Friday, July 19, 2013

Two amazing days of running and adventure

Business travel tends to be brutal on running mileage. The sleep deprivation can be even more severe than being at home with a four year old who keeps losing her pacifier and a 16 month old who (say it with me) STILL DOESN'T SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT! The early and late night flights, the inevitable delays all make for long days, short sleeps ad even shorter runs. This time the stars lined up and I had two solid days of running in beautiful and interesting places as well as some adventures.

Tuesday morning I got an 8 km tempo on the hotel treadmill (not interesting or beautiful but a solid work-out and 13.8 km total). Had I known what I was going to find on Tuesday evening, I would have held back. For various reasons the work day wrapped up fairly early and I found that not far from where I had been working was a state forest! Talk about a four star running experience compared to my usual tooling around suburban strip malls or hotel treadmills while traveling. I got to the visitor's center right as it was closing to ask about a trail suitable for running and got a wide eyed stare from the forest ranger. Seriously, he just stared at me speechlessly and I was left wondering if I had broken some kind of American societal convention of which I was ignorant. When he finally broke the silence, it was to say: "Amanda, it's me, Fred." whereupon it was my turn to stare blankly. Eventually he explained that he had mistaken me for his neighbor's daughter, I guess I am her doppelganger. 

Then he proceeded to read me the riot act:

"It's extremely hot and humid and dangerous to be exerting yourself."

I was nonplussed.

"The only trail you could possibly run it the lake loop and even it's rocky and uneven and you could turn an ankle."

I remained unconcerned.

"And it's four miles long."

I had to hold myself back from making the whatever W with my hands.

"And you could easily wander off the trail."

That piqued my concern, I am a poor navigator under ideal conditions (see "Bridge George Washington, wrong exit" further down).

"And there are rattle snakes."

Now THAT got my attention.

"Though no one here has ever been bit."

I decided to focus on that.

"And there are lots of bears."

Ok, now I was officially reconsidering. From polar bears in the arctic to black bears in the Adirondaks and Yosemite, I am officially DONE with bear incidents. I have had my lifetime quota with no wish for further interaction and I sense the feeling is mutual.

Feeling duly chastised, I set out and found the trail was indeed technical (by my standards) and tricky to follow:

Nevertheless I ran out about 1.5 miles my imagination growing wilder all the time. The trail got better and worse but was generally run-able:
Then I came around a corner and came across a scene that made me freeze in my tracks. Bush upon bush drooping under the weight of perfectly ripened raspberries. Terrifying. The only mammal I know who enjoys raspberries more than me is Mr. Black Bear and though he wasn't immediately obvious I felt certain he was nearby. I wish this could be the story about how I was scared and kept going and discovered the lake, went skinny dipping, had an amazing run etc. and probably, had it been the 25 year old PPC out on this run that would have been the story I had to tell. But 38 year old PPC with too many bear encounters under her belt and suddenly very aware of the fact that no one really even knew where she was and she had not encountered anyone since entering the trail turned tail and ran. Hard. Back to the visitor's center whereupon I decided to start around the loop the other way and got to the lake very quickly:

And also found MY kind of "trail":

Ah... asphalt, with your smooth, even surface, the love affair will never end. All in all I got another 9 km in for the day and relaxed enough to tackle the next part of my adventure... DRIVING INTO MANHATTAN.

So I don't have much experience with GPSes and certainly this was the first time I had used one on my own while driving. Let's just say that things went MUCH more smoothly once I realized the GPS would actually TALK to me and I did not have to drive with one frantic eye on its screen and the other trying to watch the road. I love the GPS. So well designed. So easy to use (once you find the crucial un-mute switch!) and infinitely better than driving with one eye on the road and one eye on badly printed mapquest directions (my usual modus operanda). I have strong luddite tendencies. I only got a cell phone about 2 years ago and figured out how to text on it about 6 months ago; suffice it to say it is NOT a smart phone in fact the only thing less smart than my phone is its owner. All that being said, I am SOLD on the GPS, love having that soothing woman's voice gently reminding me of upcoming manoeuvrings. It works so well.

Except when it doesn't... like for example when you miss your turn off of the George Washington Bridge and the various other exits come up fast and furious... so fast and so furious that before GPS Lady can recalculate to bail your ass out you have already missed the next turn she wanted you to take. So I missed the Henry Hudson Parkway, then her re-calculated plan of the Harlem River Parkway, then her re-re-calculated plan of Amsterdam Avenue. It was a white knuckle, tension-filled few moments set to the sound of me berating the GPS Lady and the sound of her calm voice saying "Recalculating." Probably things would have gone better had I not been trying to take pictures like this:

But I admit to being excited about driving in Manhattan. All in all though I have to say that driving in Manhattan at 7.30 pm wrong turns and all was way less painful than I had anticipated. I would actually say it was painless, very little traffic and congestion. I returned my rental car and headed off to my hotel.

Which was, bar none, the worst hotel I have ever stayed in in my life. I should have known something was up when I entered and found a long line of angry "guests" yelling at the beleaguered and extremely pregnant receptionist. Given the volume and aggression of the conversation, it was clear something was up. Indeed, the hotel's AC was malfunctioning in many rooms (95 deg F outside) and so many people who had booked double rooms (myself included) had been moved into single rooms with no toilet or shower. And that turned out not the worst part:

The worst aspects of this room can not be seen in the picture above. The worst parts were the unimaginable stench (even worse than other stenches described later, see "Running clothes, unwashed") of some kind of cleaning product that was clearly meant to cover up an even worse stench, the fact that the AC did not work (though it worked enough to thoroughly soak almost the whole carpet with water) and the ROAR of the non-functional AC (that could not be turned off). Hot, smelly and noisy. My favorite way to sleep. I do come prepared for every sleep-related eventuality when I travel on business. In fact, I even have a protocol I follow when entering a hotel room: ensure alarm clocks are not set for ungodly hour, cover clock with t-shirt to avoid glow of numbers, unplug mini-fridge to avoid humming motor, pre-cool room so noisy ACs can be turned off before sleeping, DO NOT DISTURB sign on door, insert ear plugs before sleeping (yes, when I am away from home and there is the possibility of sleeping through the night, I OPTIMIZE it) but this situation was beyond repair.

Then and there I decided to fore go my lifelong dream of running in Central Park in the morning as I figured I would be kept awake all night by smell, noise and heat however I fell asleep at 1 am and awoke at 5.00 a feeling somewhat refreshed and decided I needed to partake in the Central Park running experience.

So first off, here is the answer to the question "is it be safe to run in Central Park at 5.30 am":

That would be "Hell, yes!". The biggest danger in running in Central Park at 5.30 am, it turns out, is that your ego will be CRUSHED by all the extremely thin, fit and fast people whizzing by you. In fact the scariest thing in the park that morning was probably this:

Again, the scariest part of the above is not captured in the picture. I had run in this clothing 3 times in 85 deg F + temperatures without washing. Scary. If I ran at all fast that morning it was in an attempt to outrun my own stench.

Bad smells aside, running in Central Park really has been a lifelong dream of mine and it did not disappoint. I think the experience was made all the more poignant by the sheer contrast to the running I had done the day before:

Before this trip I had already made a decision and running in Central Park reinforced it. In October of 2014 I will turn 40. I have decided I will celebrate my 40th by running the NYC marathon.

Then, as an added bonus on the way home, I sat on the tarmac while my flight was delayed due to thunderstorms in Montreal. I sat in my seat feeling dejected... I had been so looking forward to seeing the Booble & The Big Poopa not to mention their Papa. The pilot had no idea how long we would be there since the airport in Montreal was actually shut down. Suddenly it hit me... there was absolutely nothing I could do about this situation. In the grand scheme of things it was NOT a big deal. Papa would manage one more bedtime without me and in the meantime I had a laptop with a dead battery so I could not work (no guilt) and a TV screen in front of me with ON DEMAND television with no one demanding to see Dora. I laughed my ass off watching a 30 Rock marathon while the flight attendant brought me drinks, snacks and even a blanket (someone brought ME a blanket!). In the end we were delayed two hours and let me tell you those two hours went by in half a second. I almost cried when the pilot said we were cleared for take-off.

On the flight home I was able to capture some amazing cloudscapes (that had no doubt been behind the delay):


  1. I am very anti GPS, i always feel very accomplished when i get to my destination using mapquest direction handwritten on a back of grocery store receipt. Sure sometimes i write take exit 293 instead of 263 which leads to some confusion but i never got lost.

    Glad that you decided to do NY! I know that you always wanted to do it.

  2. Ha, i would have the same thoughts encountering a trail of overgrown berry bushes! I would LOVE to hear of some of your bear encounters...puh-leeeez????? I always find reading about bear encounters freakily fascinating. Central Park looks so darn busy at that hour! Love the cloud/storm pics.

  3. I loved this post, but don't really have anything to say. Maybe I'll look for the viral video of the news reporter showing what to do if you encounter a bear.

  4. I can't believe how crowded Central Park was at 5:30 AM! I think I've got to add that one to my "life list" too. The trail looks lovely as well. Nice contrast!

  5. So many things I love about this post. But first, how have you not had a GPS? I am incredibly directionally challenged and it has been a total game changer for me. I don't have to add 15+ minutes to every trip I make to give myself time for getting lost.

    I love running in Central Park. Your post reminds me that it's been too long since I've been back there.


  7. Thanks Steve, now I know what to do if I encounter a bear. What the heck do I do if I encounter the terrifying woman in that video???