 14 km and now committed to 16km. Yikes! The race went off.  There were three starts-speedy runners, mid pack and beer/wine.  As much as I love wine, I decided to go with the mid pack runners.  As soon as I started to run, I new the hydration pack would be an issue–the soft water bottles were right on top of my boobs so the bounce factor was quite high.  I tried to adjust it on the fly but nothing seemed to work, I would have to run this race with four boobs.

The first part of the race was along a road and I thought to  myself, “where is the trail, is this not a trail race?” And you know the pithy saying, “be careful what you ask for…”  Upon this thought we made a sharp left and immediately funneled into a single-track path along the river.  There were roots, ditches, rocks, muddy patches, everything in the first few kms of this trail.  The sky above was a pretty clear blue with white fluffy clouds while the ground below was less than clear. It was a trail for sure.  I continued along and slowed to cross the roots and river.  I ran tentatively because I felt my ankle give a little a couple of times so was a little anxious.  I (instead of we because the experienced trail runners are now quite ahead of me) came to the first incline, saw the runners ahead of me walking up so I did not feel too bad about doing the same.

Lots of inclines, and declines and consecutive sharp turns.  I felt like I was running along the tracks of the Coney Island Cyclone.  My legs grew heavy and it probably did not help that I took a spinning class the day before–my first one in a couple of months.  I am also still not sure of how I am adjusting to altitude, I do very good on flat courses but notice that I still get pretty winded even walking up stairs.  So, I am not sure if the constant up and down with no recovery contributed to my slowing down. I trotted and walked more than run but still determined to finish.  I had no choice, how else would I find my way back to the start of the race? Although the park was in the middle of several communities there were times that it felt like I was out in true wilderness.  It is great that this space exists in a continuously expanding city.

Through the undulations of the course, I finally made my way back towards the finish. Or so I thought.  Every time I thought I recognized the trail, I would follow the pin flags (the course was well-marked) and realize that I was not as close.  This happened several times during the last couple of miles/kilometers.  I finally stopped to ask a volunteer how much longer.  He showed me where I was on the map and how much further I had to go.  It did not seem close. At last, there it was, the crowds, the finish. I could first hear them and then see them.

“We have another finisher!” I turned towards the bridge that I crossed to get to the start earlier.  “No, no, you need to go that way!” I turned to go “that” way. “No, no (laughter), that way!”  “Which way??” I stood like a bear in the tall grass and asked?  I saw the trail leading to the finish straight ahead of me, not more than 20ft.  So I bounded in the tall grass towards this trail.  “Hey, we have a bushwacker! For bushwacking to the finish, you get a free entry to the Canmore race!”  So, now I am committed to running another trail race a couple of months from now!

I worked my way to the post-race area were there was a nice spread of muffins, bagels, nutella, peanut butter, bananas, oranges and watermelon.  And potato chips.  I was starving so I stuffed my face.  I know I need to work on my race nutrition, pre, during and post.  I am anticipating the Canmore race, I have a couple of months to prepare while also marathon training so we shall see how it goes.  And Canmore is at a higher altitude.  Maybe I should add oxygen to my diet.

Floating in a most peculiar way 

Tired after the trails I was looking forward to my first floating session.  My friend/colleague Betty told me about her floating experience and how it was very relaxing (you could read about her experience here). I Googled it, it is a form of sensory deprivation.  I am all into this mindfulness thing  (at least trying to be) so I thought the floating would not only be a good way to recover from this race but also a space to practice some mindfulness.  Betty got a Groupon to Soul Float that would allow us to float for 1 hour.

Floating, as I mentioned, is a form of sensory deprivation.  It is supposed to reap all kinds of benefits, including reduced stress, more creativity, reduction of pain, etc.  You are basically suspended in a tub filled with warm water and over a thousand pounds of epsom salt.  I think denser than the Dead Sea?

At Soul Float, Betty was now a pro (this was her second time), so did not have to go through the orientation (other than picking floating music and finishing tea).  The music menu offered a number of options ranging from meditative singing, Tibetan bells and nature sounds.  I choose one that was described to enhance my theta waves.  I was shown to my room, rather than a pod (or float tank), I got an open tub that was meant for couples. I was given some neon orange ear plugs and instructed to put in the plugs, shower using the provided shower gel and then enter the water.  It is recommended that you float in the buff, but have the option of wearing a swimsuit.  I buffed it.

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I turned on the music, turned off the lights and entered the pod.  The light, which was blue, slowly dimmed until it was totally out.  It was completely black.  This was a little disconcerting as first as there was no difference between my eyes closed or open. I laid back and spread my arms and legs like a starfish and tried to relax.

At first I felt my body rotating and wondered if I was really rotating or if it was the deprivation that made me feel as such.  The water was warm but since I was floating, the top of my body was not covered so at times I felt the salt water tighten on the exposed skin.  This was rectified with gently moving some water over my skin.  The water was viscous and soft.  I floated, it did feel peculiar at times as I did not know in which direction my body was drifting, but overall very relaxing.

The music was on but since I had on headphones it was very muted.  I used the music and listening to my heartbeat to practice moments of mindfulness.  In mindfulness you are encouraged to go back to the breath when your thoughts drift. In the pod I returned to my heart sound.  It was soothing but still hard to maintain.  Towards the last 10-15 minutes of floating, I anticipated the ending.  I was told that a voice would gently let you know that your session was over and the blue light would return.

“Your session is now over, please leave the pod.” Not as gentle as I thought but at that point I was ready to finish.  I was quite relaxed. I took a shower and used the provided products–all natural, organic and nicely scented.  After I showered and dressed, there was a nice cup of hot tea waiting.

The float was a unique but relaxing experience, especially after a challenging workout.  It enabled a quieting of my mind and soothing of my body.  I was not as sore the next day so I am sure the hour in the epsom salt helped.

I spent the next day wading in the river and watched a unicorn float under the Peace Bridge.

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London Calling

I just spent the last week plus in London for a Learning Sciences conference.  I spent much of my youth listening to music from the UK–Culture Club, David Bowie, The Smiths, Duran Duran, etc. The New Wave music that still echoes in my head to this day.  And because I am one of those people for whom songs pop in their heads for every reminder, I had the Morrissey song, “Hairdresser on Fire” on repeat in my head,

Oh, here is London
“Home of the brash, outrageous and free”
You are repressed
But you’re remarkably dressed
Is it real?
And you’re always busy

And busy it was.  It felt good to get off the Tube and immediately merge into the controlled chaos of a big city. Yes, people crossing the street in oncoming traffic, walking quickly on the sidewalk and although assuming a general pattern of walking towards the left, dodging on comers and slow walkers, bikers zipping through pedestrian jaywalkers…I felt at home and found my place in the randomness.

After grabbing a well needed meal with colleagues I checked into my hotel and headed to Boots (the Duane Reade or CVS for New Yorkers or Shoppers Drugmart for Calgarians) of London to get some face wash and toiletries.  Ah, the convenience of a big city, if you need something you could almost wish it into existence with a short walk and a debit card. There were also the chotsky shops so I was able to replace my lost hoops earrings with some new cheap ones and got all fancy and bought some sparkly studs for my extra ear holes.

The conference started the next morning and I took my first London morning run.  My hotel was a little less than a mile away from Regent’s Park so this meant running on the sidewalk to get there.  Not a bad thing as I run on sidewalks when I venture beyond Prospect Park in Brooklyn.  It was a Sunday morning so the streets were relatively quiet but the park was filled with runners, dog walkers, cricket players and walkers.  As I was running along the lake, I came across some beautiful duck feathers.  I had to stop and collect a few.  I later found out that I was near the  waterfowl area, according to the link started a collection of ornamental ducks in the 1930s, later became a centre for waterfowl breeding along with a Nature Centre to facilitate this role. On subsequent run, I made sure to pass through this area and I did see a wide range of ducks, geese and swans.

IMG_5734Large wood pigeon in the conference venue

Walking or Lobzy Lobzy 

One thing I enjoy about big cities is walking. When I am home in NY and especially when I go into Manhattan for work or a dance class, both of which are in the 34th street area, I like to walk downtown to take the train at 14th street just to indulge in a walk.  Along the way there are stores to pop into, people watching, pigeon and sparrow watching, pop up things like markets, food trucks, sample sales, etc. to enjoy.  Even if I do not purchase anything (which is often the case) it is a visual/tactile feast to enjoy.  Although the ultimate destination is the subway, the walk leads to numerous ephemeral, unplanned adventures.  My partner refers to this as “lobzy-lobzy,” that I translate as walking with no particular agenda other than to eventually get to where you are going.

One evening of lobzy-lobzy found us at a pub with this lovely English pit bull.

London provide the chance to experience this walking, something that I am starved for in Calgary.  While I enjoy walking along the river and seeing nature (eagles, geese, beavers, imprints of wild canines), but I guess urban street life is my heart context, and urban wildlife is my nature.

After the conference I had my first full day of lobzy-lobzy.  Well, prior to that adventure I had the initial adventure of checking out of my first hotel which, while not fancy was Euro-efficient with a full bed and bathroom with a shower.  My new hotel was old-school Euro-efficiency with a twin bed, sink and shared shower and toilet.  Harkened back to my youth hostel days except that there were all adults in this hotel.  It was clean but had a 1920s charm in that it looked like it had not been updated since then.  I guess I did not read the hotel description more carefully.  However, I did get to continue to enjoy the included traditional English breakfast–eggs, stewed tomatoes, baked beans, bacon, toast, porridge and tea.

I left the hotel around 11 ish to walk over to the Tate Museum.  This allowed me to spend a little time walking along the River Thames.  It was my first time having a good look at this river and I noted that it looked and behaved a lot like the Hudson–it had the same brownish colo(u)r, was choppy and had that brackish scent.  Also had similar seagull action: the loud calling and grubbing for people scraps (the Calgary river seagulls live a more genteel life). I never thought about the Thames as being a tidal river, but it is.  I also noted a little sandy beach on my way to the Tate that was a lot larger on my return.

Tate Museum 

The Tate Modern is built in a former power station so it is a pretty cavernous space and great for housing and displaying modern art.  There were several paid exhibitions but most of the collection is on view for free.  I started from the bottom and worked my way up, first to be disturbed by Jordan Wolfson’s “Coloured Sculpture” then to reset my psyche in the other galleries where I saw the works of Dali, Carrie Mae Weems, Rothko, El Anatsui, Marina Abramovic and others.  As a researcher who is interested in the art/science nexus, I was particularly interested in the “Explore materials and objects” display that illustrated the different materials that artists employ in their work. Ranging from the traditional paints and pastels to the non traditional objects, like El Anatsui’s bottle caps, exhibit and corresponding works demonstrate ways that artists investigate materiality and convey meaning through their uses of various media. I spend a couple of hours wandering around before heading back to the hotel.

IMG_5750Disturbing puppet

IMG_5756Dali’s lobster phone

Hungry, I wanted to find something to eat.  In a big city there is never a lack of options.  However, I was feeling a savory pie at a pub that I visited with colleagues earlier in the week.  I did not have pie then because I indulged on the free tapas at a reception so I opted for mashed potatoes and veggies that evening.  When I came across the pub, I think the name was Jack Horner, it was jam packed.  It was a World Cup match in which England was playing so the pubs were all bursting at the seams.  While I am pretty brave and will eat alone while traveling, I am not brave enough to sit alone in a packed pub.  So off I went.  I thought of going to Marks and Spencers and grabbing a sandwich and small bottle of wine, but I wanted a warm meal.  I ended up in an Italian restaurant, the same one where several colleagues and I ate after we got off the long flight.  It was a comfortable distance from the crowded pubs, close enough to hear the excitement but far enough not to be deep in the mix.

Stonehenge and Bath

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Stonehenge has always been on my bucket list and even with prior trips to the UK I have not had the opportunity to go.  Although I tend to be more of a DYI person and tend to avoid organized tours, I decided that given my time constraint, purchasing a tour would be the best option.  I had the recommendation of archeology tours by a colleague that seemed like it would have been more interesting (with more details about the archeology and significance of the site), but they were all sold out on the day that I had available so I opted for the more commercial Evan Evans tours.  As I had to be at the Victoria Coach station at 8:30 am, I started my journey with other London commuters.  Again, it felt annoyingly comfortable to be in the bustle of rush hour commute.  Purchasing an Oyster card, moving through the turnstiles, pushing into a crowded train, abandoning option of a seat, and negotiating the exit of the crowded train–all a part of the hustle of the journey.  Once I disembarked and found the coach station, I was on my way first to Bath and then to Stonehenge.

One thing that always fascinates me about traveling in Europe is the layers of history that is very visually evident.  The fact that you can see Roman aqueducts juxtaposed with with glassy high rises or 20th century buildings build around ancient columns is amazing.  Bath is a World Heritage city where there are Roman ruins, including the famous baths fed by hot springs that are still used in local spas today.  The focus of this tour was to visit the Roman Baths so where was not much extra time to wander the city which look like it has interesting galleries and stores.  The visit to the Baths, although crowded, was interesting for many reasons.  First artefacts that were found around the baths, including human remains all helped archeologists try to piece together what life was like in and around the Baths during Roman times.  The Baths themselves were fascinating, with the water still warm and percolating with minerals from the natural stones that help to warm it.  Towards the end of the self-guided tour, there was a space where you could sample the water (treated).  I filled my water bottle, first not realizing that it was warm (duh) and tasted quite minerally.  I drank the whole thing, which is also said to have healing properties.

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The Baths

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The source

Uncovered Roman sidewalks, I like the moss that grows in the relative absence of sunlight

IMG_5794Bath Shopkeeper

The second and final stop was Stonehenge.  Finally, a tick off the bucket list.  The coaches parked at the visitors centre were we then got coach shuttles to the actual site. There was the option of walking there (30 minutes) but with the relatively short time frame, I opted for the shuttle. It felt like about a 10 minute ride, but on the way we got some background information about the site, while there is much that is known, there is still much that it unknown.  As we approached site I began to see the monoliths appear over the slight upgrade.  Although smaller than I expected, it was still quite impressive to see in person.  I slowly walked around the circle taking pictures, watching the crows owning the monuments and imagining the significance of these structures for ancient peoples.  They were significant enough that they schlepped these stones from quite a distance, before the “invention” of the wheel.  It is speculated that they were transported on rolling logs and hoisted with ropes.  Why were they erected at that very spot? What ongoing purpose did they serve? What kinds of rituals or ceremonies too place there…all still questions that are open for definite answers. However, they remain significant for many people today, especially those who ascribe to Earth-connected ways of being and knowing as well as those who are curious about human ancestry and the evolution of culture(s).

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After seeing the monuments I decided to take a walk back to the visitors centre.  One of the staff told that it would take about 20 minutes. I had 30 minutes.  He also suggested that I walk it barefoot to feel more connected.  So barefoot I walked, the ground was soft and I did feel grounded.  It was a brisk walk but I was happy to feel the Earth beneath my barefeet and wondered what other artefacts could lay beneath.

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The trip took about 3 hours to return to London, more a function of than distance.  Once I got off in London, it was still quite light (the sun hadn’t set) so I opted to walk a bit towards my hotel and told myself I would hop on the tube if I got tired or if I passed a station.  As I walked I passed the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. Noting a crowd outside (but figuring it was either closed or closing) I entered the foyer to have a look.  I know that the David Bowie Is exhibit, that I recently saw at the Brooklyn Museum, originated from here. As I entered I realized that it was an open house, a free night, Friday Late, similar to First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum (and a trend at museums in an effort to encourage younger and more diverse patrons)! I could not believe my good fortune, but also reflected on the serendipity that often happens on walks through a city. The theme was WTFuture and presented a variety of interactive events around different futurisms.

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IMG_5856Spoken word Tar(dontdi)grade by Xana

Upon entry I was given a map.  It is a HUGE museum and the map, in essence, flattened several floors into one so it was difficult to find the special events.  Frustrated, I abandoned the map and decided to just wander around and hoped to come across stuff to experience.  And that I did, I saw halls with Buddhist art, glass objects, contemporary paintings and 20th century fashion.  As I wanted to see as much as possible, including the open house events, I did not spend much time pondering the art in the halls that I passed through. I did pass though the gift shop, which was well-curated with quality gifts at various price-points.  I picked up some postcards and remembered when a museum of my prior employment had such a well-curated gift store before it became more corporatized with cheap gifts.

The museum closed and I made my way pass some high end stores, including the famed Harrods, before I found the Tube that would get me home.  I don’t remember what I had for dinner that night, but I packed and prepared to visit my cousins and then head back to Calgary.

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After a nice, relaxed day and evening with my cousins, and getting to see a greener part of London, I entered the tin can to float back to Canada.  I landed on Canada Day.  Many people were wearing red and white in celebration of the holiday.  I had a burnt hot dog (as I like it) and hamburger from the backyard grill, met some new neighbors and reconnected with old ones and then took my jet-lagged a$$ to bed when the sun finally went down.

 

 

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!

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