Sunday, November 7, 2010

Walk, Don't Run: the New York City Marathon

Valerie says: Walking was once a very important part of my life, and I was devastated when my neuromas forced me to give it up. Walking - and particularly standing - just became too painful and too fraught with worry, so I gradually fell into a life of inactivity. Following my foot surgery, the left foot is pain free, and the pain in the right foot has decreased significantly. (Had favoring the left put excess pressure on the right?) So the other day, since I heard the weather would be good, I thought I'd try to walk the marathon. No decision could have been easier. It's all in New York City, so if at any point I changed my mind, relief was only as far away as the nearest subway. I wanted to see what a woman of a certain age (in otherwise good health) could accomplish after years of indolence. I invited Jean to come with me, but Jean's foot issues are different from mine, and I was not surprised when she demurred.

Jean warned me that since I wasn't signed up I wouldn't be able to start with the group at the Verrazano Bridge (since it normally has no pedestrian walkway open to the public), so I contented myself with starting at the last subway stop in Brooklyn: 95th Street on the R line. New York City trains were doing their predictable unpredictable thing, so I arrived at about 9:50am, just a few minutes before the official start of the race, and started walking.

This group of spectators set up a picnic table. Almost all my photos were taken on the fly since I wanted to maintain a fast stride and a steady pace as far as possible.

These are some of the very first runners.

Hitting the three mile point.

The organizers thought of everything. At every mile post, there was a water station, shown here, and a Gatorade station,

a first aid station,

and a dozen places to answer the call of nature.

I saw a woman take these gloves off and throw them to the curb early on. The number of discarded things would grow in size and variety as the race progressed.

Throughout the course, several rock bands played energizing music. Near this comfortable child, a band was doing a great rendition of the old hit 867-5309.

Wellwishers scream from the fire escapes.

Around this time, four people passed by all wearing large white tubes on their heads. They reminded me of simplified versions of the very tall hats formerly worn by certain Bretonne women (shown here). I wish I had managed to photograph them. I wondered how they could keep those things on their heads, and what the purpose of the hats/tubes was.

Employees of Subway call encouragement in front of a life size cutout of Jared, their spokesperson.

Around here I picked up a small blue cow bell from a Time Warner Cable table. Everyone in the immediate area had one, and was ringing with wild abandon to urge the runners on. I only saw one vouvouzela while I was walking.

Here's the obligatory picture of the throng. Later, since I was walking, I fell behind, and the crowd would thin out considerably.

Bagpipe players make their contribution. I saw a few guys run in kilts, too. I also saw three women in teeny leopard print skirts (over their leggings), with long leopard tails attached at the back of the skirts, and there was a Gene Simmons (Kiss) impersonator in the pack too. Lots of hilarious costumes - too many to mention here.

The next milestone was close by, but these guys couldn't wait for facilities.

Fourth mile.

What the organizers didn't think of, others did.

Lots of bystanders had handmade signs, often for people they knew.

Bystanders in red, yellow and blue fleece wigs get in to the fun of the event.

This guy had the right idea. And what great balance!

Taking a page out of his book, I climb a street lamp for this photo.

I would have liked to ask him a few questions, but had to keep moving. The sense of joy pervaded everything.

Another bright idea the organizers hadn't thought of. An appropriately dressed gent advertises free bananas. Along the way, other people offered such things as tissues, oranges, candies, high fives and hugs.

Daddy's girl. I took most of these photos without my glasses and sometimes without benefit of the viewfinder, so some of them are a bit iffy.

Mile 7. There were also kilometer signs here and there. I think the United States is the only country that still clings to miles.

Some of this was pure nostalgia for me. From 1994-1996 I lived on 76th Street, near the beginning of the race; as a child my father took me here - to the Williamsburgh Savings Bank - for my dental check-ups with Dr. Shakun. When Dr. Shakun retired, we visited Dr. Shakun fils in the same building for many years.

Mile 8. Down by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

And by the Mark Morris Dance Group.

I passed by a restaurant supporting Edison Pena, the Chilean miner. The pane to the left of this one asked if he was single.

In case you weren't feeling the spirit...

I loved this building on Lafayette Avenue.

Nine mile point. I should mention it was a great day for dogs. I saw all kinds, enjoying the weather and the spectacle.

On Bedford Avenue, a runner gets the kinks out. Further down, I stopped into the Yarn Tree, to see if I could get a skein of wool dyed with copper pennies, and a little later I stopped in at Amarcord, where I found a lovely black velour hat and a government issue cotton face protector/ski mask complete with zipper for the mouth. I didn't buy either, but it was a nice break in my walk.

This guy looked great from the front, too. You can't tell, but the hat and coat are both faux fur. In the same neighborhood, I passed another rock band playing Amazing Grace, Jimi Hendrix style. They were great!

The ten mile point.

There is still so much great architecture in Brooklyn. A lot of it was along the G train line. The G runs infrequently, so it can't attract business, and a lot of old buildings have been spared the fate of buildings in more trafficked - and thus more profitable - areas.

A lot of people had these fanny packs which holstered contoured bottles to minimize friction against the body.

Trains above, runners below, fab old building.

Another milestone.

This was the one place I saw that officially proclaimed itself, tongue in cheek, the Entertainment Zone. This was right off Metropolitan Avenue. I stopped at Lokal, a nearby brunch spot, and bought myself a mango/apple/ginger/carrot juice drink. I also used their facilities. Sometimes there were lines for the portable loos, and I didn't feel right using them since I hadn't paid the runners' fee.

I live in midtown, and the Citicorp Center (with the acutely slanted roof) is my usual signpost that I'm within reach of home, so it was odd, yet comforting, to see it in the distance.

I developed an odd fascination for discards. Here's a fanny pack like the one carried by the runner shown earlier.

And this bottle, which seems to be labeled Maltodextrin, may have been the last thing one runner drank after disposing of the fanny pack.

Approaching the Kosciusko Bridge. A sign said it was a draw bridge. I wonder if all boats were notified not to pass through on November 7? Right around this point I started hearing from my glutes (as they're politely called). I hadn't heard anything from them in my more than five years of indolence. But it's not as though we didn't keep in touch. In fact, I saw more and more of them all the time. Or perhaps I should say there's been more and more of them to see over the past five years.

Supportive signs at the halfway mark. I remember thinking 'only half way?" Clearly, I hadn't done my homework.

You can see that the crowd has thinned out considerably by the time I reached the 13 mile mark.

On the bridge. The old architecture has so much warmth.

The 59th Street Bridge comes into view. That bridge shows up in so many movies!

These kids were really good, and I don't think one of them was over 13. The little girl in pink who came dancing into the picture frame is one of their groupies.

The 14 mile point is in Queens. The Queens stretch is pretty short.

79 year old Claudio pulled ahead of me, and was gone in short order.

The Cosby Show was filmed at the Silvercup Studios. And of course before being a film studio the place was home to Silvercup Bread, which tasted just like Wonder Bread (no great compliment).

As I walked over the 59th Street Bridge, this man was already starting to take down the mileposts as it was getting late. While walking over the bridge, my bunion started to act up, and I began to worry that it would cut short my walk.

As I made my way onto the bridge, I found the one and only souvenir I really wanted - a foil blanket that someone had stuffed into the crux of two iron pillars. I'm a little embarrassed because it was a cast-off (though a carefully placed one), but I have long been fascinated by this kind of 'textile'. It makes a great foil sculpture at home.

Around midway across the bridge, there was an opening onto the walkway, which afforded a great view of the East River, the east side of Manhattan, and the FDR Drive. Greta Garbo and Irving Berlin, (among countless others) lived within walking distance.

The bridge was so long it had two mileposts. Several hundred feet behind, a car came by announcing that they were about to open the bridge back up to traffic. That gave me some idea where I stood!

The people of Manhattan also cheered the runners on. This was First Avenue around 62nd Street, just off the 59th Street Bridge. The bunion pain mysteriously resolved itself more or less as soon as I was off the bridge.

The amount of stuff that had to be picked up afterwards was mindboggling.

These wet sponges were another lovely idea. A few feet later on, scads of them were strewn on the ground, but they must have been a godsend for hot, tired, sweaty runners.

One of my heroes.

This is the 18th milepost, at East 97th Street. I had to ask, because they had already taken down the signage. At that point, I lost my enthusiasm. I think I could have finished, but it was important to me to pass the milestones, and their absence took some of the fun out of it. It was 3:40pm. I'd been walking since 10am, and had covered some 15.5 miles.

I walked up to Second Avenue and soon got on a bus. A picture of my feet, which worked so hard without complaining, and without whom this day would not have been possible. Kudos also to my sneakers, by Sebago, which acquitted themselves beautifully.

Other stuff I wore: Everything was planned for the purpose. To start with, the boiled wool hat (seen in the first photo), which came off around 30th Street in Brooklyn, and went back on halfway over the 59th Street Bridge. I really do get sick when my head gets cold. It was easy to stuff the hat into my canvas H&M bag when I got warm. Knitted gray wool gauntlets. These came off first, not too long after I saw the runner throw her own gloves to the side of the road, and went into the bag. I started out with my polyester zip up Issey Miyake coat. It's very thin and lightweight, but I wore it as a windbreaker, and as a heat retainer. That also came off before I left Brooklyn, and didn't suffer when I crumpled it up and put it in the bag. Under that I wore a Tamotsu loose weave wool car coat (see first photo again). Very lightweight, and the loose weave traps warm air. Under that a long sleeve striped cotton knit shirt from H&M. Cotton knits are also good retainers of warm air. Under that a comfortable zip-up bustier (sorry - not showing that!). I didn't want to concern myself with straps or wires, and because it covered me down to my navel it served as an extra layer, but without bulky sleeves. The roomy black cotton denim pants have proven themselves very comfortable in all respects, and under them I wore soft, homey, homely striped cotton knit capri length leggings, appropriately labeled Sans Souci, to trap warm air around my legs and hips. I still can't wear socks because of the neuroma on my right foot, but I'm comfortable without them almost year round. I took almost everything out of my bag to minimize my load, but the trip to Brooklyn was a long one, so I took a book (A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman) to keep my mind off the silly train ride. It's a great book, but I should have thought twice about carrying it 15 miles: I don't think I got to read more than 10 pages. Kudos again to the Sebago sneakers.

Post-script. Great shoes notwithstanding, the next day my feet ached, so I called Cristina Lipka, who's been my reflexologist for probably ten years, and asked to submit to her tender mercies. I don't like the word reflexology, which conjures up some kind of wacky cult or obscure philosophy, and doesn't at all bring to mind what it really is (what it really is for me, at least): foot massage. Cristina and I discussed this, and she told me they're not allowed to call it foot massage because the powerful massage lobby opposes it. Go figger. Anyway, whatever you call it, after Cristina's ministrations, I just about floated home. Above are my happy feet after Cristina was done with them. Ahhhhhhhh! Happy ending!

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Jean says:
I must confess that when Valerie casually mentioned yesterday her plan to walk the New York Marathon course this morning, I was more than a little surprised. Ok, I admit it, I was shocked. Let's just say that the words of Marlon Brando as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now kept repeating in my head: "the horror"! Valerie never ceases to amaze me. When she puts her mind to something, she can move mountains. That she survived 18 miles to tell the tale is cause for celebration. Bravissima, Bella! Who knows? This may be the start of a whole new trend in Idiosyncratic shenanigans! Hats off to my partner in crime.

Thanks to my ex-triathlete husband, I get at least one day of exercise every weekend -- whether I like it or not! Seriously, I do hike often (in the city and on Long Island); golf once in a while (Upstate, on Long Island, in New Jersey and in New Hampshire); and have started biking again. The city has installed clearly-delineated bike lanes on several New York City streets. In addition, the recently completed East River Park now boasts new river-front park land, complete with tables and chairs for picnics, lots of benches and designated bike and walking paths from 34th St. south to the Seaport and on the West Side from Battery Park north to the Cloisters.

This morning, we biked up Avenue C to 18th Street to the East River Park, rode down the curved paved roadway next to the water, past lots of fishermen, strollers, runners and other bikers. Our destination: the outdoor market under the Brooklyn Bridge by the now-defunct Fulton Fish Market. The stalls have an amazing range of products, from fresh produce (brussle sprouts, apples, turnips and radishes, melons and squash); coffees and teas; baked goods; bottles of wine; vinegars and spices; chocolates; meats of all varieties (sausages, bacon, ground beef, steaks); seafood (lobster rolls or shrimp or crab); and my favorite: soups! Today, we stocked the backpack with portabello mushrooms, carrots, squash, arugula, spinnach and greens; flat round loaves of dark Swedish pumpernickle bread; and an apple and small watermelon. We stopped at the stand run by Grace, the chef from Table Tales (a fabulous restaurant on Water Street, next to the Seaman's Church, near South Street Seaport). I had butternut squash soup and my husband had "the gravy boat" - a split piece of bread with meat balls, sausage and a thick rich red marinara sauce ("gravy"). I always wear a helmet (Bell), bike shoes (Avocet) and gloves (Descente). The secret to staying warm is layering. Because the temperature was only in the low 40s, I wore Hind bike pants and layered an Under Armor zip-front fleece jacket over my Smartwool turtle-neck over a long sleeved L.L. Bean poly t-shirt over a short sleeved cotton-poly Under Armor t-shirt.

On October 9th, we played at Dutcher golf course in Putnam County, one of the oldest courses in the Northeast. Here I am on the last hole at sunset. I'm wearing a Smartwool zippered turtleneck wool sweater over a long sleeved cotton t-shirt, H&M baggies and Foot Joy golf shoes and gloves. Because my hands blister so easily, I wear gloves on both hands and just ignore any negative comments. Hey, it works!

On October 24th, we went hiking on the trails at the Nature Conservancy in Cold Spring on Long Island. Here I am with my pant legs tucked securely into my Columbia hiking socks to protect against ticks! For sure-footed comfort, I'm wearing Columbia Tenacity II low hiking shoes, Benneton pants, wool sweater layered over a wool Ice Breaker long sleeved t-shirt.

Because my taste in clothing is so "Goth meets Sunset Boulevard", I am impossible to buy for. So, my husband and younger brother buy me sportswear and equipment for birthdays and Christmas. [Valerie interjects: I SO sympathize and empathize with them. I wouldn't DARE buy for Jean.] Needless to say, I have tons of outdoor clothing: golf shoes and visors galore; lots of Gore-tex waterproof, hooded jackets, windbreakers, fleece and softshell jackets -- all in a black or charcoal or black and white color palette. I have a variety of fleece hats, headbands, neck gaiters, gloves and mittens. I hate to be cold, so I usually add at least two more layers than necessary The Michelin Man has nothing on me. I am, shall we say, ready for anything!

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  1. For a variety of reasons connected to my health I did the marathon by speed walking and it will always be a great experience. So kudos for doing what you did, that is a lot of miles to put on, the feet do take a beating. So congrats on doing what you did. And of course I am sure both of you looked absolutely fabulous on that day.

    ta ta for now

  2. 'Goth meets sunset boulevard' is the very best description of an aesthetic that I have ever heard.