My Fastest 5k Yet!

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16939531_10106026132379209_4669073140362198351_nThis year Todd and I are working toward the NYRR 9+1 program, in which you run nine races and volunteer at one to gain guaranteed entry into the 2018 NYC marathon. (No, we have never attempted such a long distance before. No, I am not sure I even can run an entire marathon. But I know I have to try, at least once in my lifetime.)

Because we figured January and February would be super cold, we chose the Washington Heights 5k in March as the first of our nine runs. Did I expect it to feel a little bit like spring? Silly me. The temperate was in the 20s; I could see my breath while we hurried to the starting line. I’d dressed in high socks, leggings, a tank top with a pretty warm jacket on top, gloves that could become mittens, and my Pusheen hat—and though that combination worked perfectly during the race, it left me hopping around trying to stay warm while we waited in our corral.

The course was a simple out-and-back that looped up through Fort Tryon Park, taking us around the Cloisters, a MET museum specializing in medieval art and architecture. I highly recommend checking out the collections there; the entire museum is so incredibly peaceful and awe-inspiring. It’s also situated at the top of a very large hill, which we had to run up as part of the race. This is where I say thank you to the creators of Disney’s Moana soundtrack: As I labored up the steepest of the inclines, the song “How Far I’ll Go” popped up on my playlist, and its yearning buoyancy gave me the push I needed to stay strong and positive. From there just another small hill, and then I sprinted the rest of the way down Fort Washington Avenue, about a mile left to the finish line.

I didn’t catch my time as I crossed, but I felt really good, not winded or aching despite what I knew had to have been a faster pace than usual. I’m hopeful that this means my weekly combination of one long run and several short speed bursts is training me to become a better runner—either that or I was just trying to outrun the cold! When I later checked my chip time, I’d completed the course in 27 minutes and 7 seconds, a new PR. I’m a little worried that it was just a fluke and I’ll fall behind in my next race, but the only way to find out is to sign up and run. One down, eight to go…2018 NYC marathon, here we come!

Following My Animal Instincts

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I might have mentioned that Todd and I signed up for the NYRR’s 9 + 1 program this year. If we run nine races set up by NYRR and volunteer for at least one, we’ll have guaranteed entry into the 2018 New York City marathon. The first of our nine races isn’t until March, but since our midnight run on New Year’s Eve, I’ve been trying to keep up my mileage, which I’ll have to slowly increase throughout the year. And I’ve been finding my inspiration in animals.

Aside from naming each run in my travel log, I’ve been assigning each an animal emoji to sum up how I felt during the run. On longer runs it keeps me distracted; I spend time thinking of which animal might best represent those seven or ten miles. On shorter sprints, it encourages me to pick up the pace: if I want to assign a cheetah to the run, I’d better earn it.

Our midnight run got a chick with its arms spread wide, signifying my willingness to embrace a new year and new running experiences. A two-mile run, my first-ever in the snow, received a penguin because I was so bundled I could barely do more than waddle. To the five more miles I did on the treadmill when I got back inside, I gave a poodle; those five miles felt like I was being pampered compared to the bitter cold and icy snow. My most recent run, Wednesday morning before work, was a camel because I did the entire thing on a 5 or greater incline and felt like I was trudging through sand dunes with belongings piled on my back.

I’m looking forward to our first race of 2017 in March, and already wondering which animal emoji I’ll assign to it.

 

7.5-mile Fall Harvest Race

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The day before the 7.5-mile Fall Harvest Race in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, I trimmed down my Spotify running playlist and packed leggings, a t-shirt, a long-sleeve insulated shirt, a head warmer, and two pairs of socks. Todd, my parents, and I drove about an hour upstate to Beacon and walked around the town: art galleries, a hipster coffee shop that wasn’t as good as we remembered, a chocolate shop, and a record store, but also a Key Food, a squat library, and a smoke shop or two. Mountains rose in the distance, but I could never get a picture unmarred by houses or cars or telephone poles. We ate dinner—a patty melt for me, a pork chop for Todd, a chicken-and-avocado sandwich for Dad, and a walnut-crusted chicken salad for Mom that had more meat than lettuce—at a diner a few towns over, then retired to an airport hotel room infested with ladybugs.

At half-past seven the next morning, we picked up our free t-shirts and race bibs at the Storm King Engine Co., a firehouse on what appeared to be Cornwall-on-Hudson’s main street, alongside a cafe, a diner, a flower shop, a post office, and a gazebo. In the same room as packet pickup, colorful gift bags held raffle prizes and organizers offered coffee and bagels to runners. Around 8:20 we made our way to the start line, where we found only a dozen or so others waiting. By 8:30 a small crowd had formed, and we were off! It turned out that only 80 of us participated, a majority of the crowd potentially having signed up for a nearby trail race instead (according to what I overheard one local saying to another, anyway).

The first two miles took us through the town: houses and lawns, cars with Trump bumper stickers. I kept clenching and unclenching my fingers into a fist to try and get some feeling in them. Around Mile 3 we passed back along the main street and headed toward Storm King State Park, a 1,972-acre tract of protected land. During Miles 3 and 4, we got some great views of the Hudson River. Mile 5 took us steadily uphill. We had passed my parents earlier, and at this point Todd slowed to a walk. It was just me for a while, following the white painted arrows on the roads, which were open to traffic, to figure out which way to go in order to stay on course. I passed up a group of women who’d been in my sight at the start of the run but whom I’d since lost track of. My legs burned, especially the backs of my thighs. My breath came heavy, since I’d been running the race at a faster pace than usual. But I didn’t focus on those things; instead, I felt only gratitude—for the pure, crisp air and crunch of leaves and nostril-tingling scent of nature and woodsmoke. At the top of the biggest hill, there was a spectacular view of the Hudson Valley, a swath of red and gold trees. Another few more small climbs, then downhill the last mile to the finish line, where I came in at 1 hour and 13 minutes, with an average pace of approximately 9:50/mile. Though I placed 56th overall (those runners were fast!), I was second in my gender/age group and got a cool embossed cup as a prize.

On the drive home, we stopped to snap a photo at a scenic view:

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New Running Record: 13 Miles

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Todd and I in Ridge Hill at the end of our run.

To get ready for our half-marathon in October, Todd and I have been adding miles to our long runs each weekend. On our honeymoon we ran 9 miles in Budapest (the Buda hills were killer) and 10 miles in Paris; it was a really fun way to sightsee and keep up with our training at the same time. Back in the Bronx this weekend, we felt bored with the same old trails to Orchard Beach or City Island, so we decided to switch it up with a run to Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. Spoiler alert: We made it! But not without some struggles along the way.

After about 15 minutes of active stretching, our journey started on Pelham Parkway near our apartment. Though it sometimes gets congested, the street itself was closed to traffic Saturday morning so we had a nice open road before us and plenty of space to ourselves. We started off easy and slow, and our first mile took us about 13 minutes to complete. During that mile, I just focused on warming up, letting my legs and ankles and feet get used to the motion of running. I’ve been doing all of my long runs in my Asics GT-2000 sneakers (which I plan to wear during the half marathon) and they’re consistently the perfect balance of comfortable and lightweight.

Mile 2 took us near the Bronx Botanical Garden but not through it. The city had recently done some construction in the area; it turned out that the bike path had been repaved with smooth asphalt, but the run/walk path remained cracked and uneven. Needless to say, we followed the other pedestrians and used the bike path anyway. After about two more miles, we arrived at Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale. Its the third-largest park in New York City, and though I’ve explored it several times, I still don’t think I’ve managed to see everything it offers! There are tennis courts, a track, some historical buildings—and the Old Putnam trail, which is what we took to make our way up into Yonkers.

The Old Putnam trail, which follows the route of the former New York and Putnam railway that extended all the way up to Brewster, travels alongside a lake blooming with algae. The upside: the trees provided a lot of cover from the sun, which was good because on Saturday the weather service issued a heat advisory due to high UV and humidity levels. The downside was that the trail isn’t paved, so we ran about two and a half miles in the mud, constantly tripping on stray rocks and fallen branches and old railroad tracks. The path became very narrow at certain points and we had to be wary of bikers coming up behind us, so I was glad to reach Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers, where the trail becomes paved again.

For miles 8 through 11 we just continued up along the trail, past homes and a golf course and a shopping plaza where the smell of food kind of made me nauseous. Miles 8, 9, and 10 didn’t feel too hard physically, but mentally I just kept trying to remind myself that I was more than halfway done and that I’d run 11 miles before so I could definitely do it again. By mile 11 I had picked up the pace and was running closer to 11-minute miles. I felt tired; my legs ached. Then, around the 11.5-mile mark, we crossed off of the trail and onto a busy sun-drenched street. With no shade, the heat really hit me, and it only got worse when we reached the steep hill leading up to the shopping center. We slowed to a walk, which was harder than all of the 12 miles that had come before it. Drenched in sweat and out of water, I wanted to hitch a ride to the top.

But slowly, slowly, slowly we made it. Our total time was 2 hours and 36 minutes. We bought water at the candy shop and stretched our legs and tried to recover from the intense heat. Eventually Dad picked us up and gave us a lift home—there was no way I was running another 13 miles back. That night we celebrated with some delicious Vietnamese pho, followed by brown sugar pecan brittle ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery. After eating, we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk: The First Flight, a show inspired by the movie Avatar. The scenery and effects were really impressive, as were the acrobatics the performance troupe is famous for. All in all, it was a rewarding and exciting day.

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The closing scene in Toruk: The First Flight.

An Easter Run and Recipe

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Of all the Christian holidays, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection is the most joyous. The songs at mass are uplifting and glorifying. We share treats and dinners with family and friends. Even nature seems to feel the spirit: little tulip stalks pop up from the dirt, the sun makes us squint in every selfie. And we take joy in the little things, the memories we create: a good run, a broccoli soufflé cooling on the stove…

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My Recent Run in Washington DC

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I love exploring cities—familiar or new, sprawling or dense, frenetic or sleepy, abroad or close to home. I especially love wandering around on foot, even more so if I’m wearing my Asics sneakers and my Garmin watch. And that’s exactly what Todd and I did last weekend after driving four hours down to Washington DC. Though we’d both visited the city before, I wanted a refresher on all of the major sites I hadn’t seen since 2008, and running felt like the best way to get in some exercise and also make good progress visiting the monuments.

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