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

 

 

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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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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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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. 

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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.

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

Race Morning Garbage Bag Walk 

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

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

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

The Race

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

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

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

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

Post Race

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

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

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

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16, 17, 18 Finisher Medals

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

IMG_44622016 Sore Knees Finish 

 

Race recap: Big Fiesta Run Burnaby Lake, BC

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

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

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

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

IMG_5156Massive dandelions

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

IMG_5163Geese family

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5178The backdrop of the mountains was divine! 

Coney Island Run

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

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

IMG_5041Cherry Blossoms in Prospect Park 

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5030The Boardwalk 

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

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

Race Watching

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4964There were quite a few dogs in the race too! 

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

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I miss my running club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spring has selectively sprung

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

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Ugh.  Is all I can muster.

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

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

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

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

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

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IMG_4891Approaching the Old Town

IMG_4890Path through the valley

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

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

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

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