Sunday, March 21, 2010

Since I'm in the habit of quoting Ghandi:

I thought I'd share a gem:

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

Now I won't for a second lead you into thinking that my morning was inspired by the Oh Great and Powerful Indian One. It really did start out simply as a way to log my volunteer credit for the New York RoadRunners. But if you'll allow me to get all Hallmark-commercial-y on you for a moment: it turned into something much more meaningful by the end of my day.

For those of you in the know, the NYRR is a super cool organization that holds most of the races in New York City. It also holds the granddaddy ... the NY Marathon. And if you're lucky enough to live in the city and become a member, they reward you handsomely with guaranteed entry into the NYM. All you have to do is complete 9 races and volunteer for 1 in a calendar year and you get entry the following year. In other words, I'm on track for 2011.

The races are a no-brainer. We've already knocked out several this year (me and my posse, natch) and when this do-gooder organization threw together a run for Haiti relief, they upped the reg fee and made it worth 2 credits toward the 9. Long story short, I'm almost there and it's only March. So Babs and I thought it would be fun to get our volunteering out of the way early at a big, fun race: the NYC Half-Marathon.

This is another marquee race in the city - big money purse so there are famous runners and everything. Oh, and you're only in through a lottery since it's super-competitive to get in. 14,000 runners from all over the world. For a half! How cool is that?

Not so cool was having to be at the NYRR offices at 5:30am to get our assignments. Babs and were course marshals, which meant we made sure no one was entering the course before the race began. Once the race started, our job was to watch for any runners who needed medical attention, as well as clear the path from clothing and gel packs runners left behind. Our main duty, however, was to scream like mad for everyone and give them tons of encouragement. We were on the east side of CP, so we saw the runners twice - once after the start and then again as they looped the park before hitting the halfway mark and heading downtown to the finish.

To make it all official, we were given really attractive orange vests:

Babs said I looked like a crossing guard. But maybe that's because she took my picture in A CROSSWALK. Anyway, I thought I looked pretty authoritative, which always helps when you're wearing anything on a lanyard.

Of course, we get Babs by an ambulance. Hoping to meet a cute EMT, I'm sure.

Right after the start, I picked up a ton of throwaway clothes. I learned about this at my marathon. If it's cold before a race, some runners wear cheap long-sleeved shirts to keep warm in the corrals. Once they start running, they strip them off and literally just throw them to the side.

I collected them at my appointed cone, where I was to stand and make sure the runners stayed within. And then, 14,000 of them came at me like a furious wave.

I was having a ton of fun. I saw a lot of running friends along the way who looked really strong and happy. It was so easy to cheer everyone one and I got a rush whenever someone acknowledged my totally dorky comments ("Okay elite athletes, you're done with Harlem Hill, so smile now!") with a thank you or a nod. I know that feeling - when you're dragging a little, maybe starting to feel a bit of pain. Just a tiny encouragement can sometimes mean the difference between slowing down in exhaustion or finding a surge of energy to push through to the next mile. I loved the ones who stuck their hands out as they passed so I could smack a low-five their way. Much adrenaline flowing at this point, however, and one guy almost took my hand off, he smacked it so hard.

I know there have been times in races when the volunteers are cheering you on and I've rolled by with a 'thank you.' But I was totally floored the first time someone actually said "thank you for volunteering." Really? Me? You're the one conquering 13.1 miles and you're thanking me? All I've done is pick up a few nasty sweatshirts and made sure everyone stayed within the orange cones!

(Okay, now is the time when you all roll your eyes and go, "Omigod, is everything in the world about Cindy?" Aside from the fact that it's my blog and ... yeah, it kinda is ... there really was a point to the story that had nothing to do with my ego.)

These races go off without much of a hitch because the running community in NYC is so tightly-knit and happy to help each other out when in need. As in last week where I experienced a kinship with another runner in LA (oh yes, the runner's wave), I feel like this was one more step in making me a more well-rounded member of the community. I get it now!

We were only required to stay as long as the last few runners passed our cone but I stayed there for a while, even as some of the other orange vests passed by with a wave to head out of the park. But I couldn't fathom leaving the last few stragglers. The people at the back of the pack were incredibly grateful. Not only did I have an opportunity to make eye contact with pretty much every single person, many of them had something really funny or inspirational to say. They had worked so hard just to get to that halfway point. Imagine when they had really slowed around mile 12 and there was simply no one left to cheer them to the last few steps.

Toward the end when there were so few runners left that it would be a minute or two before anyone passed my cone, a really cute elderly couple came closer. It was unclear if one was slower and the other was pacing with him/her, or if they both had simply slowed with age and the pace they found was what they both could handle. Either way, as they passed, I clapped as loudly as my chaffed palms could handle and yelled to them that they looked great.

They both flashed huge smiles and the elderly man held up a hand to wave and said, "Okay, thanks" and kind of chuckled. I'm not sure if I can properly characterize in writing what was behind his gesture but its meaning was clear: "thanks so much for yelling and waving, even though we probably don't look that great and we're bringing up the rear of 14,000 people." It was a humble sign of gratitude, almost apologetic to me for having to stick around because they moved slower than so many others. Yet to me, they deserved my applause more than anyone else had that morning. You can see them in the distance here.

I watched them shuffle away, even as bikes started entering the lane behind them and the park went back to a semblance of Sunday normalcy. For them, the race was still on and they had another 7 miles to cover, even as the crowds diminished and park workers started to pick up trash. I thought about them for the rest of the day and hope they reveled in their accomplishment for hours after crossing the finish line.

In the end, I picked up my pile of throwaway clothes and threw them in a big trash bag, assured by one of the NYRR staffers that they would be washed and donated. I picked up a dozen or so Gu packets that had been left behind by refueling runners and a couple of water cups scattering the path. Barb and I walked back to the NYRR office to hand in our orange vests (bummer! I totally had an outfit worked out around it!) and check out.

And then we surprised ourselves: we both told the staffers we'd be back. Even though we already got our credit for the year.

I'm sure there are tons of runners who just want to get their volunteer race out of the way and frankly, I was one of them this morning when I rolled out of bed at an ungodly hour. But the feeling that I might have contributed to someone's experience, even in the smallest way, was enough that I'd sign on again in a heartbeat.

Next time, however, I'm totally coordinating my outfit for the orange vest.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Next thing we need is a secret handshake.

When I was growing up my dad collected Corvettes. A beautiful '68 convertible; a brand-new silver '81; a slick black '87. Sometimes it was less "collected" and more "drove for a certain time until he was tired of it or it got repossessed." Either way, for as long as I can remember, he owned one, sometimes two. He really appreciated everything about the 'Vette - the body, the horsepower, the status of owning one. And it seemed he was part of this special club of Corvette owners. The people who - upon passing each other on the road, in the parking lot, wherever - would wave to each other. Not so much a wave as a simple raising of one hand, akin to a tip of a hat or a simple nod. Like "I got you - nice ride." We mercilessly mocked my dad for this, but maybe deep down we were all a bit jealous that he shared a kinship with others for something he loved so much.

I did the wave the other day. With another runner. And I kind of get it now.

I was in LA last week for work. Near the beach, and a runner's paradise. Each morning I would spring out of my hotel bed as the sun came up, so pleased to finally run outside. I logged quite a few miles while there, only because each new stretch of pavement brought something more awesome than the previous one and I was anxious to keep pushing the sunny envelope.

Yeah, I ran that. It's called The Strand - a 22-mile stretch of beachfront pathways along the coast. Nope, didn't get close to 22 miles - I stayed on one segment of it that, roundtrip, was about 8 miles. I can't begin to describe the feeling of running when you are smiling inside and out. Enjoying every second of the clean ocean breeze. I even ditched the Ipod and found that I really dig the sound of my Vomeros on sandy concrete.

Egads I need a tan.

Oh, calm down, Manhattan Beach. Cindy gets nowhere near 8MPH unless she is being forced by Lynne The Trainer to do sprints.

I haven't taken one of these in a while ... Happy Running Cindy!

When you're running in New York, you don't really acknowledge other runners you pass. Exception to rule: running CP before it's completely light outside and when you're on a lonely stretch and see another person, you look them in the eye and mouth a "hi" so you can hope you've discouraged them from clubbing you over the head and dragging you into the bushes, now that they know you can positively ID them in a police lineup. (Please excuse the incorrect use of the pronoun "them" but I didn't want to implicate an entire gender in that scenario. Ahem, him.)

So it's not a chatty city by nature. And I'm always thrown off my axis a bit when running elsewhere. Case in point: when I was in California for the holidays I ran a beautiful 11 miles with my good friend Erin. I sometimes forget that I come from a very picturesque area, complete with farmland, green hills, dusty back roads and wineries. Erin, however, always appreciates these things, and whenever she can steal some time from her busy home of three sons, she hits the roads. During our winding jaunt on a gorgeous December morning, we passed dozens of people also appreciating the scenery. People walking, taking dogs or kids for a stroll, other runners. And to every single person who passed, Erin gave them a cheery "good morning!" Most of the time, the people passing beat her to it and greeted us first. The first few times this happened it totally freaked me out. I'm fairly certain I glanced over my shoulder each time we passed to make sure the person wasn't double-backing toward us to drag us into a remote field. Eventually, however, I enjoyed feeling like we were all taking in the day together.

So when I ran the beach last week al fresco (also known as no Ipod), it gave me an opportunity to listen to snatches of conversation as I passed people walking or running the same path. A pattern emerged: everyone was really happy. So it was no surprise that as I got to more isolated stretches, people smiled at me or raised a hand to wave hello. And I found myself doing the same thing back.

It made the run about a thousand times more pleasant and I was suddenly sad that my tough city encourages people to be closed off to their own little world.

On my last run before heading back to New York, I settled on a nice stretch from my hotel and around the marina, emptying out on the water and curving over to Venice Beach.

For the first couple of miles, it's somewhat residential and there's some traffic, which means there are few pedestrians and almost no runners. But as I turned a corner and hit a long stretch to the water, I spotted a runner. And he was a real runner. Wrap around shades. Check. Garmin strapped on wrist. Check. Little tiny Dolphin shorts that showed a little too much leg. Check, and eeeeu. But as he passed me, both of us with earphones planted, he gave me a slight raise of the hand: the runner's salute. I instinctively threw it back and in an instant, it was over: we were past one another and headed in opposite directions. But for like 3 seconds, we shared a connection that only someone out for the love of feet hitting pavement can understand.

Two minutes later a car pulling out of a driveway nearly plowed into me and I threw not only my hands on the hood a la Al Pacino, but a couple of f-bombs, including something about "crazy woman driver."

Oh well. You can take the girl out of New York City ...


And one last note ...

I'm announcing my big news on the 2010 marathon front: I'm registered to run a new city! October 10, 2010, I will be running (drum roll, please) ....


And I'm very excited about it. Not only do I love this city, but the marathon has a reputation for being flat and fast. Perhaps I'm stacking the deck a tad, being that I am looking for a major PR this year. But the course looks incredible - it snakes through most of the city's neighborhoods and is supposed to have great crowd support. (Hey! Andrew and Leslie! Make your signs early!)

Being the midwest, however, weather can go either way and I believe like 150 runners died when the city had an unexpected heat wave a few years back. Okay I made that statistic up.

Chicago 2010 here I come!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

It's 5:00 somewhere.

Like Kuala Lumpur, maybe.

Because where I was? It was 10:30. As in A.M.

So we ran the Coogan's 5k on Sunday and although it ended up being more of a 3 mile saunter, it still counts as a race. Which is my justification for being fairly drunk by 2 in the afternoon.

From the beginning: Babs and Javi and I started out Sunday morning in an MTA tangle. Where we were headed is quite far for all of us. For me? I get a nosebleed above 96th Street, so headed to a street with a 1 in front of it coupled with being on the WEST side (ugh! as if!) was like traveling to another continent. But being a good trouper, I packed my passport and we dutifully boarded the 1 train. Which turned into the 2 train. Which suddenly took us to the Bronx. Which, for all of you non-NYers, is not the borough we wanted to be in.

We had about 15 minutes to regroup and haul north 70 blocks. Which would have been fine had I not been the party responsible for picking up everyone's race bibs two days prior. I had Babs and Javi with me (this is Javi trying to pin his bib on a moving subway while nursing a bad hangover, shakes and all. It's the weekend before St. Patrick's Day and he's 24. You do the math):

... but we were meeting Elkin at the start. Bad idea. By the time we got to bag drop and I connected with Elkin to give him his bib, the race had started and Javi and Babs had already taken off to get to their corrals on time. So Elk and I literally brought up the rear of the race, not crossing the start until 10 minutes after the gun.

I'll spare all the catty comments here (for what reason, I'm not sure since it is my blog). Let's just say we ended up with a certain running population that is not conducive to a PR. I spent so much energy dodging walkers and kids that when we got to mile 2 and started sprinting, I thought I might die. At mile 2.

Elk and I dashed for the finish, crossing over at about 27:00. Not my proudest 5k, but it ended up being a blast of a course. Music all over the place, tons of spectators, nothing but hills ... and at the end ...

... hey, look! It's the embattled former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee! Yikes, how the mighty have fallen. One day he's got the gavel of one of the most powerful committees in Congress, the next he's glad handing sweaty runners in Harlem. (For the record, I politely shook his hand and thanked him for his service. I was sweaty and most likely smelly. Anything less cordial would have added insult to injury.) Btw, I think it was sorta symbolic that we snapped this pic under the sign for the crapper.

But this was the most awesome part of Coogan's. From here, everyone lined up at ... well, Coogan's. Great Irish pub near Columbia whose claim to fame is ... well, this race.

Like dutiful city dwellers, we saw a line and got into it like blindly, not sure what we were really in line for. There was a line, so it must be good, right? Moooooo. (I'm one of those annoying people who, upon getting in the line and shuffling slowly, must make that sound at least once. )

This was the scene inside. I'm not sure the pictures even do the chaos justice:

It only got better. Yes, that's breakfast, complete with eggs and corned beef sandwiches and shepherd's pie.

And who needs OJ when you have the breakfast juice of running champions:

As in an endless supply of Guiness that kept coming by the trayloads to our table. All free of charge. Let me restate that. All. Free. Of. Charge. So we played it cool and were fairly conservative in our intake.

No WONDER this race is so popular. Here we were, all racing the damned thing like fiends, making sure we keep up our race stats. All the while, 90 percent of the crowd was freaking walking it, knowing they were doing the minimum to a) get one of their 9 race credits and b) get to the end so they could get their free drink on.

The euphoria of finishing a great run was replaced by inebriation and, frankly, total confusion by being pretty lit by noon. We met tables of fellow runner-drinkers, including this guy, who took "free food" to the next level. He literally filled his backpack with plastic containers of corned beef sandwiches and shepherd's pie.

Note to drunk dude for next Irish food giveaway: while corned beef sandys are good to go in plastic, shepherd's pie is a bit fussier. (When he toddled off hours later, his backpack sported a huge grease stain and I swear he was leaking gravy).

We also met Raquel and Mike - who, as it turns out, is from Livermore - just one town over from my hometown. Another reason why the mind boggles in New York. I mean, really, what a small freaking world. Anyhoo, Raquel and Mike got a dose of Free Food Guy as well.

When we finally emerged into daylight to make our way home, Javi and Babs and I reminisced about our training days last summer when we were really becoming serious athletes. So serious that I doubt we would have had a drunk morning like this one.

Yeah, we adapted fine to the levity of the day.

And just in case you were worried - on the way home, we got on the right train.

(Although I may or may not have passed out and missed a stop.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dude, where's my blog?

A more apt question is for my blog: "Dude, where's your writer?"

So here's the thing: I have found that I may not be very interesting outside of the running world. And perhaps I am being generous with even calling my running "interesting." But I've started updating this blog maybe 14 times since my last entry (November. Yes, November) and nothing seems to stick. Do you really want to hear about my holiday party at work? I think not. (Although we had it in our office and at some point, someone is going to start photocopying body parts. The pictures say it all.)

A curious thing has happened, though. I brought in 2010 by running four Central Park races, the first since my marathon last October. (BTW, effing cold. Yet you really haven't lived until you've formed a perfect snotsickle. I can die now.) So afterward? I felt like I had something to say.

Cindy ran. So Run, Cindy, Run is back in business.

Here's a quick catch-up, pictures included. We left off at the New York Marathon:

Made a sign.
Made several signs.
Made runners laugh with said signs.

Cheered on Elkin.
Watched Elkin kick butt.
Bought Elkin a drink.

Packed up apartment 12I.
Started running on Treadmill again.
Felt very defeated by Treadmill.
Moved boxes to apartment 16M.
Moved furniture to apartment 16M
After moving to 16M, continued to get off elevator to go to 12I.
Put off unpacking boxes in 16M.
Tried Treadmill again.
Got in a fight with Treadmill.
Went to a season-ender party for TNT.
Got an award from Coach Ramon for basically being cool.

Celebrated quite a bit at said party.

Couldn't post most of the pictures from said party.
Ran in Central Park, longest distance since marathon.
Felt very winded after only 8 miles.
Begged Treadmill to take me back.
Threw surprise party for Mike's 40th birthday.

Told everyone I am a trophy wife who is nowhere near 40.
Paid waitress at party 20 bucks to card me.
Made peace with Treadmill.
Hung things on walls in 16M.
Went to San Francisco for Christmas.
Saw my beautiful girls.

Saw my beautiful boys.
Managed to get one good picture with them.

Went through annual depression because I no longer live in San Francisco.
Registered for two half marathons in 2010.
Ran first race of 2010 in Central Park in 9 degrees.

Turned 28.

Okay, turned 32.
Whatever, age doesn't matter.
It was 39.

Ran Manhattan Half Marathon on a challenge from Elkin.
Ran Manhattan Half alone since Elkin forgot he had plans that day.
Ran another CP race in 10 degrees.
Ran yet another in 5 degrees ... but this time, I had my team with me.


So when I registered for all these winter races, I wasn't totally thinking ahead weather-wise. But in the words of my 8-year old nephew Vincent, who, upon dissing me for saying something "grown-up and stupid":

"It must be January, 'cause that was a cold snap!"

(You must snap your fingers when saying "snap" for the full effect of this)

It's been a bit odd running without Team In Training. When I registered for the first one, I had to list my team. My default was TNT, but I felt like an interloper keeping it in. So I changed it to "Unattached." Talk about a lonely freaking team, this Unattached. I was super jealous when I got to bag check and a large group of purple people were gathered together, shouting and laughing. Had it been dark outside, a spotlight would have blasted down on me and my big loser "Unattached" sign I felt like I wore smack on my race bib, a la "The Jerk."

It really wasn't that bad, but I was kinda bummed.

I ran the first three races solo. A five-miler, followed by the half (thanks, Elkin!) and a four-miler. I met Javi after one and Jenn after another, but all in all, they were somewhat lonely. So when the RoadRunners threw together a run for Haiti, I was pleased as punch that all my crew was in.

The race was beyond crowded. This one counted for two races for NY Marathon qualification (members run 9 races and volunteer for 1 in 2010 and we get guaranteed entry in 2011) so everyone jumped in on it. As a result, we knew we were not racing it. We plodded along happily, chatting and snapping pictures.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a fun run for charity. Which is why this chick pissed me off:

Elkin was taking pictures when Mean Puffy Jacket girl blasted past us, huffing, "Pictures? REALLY?!" Now in her defense, she may have actually been winning the race. I mean, she totally could have passed the 7,000 people in front of her to take the lead. But we took the high road and Elkin jogged after her, snapping away like a scorned paparazzo. Seriously? It's a FUN RUN for CHARITY. Hey, Mean Puffy Jacket: Get over yourself!

We're all registered for another race this weekend. Javi has already warned us that since it's the weekend before St. Patrick's Day, he cannot be trusted to be totally sober on Sunday morning. As long as I am not downwind from him, I'm okay with that.

It's so good to be back. I have a really exciting running year planned and to all of my eight regular readers (Hi, Tina!), stay tuned for my big announcement ... I'm tackling 26.2 again this year in a new city!