In which bloggers sing “Kumbaya” on the Upper West Side

For years, social scientists have pondered the question: Can Americans and Australians ever have brunch together? The answer is yes. Yes, we can.

Today Jonathan and I met up with a load of people, most of whom we’d never met. At least not in the flesh. With the exception of our friend (and my fellow podcast host) Joe of RunWestchester. But I’ve been following the exploits of Ewen (of About a Ewen) and Flo (of Girl in Motion) for several years. Ewen is here with his friends Joy and Mal on an epic tour of the U.S. (can’t imagine why they’d want to come to this 2,600 mile wide dump) and, fortunately for us, it includes an extended swing through New York City. Flo drove her ass all the way up from Philadelphia just to have lunch with us! But it gets better: also there was Flo’s friend, Heather, a newly minted masters runner who lives in New York and who had not seen Flo in sixteen years!! But, wait. There’s more: Heather had a stress fracture in her pelvis earlier this year in almost the exact same place I did!!!

It doesn’t get any weirder than that. Especially when this crew is involved.

In a symbol of the historically peaceful relations between our two nations, we exchanged cultural gifts. Ewen gave us Australia-themed drink coolers and fragrant soaps. We gave Ewen race t-shirts (he made out like a “bandit,” scoring shirts for the New York Marathon, Healthy Kidney, Scotland Run and yesterday’s Run for Central Park). Mimosas were consumed. Checks were split. Hugs were freely given.

Mal and Joy, who are non-runners, were extremely tolerant of all the running talk. Which is good, since we’re meeting up again on Friday evening for drinks and there will be even more runners there!!!! Joe and I will also see Ewen in Van Cortlandt for a 5K on Thursday evening, his first international race (not counting Tasmania)!!!!!

Ewen, Joy and Mal

Heather, Flo and Ewen

Me, Joe, Heather, Flo and Ewen

Jonathan threatens to usurp actual stuff from another continent

Training: July 3-9

It may look like I’m still injured. But I’m not.

That’s more than I can say for my training log, however. Google Docs inexplicably barfed all over it and upon exporting it out to my Mac to try to save the file, I couldn’t open it. So now I have to work with it on Jonathan’s Windows machine, which creates the hideousness you see at right. Damn you, Google. You’re not worth $528.94 a share.

I ran every day last week. And, more important, I ran pain free every day. It was good.

But.

It was also hot.

So I did lots of running inside on the treadmill.

Which was fine.

Not ideal.

But fine.

Highlights of the week included my first Jack Daniels-assigned speed session. That went well. I did not run too hard. I did my strides on a few outside runs and realized that unlike in training cycles past, I was not too tired to do the strides. Good sign.

Then I tore up Suicide Hill in Van Cordlandt and won a muffin. With help from Jonathan.

On Saturday I got some culture and some miles in Prospect Park.

And that was that.

This week’s gone well too. I ran faster than previously on some treadmill speedy stuff. On Saturday I have a 4 mile race in Central Park. I love the bizarre 4 mile distance.

On Sunday I’ll meet some long-admired kindred spirits for the first time (and reconnect with a few regulars) for lunch, one from Philadelphia and one all the way from Australia. That should be fun. I hope he doesn’t make fun of our accents.

I ordered some flamboyantly awful-looking new racing flats.

But you’ll have to wait until the weekend to hear all about those things.

How happy am I not to be injured?

Do you really have to ask?

Theatre Review: Endure — Run. Woman. Show.

What happens when the race of your life is your life? You get something like Endure: Run. Woman. Show., a 360-degree meditation on marathoning as metaphor. Melanie Jones, the creative force behind this immersive theatre piece, which takes place in Prospect Park and its immediate environs, found me through the miracle of Google and invited me to the premiere yesterday. I’m so glad she did.

Endure is a show in which you’re along for the ride, rather than sitting passively in a theatre seat. Wearing an MP3 player, you start at a nearby playground (after “registering” for the show and pinning on a race bib, which is also your program) and make your way to Prospect Park. Along the way, you’re taken on a sonic journey, with visual cues if you look carefully enough for them, as you make the transition from the workaday sidewalk world of Park Slope to the more timeless and untethered world of the park. Once there, you are quite literally led down the garden path, emerging at the crest of an overlook where, at last, you meet our narrator, Ms. Jones.

We’re at the start of a marathon now, with the cannon about to go off. And, as anyone who’s ever endeavored to train for and race a marathon knows, this is just the beginning, and you never know what’s going to happen over the next 26.2 miles. Marathons are a lot like life in that way.

I won’t give away what happens over the next hour, but I will say that the workout is more sensual and emotional than it is physical. There’s a little bit of running if you want to run, but you don’t have to. There’s a fair amount of walking, some of it quite brisk, but there are also many quiet moments in which you’re simply standing, watching, or, if you’re lucky, playing a small part in the performance.

The narrative is backed by an original soundtrack by Scandinavian composer Christine Owman and it’s a perfect aural backdrop: at times it’s spare and floating, with heavy reverb and overlays that lend it a dreamlike quality; at other times, it’s mournful and exhausted, reflecting the training and life grind that our subject is often trapped in, adhering to cruel deadlines of her own making.

There are dark miles. And there are good miles. And that middle bit is the hardest. It lasts so much longer than you want, or think it should. But time keeps going, so you have to keep going, on the days that you want to and the days that you don’t.

While you don’t have to be a marathoner to connect with this piece, it helps. You will “get” things on a level that others won’t: the strange mix of kinship and bloodthirsty competitiveness we can feel during a race; the sudden obsession with the weather; the math we do as the miles tick by, with OCD-like focus, and how our ability to continue to do that math fails as our glycogen depleted brains struggle through those later miles; how giving into a bodily function as basic as urinating becomes an epic mental struggle when held up against a race goal that threatens to slip away at any moment.

But these details are not what make up the meat of the show, which turns out not really to be about running at all. Instead, Jones presents how the dark side of marathoning — how quickly we can slip from hobbyist to enthusiast to cocktail party freakshow to runner as Carmelite nun — can mirror the darker sides of life. When other parts of our lives veer off the rails, many of us are tempted to look to the marathon as an emotional life raft, something that we can control and that will keep us afloat. What often happens, of course, is that instead, that most unforgiving distance, and all that goes into training for it, only serves to drag us further down under the waves. Rather than helping us to define ourselves through our determination and success, the distance becomes instead, with frightening and undeniable clarity, the embodiment of what we’ve most feared about ourselves all along: that we are failures. Failures at marathoning. Failures at life.

I’ll let you go see the show to see how this race turns out. Along the way you’ll see innovative use of public space, some striking visual metaphors, and a lot of blood. I can guarantee that you won’t be bored. If you run marathons, you’ll find common ground with the author, and if you don’t, you’re still apt to gain some insight about your own life’s journey, whether or not you’re taking it in racing flats.

Endure is brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed. I still can’t believe I got to see this for free.

The show’s running next Saturday, 7/16 (and possibly the following Sunday, 7/23) before Jones takes it on the road to Canada. RSVP here.

We’ll also have Jones on this evening’s New York Running Show podcast if you’d like to tune in at 8pm EST.

Dad acts like douchebag. What do you do?

This afternoon I went for my bi-monthly (lately) trip to the gym to lift weights and torture myself in a variety of other ways. I am usually the only woman in the weight area, so I’m always feeling a bit like an interloper as it is, and as a result I’m hesitant to stand out in any way (probably dumb, because the fact that I have breasts makes me stand out plenty already).

Today I witnessed something that caused more than a little internal conflict. As I made my rounds through the leg torture device area, I saw what I think was a father/son duo using two machines: the leg extension and the hamstring curl. Dad was stocky and strapping. Son was about 15 and not strapping. Dad commandeered both machines (unfortunate, since not only did I need to use them both, but it meant I got to see what I’m about to report as I stood there waiting) and put the weight settings at levels that were fine for him and his stumpy legs, but way too much for skinny son: 100 lbs for the leg extension and 80 for the hamstring curl.

To put things into perspective, I usually set those two at 50. I have muscular, peasant stock legs, probably about equal in strength to those of your average slight, unfit, semi-developed 15 year old boy. Dad did his sets of 10, then instructed Son to climb on and do the same. Son was arching his back, red-faced, groaning just to get to a count of three. I was thinking, “This is a lower back injury waiting to happen.”

At one point Dad walked away and I was so tempted to go up to Son and say, as nonthreateningly as possible, “Those might be a little heavy for you. Try taking them down a few so you can do more reps.” But Dad looked like an asshole, so I stopped myself from getting involved. Then I thought, well, this is a potentially unsafe situation. Maybe I go alert a staffer. But they’re all 19-year-old guys and I’d risk humiliating the 15-year-old guy in addition to drawing Dad’s ire. So I didn’t do anything.

Even if Dad wasn’t being a macho idiot, at best he was totally clueless and unobservant. I felt really bad for that kid.

Amateur ethicists: What would you have done? What should I have done?

Lights! Camera! Travel!

Two weeks without a post. Dearie me.

It’s been one heck of a spring so far, primarily consisting of familial highs and lows, and mostly just lows for running. First, my stepmother nearly died after surgery complications. That was three weeks ago. She’s still in the ICU, clawing her way back to normality. So that’s completely sucked. But I did learn a lot about my family and myself in terms of our personal strengths and weaknesses and how we all cope with disaster. That was interesting and useful.

Then I blew up in the Long Island Half and declared that marathons were dead to me. My feelings have not changed.

This photo needs no caption.

I spent the last week in England with Jonathan’s family, and that was a great time, although, like all travel and concentrated social time, kind of exhausting too. J.’s brother and his husband live in southwest London, while his mother and her husband live in the western cape of South Africa. We try to convene in one of our locales at least every 18-36 months. I hadn’t been to the UK since 2006. It’s changed in some ways but not in others. For example, while cars (and people) are getting bigger, their streets and parking spaces are not. This makes riding in a car a harrowing experience. I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed, worrying about my inlaws’ paint job and side mirrors.

Out and about...

We are active tourists. I think it’s really stupid to travel to a place and sit around inside, which is part of why I don’t care where I stay, usually, as long as it’s not diseased or dangerous. Fortunately, J.’s family is also up for lots of walking, tube-riding and ticket-buying, so our days and evenings were filled with interesting things to do. Highlights include:

A guided walk with London Walks, which has become a kind of tradition when we go there. This time around we did a square mile tour of the city’s center, getting a history of, among other things, Roman London, the Black Death, the births of the Stock Exchange and Lloyd’s of London, and too many buildings designed by Christopher Wren (the Michael Caine of historical London architecture) to count.

A memorial to victims of the plague.

War Horse, which has been playing in London for quite awhile but just opened in Lincoln Center and has gotten a shitload of Tony nominations. As previously noted, I’m not a theatre person, but I appreciate a creatively conceived and executed production in any media, and this delivered. Skilled puppeteers steered giant horses (and a tank) around a stage for two hours. The play’s a little long and overly sentimental (but that’s par for the course in almost any English treatment of WW1 and WW2 — that’s my sweeping, culturally insensitive opinion; go ahead and flame away!), but it was nevertheless impressive. The casting director gets Most Creative Casting award for putting a black man into the role of an embittered SS Captain. Not since seeing Charlton Heston playing a Mexican narc in Touch of Evil have I had to work so hard to suspend my disbelief.

Also, I noted that at play intermissions, English people rush out to the lobby to buy tiny containers of ice cream, which they bring back to their seatmates in huge stacks. Then they all sit there and eat it together, looking supremely happy and satisfied. This was a spectacle so utterly charming and weird that I was beside myself.

In one of a dozen pubs visited.

A massive Joan Miro retrospective at the Tate Modern, which I dragged J.’s family to, although I did not hear complaints. But they were probably being polite. There were 13 rooms of works spanning his career, organized chronologically and placed within the context of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s Spain, which I admit to having known absolutely nothing about. Now I know almost nothing about those periods of history.

Sadly, I did not get to drink Piddle while there.

A long weekend in County Dorset, to the southwest of London, which is on the southern coast. J. spent most of his childhood and his early teens in this area and it’s incredibly beautiful. Friends of his brother’s have an apartment right on the beach in Sandbanks that they let us use. We had two memorable lunches: the first to reconnect with Jonathan’s stepfather, who we’d last seen circa 1993; the second to celebrate a major milestone birthday for his mother. We visited too many pubs to recall.

Saw lots of these...

The cultural highlight of that last venue was viewing the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual televised music competition that drew 125 million viewers this year. Each European nation puts forth its “best” song and performer(s) in a bid to win the votes of its peers (you can’t vote for your own country, nor are larger nations allowed to skew the numbers — everyone gets the same number of votes). If you have never seen Eurovision, it’s difficult grasp its level of sheer gaudy absurdity. The event goes on for hours, and it’s kind of like Star Search meets Top of the Pops meets Solid Gold. Fortunately, we have YouTube (see below).

...and lots of these.

Singers from nation after nation take the stage, usually with lots of non-singing dancers in tow, against a backdrop of often stunning visual effects. Then the voting begins and at that point you’re glad you’ve been drinking because it goes on for about an hour and half, with each nation’s vote doler outer (usually a tarted up woman, probably a local television personality) struggling to chatter coyly in broken English (Ha! Ha! Foreigners are so funny when they try to speak proper English!). The winning nation gets the dubious prize of hosting next year’s Eurovision, which is presumably a massively expensive proposition, so we found ourselves wondering if Portugal, Iceland and Greece might be sandbagging. Winning performers rarely go on to stardom, the exception being Abba, who won in 1974 with “Waterloo.”

I think my favorite part of watching Eurovision is the spontaneous reactions we all have. We can’t stop ourselves from saying things like:

“God, is everyone in Iceland that fat?”

“Wait a minute. Her name’s Kati? But that’s a man!”

“What is wrong with the French?”

You also get a real sense of what people in the various countries find sexy and stylish. It’s rarely what I find sexy and stylish.

I have never correctly guessed who will win. I’m never even close. This year’s winners were Azerbaijan’s Ell/Nikki, with an anemic, schmaltzy duet called “Running Scared.” I was banking on either Ireland, with its bizarre, poppy entry from twin brothers (and big fans of epaulets, hair gel and Devo) Jedward. Or Serbia’s Nina, who rocked the final with a stylish sixties vibe and, as a chunky-legged girl from peasant stock like myself, proved exteme bravery in wearing white tights on international television. But, no, all the bands I hated made the top 10. Special mention goes to Moldova, for its entry, “So Lucky,” which embodies the sort of demented eye- and ear-raping that you expect of Eurovision.

Azerbaijan: Cream-colored bland FTW.

Ireland: We don’t care if we win. We’ll charge it!

Serbia: Don’t worry, if we don’t win we can always get jobs at Target.

Moldova: Coneheads and unicycles! Thank you!

Jonathan procures pork pies at Borough Market.

Clearly, given the length of my Eurovision report, this was my favorite part of the trip. But I sampled a lot of English culinary staples this time around: black pudding, Scotch eggs, pork pies and my ritual fish and chips/mushy peas, this time from a decades-old childhood chippy that Jonathan was amazed to find still bustling despite everything around it having changed.

Fifty years later, while entire streets and buildings are gone, the humble chip shop still stands.

Unfortunately, since J. got the bright idea that we should all drink absinthe during this musical ordeal, I had a mild hangover the next morning and, while stumbling out for a walk along the beach, managed to bash my left foot on a gate. I’ve done something to it because after an eight mile run the next day my left hip flexor and adductor were iffy. My foot still hurts when I flex it. Kids, don’t drink and run.

Branksome Chine, where we did part of a longish run.

With the foot issue, travel stress and terrible nutrition (and almost no running) of the past week, I plan to jog rather than race the Brooklyn Half this weekend, mostly to collect my 10 points for internal New York Harrier scoring. I’m hoping I can redeem them for pistachio nuts or bobby pins or something at the end of the year.

Cat. Box. Zen.

I don’t usually talk about my cat. For one thing, I don’t ascribe to the philosophy that she is a “member of the family.” She’s more like a resentful boarder. For another, I know that listening to stories about my cat is about as interesting and appealing as watching me clip my toenails. So I’ll try to make this not a cute cat story.

Our cat, Peekie, (a nickname of Pequod, which is the name of the whaling vessel in Moby Dick) it basically batshit crazy most of the time. She’s half feral and is notable for her random explosions of violence and love of killing things. But she can also be surprisingly relaxed and often, in rare moments, when she forgets that she hates us and is afraid of everything and everyone, she’s almost like a normal, well-adjusted cat. Almost.

It’s a happy coincidence that we ended up with a cat whose neuroses roughly mirror our own. As a bonus, she is, like us, also incredibly attached to her little routines. One of them involves her use of the cat litter box. She will wait until we sit down to eat in the dining room, and then she will go to work with what sounds like a major excavation project of her litter box in the next room, the kitchen. Yesterday I was eating breakfast alone, watching the sun come up and listening to the sounds of frantic cat litter relocation. Lulled by her rhythmic scrapings and bored beyond belief by my sugar-free generic Mini Wheats, I became lost in thought. A few minutes later, I realized that the scraping had stopped and the house was quiet. Eerily quiet. An investigation was in order.

First I looked for Peekie in the kitchen, but she was not to be found there. I came round into the living room and looked for her on what we call her “beach towel,” an old bath towel we’ve tucked behind a chair. She was not splayed there as she usually is. Then I looked across the room. And that’s when I saw it: a picture of such contentment and bliss that I was momentarily struck breathless.

There, smashed into an empty Amazon.com box, sat Peekie. It was a small box, about 6″x10″ and not very deep. She had explored the box the previous evening, scoping it out, inserting an experimental paw. She’d clearly wanted to get into the box, but at the time she couldn’t figure out how. It seemed that she’d finally cracked that nut. She was sitting in the box, upright, her furry chest thrust outward almost majestically. Looking straight ahead, her eyes were half open. She was breathing deeply and purring softly, the picture of happy solitude. She wanted to be nowhere else in the world at that moment than sitting quietly in that box.

I know that cats are not self-aware. They probably can’t have anything resembling personal goals. But she’d solved a problem and fulfilled a strong desire in that moment. She was supremely at peace. Beatific, even. Looking at her, I thought, “That is what I’d like for myself, even for just a few moments, every single day.”

Then she hopped out of the box, ran over to the rug and started practicing small animal disembowelments with a tennis ball. It was good while it lasted.

Training: Mar 27-Apr 2

What a weird week. I was sick all week with a cold that kept flaring up and then ebbing. On Tuesday I went out for a progression run that went okay (I was running 7:30 at around 86% effort — I wore my heart rate monitor for the first time since the summer), but my hamstring went nuts toward the end. That was annoying. And worrisome. I wish this thing would just work itself out, but I think it’s going to take awhile.

I rolled, stretched and massaged the living daylights out of it that evening. I’ve learned that this is what I must do now: tend to it. Usually, all is forgiven within the next 24-48 hours.

Wednesday was Zen on the Track Day. That was a good session.

I was supposed to do two 6 mile recovery runs on Thursday, but I questioned the wisdom of that plan. The first run went okay, but the second one was just painful. Since I could not see how running 6 miles on exhausted, aching legs was going to help, I cut the run short at 4 miles.

On Friday my cold peaked and I felt very low energy. I had a 9 mile recovery run scheduled but couldn’t imagine running a mile. So I took the day off. I do this now and I think it’s a good thing. I don’t worry about getting overtrained anymore and, in fact, I see some evidence that my training is actually going pretty well.

I was still dragging on Saturday, but I forced myself out to run anyway. I had 14 x 1 minute surges scheduled. I saved those for the last possible point in the run, doing them over the final 2.5 miles. It was windy. I was not into it at all. But I did all 14 of them and was pretty darned proud of that.

This week’s workouts have been surprisingly good. So much so that I am now worried about Sunday’s 10K. Things seem to be going so well — I expect some sort of cosmic payback this weekend. I am trying to push those worries aside. I will be trying for Zen in Central Park.

Finally, let me offer my apologies to the reader who submitted a comment on my March 30 post with some thoughtful observations about running without goals and, often, without a watch, and the potential for personal liberation in these decisions. It got flagged as spam and then in a spastic move I managed to trash it. Thanks anyway. It was nice of you to comment. If you want to try again, I’ll try not to screw it up this time.

Oh, also, yesterday I had a really good birthday, which included several phone calls from family and friends; a few really sweet cards; some snazzy new earrings; free money; and…flowers! And we had some leftover cake and wine from our weekend celebration. I got to make another wish. I don’t feel any older. Just happier.

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