Get your expo on

nycm expo entranceI hit the NYC Marathon expo on its first day, shortly after it opened. My goals were modest – collect my race bib, load up on race swag and free samples, perhaps browse the wares a little, and document the event for you, my readers . . . all while minimizing time on my feet.

Navigating the expo at the Javits Convention Center is a bit like navigating an Ikea store: there’s a forced march through its various sections, beginning with bib pickup and then proceeding through shirt selection, race bag collection, timing chip quality control, the ASICS merchandise display (ASICS being a major sponsor of the race) and lesser merchandise displays. Bib pickup, the first stop, consisted of multiple rows of booths that corresponded to ascending bib numbers, seemingly reaching into the millions. It shouldn’t have been a hard concept to grasp, but I still managed to walk past my designated booth and wander around bewildered for a bit, before I realized the numbers were going in the wrong direction. (Because I qualified for the “Local Competitive” start by being fast for my age and gender, my bib number is shockingly low. Seeing all those booths at the expo was a salutary reminder to brace myself for being passed by literally thousands of younger and maler runners on Sunday.)

I made sure to position my three-digit bib number so that others could see it (without being too obvious), while holding myself erect and trying not to trip. Continue reading

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The thrifty marathoner

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DIY arm warmers for those chilly race mornings

I admit it: I’m a cheapskate. Having coughed up more than $200 in entry and processing fees to run the New York City Marathon, I’m not exactly itching to spend a lot of money on gear.  (Shoes, being essential,* are the exception.) But with the forecast calling for temps in the 40s on Sunday, it’s going to take more than a plastic garbage bag to prevent hypothermia during the long pre-race wait at Fort Wadsworth, and even during the early miles of the race itself.

A little creativity is in order.

Take the attractive and highly functional arm warmers pictured here. They’re fashioned from a wonderful thing called “socks,” widely available for a few bucks a pair from your local dollar store, pharmacy or street fair (or for even less if you take them from your spouse’s sock drawer). A snip here, a snip there, and you’re in business.  I plan to wear these with my race singlet for the first few miles, then throw them to my cheering fans somewhere along Fourth Avenue.

Other race day gear piled in our back bedroom/office in preparation for Sunday:

  • Mismatched throwaway gloves from Hanson’s running store in Detroit
  • Layers, layers, layers – including my daughter’s “Super Sophomore” shirt, found under the bed, and a discarded shirt of Eric’s, retrieved from that pile we keep forgetting to take to the fabric recycling place
  • A pair of (very) relaxed-fit Mom jeans that gapped at the waist even when I was fifteen pounds above my racing weight
  • Mylar blankets saved from previous races and stashed in the trunk of my late, lamented Saturn just in case I ever got stranded in a snowdrift somewhere

Come Sunday, I’ll try hard not to look smug when I watch runners in expensive gear debating whether to wear it in the race or stand in the baggage line to check it. I’ll be comfy in my Mom jeans, garish T-shirt and frayed, stained button-down – right up until the last possible moment, when I strip down to emerge as “Running Woman.”

. . .

In the meantime, let me suggest another money-saving opportunity for thrifty marathoners and their friends and family – check out those New York Road Runners “Run the City” deals. Sure, most of them are less about saving money than about marketing: I love Jacques Torres as much as anyone, but if I drop $25 on fancy candy, a complementary small hot chocolate seems like the least they can offer me.

There are some gems in there, though, like 2-for-1 doughnuts at Leske’s in Bay Ridge. You won’t find doughnuts glazed with organic passion fruit icing and sprinkled with non-GMO, fair trade cocoa nibs there. You will find airy crullers and overstuffed squares oozing raspberry jelly. I planned today’s easy 5 miler so that it ended at their store, which happens to be practically on the marathon route. I arrived just as a massive shipment of flour was being delivered, and got a peek into their bakery operation in the back. Super nice people, great old school doughnuts and cheap, too (even when they’re not 2-for-1).

Thrifty marathoners, take note.

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2-for-1 at Leske’s Bakery: of course I’m smiling!

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Leske’s were making doughnuts, crullers and kringler in the back of their store before “artisanal” was a thing.

Leske’s Bakery, 7612 Fifth Avenue, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

*Barefoot runners, please refrain from commenting.

Rest day – and a look back

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Not quite how I was feeling, eight miles into a run on a muggy September day

No run for me today – and how odd that feels. Easy runs have been an important part of my marathon training, but scheduled “no run” days haven’t. From the beginning of September through the Staten Island Half Marathon on October 12, I  ran every day, averaging 60+ miles a week.

This week, I’ll drop down to 40.  Next week, I’ll drop down even more, and try to stay off my feet as much as possible (meaning no 6-hour birding walks in the park, no matter how many rare sparrows turn up there).

Instead of catching up on my reading, as planned, I’ve been fidgety and unproductive.*

I want to run, dammit.

So I’ve been looking back on my training – the miles run and the sights seen while I ran them.  When I first qualified for the New York City Marathon, I fantasized not just about lining up on the most spectacular starting line in the sport,** but about long training runs that would carry me to the farthest reaches of the city.  I’d take a 1 train to Van Cortlandt Park and run all the way back.  I’d hop on the A to farthest Far Rockway.  I’d finally get to Canarsie and Sheepshead Bay and Rego Park and other neighborhoods well off my beaten running path.

Sometime in late August, I realized that the number of long runs remaining on the calendar was not infinite. It was, in fact, extremely finite – and shrinking. Other running exigencies, such as the desire to avoid busy streets and long lights, worked against my plans to combine marathon training and urban exploration.

Even so, I managed some memorable runs, and saw some great stuff . . . including these scenes from a run last month that took me along the Brooklyn waterfront from Red Hook to DUMBO and Vinegar Hill, then alongside the Navy Yard into Williamsburg and over the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan.

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Swoon’s work in Red Hook

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A Mondrian-esque shed in DUMBO

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No time to sit and enjoy the view – I had miles to do.

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Sure, I’ll run with you!

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And my tired legs
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I’m already missing all of this.

*Though I did manage to do laundry and vacuum.  And Eric and I have been eating very, very well this week.

**As Mary Wittenberg of the New York Road Runners is fond of saying, and I agree.

Trusting your training

Getting ready for the New York City Marathon

The New York City Marathon is less than two weeks away.  That means I’m running reduced mileage, so that when I line up on the Verrazano bridge on November 2, my legs will be fresh and bouncy.

It also means I’m going a little crazy.

I know to expect a variety of physical symptoms to come and go over the next ten days: sniffles, odd twinges, inexplicable lethargy, shoes that just feel wrong.

Hardest to deal with, though, are the doubts.  Did I train enough? Did I train the right way?  Was I crazy to top out at long runs of 16-18 miles, when everyone else was going for 20 or even more?  Will my 53-year-old body hold up for 26.2 miles, or will the endless hill that is Fifth Avenue between 120th and 90th streets turn me into a shuffling, deeply ashamed, zombie?

Like many women in my cohort, I was a late-onset runner. I came up just behind the pioneering generation of women distance runners, and while girls cross country existed at my high school in the late 1970s, I wanted nothing to do with it: I was a debater and quiz bowler and student journalist, utterly uninterested in (even hostile to) sports of all kinds.

As a consequence, when I finally took up running in my mid-30s – and became serious about it in my 40s – I had no experience of training.  The idea that running more miles, even at a moderate pace, would eventually make me faster seemed absurd (it still strikes me as magical). I’ve since learned to accept, if not to entirely understand, the science of the various physiological adaptations that running at various paces for various distances produces.

The truly important lesson that I missed by not participating in sports during my high school and college years is the one about trusting your coach.  That lesson doesn’t come easily, or naturally, or comfortably in adulthood.  In fact, it sounds more than a little retrograde.  (A “Question Authority” button is pinned to the bulletin board behind me even as I type this.)  All the same, the only way to train for a marathon without actually running a marathon is to trust that your coach (real or virtual) knows what he* is doing.

On November 3,** I will return to my usual, skeptical self.  I’ll quote Gramsci about pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will, etc. etc..  But until then, I’m setting all doubt aside.  I am blindly, completely, fervently, even desperately trusting Keith and Kevin Hanson and my training.

Because, really, what else can you do?

*I write “he” advisedly, because all of the marathon plans I can think of are by men.  Unfortunately.

**Just in time for Election Day, appropriately enough.