Monday, October 14, 2013

Race Report: Grete's Great Gallop (Half Marathon)

On October 6th I ran in my third Grete's Great Gallop Half Marathon (now with the catchy title, "Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Fred’s Team Presents Grete’s Great Gallop"), and there is good news and bad news. The good news is that I shaved a couple of minutes off of last year's time. The bad news is that NYRR does not dole out the salmon and cream cheese bagels at the end anymore. In fact, there were very few vestiges of it ever having been a Norway Day celebration. Now it's just a normal $50 race in Central Park...sucker!

The night before the race I sauteed swiss chard and smashed purple potatoes, both of which I picked up at the Fort Greene Farmers Market. I also cooked some pasta and mixed it with olive oil, nutritional yeast and salt to make a vegan mac and cheese. I'm not vegan, but this has been a long-time favorite dish of mine. Nutritional yeast is so strange and delicious. Its nutty cheesiness is creamy and addictive. And it has a lot of B vitamins, protein and fiber. The leftovers turned out to be a great post race meal as well. Some people blend cashews in a blender with the nutrional yeast and oil. I have tried this as well, but my favorite way to eat it is the simplest method. Drain most of the water after boiling the pasta and add a lot of nutrional yeast and stir in olive oil, salt and garlic. Keep doing this until it's very creamy and the right consistency. And serve!

We eat with our eyes. 

With a 9:00 am start time I was able to have some leisurely morning time before getting on the train at Atlantic Station to Central Park. I was a bit nervous about the new baggage situation. Now when you check your bag you have to put everything in a plastic bag provided by NYRR, and I wasn't sure how 6,000 identical bags were going to look. But it went smoothly. There are more volunteers in the baggage area now, and they organize all the bags by bib number for you.

It was a humid morning with 90 percent humidity. For some reason I started out feeling really hot and began to cool off as I ran. Perhaps it was the copious amounts of water I poured onto my head during the race.

I was a little worried about wearing new running shoes for this race since I had picked up a pair of Brooks Pure Cadence the day before at my local running store, Jack Rabbit Sports in Park Slope. I'd been feeling pretty desperate for new running shoes for awhile since I was wearing the same pair I'd gotten last winter when I was training for the Kyoto Marathon. These Brooks have a really low heel in them and it was suggested that my calves might take a beating if I started out running 13 miles in them. But I was fine. Maybe I don't run fast enough to be in any danger.

I had somehow forgotten how hilly Central Park is. This course, two loops of the park, is made of rolling hills the whole way. I suppose this was a good way to kick off my training for the Austin Marathon in February. The Austin Marathon is known to be a challenging and hilly course. According to the Austin race organizer's website, the first 17 miles gain 14 feet a mile and drop 33 feet a mile the last 9 miles.

I kept my pace under 9 min most of the way. I felt pretty strong (or am I just mis-remembering because it's been over a week since I ran?). My split times below are consistent with how I was feeling for most of the race. I see the slow start as I fought my way through the crowds in the beginning, and I see where I started to slow down after mile 10 when my legs began to rebel against the whole propelling-myself-forward-thing.

Official results gave me a finish time of 1:56:43.

Last year I ran this race in 1:59:57.

In 2010 I ran it in 1:51:46. That was also the year I ran 3 marathons, but I feel like I'm in better shape than I was back then. Go figure.

Shamala and Paul also ran the race, and they both did amazing! Paul got 1st in his age group and 14th overall! It was great to see their familiar faces.

What's missing in this picture? Salmon!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Running Tips: Music to get you out the door

Several friends have started running recently, and I get so happy when they tell me that I've inspired them in some way. I love to hear how their running is going and to see updates on facebook after they've run in a race! My friends who run inspire me to no end! People who are just starting out ("newbies" as they're called) may not realize that sometimes it's difficult for me to feel motivated to go out for a run. Once I'm outside I'm usually fine and glad that I'm running, but it's the getting-out-the-door that's hard.

So here is my tip: A lot of people talk about the music they listen to while they run, but why not listen to music before you run! I love to put on a song and dance around in my running shoes.

Here are some of my favorite songs that encourage me to get out the door on days when I would rather plant my face in a Breaking Bad marathon on Netflix:

Gossip, Standing in the Way of Control
There are few bands I find more empowering than the Gossip. This song will make you feel like there is nothing standing in the way between you and your run.

Dolly Parton, Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That
"In your cowboy boots and your painted on jeans, all decked out like a cowgirl's dream..." Enough said. 

Tom Petty, American Girl
It's a great big world with lots of places to run to. Or so says Petty.

Florence and the Machine, Dog Days Are Over
This song mentions the two things I love the most, running and dogs. It's made of win!

Mary J Blige, Real Love
If you don't feel like rocking first thing in the morning, this might be your thing.

Jay Z and Alicia Keys, Empire State of Mind
I run in NYC. Respect.

38 Special, Caught up in You
Wait! Give this song a chance. Trust me. If you're a lady you can listen to this song and pretend that 38 Special wrote this song for you. He can't live without you.

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run
Cliched, I know. But this song kicks ass. I sing it to my dog and change "Wendy" to "Oscar" so it's kinda our song.

Now go for it! You can do it!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lost the Battle but Won the War: Race Report of the Battle of Brooklyn 10 miler

It wasn't me who lost the battle today, but the Americans in August of 1776. Today, I commemorated the brave soldiers of the Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island or even more interestingly to me, the Battle of Brooklyn Heights. Brooklyn Heights? Hold up...the same place where wealthy people take their doggies to eco-friendly day spas? Yup! Before the Revolutionary War Brooklyn Heights was elevated farmland and orchards, settled by the Dutch (Breukelen is a town in the Netherlands) who recognized its upmarket real estate potential even then.

All of this history is fairly interesting to me. I live in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, named after General Nathaneal Greene (that's how it's spelled) who was put in control, by Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces George Washington, of the Long Island armed forces. But he got sick before the British attacked Long Island and was unable to take part in the battle. The site of Fort Greene Park, the place where I take my dog to off-leash hours in the morning, was once a entrenchment that General Greene oversaw the construction of, presumably before he got ill.

When the British fleets landed on Staten Island in June 1776 George Washington did not know if they planned to attack Manhattan or Brooklyn, so he divided the army in half and placed them in both cities (Brooklyn was its own city until 1898). In August, 15,000 British troops arrived in Brooklyn in the hopes of finding the best artisanal mayo. Kidding! They did, however, find taverns. They also outnumbered the American troops and, in a maneuver that is too complicated to go into here (full disclosure, I don't know what happened), essentially attacked the Americans from behind. The Americans retreated to Brooklyn Heights where it was decided they would escape and head back to Manhattan to unify the forces. Fog had descended on the East River after several days of rain, and they were able to escape safely overnight undetected by the British Army.

Fittingly, it rained today! I got up at 6 a.m. to get ready for the race which started at 8:00. On my way to the park I met a nice guy who came from Manhattan to run in the race and wasn't sure where the starting area was. As we walked we talked about running and training for races. Small talk for runners.

You don't see these flags very often, and at first I thought to myself, why are they displaying old British flags at this thing?...USA!...USA! I actually had to look it up to see what it is. And much to my relief it's a rare American flag called The Grand Union Flag or The Continental Colors Flag. It was in use from 1775 to 1777, at which time the U.K. Union Flag you see on it was replaced with the stars. Yeehaw!

 Some people donned fancy, gold-trimmed cocked hats.

A small group of runners (under 600 people ran today) gathered at the start and after a short speech and a really nice Star Spangled Banner the horn went off.

The race started on a downhill on the west side of the park, so I took off pretty fast knowing that I could coast a bit. On the other side of the park we hit zoo hill no less than three times (the race was three loops around the park) where some jokers posing as British soldiers were stationed with giant water guns! It was one of the best things I've seen in a race, and it almost made the hill totally worth it.

The first loop went by really fast as I knew it would. The second loop was the most challenging for me. The third loop (and the third time running on zoo hill) was really hard. But I was able to kick it up a notch at the end and finish strong.

My Runkeeper app said that I ran 10.4 miles. I spoke with a woman after the race who said her gps also said she ran 10.4 miles. Accordingly, I ran an average 8:33 pace, but my official results were different.

Official results:
Your time of 1:28:53 gave you a 8:53 pace per mile. There were 115 finishers in the Female 30 to 39 age group and 535 finishers in the race. Your overall finish place was 262 and your age group finish place was 30.
One hundred and fifteen out of 535 runners were in my age group! Women in their 30s dominated this race!

I just read this out loud to see if my history lesson made sense (it's put together piece meal from a bunch of different sites- I'm obsessed with fact-checking), and as I was reading Oscar raised his head and let out a very deep sigh. I hope it was more interesting for you than it was for him.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Race Report: Get Outside on Governors Island 10K

I ran my first race since the Kyoto Marathon this morning on Governors Island. Governors Island is such a cool place. It's like a ghost town where cars aren't allowed and where uninhabited houses remain intact. For those who are curious to know more, there was a 2009 New Yorker article about the renovation of Governors Island into a NYC park with a video posted online. When I visited the island in 2009 for the first time I remember thinking it would be a really great place to run, but I didn't follow up on that daydream until today.

Betsy and I met up at 6 am this morning to take the train into Manhattan where we would catch the ferry for the seven minute ferry ride from Battery Park to the island. We accidentally ended up taking a train to Canal Street and decided to walk downtown to Battery Park. This turned out to be a nice warm-up, and we arrived in plenty of time to get on the 7:30 am ferry.

Ahoy! On the ferry bound for Governors Island

View of Governors Island from the tip of Manhattan


When we reached the island we followed the flow of foot traffic to the shady lawn where baggage check was located. There were tables set up to receive a free reusable water bottle and to pick up bananas and bagels and cream cheese. I was impressed with the unlimited supply of bagels and bananas. I was also impressed with the giant water stations they had set up to refill water bottles.

But then things started getting weird. A DJ was playing music, and a voice on a PA system directed us to make our way to the starting line. Runners started to make their way in one direction. Betsy and I followed some people and some people followed us and we all ended up at the harbor on the race course, but there was no indication of a starting line anywhere. We made our way back toward the shady lawn. That's when a race-official-looking-person appeared. I heard people asking him where the start was. Betsy turned to me and said, "We were just told to start here so we don't block the road, but isn't this a road race?" Did I mention that there aren't any cars allowed on Governors Island? It was so perplexing. 

Confusion at the "start line"

Eventually we lined up on a kind of side road and it appeared we'd make a left onto the road and begin running. This was officially the oddest way to start a race I've ever experienced!

But start the race we did and I began the first of three loops that would make up the 10K. What to say about these loops? Well, they were roughly two miles long and they meandered this way and that through the island with a few rough patches of pavement and a few views of the harbor. I saw some chickens wandering around. An exciting moment for me was when I thought a volunteer on the sidelines was yelling, "Free slices of pie!" but when I got closer I was disappointed to realize she was actually saying, "Free high-fives!" 

It was really hot today. I ran with the free water bottle which would normally be annoying to carry, but I enjoyed having the water in my hand. I sipped on it and poured some of it down my back. I also grabbed cups at the one water station (passed three times) and poured those down my back. By the time I finished I was soaked. 

The finish line was well-marked!

Finish time: 52:11
Overall: 290th of 828
Total female finishers: 71st of 422
Age group F30-39: 35th of 180

I would have to say that despite the odd starting line, I enjoyed this race a lot and will hopefully do it again next year. After the race we got more bananas and bagels and took the ferry back to Manhattan. We completed the morning with a walk back to brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

FIGHT-O!: The Kyoto Marathon Race Report

I'm way overdue for a race report for the 2013 Kyoto Marathon which happened on March 10th, over three months ago! I'm not sure if my delay describing my race experience here was some version of writer's block or getting a spring season cold or getting wrapped up in what is going on in the world. Who knows [shrugs shoulders]? But luckily I wrote in my travel diary after the race so I have something with which to stir up my memory.

After nearly a week in Tokyo I arrived by the famed bullet train, using my two-week JR Pass, to Kyoto a little before Ayako on the Friday before the race. I got there early so I could do some sightseeing in the city of Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan from 794-1868 ("kyo" in both the city's names, meaning "capital"). I connected with some new friends, and we took a bus up to Kamigamo Shrine, which is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites that would be along the race course on Sunday.

Kamigamo Shrine

Kamigamo Shrine

On Friday night there was a festival of lights at the Yasaka Shrine which included street food, giant lit-up flower arrangements, and lit-up sculptures made by local art students. After trying some Takoyaki (octopus dumpling balls) and walking around the shrine and park I called it a night. 

Saturday morning, the day before the race, Ayako and I ventured out of our hotel, the Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa, which was really nice and in a great location, and a short proximity (25 or so minute walk) to the race expo and what would be the finish area.

 Room with a View

We picked up our bibs at the race expo and spent the rest of the day relaxing. There are actually quite a few Italian restaurants in Kyoto, so after the first one we tried to go to was closed for a wedding (nooooo!) we found another one a couple of blocks away (hurray!). We were able to do some classic carbo-loading the night before the race. 

 Race Expo

Race Expo

Ayako picks up her first marathon bib!

Our alarms went off at 5 a.m. I had a bean bun (a pastry filled with a thick, sweet bean paste) and some coffee for breakfast. We both had our game faces on. On the train to the start of the race there were a lot of runners and a few people heading home from partying all night. I always wonder what these folks are thinking when they see gaggles of excited runners on their way to run 26+ miles. A train or bus full of the scent of muscle rub probably doesn't smell so good after a night of heavy drinking.

There were about 15,000 runners in this race and it looked like a lot of people when walking up to the Nishikyogoku Athletic Stadium where the starting line was. The baggage system was similar to that of the NYC marathon: numbered trucks at the start, collecting the bags which would then be delivered to the finish area at Heian Shrine.

Runners at the baggage area near the start

We got a picture of ourselves in the matching arm warmers we found at a sports store in Tokyo. This was great because you never know how you're going to feel about posing for a picture after the race.

Matching arm warmers

The race started on the track at the stadium, to the cadence of loud drumming. I was surprised at how quiet everyone was in the stands and wondered if this was the Japanese way of viewing races (with serious expressions, sitting in bleachers), but I was relieved when we left the stadium that out on the road there were crowds of people being boisterous and festive. I couldn't understand a word of what anyone was saying, but there was a lot of banter back and forth between runners and people celebrating on the sidelines and people were laughing and having a really good time. So I was too.

It was muggy in the beginning of the race and I was sweating a lot and I made sure to grab water at all the water stations, skipping the sports drinks because they are usually too sweet and make me nauseous. Then about an hour into the race the sky broke and it started pouring down rain. And I mean hard! Later, Ayako told me that she was hearing a lot of cursing around her (there must have been a lot around me too, but I couldn't translate it). Just as suddenly as it started, it stopped, but that wouldn't be the last rain we'd see for the day (death march: dun dun dun dun...).

I would like to be able to describe the lovely scenery of Kyoto. The race was a loop inside the town past several shrines and temples, surrounded by mountains. How majestic! But when I am running I have a difficult time looking around me. I am usually looking straight ahead, thinking about the person in front of me or about what I'm going to eat afterwards. This race was very crowded, perhaps the most crowded race I've ever done, so in this case I was really thinking about the people in front of me and trying not to trip anyone. There were a lot of stunning running outfits; the runners in Japan are fashionable and very color-coordinated. The women wear a lot of pink. I was really impressed with the support along the course. There were lots of people yelling encouragement including many children and one large group of monks!

Can you spot me?

The course for the race was very hilly. At mile 15 there was a long, steep hill that I wasn't expecting. Fortunately I kept running and passed the time by looking at the runners coming from the other direction (this was one of the short out-and-backs along the course). I looked for Ayako who had surged ahead when the horn went off at the beginning. Going back down the hill at this point was a little painful.

I felt really good overall until about mile 22. At about the 34 Km mark we ran along a dirt path beside the Kamo-gawa River and this felt extraordinarily good on my legs. The crowd thinned out a little too. When we crossed a bridge to run along the other side of the river I noticed the runners getting really quiet. I could tell everyone was concentrating really hard at this point. I noticed a few slowing to a walk or stopping to stretch. It's these sorts of moments in the race that I feel the most camaraderie; I'm struggling but so is everyone else and I know because we all share the same expression.

I saw Ayako finally at the last out-and-back and jumped up and down and yelled "Fight-o!" which is the Japanese cheer for "Fight!" We were almost done! And seeing her gave me the last boost of adrenalin I needed to complete the race.

The race ends at Heian Shrine, which is marked with a giant red torii gate. I thought we were going to run underneath it but I don't think we did or at least I don't remember if we did or not. That's how tired I was in that moment. In the end it started to rain again and there were so many runners walking like zombies to the baggage area that it took forever to get there. I got extremely cold and had only the finisher's towel they hand you at the end to keep me warm and dry for over half and hour. Ayako was able to find the heated changing room where people were drying off and changing into warmer clothes, but I picked up my bag and kept walking (albeit slowly) all the way back to the hotel where I took one of the best showers of my life.


Finisher's Towel

Race T-shirt and Bib

Kyoto Marathon Medal

We celebrated by hanging out in our pajamas a lot. Then we had dinner at a wonderful restaurant in the Pontocho area of the old geisha district. Our meal consisted of fresh vegetables that we grilled ourselves on a hot grill built right into the middle of our table. We also had a fresh, creamy block of tofu in some broth. In Japan tofu isn't treated as a sad meat substitute only for vegetarians, but instead it's an artistic and delicious block of soft soy creamy goodness. I should write food reviews, no?



Thursday, January 24, 2013

The truth is out there.

It was another cold 10 mile run after work today. I switched to a heavier pair of gloves from the ones I wore Tuesday, an old pair of snowboarding mittens pulled from the back of my closet. Feeling fully protected from the sub freezing temperatures, I ran along to some music while thinking about this or that. At some point I passed beneath the Williamsburg Bridge. But I must have just imagined that I did because some minutes passed before I realized that the bridge was still ahead of me not too far in the distance. I could still remember running under the bridge and I could see in my mind how that little section right after the bridge looks, when Broadway hits Kent Ave at the site of that weird looking restaurant that appears so out of place. Hadn't I stopped for two SUVs while they pulled into the parking lot?

The only reasonable explanation for what must have happened is alien abduction. I must have been picked up, and a mistake was made and I was dropped back down to earth in the wrong spot. Even technologically superior aliens make mistakes. What would Dr. Octagon say about this?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

No Fancy Dress

Forty-six days to go until the Kyoto Marathon! There isn't a lot of information available online about this race. I know that it's March 10th and there will be about 15,000 runners. I know that the course takes the runners past many shrines and temples, ending at the Heian Shrine which was built in 1894 and was expanded in 1940. I know I will receive a t-shirt, a towel and a medal. And I also know that the race does not allow fancy dress:  
"Running in fancy dress is fun and somewhat livens up the event. However, it may limit your move and make other runners and the audience on the road uncomfortable."
I guess I'll leave my fancy dress at home (fancy dress like this?), which will mean more room in my luggage. I have learned that "fancy dress" is British for "costume". Okay, this does make more sense now.

Me in running drag.
Speaking of fancy dress, I recently got some new winter running gear, and I made very good use of it yesterday. I ran 10 miles after work in freezing temperatures. Brrrrrrrr. Everything remained warm for the most part except for my hands and my face, which began to sting something fierce at about mile 7. I got a thermal top made by Sugoi and thermal pants made by Brooks at Jack Rabbit in Park Slope. The top and pants are both pretty amazing. These thermal pants are not the tights, so I can wear them and do other activities like eat large amounts of food and drink Sake.

I think these could count as fancy dress.

I was wearing new gloves that I picked up at a Tibetan store in Park Slope after seeing a pair on Shamala. They have a warm felty lining and a mitten to cover the fingerless glove holes, so they are very warm, but during my run my fingers still got so cold I had to ball up my fists inside of the gloves, a trick that sometimes works but makes for doing anything with your hands difficult.

Bigfoot approves of these.

I got new Mizuno running shoes, which is appropriate since I am heading to Japan to run in a marathon. I hear these are very popular there. I wore them on my 10 mile run yesterday and I really liked them. This pair is considered a stability shoe, but I didn't think they felt as heavy as some other stability shoes I've tried. My impact on the ground felt light. While I have high arches, I like the stability shoes more than the neutral shoes for long distance. I get my running shoes in a size bigger than my civilian shoes (I wear a size 11 running shoe!) and these didn't feel too bulky even with the bigger size. I will need to go for some more runs to really get a feel for them, but my first impression of them is great.

I'm finally not feeling plague-y and I've been able to amp up my training. On Saturday I ran 7 miles and stopped at a friend's house to feed her cats. Afterwards I ran 3 1/2 miles to meet some friends for brunch and then I ran 3 1/2 miles home for a total of 14 miles for the day. On Sunday I got in some cross-training with 4 hours of snowshoeing, hiking and running up in New Paltz. I'd really like to see if I can get 40 miles in this week even though the temperatures are extremely cold. Here's to hoping my winter fancy dress can help.