Brooklyn Runner

“I can only do 11-minute miles…”
December 4, 2008, 2:24 pm
Filed under: Contemplating, training | Tags: ,

I must confess this comment from a Runner’s World online column, which came through my inbox yesterday, pulled at my heartstrings a little bit. The writer says she “feels like a loser” for not being able to crack 11-minute miles after drumming up the courage to go out and run her first race, a 5K.

How sad! No one should feel like a loser or be discouraged from running because they turn in a performance that can be improved upon, or they’re not as fast as someone else, or they haven’t done their best yet. The beauty of running is that it is possible to be competitive with yourself, and at the same time not have to worry about anyone else. Running is all about improving yourself and finding your own rhythm and stride, doing the best that you know you can do. What makes it a success for you as a runner will be different from what success will look like for someone else.

The coach here gives some good advice about slowly building mileage and intensity of workout. She says the hardest step in becoming a runner is taking the first step — having the courage to show up on race day. I agree taking the first step is hard, and important. But I don’t think the first step is the hardest part. The more difficult challenge is to continue taking those steps, to keep at it, to persevere and be consistent. Isn’t it the same with so many things in life that we’d like to do? Sticking with something, keeping at it even when times get discouraging or hard, that’s the true challenge.

They say “a writer writes” — that if you want to be a writer, well, be writing. The same is true for runners. If you’re a runner, you run. You run when you’re in shape and when you’re not in shape. You run when it’s cold and when it’s hot. You run when you’re tired or not tired, when you have free time, and when life is busy. Sometimes you take breaks, and some breaks are longer than others. But the point is, keep running!

Whether you can do 11, 8, or 5-minute miles.

What a Disappointment
May 12, 2008, 11:10 am
Filed under: Marathoning, Racing, Running Routes | Tags: ,

I was dismayed to realize in the last few weeks that the Philadelphia Marathon — where I ran my first marathon in 2004 — has added a half marathon to race day.

I’m not knocking Philly for adding a half. But I’m so very not in favor of the way they did it. The half marathoners line up right alongside those running the full marathon. They go off with the same gun. They benefit from the same crowds, same support stations as the marathoners, but they only run half the course — essentially getting all the glory but without having to work as hard.

This seems extremely unfair to me. I get it that the half marathon is a good race for a lot of people, but it’s not fair to have the half run on exactly the same course at exactly the same time as the full marathon. The marathon is a special race, and adding the half in this way does a disservice to a distance that should be respected and honored. If the race organizers wanted to give people a chance to participate in marathon day, they could have set the half marathon an hour or two later, and put the finish at a different point.

And it’s worth noting that typically the field for the half marathon in Philly is about twice as large as the full marathon field. The year I ran it, the half marathon (then called the Philadelphia Distance Run, and held in September) was about 12,000 runners while the full marathon (in late November) was about 5,000. This also made the half marathon work well with the fall training schedules of people all over the Northeast. Can you imagine running in a marathon and at mile 13.1 — your halfway mark — more than two thirds of the field drops out because they are finished? Hearing them get cheered on to their finish while you still have — yikes — 13.1 more miles to go? It seems so wrong.

I had a great experience in Philly in 2004. I was living in that city at the time and did my long training runs up and down the Schuylkill (pronounced skoo-kul) River, which takes you past famed boathouse row and its teams of skullers. That strip and many others that I used to run are part of the marathon course, which made it extra special for me, to be able to run my first marathon on home turf. I loved it. The crowds were great, the weather was perfect, the finish in front of the “Rocky Balboa” steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum was the perfect way to end a marathon. It’s a race I’ll never forget.

I used to rave about this race, encouraging all my friends to do the marathon there as well. Not anymore! How sad … Why the change in 2006? Philly was a treasure among the huge fall marathons in New York, Chicago and DC, all of which are much harder to get into. It’s really too bad.

Prospect Park Speed Series
May 7, 2008, 10:31 am
Filed under: Racing | Tags: , ,

The annual Prospect Park “Speed Series” — a 5K race every other Wednesday night — is about to kick off. This low key event, organized by Prospect Park Track Club, is a fun way to race a 5K every two weeks over the summer and track your progress over time. The field is small enough that you can potentially medal in your age group, and everyone gets cheered on royally coming through the finish. There’s no t-shirt or chips, but official times are taken and posted, and it’s only $5.

There’s more information at the PPTC website here.

Turkey Trot in Prospect Park
November 21, 2007, 12:50 am
Filed under: Racing | Tags: , , ,

This is a shout out for the 5-mile Thanksgiving Day race — a.k.a. the Turkey Trot — in Prospect Park, organized by none other than Prospect Park Track Club.

I participated in a few races of the PPTC speed series — 5K races every two weeks throughout the summer in Prospect Park — this past summer and the club is an incredibly warm and encouraging running community. I found runners of all abilities who were simply passionate about running, and becoming better runners. I also took part in the coached speed training sessions — for fee and for members only — and had a great experience. I found support, encouragement and good training, and, I got faster.

So, the Turkey Trot. On what better day to stretch your body to its limits, strain yourself physically, push yourself to burn more energy than you normally would, than on a day when gluttony and indulgence are not just allowed, but encouraged?

The race is a five-mile jaunt through Prospect Park — one big loop followed by one small loop. The leaves are ablaze in fall color, promising to be a treat, and this is apparently a real New York running tradition. Word has it that this race — thirty years in existence — was once hosted by New York Road Runners, but they dropped it. When they did, Prospect Park Track Club picked up the slack and kept it going.

The race is also a fundraiser for Bishop Ford High School’s track and running teams, which have received tens of thousands in funds raised through this event!

So, if you’re looking for motivation to push yourself, justification for eating all that food, or just want to feel good while participating in a great tradition, then this is the race for you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

A good discipline
November 17, 2007, 10:24 am
Filed under: Contemplating, Marathoning | Tags: , ,

I have often said this to friends: I wish I could apply the same discipline and focus I seem to have in marathon training to other aspects and goals in life.      

How I wish it were as *simple* to write and publish a book or create and show a body of artwork as it is to train for and run a marathon! Of course, this is not to diminish the magnitude of the marathon and the training it requires. I have the utmost reverence for the race, and for the training involved. It is a monumental task.

But training and running, for me at least, is quite simple when you boil it down. You start out as someone who runs. You give yourself four or five months. You get a training plan, and a schedule, week by week. And week after week, you make it a priority to do the training runs, and you order your schedule around it.You eat and drink what you’re supposed to, what will enhance your training. Eventually, you actually feel the benefits of the training settle into your body.  And when it’s time to run the race, you just show up. Ready to give your best effort.

If only other goals were as straightforward and clear. Instead sometimes they seem like nebulous ideas rather than tangible goals, and getting there is a meandering road, full of false starts and stops and plenty of wrong turns.

No wonder marathoning has become so popular, that 38,000 people ran in the New York City marathon this year, as opposed to 5,000 people 30 years ago. I think we all want to strive for a goal that is lofty and seemingly unattainable, and apply the effort and discipline towards achieving something great. The physicality of training lets you tangibly feel your effort and the results.

I think there must be a way that applies to efforts in other goals as well. I’m just still looking for it.  

Be charitable: donate your running shoes
November 7, 2007, 5:59 pm
Filed under: Shoes and Gear | Tags: , ,

I picked up an interesting fact somewhere along the way while preparing for Marine Corps (I can’t find it now — ugh!) but it was a curious statistic: Marathon finishers are wealthy when compared to the general population. There was a set of stats that looked at the marathon finishers on a number of indicators, and income was one of them.

Which makes it all the more appropriate to be charitable by donating your “old” running shoes to a good cause. . .

Jack Rabbit Sports is taking donations of old running shoes at its Brooklyn location on 7th Avenue in Park Slope, to be shipped to an organization in Africa. And, a member at Prospect Park Track Club has collected shoes for a small impoverished African village for the past two years.

Kind of puts things in perspective . . . A $100 pair of shoes that have been run in for 400 miles are of no use to me as a runner anymore, and most runners I know spend that amount on shoes alone three times over just in one year. But the person on the receiving end of those Asics or Nikes or whatever would probably not see $100 in an entire year.

Just one way to make you realize we are a wealthy people living in America.

The Marathon
November 2, 2007, 2:13 pm
Filed under: Marathoning, Racing | Tags: , ,

The New York City marathon is just two days away and of course there’s no shortage of marathon mania around town. Asics has had a great ad campaign this year capturing the essence of what it’s like to run in New York. . .


I am always excited about marathon Sunday — one of the best days in the city, in my humble opinion — but this year I’m particularly psyched for a distinct reason. I’m just back from the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, where I finished my third marathon with a personal record of 4:09:03.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day — in the high fifties and clear, though a bit windy. The race truly evoked the dignity and discipline and spirit of the marines. It was well organized, clear, and the crowd support was amazing. And the runners themselvese were a pretty impressive lot. I felt the entire time as though I was running in good company, among people who had trained hard and well and knew how to pace themselves, who were focused and humble and self assured at the same time.

The first few miles zipped by and those mile markers kept coming at a good clip all the way through the first half. I stuck to my pace, as planned, wanting to succeed in my negative split. At 13 I let it out just a little bit, then again at 15, and ran the next four miles at a faster pace by a full half minute.

The crowds at Capitol Hill were amazing. The course narrows as you round the monuments, the spectators line both sides and are cheering at full decibel. They call your name (if you’ve got it on the front of your shirt) and the kids stick out their hands for a high five as you go by, and basking in the glory of it all you just feel like a hero.

At 19 I was having to fight a little harder for it, and at 20 I was just happy to have reached 20, and to have passed it. But then I knew there was still a whole other race left — the last six miles.

Something funny started to happen at 21. The joints were creaking and complaining and certain parts were wanting to cramp up. I finally hopped into the bathroom (one minute) and it took everything I had to keep running. I knew my pace was suffering but it was growing increasingly harder to keep one foot in front of the other. This was it: I was hitting the wall.

I remember what an old running friend told me as he coached me through my first marathon years ago. “You hit the wall and you ran through it,” he told me after the race. So this was it – I’d have to run through the wall again.

 Stopping, wallking even, was never an option. I had trained for this, and I told myself that repeatedly in those long, lonely miles between 22 and 25. This was what my training was all about, being able to do this, at mile 22 and a half. My body knows what to do; just keep lifting your feet.

At that point, every step forward was pain. There was no other option: pain was pain. There came a point — a delirious, otherworldly moment in my brain — when I came to the realization that the pain I felt was to have no impact on what my body and my mind were going to do. Pain was pain. Wind was wind. Step forward. Step forward.

Someone running behind me asked his partner, “How do you feel?”

“Like crap,” was the response. At mile 23 in the race, no one feels good.

We passed a couple of marines, volunteers. A runner must have groaned his complaint out loud. One of the marines shouted back: “IF IT DOESN’T KILL YOU IT’LL MAKE YOU STRONGER!!!” We all got a good laugh. And kept plodding.

Around 24, along a stretch where no other spectators stood, a lone woman in a warmup jacket yelled firmly, calling me by my name (which was on the front of my shirt), saying, “You look strong!”

“I don’t feel strong,” was my instant reply.

“Well, you are,” she said.

And another foot, and another.

I was walking through the water stops at this point. Just before 25, I was taking longer than usual to start back up again. Just then a woman with a blond ponytail came up alongside me, put her arm around my back and said in the kindest, gentlest voice, “You can do it.”

“Thank you,” I whimpered, threw my cup down, and started my slow run again.

I have no idea what made her stop to help me, among a sea of people, get going again. And I was a faster runner than she (I left her behind soon after starting up again). I have no idea who she was; for all I know she was an angel sent from God.

And that’s what it took. Once past 25, you could feel the home stretch begin. A windy patch over an elevated highway. Then, the crowds. They knew you were close to the finish as well. An out and back portion — you could see the runners ahead of you, on their way home. The expected incline in mile 25 — it wasn’t so bad!

Just a couple hundred yards from the finish, you turn to your right and you can see the finish line — 200 feet up in the air. A cruelly steep hill is all that separates you from the finish line, and it’s practically heartbreaking. Then you climb. “Beat the hill” is painted on the ground every few feet, and that’s exactly what you want to do. It kills, but at that point you don’t care, because you’re there, you’ve reached the finish, you see the clock and you’ve put in an incredible effort and that’s just about all anyone can ask.

It’s quite an incredible feeling.

A blog about running in New York
November 1, 2007, 8:27 pm
Filed under: About, Contemplating, training | Tags: , ,

When I moved back to New York City, much had changed about me since I lived here last. I had grown up, first of all (born in Manhattan, I was raised on Long Island, attended school in Pittsburgh, and lived in a variety of locales around the Northeast in my itinerant life as a newspaper journalist). But more importantly, I had become a runner.

I had been running casually for a long time. I was the small, skinny kid who was picked last in gym class because I couldn’t throw or catch to save my life. I could, however, run kind of fast. Among my earliest running memories are running around the block with my dad, who exhaled twice really loud for every breath. Then in college, my friends and I would run around the astroturf track for a study break at midnight. And after starting work for newspapers, I’d run to keep myself sane.

Somewhere along the way I started running races. Then I ran my first marathon. Now running is a way of life.  I run marathons, 5Ks, and everything in between. I run to hang out with friends, I run with a group, and I run alone. Running not only keeps me sane, it makes me happy too.

For me, running is a way to carve out time for yourself, to think and reflect and let go. Running is a way to be outside, to feel the sun or wind or rain on your face, to relax, to hear the trees rustling and to feel the ground under your feet. To know discipline, and experience its benefits. And aside from keeping the body healthy and strong, it’s just a great way to feel good.

Coming back to New York posed a unique challenge when I began to train for the marathon. How exactly does one run twenty consecutive miles in New York? During the four months that followed I learned all the ways I could run long without having to repeat loops in the park or run in circles (which I personally don’t think is much fun). Living in Brooklyn, of course my runs took me over the breathtakingly beautiful Brooklyn Bridge. To the rolling hills of Prospect Park. And on those interminably long training run days, up the river paths on the East or West side of Manhattan.

Along my travels, I wanted a resource that combined everything I love about New York with everything I love about running, in a way that could only exist here in this great city. And like so many others who couldn’t find exactly what they were looking for out there, I decided to create such a place myself — and this blog was born.

This is a venue for personal essays and things of that sort. I don’t claim to be the know-it-all of the running scene in Brooklyn or New York. These are just simple musings, appreciations — expressions of questions, bewilderment, awe, joy.  

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your journeys, wherever it is they might lead.