Running, Racing, and Dealing with the Unexpected

From AP

Runners have been making a lot of headlines over the last few days, but not always in a good way. Sandy, the super storm that hit the northeast earlier this week, has caused a lot of damage to a lot of lives and has affected the weekend dreams of a lot of runners. I’m not going to compare the magnitude of these things, but I do think the initial backlash against runners when Mayor Bloomberg first said the race would go on was unfair. I got into a heated exchange after that announcement with a friend who runs, who openly declared online that she believed any runner who would show up and run an event under the circumstances was “selfish.” From my perspective, this statement is completely unfair. Keep in mind the following facts:

  • It’s the decision of city leadership, not of runners or NYRR, to hold or cancel the race. They were the ones responsible for saying the race was still on, and they also bear the responsibility for the 11-th hour decision to cancel. Consider this: If the race were held, and even if no one showed up at the starting line, the street closures and police deployments panned by many would still have occurred, because city government had ordered it.
  • According to the New York Times, by the time the race was cancelled on Friday night 40,000 of the 47,000 expected runners were already in the city. Even excepting native New Yorkers, that means thousands of visiting runners made it to the city on the expectation of a race, only to find out it was off. If part of the goal of canceling was to prevent the diversion of resources to visitors, on that count the city leadership certainly failed.
  • I would argue that canceling the race doesn’t really create any “winners,” per se. Now, in addition to all of the folks without homes and power, many runners lost non-refundable entry fees into the hundreds of dollars, plus the thousands that some have spent on travel, lodging, and meals. When panning these runners, it’s important to remember that some of them are also losing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. All of them (one hopes) had spent months training for the event, some waited years to gain an entry. Some will probably not be able to return to New York for the marathon in the future. I definitely see both sides of this story, but I also think the stories of massive amounts of “resources being diverted to runners” were exaggerated.
  • What strikes me most about this story, though, is how runners showed up in the end and debunked the selfish image that some people painted of them. Earlier today, it’s estimated that over 1,000 runners showed up in Staten Island to help distribute supplies. (See also this first-hand account from running legend Amby Burfoot. He estimated the crowd at 700, but the larger figure was reported by NBC News.) Others who ran in Central Park raised money for those affected by the storm. Let’s also not forget that many runners entered the race in the first place through charity programs, raising money for different causes or just seeking to improve their lives and inspire others. I hope these many individuals succeeded in reminding the media and ordinary people that runners–especially distance runners–tend to be a socially conscious bunch. You can’t spend hours on the road without thinking of the communities you run in, the causes that your races benefit, and the environment.

The NYC Marathon Web site offers info on ways you can help.

City leaders in New York showed some poor leadership in this instance, but it looks like runners did great things in New York today and I hope residents affected by the storm feel like this was ultimately worthwhile. (As we all know, sometimes the best-intentioned plans don’t work out as intended.) If any of you were affected by the storm or participated in the aid efforts today, please let me know! I’ve seen some blogs about this already and I’d like to read more about what people are doing. For my part, I donated to the Red Cross today and would encourage my readers to find a way to help as well.

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More Vegetarian Living with Wegmans

What can I say? I can’t stay away from Wegmans while I’m visiting the East Coast. This week, I decided to see if good things really do come in small packages.

I like hummus now and then as a snack, but sometimes a whole tub is too much to get through. Hence I was intrigued by Wegmans’ Snack & Go Hummus in Red Pepper flavor. ($1.99) This snack is reasonably sized and easy to pack, including flatbread crackers and a small tub of hummus in a re-sealable pack. Nutritionally, it weighs in at 280 calories and 12 grams of fat. The hummus has a distinct red pepper flavor and a citrus tang. The crackers didn’t do it for me, though. I was surprised to find just five thin flatbreads, which didn’t come close to using up the portion of hummus. The crackers themselves looked nice, but were brittle and not filling. The next day, the leftover hummus tasted much better on Triscuits. Unless you are planning to pack this in a lunch or bring it on a hike as a snack, maybe spring for the full-size hummus and spread it on whatever you choose!

Picture from About.com

I also couldn’t pass up this sample-sized packet of Justin’s Maple Almond Nut Butter. ($.99) As a single person, peanut butter is another thing I rarely get through an entire container of before it goes bad, so I’ll only get a large size if I really like it. What appealed to me about this is the simple ingredient list: almonds, palm fruit oil, maple sugar, and sea salt. (A non-maple variety is also available, for those who hate trees or Vermont.) The taste was also simple, but delicious. The almond flavor is mellow and earthy and the maple adds a very subtle touch of sweetness. It was great on toast, but I could also imagine this spread working well on a dessert wafer or cookie. Buyer beware, though—a single 1.15 oz serving packet is 200 calories and a surprising 17g of fat. Enjoy in moderation and you’ll be fine.

Picture from Wegmans

Finally, I at last got to try Wegmans Portobella Mushroom Burgers, one of various kinds of Wegmans brand veggie burgers available. ($3.99, also in Black Bean and Southwest varieties) I’m kind of stretching the “small-item” theme here. On the one hand, these burgers come in a 2-pack, which is smaller than the normal 4-pack of frozen veggie burgers that I’m accustomed to. On the other hand, the burgers themselves are massive compared to the usual frozen fare. A single patty is a quarter pound, with a whopping 250 calories, 11 grams of fat (5g of saturated fat), and 17g of protein. Kind of makes you wonder if you’re really saving on nutrition by choosing this over a standard beef burger! On the other hand, these burgers are delicious. Made primarily of mushroom, egg, and cheese, they are thick and have a rich taste. Chunks of portobella mushroom are evident right in the burger, and the texture is amazingly meat-like. I was amazed by how it browned up in the pan and of the moist, crumbly texture on the inside. On my stovetop preparation, the center didn’t quite cook up completely, but on a grill or in the oven I bet these would be divine. Pull the burger apart and you can even see the strings of cheese woven into it. A single patty has 2.5 times the calorie count of my normal veggie burgers, so it’s no surprise that this left me full all night. Of course, the calorie count and high fat content are a little off-putting, as is the cost. This is the kind of burger I would bring out for a party or a BBQ, but that I may not keep around just for myself. Who knows, it may even make a convert out of the carnivore in your house.

Taking a Hike at Letchworth State Park

It seems I’ve been temporarily sidelined from running by a bout of tendonitis. While this is a big disappointment to me, the good news is that lower impact activities don’t aggravate my pain so I can stick to other pursuits like hiking, gym workouts, and paddling for the next couple weeks.

Yesterday, I decided to get my exercise by hiking in Letchworth State Park in New York, affectionately known as “The Grand Canyon of the East.” The park was once the estate of William Pryor Letchworth and spans over 14,000 acres in the Southern Tier of New York, bordering several towns in multiple counties. The centerpiece of the park is the deep canyon carved out over thousands of years by the Genesee River. In some places, canyon walls are 600 feet high.

More than just a hiking destination, Letchworth offers a wide variety of activities. Over 20 miles of mixed-use trails are approved for hiking, horseback riding, and biking and can be used in the winter for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. There are ample camping facilities, a stocked trout pond, a museum, a fine dining restaurant (The Glen Iris Inn), and outfitters offer hot air ballooning and river rafting trips. As if that weren’t enough, Letchworth also hosts a variety of events throughout the year including craft shows, a Civil War re-enactment, a 5K race, concerts, and a car show. That’s a lot of things to do!

From Metromix

I, of course, only had one day to enjoy the park so I tried to make the most of it. I left mid-morning for the hour-long drive from the suburbs of Rochester. I made a pit stop in Geneseo to fuel up with a veggie sub from Aunt Cookie’s Sub Shop, a place well known to any SUNY Geneseo alums. While it probably didn’t rank highly on health value, the sub was delicious and very affordable. A hefty 6-inch sub and a small bag of chips cost me just over $4. After that, I continued on to the park through the Mt. Morris entrance. The park runs roughly north-south. I entered at the north, but most of the action in the park is at the south end. It’s a lengthy drive to get from one end of the park to another, but along the way there are many scenic vistas of the gorge to enjoy.

I hiked the Gorge Trail, Trail 1, from Upper Falls to Lower Falls and then hiked the Lower Falls trail which leads almost to the bottom of the gorge. The Gorge Trail is seven miles total one way, but the route that I took was about five miles round trip. Along the way, markers spray-painted on trees confirm you are on the right track. It can be confusing, though. At various points this trail passed through woods, across meadows, along paved roads, and up and down over 200 stone and wood stairs. The trail is pretty well kept, but some of the old stone bridges and stairs are showing their age and I did have to take a couple of detours.

The best views along the way are those of the Middle Falls, just outside and below the Glen Iris Inn. The view of Upper Falls with the railroad bridge crossing over is also neat, but I didn’t get a decent picture.

Flowers were in bloom the whole way, giving the trip some color. I also saw squirrels, chipmunks, and lots of birds. Birds of prey continuously circled the canyon looking for a meal.

The Lower Falls Trail hooks into this trail at a well-marked point. This trail is not for the faint of heart, though. Over 120 stone stairs take you down into the gorge, then you pass down a slope or more stairs to a poorly maintained stone platform, which leads you to still more stairs that finally let you out along the canyon walls to a view of the Lower Falls.

Stairs at the Middle Falls

You never really get closer to the Lower Falls than several hundred feet, and again it didn’t make for great views with my iPhone camera. However, the engineering that went into making a stone pathway and bridge along these rough walls is admirable. I can only imagine the effort!

Detail of canyon walls

Today, five miles left me exhausted and took up most of the afternoon. I wish I had gone earlier in the day or had planned my trip for a day when something else was going on in the park. Letchworth is definitely worth seeing, but the $8 per vehicle day pass is a little much for someone who is coming alone just to do some day hiking. Check it out if you have a chance, but plan your visit around other events if you can or invite a carload of friends to join you!

Cross Training by Kayak

Yesterday I decided to give myself a pass on my usual Friday run. I’ve still been feeling the strain of last week’s PR, and I thought that a day off might help my hamstrings and ankle recover. Instead, I went with some friends on a kayak trip. The excursion was run through Bay Creek Paddling Center in Webster, NY and was a very affordable $16 (including boat rental!) thanks to a discounted offering through the Adirondack Mountain Club-Genesee Valley Chapter.

This was my first time in a kayak in probably four years, but I used to love kayaking before I moved to Arizona. I’ve spent time on the water in the Finger Lakes, Lake Ontario, and even took a memorable kayak trip on San Francisco Bay. If you’re new to kayaking or are thinking about trying it for the first time, here are some things to know:

  • On flat water, unless you’re doing something seriously wrong, your odds of capsizing are almost nil. Today’s kayaks are very stable, and the loaners that you will rent at most places are easy to maneuver. The trickiest part is getting in and out.
  • The bigger the body of water, the tougher the paddling. Beginners may want to stick to creeks, canals, and streams (which are plentiful in Upstate New York) and then build to more ambitious trips.
  • Paddling on flat water can be as hard or as easy as you make it. I enjoy a leisurely pace to explore the scenery and watch for birds and animals. Some of my friends last night seemed to think it was the Indy 500. But, you know, whatever works for you.

Not my picture; courtesy of Wikipedia

Our trip lasted about 2.25 hours and we covered 4.5 miles of back streams between Irondequoit Bay and the Ellison Park/Browncroft Blvd. area outside of Rochester. Along the way I saw one snake, a family of swans with signets, a family of Canada geese, some ducks, and a handful of herons (my personal favorite members of the avian family). Others on the trip saw an otter. I heard the splash, but was sorry to miss it. Otters are very cute.

I regrettably didn’t get to take pictures, since I left my camera phone lodged in my breast pocket and would have had to remove my life jacket to get to it. (No, I wouldn’t have died… but I would have gotten yelled at by our guides.) I do hope to go out on the water again before my time here is out, though. My shoulders and wrists are feeling the burn today, but I’d forgotten how much fun it is to get out and do something that isn’t running or a gym workout. Maybe I do need to branch out a little! I leave you with this, my post-paddle reward, a delicious meat-free version of MacGregor’s Mexican Pizza. Yum!

The Fast and the Furriest 10K Race Report

On Saturday June 9, I ran The Fast and the Furriest 10K, only I almost didn’t. But I’ll get to that.

I had high hopes for a new PR at this race. I’ve been running faster than my previous PR pace ever since coming back to the Rochester area. My longest training run was just 5.8 miles, but I hoped my record pace could hold out. I picked up my race packet at the Ridgeway Ave. Fleet Feet location a couple of days before the race. One of my few complaints about the event was that online information about race times and packet pickup was contradictory. Packet pickup times and locations listed on the city’s event Web site and on Active.com were conflicting, but ultimately an e-mail from Yellowjacket Racing cleared up the confusion. The race shirt is just kind of OK—it will make sure I get seen if I wear it while night running—but the race numbers are cute and the packet was composed with pet owners in mind. (The Verona Street Animal Society and Rochester Animal Services are beneficiaries of the event.) Also included were coupons for local vet services, a packet of dog treats from a local realtor, and a packet of Milk Bone “trail mix” for dogs. My little one approved of that.

The morning of the race I faced a difficult decision. I woke up two hours before race time to a steady rain. My dog wouldn’t go outside, and I wondered if I shouldn’t either. Knowing that Rochesterians are used to bad weather, I had little doubt that the race would go on. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a part of it. I’m not new to bad weather racing (Temecula Valley, anyone?), but running a 10K is a different ball game than running a 5K. I made the decision to suit up and drive into the city anyway, just to see if weather got better toward race time. It rained so hard on the way in that I almost turned around, but when I got within a few blocks of the start and saw runners warming up in spite of the rain I knew there was no turning back.

I think this is one of the smallest runs I’ve ever taken part in, perhaps due in part to the weather. Despite lots of promotion online and in print, race results recorded just 211 finishers for the 10K. (A 5K and a dog walk were also offered.) The start was a bit disorganized—announcers were hard to hear over the chatter and were not adequately amplified. I guess electronic amplification and rain don’t mix. As a result, I think most of the pack took off early. I was mid-pack about a block down the road when I heard the starting horn actually blow. This may be why my Garmin times were faster than the mile times announced by race volunteers all the way through.

At the actual start of the race it had briefly stopped raining, but it started up again a few blocks in and continued the whole way. I was so focused on my running that it really wasn’t too much of a bother, except that: a) wet feet late in the race were really annoying. Between rain and puddles I was soaked to my socks; b) my double-tied shoes came untied during the race, which I blame on soaked laces. I lost a few seconds to re-tie them. The race course took us through downtown, along the Genesee River to the University of Rochester area, back across the river, and up back to downtown with a finish outside the Verona Street Animal Shelter. In good weather, it’s not a bad place to run. I’ve run some of these streets as part of the Rochester Half Marathon and on lunchtime runs when I worked in downtown Rochester. The neighborhood is a bit rough, but at 8AM on a Saturday with a pack of runners, there were no problems.

I could tell from my Garmin that my pace was fast (by my standards) throughout. Anything under 10:30/mi would make for a new PR, and my longer training runs were around 10:25/mi while shorter runs (up to 4 miles) were under 10:00/mi pace. On race day, I was thrilled to be consistently under 10:00/mi. I’ve never run for so long at this speed, and though I was concerned about being wet and tired at the end I held out and crossed the finish line in 61:27—a new PR by about 4 minutes!

This about says it all regarding the weather

The 10K is still a growth area for me. This was only actually my third 10K ever—after the ridiculously hilly 2010 Cinco de Mayo 10K in Tucson and the 2012 Lost Dutchman 10K in Apache Junction—and every race has been faster than the last. I believe I could shave a little more time off my 10K in the future, but I’m pleased with this performance and I think it shows the result of more training miles, weight loss, and a better diet—all things I’ve worked hard at in 2012. An interesting side note to this is that even at an overall 9:55/mi pace I was one of the slower finishers in this race. I’d like to think this is because rain deterred a lot of slower runners and walkers who might have otherwise participated.

Support along the course was good, with times announced each mile as runners passed. Post-race entertainment included live music, an expo of pet products and services, and an open house at the Verona Street Shelter with adoptable pets. Weather cleared up within 15 or 20 minutes of the finish so I got to enjoy some of this while attempting to dry off. These two pups pictured here are among the many pets at the shelter looking for forever homes. These adorable babies have no front legs, but they were as happy and loving as any puppies could be. I hope someone in the Rochester area will give these little ones a bright future!

10K Ready

I don’t have much to discuss right now, I guess. Being on “vacation” has made me a lot less enthusiastic about sitting down to blog! However, I do have a 10K approaching on Saturday and after today’s run I am very hopeful for a new PR. Really, anything under a 10:30/mi pace will do it for me. Just to give you an idea, here is a summary of my runs since I got back to New York:

  • 5/27: 5.8 @ 10:26/mi
  • 5/29: 3.5 @ 9:32/mi
  • 5/31: 3.2 @ 9:39/mi
  • 6/1: 3.1 @ 9:58/mi
  • 6/3: 5.8 @ 10:23/mi
  • 6/5: 4 @ 9:48/mi

That’s right, every run I’ve done in NY has been at a pace faster than my current PR pace for a 10K. Of course, the caveat is that I haven’t yet done a run of 6 miles or more. I’m not totally pleased about that, but the weather here in Rochester has been so lousy for the past couple of weeks that I’ve been forced to do my long runs on the treadmill… which shuts off after 60 minutes. Weak. Who invented that system, anyway? I guess this weekend will be the test of my endurance!

The Run of the Year (Subtitled: Why Am I Faster in New York?)

Greetings, blogosphere.

I’ve been maintaining some radio silence lately because I’ve been on the road. I’m visiting Rochester, NY where I will be staying for a while. I’m also doing a 10K run while I’m here, and I may sign up for another race or two. This is a great racing town with runs almost every week during the fair weather months, and even some winter races for those who are feeling bold (which I’m not).

Of course, most of my 10K training has been done in the ever-hotter weather of Tucson, AZ. The week before I left town, I started doing all my runs indoors on a treadmill because the heat–which reached 105 degrees on at least two consecutive days–was becoming deadly. Yesterday was actually my first outdoor run here in Western New York, and what a run it was! I tackled 3.5 miles at an average 9:32/mile pace. That is blistering for me, and over :10/mile faster than my previous fastest run of the year. The 5K time of 29:36 was even close to a PR. Even more surprising is that I managed this time despite a hilly course, getting rained on, and some ornery waterfowl crossing my path. This led me to wonder–Why am I faster in New York than I am in AZ? Some possible explanations:

  • Altitude: It’s true that Tucson (2400 feet above sea level) has a higher elevation than Rochester (500 feet above sea level), but I’ve read multiple studies suggesting that the difference would have to be much greater to make any measurable difference in speed.
  • Air Quality: This may be dubious, too. In 2010, Rochester received an “F” grade from the American Lung Association in terms of ozone pollution, but a 2011 study found a marked decrease in pollution from cars, power plants, and the like.
  • Humidity: Here’s a big difference–Humidity in Rochester has been high. Relative humidity right now is about 53% (though I’d imagine it was higher yesterday while I was running in the rain). Humidity today in Tucson is about 10%. Too much humidity can be a hindrance, but overall I think being too low isn’t great, either!
  • Temperature: This of course matters, too. Trading the upper 90s/low 100s of Tucson for upper 60s evening runs in Rochester is bound to impact performance. Even in the early mornings in Tucson, temperatures were in the 70s by the time I got outside to run.

There are many things I enjoy about being an Arizona runner, but right now I’m loving the achievement of being a bit faster. Happily, I have a few more weeks of this to look forward to. Might a PR be in my near future?