Winter, Weekends, and Why Running!

@ The Unisphere, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

I took to Central Park last Saturday for a cold, fast, 12-mile run. As it happened, I wasn’t the only one with the mettle or crazy – you decide – to get out there cold weather notwithstanding. In fact, maybe because this is New York City, there’s really no let up of the number of New Yorkers and tourists alike out and about. And, well, it is the holiday season, so there’s enough reason as to why there would be so many people littering the chilly park from as early as 9am. The truth is I had no desire to go out there but, and I’m beginning to believe it now, runners – those serious about the sport – are defined by the days, races, and times that present the most challenge and oftentimes suck big time. We understand that it is those times that will develop strength, tenacity, and the spirit to fight, dig deep, and finish the race when that time comes. And so, despite the inviting pull of those sheets and with thoughts of the chill driving me to just finish already, I bundled up and headed to a slight detour before the run.

My gym hosted an in-house competition at their other location, which was a stone’s throw away from Central Park, my running route, and I needed to be there as it was my first official exposure to this type of competition. I wanted to spectate, support my fellow crossfitters and scout around to figure out how it all worked. No baptism by fire for me, not if I can help it. Turned the competition was awesome and loads of fun. After two and a half hours there, longer than I intended, I couldn’t not go and kick that chill right in the butt. And so a quick two loops of the park starting at Columbus Circle’s entrance and heading up the east side of the park, up Cat Hill, and all the way past the 102nd Street transverse, and looping over Harlem Hill to the West Side of the park and back, past the overlooking Strawberry Fields and 72nd Street Transverse, and making a full circle back at Columbus Circle east entrance. One more time and I was done, and off to run a couple errands and spend the rest of the day holed up watching football. Well, Alabama and Georgia was playing is my excuse since I’m no football fan.

Surprise, surprise, today followed a similar pattern with me heading out in freezing temps to grab a 13 miler in my lovely neighborhood of Queens. I met up with some buddies of mine at the Queensboro bridge in Queens – just 1.3 miles away from the city – and we headed on a running tour-of-sorts of this underrated borough of New York. First few miles was pretty cold but at least the sun was out so we eventually warmed up some, as long as you kept moving. Running through different areas of Queens turned out to be pretty interesting as we zig- zagged across Astoria and headed to Flushing Meadows Park, across from Citi-Field and in the vicinity of the home of the US Open. We grabbed a pic, lost a team member (she bailed), and we headed across the park to Lake … taking in the natural beauty around us and headed out in search of Queens Boulevard and Forest Hills. We ran by the Forest Hills Stadium..oohed and ahhed..and finished off at the LIRR station off Austin Street. After than chilly run, food was on our minds and with plenty pickings we found a local dive and dove right in. Way to wrap up a cold morning if you ask me.

Two weekends before I had done an 11 mile out and back run closer to home, and a windy 10 miler the weekend prior. While we await the official start of winter, many would argue that it’s already here with blistering winds and freezing temperatures. In fact, we’ve already had our first snow fall. Sadly, the Fall season was gone before we could dive into running and all we’re left with is the audacity to get out there no matter the weather.

These days it matters not the time of day as we see record temps erasing all that we think we know or should be experiencing. And so my runs over the past few weeks have been totally out of my comfort zone. They have been cold, hard, long, and crazy enough, rewarding. However, they’re always so much better when I’m able to have others join me. I look ahead with trepidation as winter advances, but also with hope, knowing that come Springtime, I will be stronger and better for it.

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Saturday’s 12-Mile Training Run

Training runs are a necessary evil, evil because of the inflexibility associated with them. Well, you may say, isn’t it on the runner to decide if, when and where to run? And you’re right of course, it is, but is there really a choice at the point when it was already a forgone conclusion at the onset of training. See, the plan is in place so that a particular goal can be achieved, which necessitates the “evil” training run. This training run must then happen regardless of the weather, one’s feelings, and generally despite every circumstance save death and illness and even then if it’s not your own.

The New Jersey Skyline

In this vein, my training runs are in full swing and I have designated Saturdays as “evil Saturdays.” Of course I’m kidding, mostly anyway. I happen to enjoy running in nice weather and I love Saturdays so there’s not much evil there. However, when faced with unfriendly conditions things can become a bit dicey pretty quickly as was the case this past weekend.

View over the Hudson River

I got up this past Saturday morning to overcast skies and, what I felt was, perfect running conditions. Sadly, I couldn’t head right off to run as I had a volunteer gig early that morning. It took all of 10 minutes into volunteering to realize it wasn’t only overcast but windy and chilly as well. That didn’t stop droves of people from taking over the streets as usual and it didn’t stop me from running. Up till then I was undecided about where I would run, but as it happened I was on the lower west side and decided then and there that along the west side highway would make for a perfect run sans sunshine. I started off at W 30th street and soon realized that many runners had the same idea; thus, I wasn’t wanting for company only for the wind to chill. I ended up running up to Harlem and stopped beneath the George Washington Bridge around W 178th Street. A cool 10 miles or thereabout and took it about 2 miles back. One of the bad or good things about the “evil” training run is that despite the wind, and the fact that it tried its darndest to bring my pace to a crawl, which resulted in an 8:15/min/mile, I was heavily invested with sacrificing my time, effort, and sleep, therefore I was bound to prevail.

Side view of the George Washington Bridge

Nevertheless, I did better than prevail, I was able to run a negative split (a faster second half) and felt pretty good upon reaching the bridge and even stopped for a few pictures as the view over the water against the backdrop of New Jersey, the Palisades and the ominous skies was gorgeous.

I did it!

As it was, I finished in better spirits than when I started and so remain totally committed to my training runs. There is a bit of a clichรฉ lesson here: things are definitely not always what they seem and if we but have the gumption to stick it out, we can come out better for it. And I’m not even talking my PR goal yet, we’ll get there.

The United NYC Half Marathon: miles for a cause

United NYC Half Marathon Start Source: ABC online

United NYC Half Marathon Start
Source: ABC online

Last Sunday was my “miles for a cause” run, the first that I’ve run based on my fundraising efforts with 100% proceeds going to a youth charity. For this reason alone, it was a phenomenal success.  We, my donors and I, were able to successfully raise $1225.00 in just about six weeks with the limit being $1000.00.  I am tremendously pleased and humbled by the support and love shown by everyone for The Seed Project, an organization that provides sport and education scholarships for students in Senegal, West Africa, for which I chose to run. Words are insufficient to impress the positivity and good that will result in the lives that were touched by our efforts. Thus, I’m inspired to continue impacting lives one step at a time, with the hope that it will encourage others to make a difference doing what they love.

Secondary to my fundraising goal was my wish to run a PR, which didn’t happen much to my disappointment.  The NYC Half Marathon is run with much fanfare and spirit: lots of runners, spectators, media hype and excitement; sort of like its bigger counterpart, the NYC Marathon, only on a smaller scale.  With a field size of around 20,000, it’s not hard to see why.  Like the marathon, there are runners from all over the world, dozens of charities to choose from and it delivers a spectacle course. From Central Park to Times Square, then running along the West Side Highway to the heart of the financial district in lower Manhattan, it’s NYC 101, and impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of it all. Also, it’s not everyday one gets to stop traffic in Times Square with the hope of getting caught on the big screen.  I dare say that is the highlight of the race for many, that, and collecting the finisher’s medal.

Secondary to my fundraising goal was my wish to run a PR, which didn’t happen much to my disappointment. While it wasn’t a particularly difficult course, there were some, what I call, challenging moments: the hills in Central Park and the 4-mile stretch of the Westside Highway presented the most challenge and while I could factor in a number of reasons why this was so, I’ll just focus on adjusting my strategy for another race of this length. That being said, I finished in 1:38 while we enjoyed great weather during the run and I couldn’t help recalling the last time I ran that race in 2013, it was a freezing 18 degrees. However, at the finish it got quite chilly as the winds picked up and it turned out to be a very cold day from then on and I could only feel for those runners that were still on the course. I ended the day hanging out with the fundraising team at an after party hosted by the organizers in the seaport area. I really couldn’t be happier with my efforts..well maybe with my time..but I’ll gladly accept that to be able to give those kids in Senegal a better chance at life.

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