Monday, September 28, 2009

Fifth Avenue Mile

This past Saturday, I ran the shortest race ever: a one mile race down Fifth Avenue.

Since the race counted towards the requirement for the 2010 NYC Marathon and would not interfere with my current training schedule, it was pretty much a no-brainer to run. I run mile repeats as part of my speedwork, so my goal for the race was to just get out there and run as fast as I could.

The race was run on Fifth Avenue, from 80th Street down to 60th Street. Runner were grouped by gender and age, so my group of 15 to 29 year old females went off at 9:30 AM.

I went out a little fast from the gate and I could feel my legs pull back a bit after the first 400 meters (1/4 mile). But sprinting down the roadway, with the cool, fall air in my face was exhilarating.

I finished in 6 minutes 20 seconds, the fastest I have ever run a mile. I am now just two races shy of completing the requirements to qualify for next year's marathon.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wrong Turn

The weather in Manhattan this past weekend was the type that makes me giddy with excitement for my favorite season: Fall. The temperature hovered in the low 70s, just a few degrees warmer than a perfect Fall day.

I slept for a blissful eleven hours and woke-up feeling energized Saturday morning. I headed out for a quick, 5 mile tempo run in my new running shoes. The weather was cool and the sunny spots were just right.

Later that afternoon I volunteered for the NYRR, handing out race numbers to those running the Queens Half-Marathon the following day. Volunteering was part of the requirement to qualify for the 2010 NYC Marathon and, while I would have preferred to be outdoors, I was situated next to a big window with lots of sunlight and breeze pouring in. The three hours passed quickly as another volunteer and I exchanged running stories during the slow moments.

Sunday morning arrived and it was time for my weekly long run. I slept for ten hours the night before, but I did not feel nearly as energetic as the morning before. I was groggy, but couldn't go back to sleep. I finally convinced myself to move, figuring that if I got it over with now, I could be propped up in bed for the Patriots game.

The morning was again beautiful as I made my way towards Central Park. When I arrived at the runner's loop, I started running in the opposite direction than my usual. During the previous week, the course map had been published for my upcoming half-marathon. The course is identical to what I ran in April.

In April I was completely unfamiliar with running the loop in the opposite direction and it is a surprisingly different course. So this time I wanted to have a better feel for the timing of the hills, flat portions and unshaded stretches of road.

The problem, I found, with running an unfamiliar direction is that all the turns you know like the back of your hand going the other way suddenly aren't so obvious. So when the loop split, for a second time, near the bottom of the park, I didn't know whether to go left or right. Every one was veering right, but I didn't think enough time had passed and assumed that was the 72nd Street Transverse. Since I wanted to go down to the very bottom of the loop, I figured I would go left.

Not correct. I wound up on the road with parked cars, one that I assume the carriages use as a turn-around point. There were a lonesome other two runners on the road, just enough to make me feel safe. I made my way out of the park, cut across the carriage path and began darting tourist groups (may I ask why tourists must walk as a wall) to make my way back into the park.

Back on safe, recognizable ground, I continued with my run.

Another adjustment this week was my hydration system. After my clip-on water bottle left a permanent scar on my back in April, I had been a little reluctant to try another one. I definitely did not want to strap on one of those ridiculous waist belts I see so many miserable marathoners-in-training wearing in Central Park. So I decided to try a handheld version, which strapped on tightly around my right hand and also, very conveniently, had a little pouch where I could store my electrolyte chews.

Proper hydration during long runs has been somewhat of a mystery to me. The hydration stations during the half-marathon in April were my first experience with such tables - and they were a mess of runners trying to grab-and-go. There was finally an article published on the correct timing and amounts of water needed on a long run: every fifteen minutes, two to four ounces.

Oh. Perhaps waiting an hour to indulge at a water fountain in Central Park was not proper hydration.

So, for this run, every fifteen minutes, I had a few gulps of water. And after an hour, I refueled with my electrolyte chews - I already knew this rule of thumb, but couldn't figure out why my stomach would cramp up, even when I took them with water.

What a difference! I was not doubled-over in pain after the first hour. I did not have to take a detour after consuming my chews because I thought they were going to reappear. I could just focus on running and learning the terrain.

It was the first long run that was actually enjoyable. I ran for the full hour, forty-one minutes and thirteen seconds with minimal pain.

After stretching, a shower, more stretching, an ice bath and breakfast, I sat down to calculate my pace. The run I had originally planned was just shy of 11.5 miles, which made my splits about 8 minutes 48 seconds per mile. But then I remembered my wrong turn and, although I didn't think it would make a difference, mapped out how much it had added on to my run.

It was almost a full mile - I had actually run 12.32 miles, making my splits about eight minutes 13 seconds per mile.

This surprised me - I didn't think I had been running that fast. The whole time I told myself to not to worry about the pace and save energy for the entire run. This was around the pace I was hoping to achieve in the half-marathon, just two weeks away (eek!).

A wrong turn ended up proving a few things to me. I have my endurance back; I will be able to handle the distance and I will probably do better than last time. I just need to remember not to go out too fast. I need to find the place again where everything is working in sync, my mind and body are working together and I am able to maintain a comfortable pace.

In a way, this is a nice realization: knowing that I can set my pace slower than what my legs will want to take in the beginning. On the other hand, it's a bit unsettling to think how race day nerves and adrenaline have a way of overtaking my logical thinking.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Half-Marathon Training

It has been a long time since I have written about running. This has not been intentional - in fact, every time I hit the treadmill or run though Central Park, I think about how I desperately need to write an entry.

In fact, the truth is that running has become my only escape during the day. My runs are now usually the only "me time" I can squeeze into my schedule, so I guess I've become a bit protective over sharing adventures on my runs.

A few weeks into the summer, I found myself in a bit of a fitness rut. I had finished my half marathon in April and since I did not have another distance race in the foreseeable future, I lowered my weekly mileage to avoid injury.

But when I lowered my mileage, I consequently lowered my endurance, making longer distances more of a struggle on the weekends. I grew bored with running for a few weeks and tried to supplement my usual running time on either the elliptical or rowing machines at the gym. I've had a relationship with running long enough to know and expect this will happen every once and awhile.

However, I have also been in this relationship long enough to know that nothing has ever been able to replace the void that running fulls for me, so if I give it a few weeks, I usually come back open arms.

Sure enough, I started to miss running terribly. I realized part of the reason I had lost interest is that I had no races on my calender! There are surprisingly few races held in the summertime, so I had just been running with no real goal.

I got it together and planned out my races for the rest of the year, so that I could still qualify for the 2010 NYC Marathon. I had been using my busy schedule as an excuse to put this goal on a back-burner and it was time to pay more attention to it.

So I signed up for the four remaining races I needed to complete, one of which is a half-marathon in October. That's right, if my schedule wasn't busy enough, I decided to throw in training for a 13.1 mile race as well.

I didn't do this to be selfish; I did it because I wanted to improve on my half marathon in April and I needed a real reason to get my butt back out on the Central Park runner's loop.

I did make one, fairly significant adjustment, to my approach to training. Training for the half-marathon in April became my entire life, not on purpose, it just happened that way. Pastry school had not yet started, so I was still feeling restless and bored at work.
Everything was planned around training; I would never have more than one drink in an evening, I became fairly restrictive with sweets and every meal was consumed with the next run in mind.

I did it all because I thought it would help me become a better runner. And, to a certain extent, it did.

But mother nature threw a curve ball on race day with the heat and humidity. Weather was the one factor I could not control and it contributed, in part, to me not hitting my goal time.

Before the race, I imagined that if I crossed the finish line without hitting my goal time, I would be extremely upset - tears were likely, but I was hoping to spare Mike from the situation.

And I didn't hit my goal time. After I crossed the finish line and met up with a concerned-looking Mike, all I could do is shrug my shoulders and laugh (although that hurt). I finished my race. I was alive. I wanted a beer - no, two actually.

This time around, I couldn't making training my life. My life is work and school. So running was going to have to learn to share.

I have to say, training so far has been far more enjoyable than a few months ago. I try to run three times a week during my lunch hour, but sometimes I only run two times. I find myself telling my legs to back off the pace during my long runs on the weekend, so I can be sure I finish the distance and try to take in the world around me. An entire 90 minutes all to myself is completely rare now, so I want to savor every free moment.

It's tough to be restrictive with sweets when you are in pastry school, so that rule went out the window. And, now, if I want to have two glasses of wine, I let the wine pour freely and do not feel one ounce of guilt.

One of the biggest lessons not hitting my goal time taught me is that I had to achieve a work-school-running-life balance. If I make one of these factors more important than the other, I was risking success and happiness in the others.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Trail: Gramercy Tavern

On a rainy Saturday afternoon, I headed down to 20th Street to trail at Gramercy Tavern. Unlike my first trailing experience, I wasn't at all nervous. I wanted the experience to go well and I knew that I would really like the trail to result in an externship offer, but I was surprisingly calm - espeically since this was one of my top choices of where I would like to extern.

When I arrived, the dark woods and comforting colors of the Tavern welcomed me into the restaurant. The host called down to the kitchen for Nancy Olsen, the executive pastry chef, and one of her assistants greeted me shortly thereafter. We walked into the kitchen, which was enormous in comparison to Blue Hill. She quickly pointed out the pastry service counter, which, again from my previous experience, I was surprised to find out was not also the prep station.

We headed down a narrow flight of stairs. She pointed out the uniforms and the women's locker room. She told me to meet her around the corner when I had finished changing. I was immediately happy I brought my own pants, as the longest inseam they had in my size was 30".

I walked around the corner and was surprised to find a whole other kitchen - the pastry kitchen. An entire kitchen devoted to just pastry and, if that wasn't exciting enough, the entire kitchen was meticulously organized and labeled.

I paired up with one of the pastry assistants who had me wash, measure, hull and about five pounds of strawberries. Gramercy Tavern, like Blue Hill, prides itself on using local ingredients, so the strawberries were actual strawberries, small, plump and extremely juicy. I began observing the people around me who, while everyone was working extremely hard, everyone also seemed to really get along and enjoy each other's company.

I had not been working on the strawberries very long when Nancy Olsen came into the kitchen. All of the assistants were happy to see her, as she made her way around the kitchen, talking and laughing with each person. She introduced herself to me and while I was skeptical about extending my hand covered in strawberry juice, she had no problem extending a warm handshake.

I continued working on the strawberries as Nancy spoke to everyone to get an idea of where the evening's production stood and where she would be most helpful. At about 4:30 PM, the phone rang and someone promptly let out a, "Dinner's ready!" Nancy invited me upstairs for the family meal - two pasta dishes, couscous and two salads. We all took our food and drinks back down to the pastry kitchen, ate, laughed and then got right back to work.

After I finished the strawberries, Nancy brought over four long loaves of brioche and showed me how to dice them for bread pudding. Afterwards, I teamed up with another assistant to prepare the shells for petit fours. She attended ICE for culinary and after completing her externship in the hot kitchen at Gramercy, decided to switch to pastry. She had nothing but wonderful things to say about her experiece so far at Gramercy.

Afterwards, Nancy took me upstairs to watch service, which by that time was in full-swing. I stood to the side to avoid being in the way and watched as the two assistants organized and plated the incoming orders. When service slowed a bit, they would plate desserts for me to taste - all four of which I really had to restrain myself from eating the entire plate in order to avoid sugar shock. Everything I tried, including the bread pudding (which I normally despise) was beyond wonderful.

One of the chefs from the hot kitchen came over with a sample of the lamb ragu, which was much appreciated not only because it was phenomenal, but also because I would have given just about anything to eat something savory and salty at that point. I wasn't doing a very good job of not finishing my dessert samples!

Things started to slow a bit and, as it had been about two hours at that point, I headed back down to the pastry kitchen to meet Nancy. She led me back to her office where we sat and talked for about half an hour.

She asked me lots of questions about what I was looking to get out of my externship, what I considered by style to be and my goals for working in the industry. She offered lots of advice and wisdom from her previous experiences.

Then, she extended an offer for me to work as an extern at Gramercy Tavern upon completing my program. She told me she wanted me to take some time to consider it, so it took a lot for me not to jump up and yell, "Yes! Yes! Yessssss!". So I thanked her, told her I would take the time to consider it and would be in touch shortly.

As an extern in the pastry kitchen, I will be working three nights a week - Monday through Wednesday from 6 PM to 10 PM, a schedule that closely mimics my current school schedule.
Nancy walked me out of the kitchen, showing me the chocolate room on the way out. I left feeling excited and energized. I felt like I had just been asked to be part of a very warm family, one that I knew I would learn a lot from and be given a lot of opportunity to grow.
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