Cell Phone Search and Rescue

This past weekend I had a chance to go running by Binghamton University, in their Nature Preserve. I’ve gone before, and have had some really nice trail runs there. Well, this run was no different, for the most part. I didn’t run for long, just over an hour, but I rediscovered a spot I found once on another run there.

It’s a beautiful spot, and it takes a few minutes of uphill running to get there, so I feel like I’ve earned it when I get there. “There” is a solitary bench on the top of a hill overlooking a field and the surrounding hills, with just a house or two nestled unobtrusively among the snow-covered hilltops. It’s dead quiet except for the wind, which was blowing quite hard that day, unobstructed by trees at the top of this fallow field. When I reached it this past weekend, I just sat in the bench for minutes and looked around, forgetting that I was on a run. The lack of footsteps in the snow before mine made me feel even more isolated and at peace.

Not the spot I described, but part of the Binghamton University Nature Preserve. It's just as beautiful, in a different way, in the snow. (Photo: Aclan C. Okur)

After my zen moment, I continued my run and eventually approached the very end, where I got off the trail. As I was running along a road on the last stretch of my run, I noticed a trail-head that I’d never seen before, and decided to investigate. I got on the new trail for a couple of minutes, but it headed up a hill and away from where I wanted to go, so I doubled back. Nearly back at the trail-head, I decided to instead navigate for a few minutes off-trail.

This turned out to be the wrong decision. I realized quickly that with the snow and lack of trail, I was not going to have an easy time of running, so I made my way back toward the road. After a few near falls I finally made it to within jumping distance of the road, when I slipped badly and slid all the way down to the road. I managed to stay upright, and continued to run for a moment when I realized my hand felt oddly light. Looking down, I saw with dismay that the pocket in my running water bottle where I keep my cell phone was was now empty.

I returned to the spot of my bad slip, knowing I had grasped a branch for support, and possibly could have flung the cell phone out while doing so. Not seeing my silver phone in the snow, I backtracked through my entire off road adventure, searching in vain for my phone. I knew the odds of finding it in the snow were low, and the fact that it was on vibrate would make it harder to locate. Nevertheless, I wasn’t giving up hope, and got a friend to call it repeatedly while I repeated my search. Finally, with a huge sense of relief, I heard the faint buzzing at the spot of my bad slip near the road and I quickly located the phone sitting a couple of feet away in the snow. So there was a happy ending. It was a great run, but if it was at the cost of losing my phone, I would probably have remembered it differently.

Trail Falling

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging break, so I apologize to my dedicated follower(s?). I’ve still been running, but I haven’t trained for anything nor raced in quite a while, so not much went on while I was busy not blogging anything.

Though I haven’t raced recently, I’ve still had some interesting runs. One that comes readily to mind is a trail run at Bear Mountain with my brother. Well, trail “run” might be a bit of an exaggeration. It was during one of the snows in NY this winter (so that limits it to what, two days?), and my brother and I drove up to Bear Mountain planning a three hour trail run.

By the time we got there there was about half a foot of snow on the ground, but we headed up the mountain anyway. The first part of the trail isn’t too technical, but we eventually saw that running would be utterly impossible. Roots and rocks were invisible under the snow, and we were slipping everywhere. We made it to the top of Bear Mountain, somewhat disheartened that our run was obviously going to have to be cut short.

However, instead of taking the hike of shame back down the way we came, we decided to take a fairly technical way down, one with lots of bare rock faces. We had no illusion of running anymore, and figured we might as well have some fun, having driven all the way out there. Well, fun we had. I am not exaggerating when I say we essentially slid on our butts more than half the way down the mountain (more accurately, we were doing a sort of backward crab walk to control the sliding). We got in maybe 20 minutes of actual running that day, as opposed to the planned three hours, but I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun on a run. I think we should dub what we did “trail falling;” it definitely wasn’t running and calling it hiking is a stretch too.

Anyway, I do have a couple of races coming up. I’m racing the Cherry Tree Ten Miler in Prospect Park this Sunday, which I’ve done before and is a fun race. I just hope the water at the water stops stays liquid this year. I suppose it’s a sort of twisted incentive to run fast- reach the water stops before the water all freezes.

More excitingly (in my opinion), I’ve signed up for the Bear Mountain Half Marathon (part of the Northface Endurance Challenge). Granted, it’s the race for us wimps who don’t want to train for a 50k or 50 miler, but it should be pretty tough regardless. I run there a fair bit, but I’ve never raced there, so it should be an interesting experience.


Running Loving and Driver Etiquette

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a few interesting encounters on my runs. During one, I was apparently very popular with the elderly lady demographic. I received waves and smiles, and after a car turned into my way without looking an elderly woman nearby became very upset with how inconsiderate drivers can be. I guess I’m used to being harassed by Long Island drivers because I hadn’t thought much of the incident, but the support was nice nonetheless.

On another run pretty late at night a driver passing by decided to blast his horn at me as he approached. I was all the way on the left side of an empty road, wearing a long sleeved white shirt, and the car was going slowly after a nearby stop sign, so it was definitely not out of alarm from seeing me. This being the case, and having had previous bad encounters with nighttime honking (one incident left me with a sprained ankle), I decided to grant him a certain hand gesture. Suddenly, from across the street, I heard someone yell out to me “I love you. Really, I do.”

I looked around, startled, but didn’t see the caller. I’d like to think I was being supported once again against rude drivers, but I suppose it could have been for any number of reasons; perhaps my stride was very graceful that night. Alternatively, it wasn’t directed at me at all, but that is not a possibility I’d like to consider.

On the topic of inconsiderate drivers, I’d like to supply the driving public with a few tips for proper runner-driver etiquette, most of which should be self evident but apparently to some people are not:

1. Do not scream out of your window at runners.

For some reason I am subject to this on a fairly regular basis. Words of support are of course appreciated, but guttural screams and barks (literal barks- speaking from personal experience here) are not appreciated.

2. Do not honk at runners.

Unless you know them and are going slowly enough to be recognized (I hate wondering if I was supposed to know who that was who just honked at me), please resist the urge.

3.  And most importantly: Do not run over runners.

I suppose this one speaks for itself.

As a corollary to Rule 3: When backing out of a driveway, check the sidewalk. Way too many times have I nearly been run over by suburban drivers who don’t expect pedestrians on their quiet street.

Suburban Rain

I went out for a 5 mile run at 3 a.m. in my town, a typical Long Island suburb. As I stepped out into the cool (very) early morning air, I faced my first obstacle: my house’s sprinkler system. I quickly analyzed the situation, and decided that the path of least risk involved edging along the side of the lawn and leaping over a sprinkler head. Two very wet legs later, and I was on my way.

The sprinklers in front of my house seemed to set a theme for my run. As I headed down my block, a solitary figure reflecting off shiny wet asphalt, I noticed a sound filling the damp air. A sort of hum, a familiar swishing. I looked around and suddenly realized that every house on my block had their sprinklers on. The slight drizzle I had noticed was about half rain and half sprinkler mist, rain from the sky and ground (a Forrest Gump quote concerning ‘rain that goes up’ comes readily to mind).

As I continued my run, every block I passed had houses with sprinklers going. I thought it so typical, the suburban houses with the tidy lawns and all the sprinklers set to turn on at 3 a.m. when no one is supposed to be around. And there I was, breaking the rule, observing the sprinklers quietly going about their solitary business. It almost felt like the rain was no rain at all but entirely sprinkler mist, their rebellion to my intrusion.

But I took all the water, rain and sprinklers alike, in stride. And it was fitting when about a mile away from home I got thoroughly soaked by a sprinkler to which I got too close. The sprinklers, the suburban rain, had their final say.

The Good and the Bad of Boston Running

After a summer in Cambridge/Boston, I’m back home in New York. The end of my Boston trip also signified an end to my Boston running, a running scene which I sorely miss already.  Below are the things I loved and hated about Boston running.

The good:

1. The other runners! And not just on Sunday mornings, they were hitting the roads at all times. There was a large diversity of runners too, from those clearly on their bi-monthly slog to Boston marathoners.

2. Scenery. Okay, Boston is not exploding with natural wonders, but it’s a nice city, and the Charles River is pretty. Plus, I have a suburb of New York to compare it to, so it doesn’t take much for me to be impressed.

3. The bridge loops. The popular loops around bridges on the Charles River are nice loops with easy-to-remember distances. They were an easy default when I was too lazy to map out a new route. On a related note, I did manage to run just about every bridge over the Charles River within a 10 mile radius of Boston, an arbitrary goal of mine over the summer.

Longfellow Bridge in Boston, spanning the Charles River. A member of the bridge loop club. Picture by Matthew Miller, Wikipedia Commons.

And the bad:

1. The weather. This is to New England in general, actually: Stop raining already! It especially liked to rain when I was already on the verge of not doing a run already because I was tired and didn’t feel well. And I wasn’t even there for the New England winter.

2. The pedestrians. Maybe it’s because Boston has so many runners, or maybe I was simply imagining it, but pedestrians in Boston tended to not yield to runners. Some of them were good about it, quickly clearing a path, but others hardly moved, if at all. Maybe I simply had higher expectations for a running city, because now that I think about it I doubt New York is any better.

3. The god-damn street names. I swear to god, the city planners must have been smoking something when they laid Boston out. Mapping a run one day, I noticed Washington Street crossing Washington Street which a couple of hundred feet later crossed, you guessed it, Washington Street. This was by FAR the most frustrating aspect of running in Boston, and it was responsible for some rather painful extended runs.

Overall, though, the good outweighs the bad, and I’m hoping  to do some more Boston running soon.

Exploring the Running Clubs of Cambridge

I have never been a part of any running group. Not the small local club, not the somewhat larger New York Road Runners. So when I joined a running group based in Cambridge for a run this past Saturday, it was an entirely new experience. And a great one, at that.

After being in Cambridge for over a month and running nearly every day of my stay here, it finally occurred to me that I should check out running clubs nearby. After all, Boston is practically swarming with runners, and it is only natural that they on occasion get together for some of that running.

About a minute and a half into searching the interweb, I found a group that met three times a week about two minutes away from where I’m currently staying. After a short email exchange with the club I found myself with the group bright and early Saturday morning.

The group largely stayed together for the first mile, then broke up into pairs (mostly) who ran their own pace and distance around the Charles River. I’ll always maintain that running is a solo sport at its heart, but running with a partner can be extremely helpful. The fellow I ran with was right around my fitness level, so we were well matched.

The interesting thing about running in pairs is that crashing is rarely synchronous, which is actually a good thing. If one runner is struggling he can draw energy from the other and vice versa. When I’ve been on runs where my partner and I crash together, it is difficult, but even that can be psychologically helpful: sometimes it’s good to know that you’re not the only one having a hard time.

I’m an advocate of running partners, clearly, and a running club seems to operate on the same principle. Logic dictates I should therefore like running clubs, which thus far appears to be accurate. I suppose I’ll know better after this Saturday, when I run with them again.

My 22 mile adventure and ultramarathon dreams

The title is perhaps misleading. I did not see or do anything particularly adventurous on my 22 mile trek this past Sunday; rather it was the total experience of running 22 miles for the first time was the adventure.

One morning recently I woke up and decided I would do an ultramarathon before my first marathon. Why? A couple of reasons: To prove to myself that I can, and to enjoy the distance before I decide to start seriously racing it. If I decide to train for a marathon, I will push myself to do it fast- which, of course, is not a bad thing, but is a different sort of experience.

I know that if I decided to one day I could go out and run 26.2 miles (not today, mind you, my legs are still sore from the 22 miler). But I want to do a run where I don’t know starting out that I can finish the distance, where the worst-case scenario is not PR’ing. And that’s where ultras come into play. They make you race the distance, not the clock.

Granted, this is all very up in the air, since I haven’t even signed up for an ultra yet, but it’s a good goal to focus on. The 22 miler was just part of my ongoing theme of “let’s see how far I can run until I drop from exhaustion” (which is probably the mantra of many a runner). I won’t put you through the same agony it put me through by giving you a blow by blow (or rather a mile by mile) description, but needless to say, it was hard. Not the hardest run I’ve ever done, but it was hot out and it was psychologically difficult knowing I’ve never run that far. The 20-mile barrier is completely mental- I’ve run 18, this was physically minimally harder (race pace, of course, every mile counts more)- but it felt nice to break it.

Next up: the 30 mile barrier. Next week, maybe. Right now I’m enjoying a well-earned rest day.


Where are Boston’s street signs??

Seriously, I mean what the hell. Did the city planners specifically try to make it difficult for non-Bostonians to navigate? It sure seems like it.

I’ve been in Boston now two weeks, and I must have run at least an extra 15 miles from getting lost. Most of them came from a run last Sunday which alone added six miles to the tally. I’ve come to rely on instinct during runs more than logic. Usually it works- knowledge of the phases of the moon led me home one evening- but more often than not, it just leads me more astray.

During last Sunday’s run I decided at a certain point to head back to the Charles River and get back home from there. Sounds simple, right? I wasn’t sure exactly where I was so I started looking for geographic signs that would lead me to the river (it curves, so it’s not enough to know which way is north).

I see some large buildings so I head there, figuring they may be near water. Once in the maze of buildings, I notice some Duck Tours in progress (if you don’t know what these are, you should visit Boston!). Remembering the old adage, “amphibious boats filled with tourists always lead to water,” I follow them for a while. Eventually, soaking with sweat and running low on water, I see the sparkling blue of the Charl–uh oh. It’s Boston Harbor, not the Charles River.

I had a long way yet to run, but I stayed by the water and eventually made it back. After an extra six miles, that is.

Besides for getting lost all too frequently, I have only the best to say of running in Boston. There’s the perfect mix of natural beauty, city activity and sights, and other runners to make running here awesome.

Chasing the Charles: Running in Cambridge, Ma

I’m in Cambridge for the summer, and naturally I am taking advantage of the incredible running environment here. Never before have I seen such a concentration of runners, hitting the streets all the time, no matter the weather. Runners of all abilities, the slow old ones (“old” meaning 50 in this extremely young neighborhood) and sprightly young college track runners.

One interesting thing I have noticed is the lack of the traditional running wave when running around Boston- maybe I’ve only run into grumpy runners or maybe people don’t do it here simply because it gets ridiculous by the 30th wave on a single run. But I love having other runners around me; it’s part of why I love racing. I draw energy from them, pace off them, pick them off, and all too often am passed by them. Running will always be a solo sport, but it’s nice to do it alone together once in a while.

I almost ran into disaster (pardon the pun) on my very first run in the Boston area. It was approaching 10 p.m., and I decided to go for a short run on the bike path along the Charles River. It wasn’t a great run from the start, but what really started it downhill was when I almost fell into the Charles River. Not so close, really, but I did slip off the path and badly twist my ankle. Thankfully I had less than a mile left to go and managed to hobble back safely, but it was an unpleasant start for my summer running.

After a short running hiatus due to the ankle injury, I resumed running by the river and in Boston. So far it’s been great, the miles fly by with so much to see and so many runners and bikers to watch. On a 10.5 mile run this past Sunday I hit the halfway mark and was confused, thinking I could not possibly have done more than three miles, let alone over five. But I had, I was simply so distracted by the sights that the time flew (though not really, unfortunately- it was a rather slow run).  I plan to continue to cheerfully chase the Charles all summer long (and hopefully think up some new alliterations).

Running and Exploring

I got lost in my own backyard last week. Okay, not literally, but pretty close to it. I went for a five mile run that included an out-and-back on a short trail by a nearby lake. On the way back, I decided to explore a little, and discovered a whole network of trails I never knew existed- and this is about a mile and a half from my house, mind you. It was in a fairly small area, but there must have been a dozen trails. Most weren’t well-maintained, and it didn’t require a large leap of imagination to see some of the locations as prime serial-killer real estate, but it was actually beautiful. And I even got a little lost, which was easy because of the large number of short, winding trails with no markers.

The nicest part about it was knowing that this was so close to my home, and yet it looked so drastically different. I even saw a bit of wildlife- if you count a chipmunk and a bright orange bird as wildlife, that is. There were also campers, which is extremely unusual for that area. Unless those were the serial killers I mentioned earlier…

It would have been more pleasant if I had taken water, though, it was humid and in the 80’s. But it was the first time in a while that I used running as a real means of exploration, with no map or planning of a route, and it was a lot of fun.