Monday, August 24, 2009

No hablo "Fuel Belt."

Oh, blog how I have missed you! I've been on the road and haven't been able to update, but my time away provided an interesting new observation. While I learned that "have Sauconys, will travel" certainly applies on work trips, not everyone speaks the language when you get there.

And I was only in California.

Let's go back a couple of weeks, shall we?

It's been hot here in New York. Disgustingly hot. Humid, sticky, downright nasty. Not a good mix for long runs. But the team is getting out every Saturday and dutifully logging miles, since our races are just around the corner. My marathon is less than two months away.

(Excuse me while I pass out for just a second.)

I had my most challenging run a couple of Saturdays ago when we started in Manhattan, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, ran back over the Williamsburg and then back through the city to our starting point. There was very little shelter from the sun and although I managed a self-portrait on the Williamsburg ...

... trust me, I really wasn't this happy. In fact, as we made our way down the West Side Highway, just a couple of miles from the finish, I actually had to walk for a minute. The sidewalk was never ending and the sun was just as relentless. Worse than all of that, damned Elkin kept actually trying to cheer me on. I went from silently cursing him to openly doing so, finally telling him to shut up. I simply wanted to die in peace, without the chatter of encouragement and inspiration. Sometimes those sentiments are overrated. Regardless, we're all good now:

So I know I've belabored the Fuel Belt argument but it's a totally necessary evil in this city. It's big, bulky and fairly unattractive, but if I didn't have my FB that day, I probably would have pummelled Elkin a few miles prior. I emptied all my bottles AND Elkin and Barb and I stopped at a deli for fresh waters about 10 miles in. It's not unusual to see runners all over the city donning their belts because public water fountains are few and far between. And if you don't want to stop your run to pop into a deli, it's the only answer.

Cut to last weekend.

I was wrapping up a work week in California and found myself just a couple hours away from the Bay Area. Since I hadn't seen my family since the holidays, I jumped at the chance. But I was on target for a 16-mile run and wasn't quite sure how to find a route. Enter Kerry, my good friend, triathlete and TNT vet. Turns out, Nike not only sponsors the marathon, but months of training leading up to it. Every Saturday, hundreds of runners meet near the water to head out on various routes plotted meticulously by Nike. One of Kerry's friends from TNT is a pace leader and sent me all the deets.

So I was set! A training run in San Francisco! The type-A that I am, however, would not allow any deviation from my normal routine, which meant zipping to the nearest running shop and getting a brand-new Fuel Belt (hey! now I have two!), a few packs of Gu and running socks that I am certain are essential to differing climates. When I told Kerry I had done this, she openly laughed at me. "Um, you do know you aren't going to need that Fuel Belt, right?" Not need a Fuel Belt? Was Kerry high?

First, props to me for being at a fantastic wine bar in San Francisco on a Friday night with my peeps and NOT getting pie-eyed (in Ramon-speak, I "behaved"):

Yay me! Given the specs, normally this picture would have me leaning to one side, red wine glass teetering in fingertips as I make a pucker-lip face toward the camera (See: If only I had that big set of steps.)

You really have no idea what a feat this is.

So I had a little slumber party at Kerry's and got up early to head to Marina Green. Something else learned here? The Saturday morning routine I follow (breakfast, bathroom, more breakfast, more bathroom) is always a little more delicate when you're in someone else's home. (Kerry: I will totally replace either the toaster or the kitchen cabinets. I thought the bagels had more time on them when I pushed down the lever and hit the head. Let me know.)

As luck would have it, I ended up being in Kerry's friend's pace group:

And Renee was easy to find because Nike is the most organized marathon sponsor ever and she was holding a big sign. (No, she wasn't required to then run with it). We even did group exercises before the run (but for some reason it reminded me of those YouTube videos of Thai prisoners doing the "Thriller" dance):

Before the run, I had the usual nervous banter with a few of the people around me and found they had as many questions about running in New York as I had about running in San Francisco. It was like we were all from different countries but all spoke the international language of Marathon. And at one point, someone pointed to my Fuel Belt and goes, "you know you're not going to need that, right?"

Did people start backing away from me in horror? Maybe I imagined that, but I know I heard a few snickers and whispers. I stammered, trying to explain that in New York, it's too hot to go without water and you never know where there will be a fountain. Still, they maintained, you're not going to need it. No one runs with a Fuel Belt here. You'll see.

Sure enough, not only were there water stops along the entire 16-mile route, but they had food! Runners stopped and chatted breezily as if they were holding cups of Cabernet, not Gatorade. They took in the beautiful landscape and discussed their plan of attack for the next few miles.

It was all so incredibly ... civilized. In fact, chugging through the hilly Presidio ...

... we would pass cyclists who would primly exclaim, "Excuse us! Bikes on the right!" to which the runners would reply enthusiastically, "Bike up!"

Okay, seriously?

I had to explain that in Central Park, we were usually dodging the loogies spat at us from passing cyclists. That is, if they weren't dropping a few f-bombs at us to stay to the left on the loop. (One might glean that the runner-cyclist relationship is a tad prickly in New York City. It's simple: they haaaaaaaaate us.)

We talked about the differences in climate and topography and agreed that what we suffered in temperature, the San Franciscans suffered in the hills:

(Oh, and that Pac Heights hill was the least steep of the run. At a Fort Mason hill at mile 14 I turned into a cartoon character. My arms and legs spun like mad while it seemed I wasn't making any headway on a 90-degree angle incline. I think little old ladies on bikes passed me with a "ching, ching" of their bike bells.)

When we ran past the Ferry Building, which houses a packed farmer's market on the weekend, several of the gals cursed the crowds. Me? I practically hi-fived them. You call this a crowd?!

And running along the Embarcadero ...

... I breathed in deeply (partly because this was mile 12 and Baby was tired) and took in the smells of freshly ground coffee and a wood-fire oven from a nearby restaurant gearing up for breakfast. I closed my eyes. I was in heaven. This is my beloved city and there was no place I would have rather been right at that moment. "My god, can you smell that?" I remember saying out loud to no one in particular.

(Of course, I then opened my eyes to see a few peeps staring at me as if I had just been released from prison.)

Toward the end of the run, I realized that I hadn't needed the Fuel Belt at all. It was great to keep my Gu and car keys secure and I did finish off the Gatorade I packed, but only because the last water stop ran out. (Ugh! Never coming back! How dare they!)

At the end of the run, Nike welcomed us back with bagels and fixings, cheese, crackers and even fresh juice. There was a group stretch and then we all held hands and sang Kumbaya. Not really. This isn't Berkeley.

But then a bunch of the runners did the coolest thing. Literally. It's a tradition of sorts to "soak in the Bay" afterward. Which consists of stripping your running shoes and hiking up your shorts to wade into the frigid waters. Actually, frigid is an understatement. Arctic is more like it. But it is akin to an ice bath, which is optimum for the muscles after a long run. Surprisingly, there were many brave souls:

Me? Not so much. I screamed like a chick when it hit my toes. This is as far as I got:

Overall, it was The. Perfect. Day. Great run, followed by brunch with my girls, topped off with time with my family.

When I got back to New York, Elkin told me he also ran 16 miles. But he did it in 90-degree, 90-percent humidity weather. And it rained. And because Barb was out of town, he ran all alone. I was feeling smug that I had stayed in California to do my run there when he said, "I was so bummed that I didn't have my crew there with me. I need you guys with me on those runs."

I realized that despite the touristy crowds, the thick air in which the smells of urine and vomit hang and the psycho cyclists who will run your ass over if you so much as think about moving to the right, there really is no place like home. I'm lucky that I have two of them. One that I can visit and feel a tug at my heart when I arrive and then inevitably leave; another where my teammates anxiously await my return.

So while some of us speak Fuel Belt and others speak Water Station, all of us runners have common ground. My advice ... get out there and plot a different route on that ground from time to time. It's good for the soul.

Just don't drink the water.

Unless, of course, it's in your Fuel Belt.


  1. All of your beautiful pictures are making me SO excited to run in San Francisco! I loved this entry. And yes that West Side highway is a killer.

  2. I'm a california runner and run every run (over 8 miles anyway) with my beloved Fuel Belt. I'm a control freak, you know. I like my own stuff.

    And there's nothing better than exploring a new City on your feet.I love to run wherever we go!

    So love to read your posts!!