Saturday, July 30, 2011

Running on location: New Haven, Connecticut

My tour guide walked me around New Haven.  He showed me where I could and couldn't go.  I paid close attention.  I could walk on this side of the street, but not on the other.  I could walk on this street, but not pass the gas station and certainly not the Popeye's Chicken.  This might look like a nice park, but it was frequented by drug dealers.  As long as I stayed within the "safe zone" and walked with a group in the evenings, I would be fine.  This is where my family and I would live, work, play and run for the next two weeks. 

Within Yale University lies a residential college enclosed by heavy gates that require a pass card at entry and a push of a button at exit.  From those gates, I can safely venture one block east, three blocks west, one block north and two and a half blocks south.  If I strayed from that zone, except for a long stretch along a residential street, I might be putting myself in danger.  Violent crimes are three times the national average here in New Haven.  Seven people were shot in this city in a forty-eight hour span of time last May.  Growing up and living in the suburbs of Oregon, this is something I have never experienced before.  I was reminded that in parts of our country, even in 2011, a color line exists.  Several tall public housing buildings, the projects stand in a very dangerous parts of the city, just blocks from the prestigious Yale University.  I learned that New Haven and Yale have had a cantankerous relationship for decades.  Divisions and conflicts based on race, class and ethnicity are unfortunately alive and well in this city of great disparity. 

We arrived during a heat wave. New Haven's mercury rose enough to break record highs.  The humidity was oppressive.  From the time I woke up, to the time I went to bed, a layer of sweat coated my skin.  Heat, humidity and high crime rate in a new city aren't factors that lure me out for runs.  The gyms seemed like a better option for the next couple weeks.  The air conditioned nine-floored Yale fitness center gave me a safe, cool place to pump iron, run, cycle, row, swim, and hell, if I wanted to fence, do gymnastics and play squash!

I hopped on a dreadmill with the hopes for making up for all the missed runs I'd accrued since being away from home.  Within five minutes, I was bored stiff.  Honestly, how do be people endure treadmill runs?  I talked myself into sticking it out for a half hour or three miles, whichever came first.  At the rate at which the mileage and minutes were passing, this run was going to take forever!  I cranked up the speed to get it over with.  Then I played with the incline and speed every four minutes or so, to ward off boredom.  Much to my surprise, I managed to log four and a half miles that day.  I went back the next day but could only tolerate three miles.  My heart just wasn't into it.  It was high time to take my running outdoors.

Temperatures and humidity had come down to comfortable levels, but I had other excuses not to run.  I was too busy working.  I was too busy parenting.  I didn't have my running mommas with whom to share the run.  My foot hurt.  I was too full.  I was hungry.  I didn't want to miss breakfast, lunch or dinner in the dining hall.  It was my husband's time to run.  My kids needed me.  I was in a new, unfamiliar, dangerous city.  I always get lost.  Wait a minute!  I have a race in four weeks! Not any race either, it was Hood to Coast!  I had a whole relay team that I couldn't let down.  I NEEDED to train! 

My husband, navigator and scout had run around New Haven a few times and assured me that there were a few safe options.  The first was to run a two mile rectangle around the safe zone.  The second was to run an out and back along a residential road.  I opted for running the perimeter.  It didn't go well.  There were too many traffic lights and cars that messed up my pace and rhythm.  At one point, I veered off course and wound up on the unsafe side of a safe street.  Heart pounding, I dodged traffic to get back to the other side of the street as quickly as I could.  Within a matter of seconds I had found myself the only white person on that side of the street.  The gazes I received weren't friendly. 

The next morning I tried the out and back option.  I would run out of my building, past my favorite bagel shop and down a street to a New Haven landmark called East Rock.  It was just a four mile route.  Orange Street is a residential area sprinkled with attorney and dentists offices, gourmet grocery stories, quaint cafes and eateries and a trendy wine/liquor store.  It was hard to believe that I was still in New Haven which had such a reputation for crime.  I was relieved to discover that it didn't matter which side of the street I ran on.  This was the first time I had spotted parents pushing strollers, kids riding bikes and chatting mommas sporting babies in packs.  I felt safe and was enjoying myself.

Beautiful big houses along this street.
Couldn't resist taking a picture of Willow Street with East Rock backdrop
Gourmet markets to support this neighborhood's affluent residents
So many places of worship. Here's Grace Chapel
Little cafe with outdoor seating
I love the houses on this street
Office space for rent
Before I knew it I had made to East Rock Park.  It is a rather interesting geologic landmark in New Haven.  It is a long wall of a rock that stretches 322 feet into the sky.  It seems misplaced, but makes for an interesting view. I was pleased to discover a playground, picnic tables, barbeque pits and a canoe launch.  What captured my attention though was the river and the trails that flanked it.  Trails!  I couldn't wait to ask around, examine maps and send Steve out on a scouting expedition. 

Peace Park. Peaceful it was.
Mill River
East Rock

Trails to explore next time!
I had been out running around a half hour.  Time had passed so quickly out there this morning.  Much more so than on my treadmill runs.  It was time for my return trip back home.  It was a good run.  One that reminded me of why I love running so much.  You get to see things!  You get to interact with nature!  As if that's not reward enough, those feel-good hormones rush through your body!  I joined my family for lunch and we had a fabulous day exploring the fabulous Connecticut Children's Museum.  This is the dangerous city I had worried so much about?

As good as my run was, I couldn't shake my feelings around the divisions within this city and the longstanding turbulent relationship between Yale and the town of New Haven.  How I wish things were different for so many of the citizens here.  Inequity of resources, power and opportunity are to blame for the high crime rate here.  Everyone deserves a safe place to live and raise their families.  How hard would it be to provide all citizens with high quality education, opportunities for enrichment and recreation, access to health care and nutritious food?  My short stay at Yale has reminded me not to take these things for granted. With privilege comes socio-political responsibility.  What am I doing to bridge such divisions?  What am I doing to stand up for what is right, fair and just?  How can I be a better, more compassionate involved citizen in my own city?  To whom was I choosing to turn a blind eye?  I realized that I had unknowingly become apathetic.  It's time to for me to wake up and get to work! 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Central Park Dream Run

Here I am in Central Park. The one and only Central Park!
For years, I have romanticized running in Central Park.  Could it possibly live up to the images etched into my memory by popular cinema?  Might I brush shoulders with a celebrity New Yorker?  Sarah Jessica Parker, perhaps?  Would I be safe?  Would I get lost?  The map of Central Park had so many lines and loops, I practically got dizzy just looking at it.

Recipe for getting lost.
 I was travel-weary and grumpy from spending so much time with my whiny kiddos who decided they didn't like the smell, sounds, heat and humidity of NYC in July.  Did I even have a run in me?  Perhaps I should put it off another day? NO, no, no!  I was going! Running Central Park was on my bucket list, dammit!  Not only was I going to run Central Park, I was going to enjoy each and every fucking second of it!

I pulled on my coolest running outfit.  Magically, looking like a runner, made me feel like a runner!  My directionally savvy hubby had shown me the map, traced my route, prepped me and made sure we both had our cell phones on sound AND vibrate.  He assured me that he saw lots of female runners running solo during his early morning run, many were plugged into their iPods.  He wasn't the least bit worried about my safety.  I, on the other hand wasn't so sure.  "Only thing we have to fear is fear itself", or so says FDR.  I was about to find out I thought as I put on a brave face and headed out of the quiet, security of my hotel and onto the bustling streets of NYC.  At the very least, I would run a mere two symbolic miles in Central Park.  At best, I would run a nice 6.1 mile loop.

Taxis clogged up the streets honking their impatient horns.  So many people, all in such a great hurry.  I got caught up in the palatable energy and clocked my first half mile at sub-nine minute pace.  Smokin' for me!  A homeless man going the opposite direction saw me coming, jokingly imitated my running and called me "Speedy".  That's right, Speedy. That's me.  I ran right by the neon lights of Times Square, down Broadway and alongside the building in which the David Letterman show is filmed. 

My family in Times Square the day we arrived all starry eyed and jet lagged in NYC

 Can't you just hear the window breaking when Dave throws his pencil at it?! Me too!
My heart skipped a beat when I realized I had made it to  Columbus Circle, the grand entry-way of Central Park!  Tears sprang to my eyes and my throat constricted with emotion.  There I was at the base of the Maine Monument.  It was time to really begin my run.  I felt like I could run all day in this spectacular iconic setting.

Lots of action on Columbus Circle
Maine Monument
My running route was teeming with honking, speeding taxis and cars, carriages drawn by plumed horses, racing bicyclers and countless runners, joggers and walkers, many accompanied by their happy pooches or slumbering babies.  It was like one giant party out there and I was in on the action!  I must have looked quite the fool with the cheesy grin I wore.  My plan was to stay on this main strip and steer clear of the confusing park's interior.  I was guaranteed to get lost if I ventured that direction.  
Notice from left to right, runners, cyclers, motorists sharing the road.
Central Park Drive around the boundary of the park. Inside the park is for foot traffic only.
I got greedy.  My already fantastic run would be even more so if I could lay my eyes on some of Central Park's picturesque bridges, bodies of water and landmarks.  I was feeling full of energy.  Steve had given me the green light to take my time, run as long and far as I liked while he held down the fort with the girls.  It was great having lots of family time and being on vacation.  Nonetheless, traveling with children is stressful!  I have come to realize that traveling in a foreign country where I don't speak the language and can't drink the water is easier than traveling in the United States with two little kids!  Everything goes slower, is riddled with whining and revolves around seeing to it that they are safe, fed, entertained, sun screened, hand sanitized and have empty bladders and bowels.  I love my children dearly, blah, blah, blah, but it was liberating being away from them for the time being.  I wanted to be totally in the present.  It's not every day that I get to be in New York running Central Park!

I felt utterly and completely safe.  I was surrounded by people, none of whom looked the least bit shady.  It was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky.  Fuck it, I'm going in!  What's the worst that could happen?  I get lost and have to ask a stranger for directions?  I have to hail a cab to take me back to the hotel?  I have to call Steve and confess that I wandered off course and needed his support?  This was a chance of a lifetime and I wasn't going to limit the opportunity by being fearful of getting lost.  I always get lost! 

Into the belly of the park I went, in search of its treasures.  I ran alongside the Central Park Zoo and caught a glimpse of the harbor seals swimming in their tank.  Just as I ran underneath the brick archway, the Delacorte Music Clock animals circled around as the clock played a sweet song.  I spotted the "Checkers House" where they filmed "Searching for Bobby Fischer".  I was spellbound the entire run.  Here is a peek at just a few of the exquisite sights I saw:

I have seen countless romantic comedies where happy couples walked across or shared a kiss atop this charming bridge
One of the many bodies of water. I was looking for the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir, but never found it.
Trees, plants, grass, flowers all within the heart of New York City
The city and the park meet
Belvedere Castle

 Alice in Wonderland Statue

Being in New York for the first time was a dream come true and here I was running in Central Park! Did I get lost?  Of course, I got lost!  Without a doubt, it was the best time I've ever had being lost.  I ended up running over six glorious miles.  I got myself turned around several times within the park.  I called Steve for advice, consulted maps countless times and asked several strangers and a pair of the nicest NYPD officers for directions.  By the time I got back to my hotel, I had the biggest runner's high and a smile glued to my face for the entire day.  May you all have opportunities to be brave, spontaneous and chase down your dreams!  My dream-run in Central Park is one that I will always treasure and hold near and dear in my heart and my mind's eye.

"Not all who wander are lost."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Trail Review: Trail Bridge to Clear Lake on the Magnificent McKenzie River Trail

McKenzie River Trail has the bragging rights of being one of the best and most scenic trails in America.  I thank my lucky stars that this gem lies only an hour from my home.  On our way to Bend, I decided to hit the trails while my family hiked and explored the area.  After my last MRT fiasco, documented in Taking Rides from Strangers, I was a bit nervous.  I grilled my husband, looked at trail maps and carefully wrote all my turns on a napkin that I slipped in my water bottle holster.  I would start at Trail Bridge and run up the trail to Clear Lake.  My husband, who has run this trail many times, deemed this the prettiest section of the trail.

McKenzie River Trail always strikes me as a magical, beautiful and serene trail.  It is is nestled in a 300 year-old old-growth forest along the McKenzie River, a swiftly moving river with lots of white water, pretty river rocks and cascading waterfalls.  I was there late Friday morning/early afternoon on a warm summer's day.  One backpacker, three groups of hikers and three mountain bikers were the only people I saw on my eight mile long jaunt along the trail. 

While rooty and rocky, this trail doesn't have much in the way of long or steep hill climbs or descents.  I underestimated its level of difficulty.  Running over winding, rising and falling lava fields was more challenging that I thought.  My body got quite the workout running on this rather technical trail.  Nonetheless, it was a great run and one I highly recommend.  I hope to run portions of the trail until I've covered it in its entirety.  My dream 50K is the elusive McKenzie River Trail 50K.  Entries for this popular, well-run event are by lottery only.  I have yet to have the luck, injury-free body or freedom in my schedule to get in.  MRTR 2012 has a ring to it though!

From Eugene/Springfield, take highway 126 east 50 miles to the town of McKenzie Bridge.  There are lots of options for starting and finishing your run along this gorgeous twenty-five mile long McKenzie River Trail.  Lots of folks start at Clear Lake and run down the trail.  The run can be as short as you wish or you can run its entire length of 25 miles if you have a ride or can manage shuttling with your running buddies.

Why it's worth the trip:
It's absolutely stunning.  Waterfalls, a raging river, old-growth Cascade forest and diverse lakes are just a few sights that await you.  It's a great place to practice your technical trail running skills without throwing challenging hill climbs or altitude into the mix.  The lakes or  river, if you dare, are perfect for a quick post-run ice bath.  If you're going up there, I recommend making the most of this fabulous area.  There are lots of lovely places to picnic and explore before or afterwards.  You could throw it into all sorts of great day trips such as visiting Leaburg's dam, fish hatchery and lake, taking a guided raft trip down the McKenzie River, picking organic berries at The Blueberry Patch, spending the night in a cabin at the lovely Clear Lake Resort, floating around in one of the lakes or reservoirs, soaking in one of the hot springs, camping at one of the many great campgrounds, or even heading to the quaint town of Sisters or lunch and shopping.  I just love this area!

What to wear:
Trail shoes, gaiters to keep pebbles and pine needles out of your socks and shoes, a hydration pack so you can have your hands free during your run, Gu, Blocs or food to keep your energy up, layers since the temperature fluctuates depending on your proximity to the river and falls, a handkerchief for keeping your neck cool and wiping the trail dust off your face, sunscreen as you are running in and out of the tree cover, and a towel and change of clothes for post-run McKenzie River ice bath.  In the winter until spring, there can be snow on the ground.  It changes the scenery and dressing/packing requirements so plan accordingly.

Take a Peek!

Lots of log bridges to cross.  Here's my first crossing near Trail Bridge Campground. 
After a short, easy climb, I was greeted by this rhodie in full bloom
Blue Pool is exquisite.  Minerals color the water a gorgeous shade of blue and little waterfalls cascade into it.
After Blue Pool, the McKenzie River flows below the surface under the lava fields. This section of the trail is quiet and rather barren.  It demanded careful attention to the trail ahead of me and what my feet were doing.
I was pleasantly surprised to find my family at my half-way point. It was reassuring to know that I was still on track and they were having fun too.
By the time I reached Carmen Reservoir, I was tired and hot. I tried to get my family to let me end my run early.  They wouldn't let me.  Fortunately, their encouraging words and sights and sounds of water, revived me. 
Pretty forest full of Jacob's Ladder, ferns, moss, salal, Douglas Fir trees and rhododendron.
Koosah Falls. Wow!
Back on the trails.  Finally feeling like I'm getting into my groove.  One waterfall down, another to go!
Sahalie Falls
Met up with my crew at Clear Lake.  Whew! I'm beat!
Locals and destination trail runners alike are sure to enjoy this unique, scenic trail.  Be sure to add it to your list of places to run, hike or mountain bike!

Happy Trails!