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.

 

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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 

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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!

 

 

 

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 

 

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.

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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Lobby Party and Holiday Reflections

This holiday season I arrived back in Brooklyn just in time for the annual building lobby party. Landing in NY always reminds me of why I love my home city.  It is surrounded by water and the buildings and street grid display the organized chaos that makes living in the city exciting and frustrating at once–the constant and ongoing contradictions that feeds an urban denizen’s soul.  The song Native New Yorker by Odyssey  embodies this feeling for me.

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I have been living in my rent stabilized apartment since 2002.  For some of us having a rent stabilized apartment is like having real estate in NY, you don’t give it up so easily.  While there has been much turnover in the building over the decades, there has been a core of people who have been long-time residents (10 years or more).

It is a pre-war brick building with about 97 units, this means A LOT of neighbors.  There are some neighbors I see on a regular basis and others who have been in the building for more than a couple of decades and I never see unless they show up at the Lobby Party.

The Lobby Party is our holiday festival.  While the lobby is decorated for the holiday season (usually from a little after US Thanksgiving until around Three Kings Day), the hallmark event of the season is this party.  And over the years, this party has contributed to many of my fond memories of friends and neighbors in the building.  For example, one year a neighbor wore his “Santa Pimp costume” (and I my red dress and hooker heels) to give out gifts to the kids and another year my cat Mitza, who was a street rescue at the time, gave birth to four kittens–one about every thirty minutes–under my desk while this party was going on (each time I came in to check on her there was another kitten).

This year’s party did not disappoint with the new holiday tree, great spread of food (with four different versions of Haitian black rice) and, of course, music and dancing.  Lots of music and dancing.  The music spanned the continent and included American traditional holiday music, pop music (including hip hop, trip hop etc.), house music, soca, salsa, reggae, and bachata.  All generations danced–a great thing about our building is that it is diverse across multiple spectrums of age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomics, education, gender-identity, etc.  And while we do not always exist in perfect harmony, basically neighbors look out for neighbors.  For example, there was a fire in the building just that morning that left three families homeless.  The Lobby Party provided a perfect space for us to first discuss the safety implications of the fire (the fact that no fire alarms went off) and to collect funds to support the families that were directly affected by the fire.  The Lobby Party continued with the collection and the music, food and community that brings neighbors together to herald the 2017 solstice-Hannukah-Christmas-Kwanzaa-New Years holiday season.

Ginger bread house making, a tradition that has been done my my dear friend Captain Kat, my niece Ariel and my self for a number of years (lost count).   I think she (niece) was in middle school when she started joining us and now she is out of college.  We used to make themed houses based on a trip we took during the year (Thai temples one year after a sailing trip in Thailand for examples) but in recent years have kept it simple with more traditionally shaped houses.  However our decorations are far from traditional–while has traditional elements–are more avant garde and inspired by available sprinkles, candies and food coloring.  Here are this year’s products (my niece’s friend Jazz joined us this year and made the awesome green and yellow brick house.  My niece added a wine cork chimney.

 

During the Romjul week the temperatures dipped.  Romjul, an concept I found posted on a friends Facebook wall, click for the definition.  It is a perfect aspiration. My poor chihuahua ain’t about the windchill life and despite having a Canadian purchased winter coat IMG_4068She chose to stay in a down comforter bunker

IMG_4094Even the pigeons sought refuge in the sun

IMG_4082Temperatures did not rise for New Years Eve, one of the coldest on record.  I had to abandon my plans to join the Polar Bear Club swim.  I will revisit the option next year.

I ended my holiday season with a morning loop in Prospect Park.  It was cold and I had a cold, but I wanted to start my 2018 active.  Now I am actively doing laundry and preparing for my return to YYC and embarking on my 2018 adventures which also includes a significant birthday!!! IMG_4128Here are last year’s fireworks that I missed this year…

PJ Run

It’s been a few days since I have been back in YYC before I update on my latest river runs I wanted to share my last PPTC run in Brooklyn.

IMG_3754House sparrow in Prospect Park, morning of PJ Run 

The winter chill and the holidays makes one feel all Gemütlichkeit—the need to get cozy with soft, fluffy things (kittens included) and warm drinks. Migrating birds are almost all gone, and the local house sparrows have the bushes almost all to themselves. However, only a bunch of narly runners would think this is the time to go running through the streets of Brooklyn in pajamas. But not before first passing the dog run, none of whom were wearing PJs.

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The PPTC pajama run is a social run, a group run that is not so much focused on pace or distance but more on fun and conversation. The group met at Grand Army Plaza, the usual starting point of group runs.  We were all in some level of pajamas attire ranging from just PJ bottoms (with a running top, of course as this wasn’t the naked run) to an adult onesie. I wore some flannel bottoms that I picked up from Phat Albert’s for $1.99. The same ones that they have been trying to sell off since the summer.

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IMG_3730Pajama squad gathered, Lisa one of our fearlessly flanneled leaders 

 With an almost 6 mile route planned out by the event organizers, we headed off down 9th street, across Court St., down Union St. over to Brooklyn Bridge Park. It was an easy glide down the terminal moraine towards the waterfront.

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The faster runners kept pace ahead while the sexier runners held up the end. I ran with two teammates, one in wearing a super hero pajama set with cape, and the other in multiple flannels and a goofy hat. I was fun getting curious glances and trivial stares from other runners and pedestrians, “Here comes more people running in pajamas!” To which Murray responded, “the only way to run!”

IMG_3740My 11:00 pace squad 🙂 (Murray in the orange hat and Superman aka Eric)

We continued at an easy pace along the waterfront and through the Brooklyn Bridge park.  Along the way we encountered several teammates who were doing their not-a-pajama-run run.  We turned towards downtown Brooklyn and stopped to walk up the small hill.  Since this was a fun run, no need to burn rubber.  After passing the post office, we spotted Adams St.  A street that although associated with my name, I never had any strong attachments do.  However, Murray being as astute as he is, “you must have a photo by your name!” So here it is.  My street, my borough, my photo.

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We made it to City Point Brooklyn, a “new” Brooklyn establishment with a hipster food court on the lower level.  It is on the former Albee Mall site where I used to hang out in high school at the Wendy’s in the basement. Not feeling coffee I went into Trader Joes and got some water and a smoothie.

I was amongst the tail-end runners and once the whole group arrived we occupied two tables.  I did not stay long as I was leaving for YYC the next morning and had some last minute shopping to do.  You know, anything at Targets.  It was an awesome run, with an awesome group of people and I will look forward to more back-to-BKYN runs soon enough!

 

 

 

 

Urban Wildlife: Whale Watching

It was another nice Brooklyn day.  It started wth a three plus mile run on the trails with enough foliage color to produce a day-dreamy run. It is the time of year when the sun is low and the whole day looks like afternoon, but the reddish glow makes the autumn colors and crisp blue skies all the more brilliant.  One of my favorite album covers by New Order evokes my senses in the same way.

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On to whales!!!! I have been jealous of the FB postings of my my sea-oriented friends.  Whales breaching off the Rockaways.  Dolphins off Brighton Beach and Ft. Tilden.  All of these places I have frequented my whole life and have yet to encounter such gracious creatures in the wilds of New York waters.  As I descended into JFK, I eagerly scanned the shores of Long Island to see if I could spot any activity from the sky.  The dominance of the sea relative to the landscape always reminds me that we are a marine city! Sometimes you can smell the saltwater air as far inland as the Nostrand/Flatbush junction.  But back to whales.

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Gotham Whales have actively posting cetacean activity for a number of years now and to me it seems that whale, dolphin (and seal) activity has been increasing each year.  With cleaner waters and organisms lower on the food chain thriving (i.e. oysters and various species of fish and crustaceans) the larger ones are coming back to feed on them. This includes the menhaden or bunker which seems to be a fave of the great mammals.  The American Princess Cruises specializes in whale and dolphin spotting cruises off the shores of Brooklyn, Queens and Western Long Island.  They posted that their last trip of the season would be on 11/26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2017. With sightings of 5 and 3 whales on prior trips that week, we took our chance to head out to Riis Landing and hop aboard the American Princess for our whale watching adventure.

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Marine Parkway Bridge 

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Looking West Towards Coney Island 

After a boat briefing, we took off from Ft. Tilden and rounded the peninsula to the Atlantic Ocean.  We passed the confluence of the waters of Jamaica Bay, New York Harbor and the ocean. There were whitecaps and the water was choppy, we were told that this would make the whales harder to spot.  IMG_3530

Kite Sailing near Breezy Point 

IMG_3531Coney Island and the Verrazano Bridge of NYC Marathon and Saturday Night Fever fame

IMG_3537The Confluence of Urban Waters

We were advised to look for bird activity–seagulls and diving gannets.  If the whales are feeding, the birds are feeding too.  We saw several patches of bird activity, but not yet the tell-tale waterspout of a whale.  We continued east past the Rockaways, Long Beach and right off the coast of Jones Beach we finally heard the sigh and saw a waterspout!  There was a whale, logging off the starboard side of the boat.  We grabbed our cameras, left the warm cabin of the boat and ventured into the crisp ocean air to catch a sight of this whale in our local waters.  This whale was resting or napping–slowly moving just under the surface of the water and emerging at almost regular intervals to breathe.  I watched the whale for a little bit, just to absorb the experience of seeing one in the wild this close to hope, before grabbing the iPhone to get some shots of the whale’s dorsal fin. IMG_3561Breathe

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IMG_3567It was amazing to see such a majestic being at ease in it’s habitat.  There was another boat nearby, but each kept a respectful (and legal) distance from the whale.  There were reports of others in the area, but this was the only one that we were able to see.  These are probably the last of the whales to head further south for the winter.

After spending about 45 minutes with this whale, we turned and headed back (into the wind) west towards Riis Landing.  We were hoping to catch another sighting as we headed back, but we saw a variety of seagulls, gannets and small shorebirds running in groups.  As we docked, the sun was almost setting casting a reddish/orange/purple glow on the surrounding structures, including a curious piece of art that apparently has been there since the 70s.

IMG_3574Low Sun over the Atlantic/Lower NY Harbor 

IMG_3577Art Curiosity 

IMG_3579The American Princess in her Riis Landing berth IMG_3581Ft. Tilden Sunset

Until next year when the whales return, but maybe seal watching trip on a winter return visit to Brooklyn???

 

Race Volunteer Recap: PPTC Turkey Trot

There are some races that you have just as much fun volunteering for as running.  For me, these races include the NYC Marathon and the PPTC Turkey Trot.

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Post peak foliage

The Turkey Trot offers people the opportunity to burn of their Thanksgiving meal before eating it.  Five miles through post-peak fall foliage in Prospect Park, this annual race draws close to 2500 runners from all over the city, including a number of their out-of-town visitors.  As a member of the PPTC, this is the time to reconnect with old members and meet new ones.  It is the club’s largest race of the year so it is an all-hands-on-deck kind of event for many club members.  In addition, it is a nice way to celebrate another good year of running–people are coming of the high of marathon training, running and/or spectating and making mental goals for the new running year.  Also, you receive the cool runner’s hat/toque (Canadian for hat) for your community service.

Back (the cat who is the Prince of All Things wanted his feet in the photo)/Front of the coveted race hat.

This year I signed up for medals.  It was a 6 am call so after a night of clubbing and minimal sleep (even though that kind of schedule is supposed to be way behind me) I rolled into Prospect Park Lakeside before sunrise.  There were already a number of volunteers gathered, most donned in the club’s signature colo(u)rs of red and white.  I joined the line to sign in and encountered a number of familiar faces.

“Hey, this weather (approx. 34 degreed F) must be really warm for you!” Or some similar comment I would hear from my teammates.

I try to seem robust, puff up my chest and respond, “yeah, I’ve been running in weather colder than this” although my Caribbean-blooded a$$ has on four layers on top, jeans, really thick wools bed socks I bought in a New Zealand flea market (love them, the socks and flea markets) and heavy gloves.  It did feel warm when I left my Brooklyn apartment (one block away from Prospect Park), but I knew I would be standing around outside for quite a while and moving temperature/still temperature feel vastly different.

As the volunteers were gathering, I reflected that there more volunteers here than there are runners in an average Calgary race.  But then there are twice as many people in just the borough of Brooklyn (approx. 1.3 million vs. 2.7 million) alone. It is a numbers game.

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I gathered around the cart with boxes of medals with other volunteers and started to unpack the medals–larger plastic bags sealed with ten medals which were ensconced in their own smaller individual ziplock bags.  So much plastic…ugh!

So we plugged away at unwrapping and sorting medals.  While we were doing this, we discussed a recent posting on the club Facebook page that went something like,”I was wearing my PPTC gear and approached by a man that informed me that he was planning on banditing the race. I told him that he shouldn’t be telling me that to which he responded with some self-entitled crap about it being a free park so he could do what ever he wanted.”  Basically, a bandit is a person who participates in a race, including trying to take advantage of race amenities like water, food and even medals, without paying for the race and getting a number.  We hate bandits. It is a large enough park where one could run 5 miles without “participating” in the race at the same time.

Anyway, once we moved the medals to the finish line we were given strict instructions to mark each person’s number with a Sharpie upon giving them a medal.  We role played runners coming through the finished line in slo-mo so we could commit the process to neurological memory. While this was going on with our crew, other crews were preparing the start and finish line while a roving santa greeted runners.

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Lone santa headed to the start, sun slowly rising

Finish line set-up

Late package pick-up

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Cold and waiting for the start 

With our orders given, we listened for the start of the race and waited for the runners to first loop past the finish line (the bottom 2 mile loop) before completing one full loop (3 miles) of the park to the finish the 5 miles.

It was great to cheer on the runners as they passed, many donned turkey costumes and the becoming ubiquitous running tutus. As the pack started to slow, we anticipated the first runners.  While this is a fun run, the first three women and men receive a gourmet, nope, artisanal, hand-crafted  Sriracha infused pie because this is the new hipster Brooklyn. Joking, they chose from traditional pies (thankfully)–pumpkin, apple, blueberry, etc.  Each pie-winner was given a white cup with their gender place which they then redeemed for their choice of pie.  Of course the choice narrowed with each recipient, with the third woman receiving the last pie of the six.

As the eventual throng came through, we got busy with the medals and sharpies.  Most people were pleasant, some even refusing medals.  We also encouraged them to return to Lakeside for bagels and hot chocolate. And there were the shameless bandits.  Rather than maybe thinking about not running through the finish line (it’s a wide road, with plenty of space on either side) they not only ran through the line, but attempted to claim a medal! We “caught” many of them but there was one in particular who became belligerent all while NOT producing a number. For our sanity and safety we felt that the medal was not worth the confrontation.  He was an assbandit, the worse kind.

As the running crowd thinned, we moved closer to the finish line so that we could give the back-of-the-pack runners their medals just as they crossed the line.  It is always nice to cheer on these runners and makes us middle of the pack and faster runners appreciate the gift of running and fitness.  Watching these runners and walkers, I could tell by the relief and elation upon crossing the finish line that the 5 miles was a significant accomplishment for a number of them.  I applaud them and hope that they have been infected with the running bug and will keep at it!

With the flow trickling to a single runner every 30 seconds or so,  we started to dismantle the finish area, pack up most of the supplies (including extra medals, the metal Turkey part is timeless and will be recycled with a new ribbon for next year) and high-five each other for another Turkey Trot well done!  I went home with a bounty of bagels, some of which I will freeze for later.

To remind me of Calgary, montage of curling apparatus and hockey practice in Brooklyn: