14 October 2017

SIT ON A POTATO PAN, OTIS AVENUE

I love it when two of my areas of interest intermix.  The title of this blog post refers to the phrase SIT ON A POTATO PAN, OTIS.  I don't know anyone named Otis or why he was told to sit on the pan.  It's just that the phrase is a palindrome – it spells the same from left to right and from right to left.  You'll have to ignore the comma and move the spaces around, of course.  I first learned about palindromes in a computer class for the BASIC language.  Recently I found a new love in CityStrides.com.

CityStrides.com let runners and walkers overlay a map of places they visited.  It seems like an impossible task – literally travel along all the streets in your town or places you visited.  In my case, that would be primarily New York City.  For some reason, out of the five boroughs, Brooklyn and Manhattan are also considered their own individual city.

Work and family constrains do not allow me to cover as much of my hometown Brooklyn as I want to so for now I try to maximize my coverage of NYC instead, as I regularly get sent to Staten Island and also travel through the Bronx.  The way CityStrides calculate percent completed has nothing to do with a street's length.  For example, let's say a city has a Main Street that goes for miles and miles.  Then there are also many streets that only stretch for a few hundred feet.  If someone were to focus primarily on completing Main Street while someone else covers all the shorter streets, guess who will have a better completion rate?  Yup, not the Main Street guy because by the end of the day, he may have just one out of the total streets completed.  Fair enough, really.

In trying to take advantage of this seemingly erroneous percent complete (which really is not erroneous), I try to cover all the short streets whenever possible.  Streets that are identified as Place or Lane are usually very short, one- or two-block long.  Then I came across Otis Avenue in the Bronx, in the Schuylerville area.  Imagine my surprise after walking along it and not finding it considered completed per CityStrides.  I searched for it in CityStrides and lo and behold there actually are three different Otis Avenues in New York City.  One in the Bronx, another in Queens, not far from Flushing Meadows Park, and yet a third one in Staten Island, just north of Miller Field.  The three locations are shown as series of green hexagons in the picture below.  Personally I think it is a mistake to consider the three Otis Avenues as three parts of one thing.  They just happen to share the name Otis and then also happen to be avenues.  New York City was not composed of the five boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens.  So at some point before the merger, streets were named independently and Otis Avenue happen to appear three times in the three different boroughs.  Just my semi-educated guess, of course.  CityStrides gets its data from OpenStreetMap, so if anything is to change it would have to come from OpenStreetMap.  Maybe I'll study OpenStreetMap and somehow I.D. the three Otis Avenues with suffix to make them unique to the borough and not considered part of "one street".  Highly unlikely I'll mess around with OpenStreetMap, as it seems to be a lot more involved than editing a page in Wikipedia.

Lucky for me, I happened to start participating in NYRR Open Run at Flushing Meadow Park.  I usually get there early and have time to walk around.  Otis Avenue of Queens was knocked out during my first run at FMP.  Next came Otis Avenue in Staten Island, where my son attends high school and I also work there regularly.  Easy for me, but I am sure the typical runner who have a job with a fixed office will find it hard to complete these erroneously longer streets.  Take that, Otis Avenue, go sit on a pot for all I care!



08 October 2017

BED-STUY RESTORATION 10K AND INAUGURAL IMAGINE ACADEMY 5K

I love my "job" with the Prospect Park Track Club.  The Club has a program whereby members are encouraged to run with local races, i.e. those that are based in Brooklyn.  The program, Run Brooklyn, dictates that participants should run in six Brooklyn races that are professionally-timed then get a chance to win money prizes at the Club's annual award dinner.  "Brooklyn races" means the run course must start and end in Brooklyn, such that events like the Tunnel To Tower, which starts on the Brooklyn side of the Battery Park Tunnel but ends in the old World Trade Center site, does not count.  The "professionally-timed" condition eliminates fun runs like the Color Run series, whereby participants' time isn't recorded.

By way of suggestions, announcement of the Run Brooklyn program would list a handful of Brooklyn races, just the names.  I volunteered to maintain a spreadsheet containing the race names, dates, URL for registration purposes, and additional tidbits like whether the race coincides with a popular event.  After a few years of maintaining the spreadsheet, I also maintain a calendar that is embedded into the PPTC.org site.  The info in the spreadsheet and the calendar is mostly the same but the calendar has the advantage of also listing NYRR races, the big gorilla in the market, so that when events happen on the same day, participants can make an informed decision which race to register for.

I made such an informed decision today when I forwent the NYRR Staten Island Half and ran in the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration 10K.  Staten Island used to be a mysterious place that I drive through along I278 from the Verrazano Bridge to the Goethal Bridge, or some other bridge, but after spending a large amount time working there, along with running in a few races there as well, the novelty is not there any more for me.  I like to run in different locations and this year the Bed-Stuy 10K fits the bill.

The Bed-Stuy 10K had its staging area in Restoration Plaza, which is near the corner of Fulton Street and New York Avenue.  All under one big white tent on the Plaza were a stage, DJ stand, registration table, refreshment tables, and some vendor tables.  Refreshment included coffee, bananas, half-cut bagels, small apples, and orange juices, which I believe was all donated from the nearby Super Foodtown supermarket.  In a nearby building, runners were treated to indoor plumbing for their sanitary needs, as well as a bag check area.  Maybe I was not too aware of my surrounding but I found out about the bag check purely by accident.  I think there should be more signs to point out the restroom and bag-check service.

The first event this year was the Kiddie Run.  Some five little kids, two as young as four years of age, ran a few yards to the Finish Line on Herkimer Street behind the Restoration Plaza.  Next we had a workout session led by an instructor on the floor of the big tent and three leaders on the stage.  It was a good workout, plenty enough to loosen all your muscles for the upcoming race.

There was no music along the race course but if there was "Turn! Turn! Turn!" by The Byrds should be played.  Look at the course map!  I was afraid that I would run the wrong way because there were so many turns.  At the start, I asked a few runners near me if they were familiar with the course but they either were running the untimed 5K or not know the course.  Luckily the corners were well-staffed, either by event personnel or by NYPD.  A safety cone with the proper directional arrow also helped in case you missed the instruction from the staff.  Something else I could use along the course was more water.  There was a station at Mile 2 and again at Mile 4, but by the time slowpoke me got to Mile 4 there was no more cups.  I think there was some water left in the water cooler, yes, the sort used in your typical cubicle office, but I didn't want to stop completely to drink from the faucet.  Luckily, it was rainy for most of the race and I cooled down enough to not need water that much.  I don't know the history of the race course so it might be that way all these years, with the many turns, so maybe not much can be done about it.  During the last two miles, I so looked forward to seeing the finish arch from a distance to get me going stronger.  It never came as the arch was just down the road after the final turn.


For every run turn turn turn / There is a reason turn turn turn
Bed-Stuy 10K, now in its 36th year, was well-organized despite all its turns.  A few weeks back I ran an inaugural race that had some teething pain.  From the elitefeats mailing list I discovered the inaugural Imagine Academy For Autism 5K in Marine Park, the actual park, not just the neighborhood.  The race course was just the outer loop of the park, which I ran many times already with NYRR Open Run, so the novelty attraction wasn't there for me.  Open Run covers 3 loops, for a total of about 2.5 miles, the Imagine 5K went for a little over 3.5 to reach about 5K.

The race was supposed to start at 10 AM but there was a speech or two and the race didn't really until 10:30.  It was a hot day so the extra half-hour made a little difference.  Although the course was just a few loops of the park, there was no water station anywhere.  After I did my 3.5 loops, the finish line was totally blocked by finishers.  People were just milling about in front of the finish mat, chatting, taking photos, snacking etc.  Perhaps because it was the first time for these people to participate in a race but the situation could be helped by having the refreshment table a few yards AFTER the finish line, not mere feet in front of it.  Lastly, there was no trash container anywhere to collect all the wrappers, fruit peels, etc.  Responsible runners had to go a few yards away to squeeze the trash into already-packed receptacles.  Hopefully next year these issues won't be present.

29 July 2017

WHAT IS IN YOUR WALLET, MOFO?

It is Public Service Announcement time!

As Samuel L. Jackson might have asked in a TV commercial, "What is in your wallet, MOFO?"  Some day the majority of people will do everything with their smartphones and may not carry a wallet any more.  For now, most of us still do and sadly, sometimes the wallet get lost or stolen.

I read a tip a long time ago that said we all should regularly lay out the various cards we carry in our wallet and photocopy them for record-keeping.  I know, photocopy, I said it's an old tip, didn't I?  These days everything is photographed by the smartphone, like I just did below.  Of course yours won't have the white rectangle when you do it.  Yes, I have many more items in my wallet, but the four shown are enough to illustrate the point.  Yes, I like reward accounts.


The idea is to have all the important info from the cards in your wallet in a convenient location.  You would have the cards laid out, snap a photo, then flip them over and snap the other side.  Ten cards per layout may be the optimal number.  Should the unfortunate thing happens (your wallet is lost!), you would go back to these photos and call your credit card companies etc to cancel the accounts or update them on your situation.  Sure you can be more diligent and create a spreadsheet, or something better, to track your wallet, but I am sure snapping photos works best for most people.

It is probably best to print out the photos you took and keep the prints in some safe location at home.  If your wallet is stolen, the smartphone may be stolen along with it.  To be extra safe, delete the photos from the smartphone, or whatever camera you used to snap them, no chance the info is gleaned should someone play around with your phone.

May your wallet be with you for a long time!



23 July 2017

CITY STRIDES PROGRESS REPORT - BROOKLYN, NY AT 13%

Captain America appears a few times, in the form of a pep talk video, in the movie Spiderman: Homecoming.  One of the topic he talked about is Patience.  Sometimes you need lots of it.

I have an intense interest in seeing my map updated in CityStrides. But I need a lot of patience.  It is nice that syncing happens transparently but there is a big backlog that resulted during the transition period.  I'm now at 13% completed for Brooklyn but I only noticed it today.  While I don't run in Brooklyn as much as I like to, I do try to target not-yet-ran streets and that strategy seems to pay off.  I just have to be patient and wait for syncing to happen with Strava, which seems pretty quick, but with Runkeeper the activities usually show up 24 hours afterward.  I usually use Strava for runs then keep track of walks in Runkeeper.  I don't want to inundate my Strava feed with the short walks that I do during lunch or at places of business that I visit.  Once the activities show up, you have to be patient and wait for the Streets Completed and Streets Progressed to be calculated.  A little more time then the city completion rates will be calculated.  In this case, Patience has its rewards.

There is a forum where questions get answered by James Chevalier himself.  I visit it from times to times to see what's going on.  If someone already asked a question that I have then I'll just wait for it to be answered instead of throwing out more of the same questions.

One interesting tidbit I recently learned is that city percent completion has little to do with street length.  Personally I like to run long, like from one end of town to the other, as far as possible without being late for work or other important aspects of life.  One long line by one long line I would have a grid created.  While the map then looks nice, if those streets I ran are long and I don't have them 90% completed, then they don't contribute to the percent completed.  On the other hand, if I find the many short streets and complete them, my percent completed will shoot up sharply.  It feels like cheating but that's how it's done.


Given enough time, those big zeroes for Streets Completed and Streets Progressed will be resolved to some non-zero numbers.  Unless I ran in some big parking lot just because I like to have lines all over the super-block.

New on the 13% map is "Adam" and his cowbell in Sunnyside, the inaugural Coney Island Creek 5K, which took place inside Kaiser Park, which I already ran many times, but thanks to a short pre-race warm-up and a post-race walk, a few more streets turned purple.

18 July 2017

RUN ART GETTING MORE GRAPHIC

I'm pretty good at spelling out letters and words during my runs, as seen in "Crystal" and "Heather" below, some recent samples.




Naturally, my friends asked if I ever drew actual pictures, not just letters and numbers.  While I did a few, the majority of my run arts have been limited to just letters and numbers.  With my special block-cutting technique, technically anything can be drawn, given enough time and proper planning.  And so I did, recently, advance to the next phase of my run art, with "Jimmy" and "Adam". 




With the "Jimmy" piece, there is this roundabout traffic circle in Glen Oaks, Queens that I have yet covered on my CityStrides map. I have this friend Jimmy who is well-known for his strong appetite. The roundabout made a perfect food item, whether a bagel or a donut.  The fun got better as I tried to include a bite mark in the food item.  Of course, I had to use my virtual trespassing technique to make the bite mark.

Adam is another friend in the run community.  A great runner himself, he loves to cheer fellow runners with his cowbells.  Not just the small cowbells somewhat cube-ish type, but the real, rectangular ones.  Every year, Prospect Park Track Club has a dinner party at which members receive awards as voted by the club.    In past years, the awards came in the form of a plaque or similar form.  In 2016, someone came up with the excellent idea of awarding cowbells!  So useful!  Adam won in two categories and now often carry them to the cheer zone, thus in my run art there's a cowbell after his name.  To achieve the angular shape of the cowbell, I again resorted to cutting through city blocks.

15 July 2017

CONEY ISLAND CREEK 5K

I like pleasant surprises.

My friend Josh was instrumental in helping to bring back the Brooklyn Triple Crown series of footraces.  The series ran for many years but after Hurricane Sandy hit New York the series went away.  I already knew about the Staten Island Triple Crown and even ran two out of the three races.  The same people, Complete Race Solutions and the Staten Island Athletic Club, organize both series.

For some reason I thought the Coney Island Creek 5K (CIC5K) was going to take place on a Sunday.  It's summertime and the family wants to have things to do on Sundays so it appeared I wouldn't be able to participate.  What I love about the CIC5K is it was really close to home.  It is basically within Kaiser Park near Mark Twain Middle School.  I used to run there regularly.  I cannot stand races that require me to travel more than an hour, wait around perhaps another hour, then do the race in 30 minutes or more, then another trek to get home.  With the CIC5K, I would be able to just walk over, 20 minutes maybe, 30 minutes top.

Eventually I realized that the race would be on a Saturday.  Sure I could register but I was going to take advantage of the special discount on Independence Day.  I should have registered during the day because in the evening the family watched the fireworks display on the beach of Coney Island and the exodus from the area was horrible.  I don't know for sure what caused the traffic jam, maybe just too many cars leaving the area at the same, from the fireworks and from the soccer game at MCU Park.  Or maybe it was because of some FDNY truck blocking one of the lane.  Whatever it was, I got home really late and missed the discount deadline.  I was bummed.  But then Thursday night I happened to pass by the packet pickup site, VitaminShoppe at Caesar's Bay.  I figured it's a local race that I want to support so I finally registered that evening.

I did walk to the race site, in 31 minutes according to Strava.  I met friend Sheldon for a warmup run on the nearby streets.  At the NYRR Queens 10K a few weeks ago, I also had a warmup run and I felt better during and after the actual race.  I thought from now on I should always have a warmup run.  Besides, I need to cross off a few streets in the area, for CityStrides.com of course.  I am sure I ran the nearby streets before, somehow the lines don't show in CityStrides.  As more friends show up, I learn that Jimmy is in my age group and I joked that my hope for first-place age group is dashed, I would have to settle for second-place.  With the typical NYRR and NYCRuns races, the number of participants is so large that the chance of a slowpoke like me winning anything is infinitesimally small.  The chance is greater with the smaller races and there are many such races in the City.  I recently turned 50 years old too so there is hope there too.  One popular joke is that if you live long enough, eventually as long as you finish a race you'll win because you'll be the only person in the Age Group.  There weren't that many people at the CIC5K but I didn't know who else were in my Age Group, other than Jimmy.  I would just have to do my best and hope for the best.

There was no start mat.  When the time came, the race director walked the group over to the starting line and, after a few speeches, gave us the signal to go.  I was only a tad behind the starting line, probably at the fifth row, with about five or six people per row.  I jokingly asked "Where is Corral L?"  There was no need for a corral, just a small group of people.  During the warmup run, my left knee felt a bit weird.  The pain seemed to travel down below the calf but it went away afterward.  I did more stretching during the wait for the race to start.  Whatever it was I held back a bit in the beginning.  It was a bit scary to see all the runners in front of me taking off.  I just kept my regular pace.  There was no need to dodge slow runners because there were not that many people and the course was wide enough.  One by one I passed the kids then the women who went into walking mode.  I know, nothing to write home about, but in the running world, lots of time the little kids are pretty fast and so are the women.  Just as I started to pass the front of Mark Twain M.S., some guys started to pass me.  I thought they were such fast runners that they already started to lap me, even though I didn't even hit the first mile yet.  I found out later that they were late-comers, speedy ones, who thought the race was scheduled for 9 A.M.  It was 8:30 A.M. but got delayed a bit.  I kept moving and again passed two more women.  There was a third woman but I couldn't catch up to her in the first mile.  By the second mile, she had to take walking break and it was my chance to pass her but before I did that she resumed running.  A short while later, by the sandy portion of the course, she walked again and this time I actually passed her.  My lead was short-lived as she resumed running shortly after I passed her and she regained the lead.  Unfortunately for her not long after passing me she had to walk again.  I once again passed her and kept going.  I should have studied the course better and only knew vaguely that it was two times around the park, that the third time I hit the entrance to the track I should enter it for about a loop of the track.  I wasn't sure by the time I finished the second loop of the park and had to ask the race director to confirm.  I was so glad it was over.  Hot and humid weather does not work well for me.  I perform better in cold weather.

Award ceremony took place by registration table.  First we had the overall winners then came the Age Group awards.  Many of my teammates from the Prospect Park Track Club won Age Group awards, many in first-place.  For my Age Group, 50-59, when the third-place winner was announced and it wasn't me, my hope was dashed.  Oh well, run faster or find another small race, I thought.  But it turned out I was the second-place winner, with Jimmy in first-place, just as I joked before the race.  Pleasant surprise indeed!

Last month I ran the Harbor Fitness 5K in Bayridge.  There were many raffle prizes given out but I didn't win anything.  In the days leading up to the CIC5K, Josh had many announcements on Facebook about so-and-so sponsors had come on-board and will offer raffle prizes.  In addition to the Chipotle BOGO coupon and $2 (?) Coney Island Brewing Co. that every runner would get, that is.  There were indeed many prizes, ranging from baseball caps to socks then $15 Grimaldi coupon and $25 Brooklyn Running Co. gift card.  There were other very high-valued prizes too that I cannot recall at the moment.  Knowing my luck, I didn't expect much but when the winner for the last $25 BRC gift card was picked, the person wasn't present and my number was picked!  Woohoo!  Second-place Age Group AND a $25 gift card, the day sure started on a good note!


08 May 2017

THE GREAT SAUNTER 2017, PART 2

The Great Saunter, organized by Shorewalkers, is a 32-mile walk (mostly) on the shores of Manhattan Island.  The schedule set forth by Shorewalkers has the walk start at 7:30 AM from Fraunces Tavern near the southern tip of the island.  Walkers would go along the Hudson River up to the northern tip then return to the south (mostly) along the East River.  Most should finish back at the Tavern by 7 PM the same day.

I don't know what I was thinking but I figured that if I can finish a marathon, distance = 26.2 miles, in 5.5 hours, another 6 miles maybe requires one more hour, so I should be able to finish the Saunter in 7 hours, 8 top.  The only trouble is I won't be running, more like a leisurely walk.  Yes, in the beginning I wished to catch up to the front of the group so I walked a bit faster than others, but then I also stopped to remove outer layers or to take photos of the surrounding.  That was part of the reasons for the walk, to enjoy the scenery.  Five hours or so I only finished half the walk, somewhere past the George Washington Bridge.  It was kinda like getting off the last exit of the Long Island Expressway, it was the end of the highway but there is actually lots more road to drive on.  Lately work has me in the southern end of Staten Island and to me it looks countryside.  Houses far apart, no sidewalks in some places.  Except in the Inwood area it felt like walking in a forest.  The big bridges here and there reminded me I wasn't outside of civilization, then there were also the baseball fields as well as buildings in the Bronx just across the water.


Henry Hudson Bridge, it goes on and on.
Before we exit Inwood Hill Park, there was a rest area where Shorewalkers staff provided snacks and drinks.  Some experience walkers brought along sandwiches and such.  I figured we would not be far from civilization and could always stop by a deli to get a sandwich or something to munch.  I was lucky the rest area had a green market just across the street from it.  I was tempted to have a big lunch but with about 16 more miles to go I had just half a sandwich.  And a nice cold apple cider, plus a chocolate chip cookie.

After the break, the route got a little more challenging.  So far, it was a matter of having the water of the Hudson River to our left to stay on course.  After Inwood Hill Park, we were back in the urban jungle with buildings and traffic in all directions.  Unlike those long stretch of shores with few people around, where you can easily spot the walkers far ahead of you, usually with the white Shorewalkers caps, on the crowded city street it wasn't so easy.  The organizer prepared a nice map for us but I figured I could find my way to the East River, or to be exact the Harlem River.  I got toward the correct general direction but to be safe I asked a trio of fellow walkers waiting to cross the street.  It was a fortunate move because even though I was able to walk alone the whole time by then I was getting tired and could use some chit-chat to make the trek more bearable.  The trio turned out to be husband-and-wife team P. and T., the other person being a seasoned Shorewalker, C.  We stayed together for the rest of the walk, down Harlem River Drive, briefly onto the streets of Harlem, passed over part of the Percy Sutton 5K, then finally along 111th Street to get to the East River waterfront.  My favorite part of the walk was in Inwood because I never visited the area before.  Even though I haven't been to the waterfront of the Upper East Side in a while, it was familiar territory so it was a bit boring.  Still nice and there were surprises, like Gracie Mansion, which I thought was some huge complex with fences and guards, far away from the common folks, but it seemed more approachable than I would, and smaller too, but it may be just from one view.

Among the four of us we share stories about travel, food, walking, CityStrides.com, NYC sights, etc.  It helped to pass the time and slowly we whittle down the miles.  We had to take restroom breaks here and there and our pace got slower and slower but we soldiered on.  It didn't help that the sky became overcast and cooler.  At last we saw the Williamsburg Bridge from far away.  The home stretch!  First Williamsburg, then the Manhattan Bridge, and then not that far away, the Brooklyn Bridge.  Unbelievable, all that walking for a paper certificate and bragging right!  But it was a lot of fun, much to see in the city no matter how long you live here.

Just as we arrived back at the Tavern to collect our certificates, it started to rain, not heavily, just enough to get the paper certificates wet if we stayed outside.  Inside the Tavern it was crowded but we managed to find a table, where they only serve drinks.  If I had known ahead I would make some friends, I would make reservations.  We had a celebratory drink, took a group photo or two, then parted ways, with contact info exchanged.  Just as I stepped back outside, the wind was really strong and I shook uncontrollably!  Maybe my body finally reached its limit?  Luckily the shaking went away as I kept walking.  I even recovered enough to find a Chipotle to have dinner.  The subway ride home wasn't so bad, the waiting didn't seem that long.

Oh the agony of the feet!  Unlike a marathon where muscles in different parts of the body ache, for me with the Great Saunter, it's mostly with the feet.  The smalls of the back hurt a little too.  Lucky for me, by Sunday evening, some 24 hours later, I was able to walk normally, mostly.  I actually walked over 3 miles to complete a few more Brooklyn streets for CityStrides.  The Great Saunter got my Manhattan coverage jumped from 10% to 12%, I should focus some more energy on Brooklyn.

Would I do it again?  Probably not, only because I don't like to do things years after years.  Maybe in x years when the East Side becomes more continuous I will re-consider it.  Shore walkers have many other walks throughout the year, some over short distance like 5 miles but others as long as 10 miles, excellent chances to cover more streets for CityStrides.  Should the average, able-bodied New Yorker do it?  Definitely!  It is a great way to see the City, to visit parts of the City you may never visit!  Just be prepared for it, be physically active some time before the big day.