Pounding Pavement Again

Last month I ran a half marathon. It was kind of a big deal because it was my first half in eight years. And that’s kind of a bigger deal because while I’ve always been a recreational runner, there were several years in which I became an avid racer. I trained for and ran a full marathon along with a few halves every year from 2002-2006.

The Entenmann’s Half Marathon in Bayshore, NY is one of my favorite races of all time because it’s small, it’s flat and it’s scenic. In 2003 I set a course personal record of 1:41. A couple of months before that, I ran a half PR of  1:36 in hilly Central Park. But in 2006, without much training at all, I ran the Bayshore half with an all-time worst record of 2:08. I remember running that race so well and how I completely  bottomed out after 8 or 9 miles. Like a slug, I literally dragged my butt to the finish. I’m not knocking the time, it’s respectable for most people, but a finish of 2+ hours was not respectable for me. My body was breaking down. So many consecutive years of training and running had taken its toll on me. My piriformis muscle was a constant pain my ass (literally) and plantars fasciitis was constantly being triggered by fluid in my heel.

After the half that year, I pretty much gave up on racing. I continued to run, but nothing over a 10K. Once I accepted that my relationship with running long is one that required a lot of time and a strong commitment, it became easier for me to let go. I had entered into a serious, romantic relationship during that time, and it was difficult to balance the two. So I focused on my relationship with my now husband and stopped training.

It’s been eight years and I now have two small children. After the birth of my second, I had a burning desire to get back to doing halves. It’s a distance that doesn’t wreck you physically and it’s much easier to manage time-wise.

At first, I think I decided to train for the half purely for motivational reasons — just to get my butt out of bed to shed the last of my baby weight. However as the spring and summer months rolled around, it became an impending reality. I had to decide if I was going to commit or not. It became something more tangible, something I knew I could achieve. And so I committed.

While out to dinner with friends over the summer, I mentioned I was training for the Bayshore Half. The next thing I knew, three others were joining me. We trained separately but kept up with each others progress on a private Facebook group.

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Danielle, Kelly, me and Karen a few minutes before the start.

To train for the half I’d run 4 mile tempo runs at least two or three times per week in Brooklyn. And on weekends I’d run long while out at my parents’ house on Long Island. I logged several 8-11 mile runs leading up to race day.

On race day I had so many cards stacked against me. Not only was there a torrential rainstorm to contend with, but the winds were blazing – and was only compounded by the fact that the course is along the Great South Bay. It was the second day of my period, which is usually no picnic, and I showed up at the start without my iPod shuffle — something I had trained all year long with.

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The storm was no joke.

The storm: It was brutal. If it wasn’t for my three friends, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed that morning. While there was some serious groveling going on in the car on the way there, we held each other accountable and showed up to the start smiling and cracking jokes.

Aunt Flo: It sucked. Let’s just leave it at that.

No music: It also sucked. I was alone in my thoughts for 13.1 MILES!

Despite running in pouring rain at times, and through flooded rain and sea water up to our ankles at miles 3, 8 and 10, I finished in under 2 hours. I can’t help but think that if there was no wind, my shoes weren’t waterlogged and I had tunes to help push me along, I could have shaved 2-3 minutes off my time. Maybe next year.

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I was as happy as my smile. Literally.

Because the race is sponsored by Entenmann’s, we refueled with some post-race doughnuts.

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And after we changed out of our wet, soppy clothes, we made good on our free drink race-perk at Fatfish Bistro. The race wouldn’t have been complete without a hard earned beer (or three)!

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Reunion Weekend

When I was a senior in high school, one of my good friends died in a tragic accident that was related to our hard-partying ways. Many people in our school and community thought we had it coming to us. That attitude seemed somehow not right back then. And 18 years later, I still feel that receiving that kind of support was somewhat tragic in itself.

Timmy Ryniker, or “Ryno” as we called him, was one half of a twin. His sister Kerri was also a close friend, but I was tighter with Tim. After Timmy died, I pulled back a bit from this group of friends. We all processed the loss differently, and my way seemed a bit more head on at the time. They all grieved at first but went on with life as if nothing had happened — until it was late at night and the drinks and marijuana had been flowing freely. Only then would the tears also flow. So in the last months of my senior year, I distanced myself from them. I didn’t even go to prom.

I kept in touch with a couple of the girls throughout college, but not with Kerri, and not with any of the guys. Years later I’d heard through the grapevine that Kerri married a boy from college. His name was Tim.

Then she joined Facebook.

Kerri reached out to a few of us living in the city at the end of last winter — me and Scott (my upstairs neighbor) included. She was coming to New York and wanted to see us. So on a Thursday night last May we got together for drinks downtown in the financial district. It was wonderful to see her. Other than having much shorter hair, Kerri hadn’t changed a bit. Her beautiful green eyes and easy smile were as if I were still looking at my 17 year old friend.

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Scott, Ruben, me, Jay and Kerri in the foreground. Ruben’s girlfriend is behind me.

The festivities continued and ended that night at our friend Ruben’s rooftop Manhattan apartment. After several more drinks and a couple of pizzas, Kerri commanded our attention. Her hand trembling, she emerged from her pocket a photo, and began to explain the real reason she was in the city. She planned to have Tim’s face tattooed on her arm the next day. She became very emotional. It seemed the entire city had fallen quiet at that moment.

Of our group of friends, I was the only female there. She then addressed the guys, of which there were four. “The year after Timmy died you held a golf benefit in his honor, which made me and my family so happy. That was the first year and also the last. Why?”

Kerri's tattoo

Kerri’s tattoo

My heart went out to Kerri, who was clearly still working through her loss. But I’ve made peace with Timmy’s death. While I think of him often and of the carefree lives we led back then, I felt terrible (but also remarkably healed), that I did not share in her tears that night.

I saw Kerri again last October at the after party of the golf outing that Ruben organized in memory of Timmy. The next one is this September.

Timmy Ryniker Golf Outing 2012

Timmy Ryniker Golf Outing 2012

Little did I know that I would have even more time with Kerri months later.

Over the winter, one of the girls from my group in high school wrote that she needed a break from her family in Florida and would be coming to New York in May. Another was willing to take time off from her job in Texas. Kerri was up for driving down from where she lived upstate. Two of us were already in Brooklyn. It was going to be a reunion!

In anticipation of the five of us together for the first time since high school, I offered up my home and made plans to bring Mylo to my parent’s house on Long Island. I even planned a big reunion party for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

It was a much-needed week of bonding and patching up old friendships. I was especially happy to have rekindled my friendship with Kerri, who sat with me in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a rainy Friday to bring Mylo out to my mom’s.

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Janna, me, Kerri, Rachel and Jaaron… together again for the first time in 18 years.

Growing up had made us vastly different. Kerri is a hardcore omnivore with a husband who hunts their dinner. I’m the only vegetarian of the lot. One is still pretty much “the hippie”. She likes to grow her own vegetables but dons a Louis Vuitton crossbody satchel. The one we’d never expect to be the most gainfully employed, is. Only three of the five us are married with children. Two of those three have healthy marriages.

Had we met for the first time today, there aren’t that many commonalities that would tie us together. It’s nice to know that a childhood steeped in memories and later on, a profound loss, is what has sealed our friendships.  And I have no doubt that Timmy would approve.

Weathering Superstorm Sandy in Brooklyn

Following Saturday’s pumpkin picking and painting festivities, Mylo got sick. We were home bound with a fever-stricken child on the cusp of Superstorm Sandy, which was expected to hit the New York City area hard.

Sunday was business as usual in our house. Doing laundry coupled with watching football. When the storm projections became more serious we picked up some essentials from the grocery store and from the drugstore. I’ll admit, the lines out the door and the near-empty shelves had me a tad nervous. But the day rolled on… until Mayor Bloomberg terminated the NYC transit system. My husband was even told not to show up to work – this coming from a boss who rented a van and picked up all his employees during Hurricane Irene last year.

Our deck furniture all battened down!

Monday felt like the longest day ever. We hunkered down with Mylo who was on the mend. We didn’t take our eyes off the news coverage. We took the dogs for quick walks despite the hard winds and constant mist of rain. Luckily, my friend Scott lives upstairs with his wife and a toddler of their own, so when we got real stir crazy, they came over. We drank wine, played with the kids and waited out the storm. Together.

I communicated with my parents on Long Island up until about 5pm.

A mutual friend of mine and Scott’s who lives close to the water in DUMBO was evacuated by the NYC Fire Department after the lobby of his building began to fill with water. The transistors in the basement of the building across the way from them caught on fire. Chris, his girlfriend Julie and their dog, hitched a ride up the hill to our place.

We eventually put the kids to bed and then the “real” Sandy soiree began!

A few bottles of wine, a really good bottle of champagne and some 18 martinis later, we were having a blast. Other than the lights flickering a few times and the loss of TV and Internet, you wouldn’t have known their was a full-fledged hurricane happening right outside. Probably the only pain we felt from Sandy was a hangover the next day.

Friends since kindergarten and the seventh grade!

The morning after Sandy it was eerily quiet out on the streets. There were fallen trees as far as my eyes could see. Sirens wailed in the distance. Normally where there are cars, people were walking in the middle of the street. When we arrived at the bagel place on Court St. we found its massive awning laying in the middle of the street and the doors boarded closed.

Hurricane Sandy's aftermath on Bergen St.

After our unsuccessful bagel trip, we *tried* to get a table at the diner – turns out one of the few places open in our neighborhood – across the street. Just to put things into perspective a little: On a typical day, this diner has a few tables occupied at a time. The morning after Sandy, it was standing room only. When Jason told the host we were six adults and two kids, he pretty much turned us down on the spot and advised him to not bother waiting. Ahh, if only I had the time to write THAT up on Yelp!

Mylo and Olivia walking to the diner the morning after Sandy.

While Monday felt like the longest day ever as we waited and waited for Sandy to make landfall, Tuesday, which was largely spent trying to connect with family, felt even longer. Neither me, Scott or Chris, who’s parents weathered the storm in our hometown, could reach any of them. Jason also lost touch with his father in Westchester.

I didn’t hear from my folks until Wednesday, a whole two days after the storm. They lost power, had a ton of downed trees in their yard pulling down power lines, and had to drive around town just to find an unreliable cell phone connection. And then came the mile-long lines for gasoline to fill their generator. They likened my safe, hilly, waterfront town with no traffic lights, road detours and tons of downed trees to that of a “war zone.”

Superstorm Sandy nailed some and not others. We were virtually unaffected by it while my folks have been royally stressed and inconvenienced by it. But there are others whose lives have been forever changed by the storm. When I really think about it, I am grateful. Beyond grateful.