Archive for August, 2009

Some Thoughts on Central Park

If you can believe it, last night I took the subway to Central Park to run someplace different for a change of scene. Wait a minute – change of scene? Isn’t this where all New Yorkers go to run? Sometimes it seems that way. But if you’ve read my other posts, you probably know that I prefer to run in quiet and unique places to get away from the crowds we encounter every single day in the frenzy of New York City life. So while I love being in the company of other runners, I have to admit that I don’t make it to Central Park all that often.

But Central Park is legendary and every New York runner should visit every now and then. It might be missing a few trees these days, but it is still unparalleled as far as public parks go.

Now keep in mind that it’s as close to a backyard as most of the nearly 9 million residents of New York City will ever actually have, so crowded paths should be expected. Expect cyclists, dog walkers, baby strollers, in-line skaters, speed walkers, slow walkers, tourists, photographers, sunbathers, ultimate Frisbee players. Oh, and other runners too. I think you get the idea: lots of people. But despite the crowds (or maybe because of them, depending on your point of view), Central Park is a great place to run and shouldn’t be missed. If you’re visiting from out of town, make sure it’s one of your running destinations. If you live here and you’ve never been there, shame on you.

Since there’s already so much information on the park out there I’ll limit this to a few reasons why running in Central Park is a great experience:

1. Variety. There’s a good mix of flat stretches and some challenging hills. You also have the choice between road running on pavement or the softer, cinder trails of the bridle path and reservoir.

2. There are plenty of water fountains (functioning during the warmer months only) and several restrooms (but I will not vouch for cleanliness). If you are looking for locations check out this map.

3. It’s the perfect training ground for New York Road Runners races, most of which take place in the park.

4. You can easily figure out a route for almost any length of run. The circular design of the loop also makes it easy to start and stop in the same place.

5. You get incomparable views of the NYC skyline as buildings peek out between the trees in an incredible juxtaposition of nature and urban life.

6. You can practice crossing the Marathon finish line at Tavern on the Green.

This map from NYRR is a great resource for exploring routes of all lengths. Bored? Find ways to mix it up. If you want more information about the park including its history and upcoming events, visit CentralPark.com.

Don’t Forget the SPF

More than a few times over the past few weeks I’ve had friends say to me “Wow, you look so tan! Did you go anywhere fun?” No, definitely not. I mean, Brooklyn’s fun and all but I’m hardly going to spend my summer on a tropical beach vacation without a regular paycheck. I do have to admit that I’ve spent a few nice days laying out in the park with a good book and maybe I took off on a day trip to Long Beach while the rest of you were at work, but that wasn’t nearly enough to look like I just spent a week in the Caribbean.

And I realized:

I’m tan from running so much. No, more specifically, I’m tan from running so much in the middle of the day. And let’s take it another step: I’m tan from running so much in the middle of the day without wearing sunscreen. Yes, there’s a lot that’s wrong here.

My schedule has completely changed. Up until a couple of months ago I usually ran in the evenings or [occasionally] early in the morning before work. I didn’t see a need to protect my skin because the sun wasn’t strong enough to do any real damage at the times I usually went out for a run. Now, though, mid-day seems to be the most convenient time for me and so I run out the door when the sun is at its most intense, thinking I’ll be able to outrun those damaging rays. But I’ve finally learned my lesson. It took a few bad sunburns that resulted in goofy tan lines – you can clearly see the outline of my singlet and I have this white band on my left wrist that is exactly the width of my Garmin – but I learned my lesson. Now I don’t leave the house without putting on plenty of my Coppertone Sport 50 SPF sunscreen, which is “Ultra Sweatproof” and “won’t run into eyes and sting.” I’m not sure I can speak to those claims but it seems to do the trick.

And yes, this brings me to another issue: the dangers of running in mid-day heat, especially in the height of summer. So be sensible about when you run and don’t overdo it. If it’s too hot, alter your schedule to run during cooler times of the day. And be sure to keep yourself hydrated before, during and after exercise. If you aren’t certain about where any water fountains might be along your route, bring something to drink with you. For more tips on beating the heat, there are a few good articles in the Running in Cold or Heat section of RunnersWorld.com.

And I’ll try to do a better job of following my own advice.

Maaaybe getting a little faster

I feel really great about my finish at this morning’s NYC Half Marathon. Despite the heat it turned out to be the strongest race I’ve had in months. I’d like to think that increased focus on my training the past couple of months has really started to pay off.

Now if you’ve read some of my other posts, you know how interested I am in increased levels of speed and fitness in the unemployed runner. But before I get carried away here, today was no PR. In fact, today’s race was more than three minutes slower than the PR I set at Grete’s Great Gallop in Central Park last year. I am happy to say, though, that today’s race was nearly 10 minutes faster than my most recent half marathon (I have some painful memories from this year’s Brooklyn Half). Just when I was starting to get frustrated with increasingly slower times and increasingly sluggish performances, I’m finally starting to see some positive results. So if there’s one thing I’m happy to be getting out of all of this intense focus on my training, it’s that I’m starting to regain some real confidence in my running. Oh, and my legs are starting to look pretty damn good in shorts, too.

I Heart my SPIbelt

For some reason I was in a huge rush to get back to the office at last year’s ING NYC Marathon expo, so I couldn’t really tell you much about what was there. I had only a few minutes to take a quick look around on my way out and the one thing that convinced me to stop was the SPIbelt booth. The salespeople described this little thing with such efficiency that three minutes later (and with a wallet that was suddenly $20 lighter), I was the proud owner of a new SPIbelt. My marathon shorts had no pockets for gels and this was going to be a lifesaver.

So what is a SPIbelt? Here’s how their website describes it:

SPIbelt™ (the “small personal item belt”), the sleek, expandable, and secure fitness, running, and travel belt–and it won’t bounce, no matter how long or hard your workout. Our customers use our fitness belts to hold any of the following: an iPod™ or Zune™, or Blackberry or cell phone, keys, up to 5 GU™ packs, insulin supplies, money cards, wallets, and more

It’s essentially a simple expandable zippered pocket that buckles around your mid-section. I was really glad to have it at last year’s marathon. My SPIbelt resurfaced a few months ago when I started exploring the city a little more and began carrying more things with me. It holds my iPhone (which I use to take pictures and record voice memos for RUNemployed, in addition to bailing me out if I get lost), MetroCard, debit card, ID, a few bucks and a gel or two. It holds everything I need and sits securely enough that I often forget it’s there. And if we’re talking about style, it lays flat and is easily hidden for a sleeker look.

Some of what I carry in my SPIbelt

They come in many colors and in a few versions – including one with two pockets and another that claims to be water-resistant. Pink camo, anyone? You can get that too. Visit the SPIbelt website to view all their products or to place an order.

Picturesque and Grim: Running around Green-Wood

If you are looking for an alternative to running the 3.35-mile loop in Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is one option that is very close by. The perimeter of Green-Wood is a decent 3.5 mile run that can be run on its own, or add it onto your Prospect Park run to go for longer distances with a change of scenery. You’ll find some significant changes in elevation, see some fascinating and beautiful monuments as well as what must be some of the most majestic trees in all of New York City.

Now before you criticize me for suggesting such a disrespectful route (or morbid to some), keep in mind that Green-Wood was designed at a time when Victorians used cemeteries such as this one much like public parks. In the 19th Century, Green-Wood was a very popular tourist attraction, eventually influencing the development of Central Park some years later. It is also the final resting place of many famous – and often very wealthy – New Yorkers and also the site of a lot of history.

A QUICK HISTORY LESSON
Sandwiched between the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Borough Park, Windsor Terrace and Sunset Park, Green-Wood is situated on a hill which is the highest point in Brooklyn. It is also the site of the Battle of Long Island (often referred to as the Battle of Brooklyn), which took place during the Revolutionary War on August 27, 1776. At the top of Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery stands a statue of Minerva commemorating the battle. Minerva faces the harbor with her arm raised in salute to the Statue of Liberty. (You may recall that this was the center of a real estate development dispute a couple years ago, where a proposed building would block their line of sight. Fortunately, Lady Liberty and Minerva can still see each other from across the water and it looks like it will stay that way.)

Green-Wood was then established as a cemetery in 1838 and quickly became the fashionable place to be buried. Mausoleums, statues and other grand monuments can be found all over the 478-acre property. Among the nearly 600,000 permanent residents are Samuel F.B. Morse, Louis Comfort Tiffany, several members of Theodore Roosevelt’s family, Henry and William Steinway of piano fame, and Peter Cooper. Many celebrities and artists were also buried here in more recent years, such as Leonard Bernstein, Fred Ebb and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Also among those buried here is Boss Tweed, whose imprisonment you can learn a little more about if you read my post on Running Roosevelt Island. It’s amazing how history can follow you around this city.

THE ROUTE
It is still an active cemetery and there are some rules that come along with it, so note that jogging in the cemetery is not allowed. This route follows the roads and sidewalks around the perimeter of the cemetery property. Click here for the map.

You can start at the gate located where 20th Street and Prospect Park West meet. If you are running from Prospect Park at the corner of 15th Street, note that the distance from the park to Green-Wood along Prospect Park West is approximately 0.4 miles. Run along 20th Street and follow the perimeter of the cemetery until you complete the loop. For the sake of clarity here, I will describe some of the sights as you come across them in a counter-clockwise direction from this point.

Running along 20th Street, be aware that the sidewalk is not in the best condition so watch your footing. This is also an area where it might be tricky to run two abreast if you are out there with a partner. Conditions improve as you turn left onto 7th Avenue and then eventually wend your way to 5th Avenue. Once you arrive at 25th Street you’ll see the impressive Gothic revival main entrance to the cemetery. (Unfortunately, on this most recent visit, the gate was covered up for restoration.) As you continue along 5th Avenue you can really begin to see the rolling hills that are part of the property. Yes, this really still is Brooklyn.

Green-Wood from 5th Avenue

As you turn left onto 36th Street, however, the sidewalk along the cemetery property disappears. Instead of trying to run on this sliver of grass, simply cross the street and use the sidewalk on the other side.

Green-Wood, 36th Street

Some of these monuments are truly amazing to see.

Mausoleums Near 37th Street
This continues all along this stretch until you reach Fort Hamilton Parkway. As you take a left onto the Parkway, the sidewalk along the perimeter of the cemetery property returns and is in excellent condition. Continue making left turns until you reach 20th Street and until you are back where you started at the gate at Prospect Park West. Note, however, that the sidewalk disappears again when you reach 20th Street. If you choose to run along the dirt path, watch your footing or cross to the other side of the street.

TOURING THE CEMETERY

Since you won’t be able to explore the grounds during your run, come back another time to take a tour of the cemetery or take part in their events. As a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System, it’s also a great place for bird-watching. For more information, visit the Green-Wood Historic Fund‘s website.

HOW TO GET THERE
You have a few options by subway, each of which will get you started at a different point around the loop:

  • F or G train to 15th Street Prospect Park stop or the Fort Hamilton Parkway stop
  • M or R train to 25th Street
  • M, R, D or M train to 36th Street
  • D or M train to 9th Avenue

No matter which way you go, you’ll have to run a couple of blocks before you reach the cemetery. If you want to start from where I described the route, get off at the 15th Street Prospect Park stop and run a few blocks in a southerly direction along Prospect Park West and over the Prospect Expressway. Study a map before you go and bring fluids with you to stay hydrated because you won’t find water fountains here. The permanent residents have no need for them, anyway.

Green-Wood Monuments

First Month Roundup

We’re already a few days into August, which means July is now over and so is my first month of unemployment. While I’ve kept myself busy with plenty of projects (RUNemployed being one of them), I make sure to keep running near the top of my list of priorities. And I know I’m not the only one (look back at my post from a couple weeks ago, Unemployment + More Training = Superhero?).

So I’ve spent the past month running five days a week – being on a training plan for the NYC Marathon helps keep me focused – and I feel great about it. Last year at this time I was just getting started with marathon training, but this year I have a really solid month of preparation already on these legs. The other two days should probably be rest days but I’ve started to do some light swimming, which I just picked up again after a 2-year hiatus from the pool.

(Oh, and here’s a little unemployment/recession-friendly tip: check out your local city parks recreation center to see if they have a pool or a gym. I paid something like $75 for an entire year’s membership. So, okay, you don’t get the fancy stuff that comes with private gyms – no towel service, no saunas, no sun deck – and I deal with a crowded pool no matter what time I go, but I think it’s worth the price. For those in New York City, click here for information on local Recreation Centers and membership details. )

So here’s the really crazy part – my total mileage for June 2009 was 51 miles. In July 2009 I ran 115 miles. If my math is right, that’s a 125% increase. I know that this is a fast jump but I feel good about the quality of my runs and I am staying injury free.

There we have it: a full month has passed. The luster of “funemployment” might have faded a bit, revealing a brand new set of stresses in life, but I still cherish the fact that I can truly take advantage of the time I have to get out there and explore my city, all while keeping fit.