28 August 2012


I recently went on a cruise vacation.  It was a five-day trip aboard the Carnival Glory to Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia then back to NYC.  Before the trip, I only looked forward to running on some track on a top deck.  It turned out better than I expected.

I was warned about overeating and gaining weight.  With buffet-style for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I can see why.  With any buffets, people tend to take more than they can handle.  At some breakfast food line, a kitchen staff would dole out two bacon strips per person.  When the staff was not there, I saw a few people piling many bacon strips onto their plates. Buffet food was available over many hours but the buffet kitchen did close for some hours at night. There was a 24-hour kitchen for the night owls though. I stayed with just the usual three meals a deal, perhaps more frozen yogurt than usual, but otherwise did not eat much more than while on land. I am happy to report that my weight did not go up during or after the trip.

I've always wanted to get a foot pod for my Garmin.  The cruise trip provided the perfect excuse.  I ran most days during the trip.  The one day I did not run I used the elliptical and also skipped desserts.  The jogging track is rather short, you have to run six loops to have 1 km. I am used to running 4 km or more away from home, seeing different things along the way, then back. Running around the short track was so boring I mostly ran only 5 km. One time I managed over 6 km. I could never got up early enough to run in the morning and mostly ran around 3 pm ship time. A few runners were out that time, too, which is good, otherwise the track would be crowded, like the volleyball court and the basketball court. I have no interest in basketball but would love a game or two of volleyball but the court was always crowded. It was even smaller that a beach volleyball's court and always have six or more people on each side. It was on Deck 11, the top deck, so it had a net ceiling, which was not that high so if you serve the ball too high you would hit the ceiling. For those who don't like to work-out in the natural outdoor environment, the gym on Deck 11 at forward would be the best option. Air-conditioned, with a nice, cold water fountain, plenty of towels, elliptical machines, stationery bikes, the dreaded treadmills, weight machines, yoga mats, it seemed to have everything for the gym rats. I prefer the outdoor and hoped to remove my tank-top tan so I ran outdoor most of the time and used the elliptical only once. For water sports fans, there was a water-slide and some small pools that made me wish I was back at Flushing Meadows Aquatic Center's Olympic-sized pools for lap swim.

If you are not into eating or exercising, there are many other activities to do. I played a few name-that-tune games. The first one was a comedy movie quotes. I need to either watch more movies or have better memory. I failed to recognize the lines from "Short Circuits" and "Spaceballs", two of my favorite movies. The second trivia game was about songs from the 80s. I thought I would easily ace it, but I could not even name Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" and got only half right. Someone actually got 39 out of 40 points and won a nifty trophy. Every night the auditorium featured a different show, at 8:30 and 10:30. Then there was also the comedy club, with shows for the whole family and for adults only. One night, my son and I played a game of laser-tag. At $5 for 5 minutes, I thought that if you beat everyone and stay past your allocated 5 minutes over and over you would end up with a big bill. Luckily groups of five people were allowed into the inflated arena and the line was long. I was horrible at it and ranked five out of five so even if there was a win-lose situation I would lose quickly.

Of course if you rather do nothing then there was the option of reading, on a lounge chair or in your room. I knew the Kindle was popular but on the ship it was everywhere. I brought along the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson and had a good time churning through the pages, mostly while my son read his summer assignment, in our room.

The cruise is a perfect getaway for those who want to be disconnected from everyday life. I suspect at times, out in the ocean, there was no cell phone signals to get that urgent call from the office. Or if the service was available, it would be expensive so no one in my big group made any calls. The teenagers in the group probably had a great time since they could be roaming around without being nagged by the parents about "curfew" and other inconvenience. Internet access was a luxury all of a sudden. At over 70¢ per minutes, I paid about $20 for about 15 minutes, including a $5 activation fee, sheesh. Honest, it was not for me, mostly for my son to play some games, but that didn't work because of old versions of Flash or the game took too long to load over the slow satellite connection. With the high cost to pay for being connected to the rest of the world, voluntary isolation is the best option.

As an origami enthusiast, the most interesting part of the vacation was the towel animals that were placed in our room after the room staff finished making the beds etc. I even attended the demo and subsequently bought the book. At times I did have much down time, like when my son did not want to do anything else but watch TV. During such time I made sonobe pieces. Early one morning, I slipped two sonobe orbs into the library and they disappeared after breakfast. Ideally someone out there took them and got interested enough to learn how to make them.

19 August 2012


Many times, as I traveled on the Brooklyn-Queens Express portion that runs below the Brooklyn Height Promenade, I would look longingly at the relatively new jogging path that extends south from Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Especially so when there was a traffic jam.  I should be down there exercising my muscles, lung, and heart, instead being up on the highway contributing to air pollution.  Once or twice I went with the family and others to the area but each time by the time we got to Brooklyn Bridge Park it was too dark, or the kids too tired.  Always something or others.  I suppose some day I may drive the family and the usual entourage to the park, but I am sure by the time I find parking five blocks away I would be in a sour mood and won't enjoy the park as much.

I signed up for a few marathons this year, all near the last quarter of the year.  The Yonkers Marathon is the first one to arrive and is about a month away, on Sunday 16 September.  Most, if not all, marathon training schedules dictates that the runner must run a 32-km (or 20-mile) distance a few weeks prior to the actual race.  Of course, you are supposed to build up the distance over so many weeks, which I did not.  But I still want to do a 32-km run before the Yonkers Marathon.  According to gmap-pedometer.com, from my home to Brooklyn Bridge Park is supposed to be 16 km.  Run there and back and I will have my 32-km long run.  Nhất cử lưởng tiệng, "one lift of the hand to do two things," aka "kill two birds with one stone."

When the alarm clock blared, I was ready.  Tech clothes already picked out, camel pack with four filled water bottles, fanny pack with house keys, four packs of Gu energy gel, some energy beans, and eyeglasses case. Cell phone and GPS watch charged overnight.  I also had some money in case I need to buy a MetroCard to get back, plus an NYRR membership card for use as ID in case some mishap occurs.  All the preparation the night before can make a big difference in the morning of the big day.

I ran mostly along the south-southwest waterfront of Brooklyn, or as close to the water as I could.  I entered the Belt Parkway Waterfront via the footbridge at around Bay 16th Street then ran toward the Verrazano Bridge, all the way to Owl's Head Pier.  A short distance before the pier, I ate the first Gu and washed it down with water.

For hill training, I ran to the top of the hill in Owl's Head Park.  I thought about taking photos from the hilltop but the tree branches were in the way.  I must come back here in the winter.  Eventually I found myself along Second Avenue, ran past Lutheran Hospital, some live poultry market, and Costco.  On Second Avenue, there was a moving company called Van Gogh but I don't recall seeing it on this run. I try to run against traffic whenever possible, so at the first favorable street I turned into it to get to Third Avenue. The last time I went along Third Avenue and not in a car I was on a bike and had to ride on the sidewalk. The other options were to go against traffic or walk the bike at around the Prospect Expressway underpass. Running is so much better. I was able to keep running on the sidewalk against traffic, past Home Depot, onward to a drawbridge that spans the Gowanus Canal. I recently heard about The Superfund Super Run and had a chuckle about the nickname Lavender Lake, for the Gowanus Canal. I took photos of the canal but did not do it justice. Or maybe it's just too clean at that point. I know in the past I've seen the canal in some eerie green color.

By the time I reached the Battery Park Tunnel, it was already 16 km. My goal was the Brooklyn Bridge Park so I continued, along Columbia Street. A novel idea here is the bike path is actually half of the sidewalk, not on the road. At Atlantic Avenue, I asked a dog-walker whether there's an outlet and he told me about going around 1 Brooklyn Bridge, which he called the Grey Building. At long last, I would be on that cool jogging path. Alas, I missed the entrance to the path, which was across from the Grey Building's loading dock. I had to run on the really narrow sidewalk of Furman Street, all the while occasionally seeing joggers on the path and wondering how they got there.

Finally at Brooklyn Bridge Park I decided to use the restroom. Ooh, air-conditioned! So nice, but on second thought the location is probably a tourist magnet, better make it worth their money. From then on I mostly walked as I had to stop many times to take photos. Such a nice place! See the photos and descriptions below.

I thought the jogging/bike path was just something very basic. A dirt road at most. It turned out to be nicely paved, well marked to separate cyclists and joggers. Around Montague Street, near what is probably the exhaust tower for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, I saw that the path went all the way to the Grey Building and Joralemon Street.

When the entrenched portion of the BQE is jammed, I usually go along Columbia Street to get to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel area. Columbia is so narrow and is two-way so I dread driving on it and often wonder about an alternative. I found it in the form of Van Brunt Street. Get to it from Degraw and Van Brunt would take you to the BBT also. I should have headed for the BQE ASAP but stayed on Van Brunt for too long and ended up somewhat lost in Red Hook. The only bridge in the area to cross the Gowanus Canal is on Third Avenue. When I saw Ikea I realized I was far off-course. Luckily I knew my direction and just kept heading for Third Avenue, past Red Hook Park and its pool. The track at Red Hook Park sure looked nice, but I had a long way to go to get home.

Home, so far away. Over the Gowanus Canal, past the stinky DOT asphalt plant, Home Depot, some FBI holding center, back on Second Avenue, past Lutheran... I started to think about what to eat for brunch and headed for Bay Ridge, along Third Avenue, instead of back on the waterfront, where at most I would be able to get food from a mobile vendor. I wanted a sit-down place where I would rest my tired feet. The GPS watch finally read 32-km at 73rd Street and Fifth Avenue. I already used up all 4 bottles of water, the Gu packs, plus one of the energy beans. I could use a nice cold drink but I wanted to get it from Jenny's Farm, at Fifth Avenue and 85th Street, I thought. During one of my past run, I stopped there for Gatorade and the nice old cashier-man offered me a paper towel to dry my sweat. About 5 km of walking later, with a stop for lunch, I finally made it home. The running portion took about 4 hours and 22 minutes, which is bad because at that rate I won't finish the Yonkers Marathon within 5 hours. Maybe if I didn't stop to walk and take photos at Brooklyn Bridge Park and also not get lost in Red Hook the time would be better. Also, usually during races I run faster. Something to do with all the energy around and also the natural urge to outrun someone nearby. I already plan to run to the Rockaway over the Gil Hodge Bridge. It's a quiet path with that I traveled by bike before so there will be no need to stop and take photos.

The bumpiest portion of Second Avenue?  Costco is at the traffic light, I think.

Thirty-third Street heading toward the Gowanus Expressway, which is not visible because of morning sun glare.

Going against traffic along Third Avenue heading toward the Gowanus Canal, the elevated Gowanus Expressway on the right.

The Gowanus Canal heading to New York Harbor.  I was hoping the water would be its usual chemical-polluted green to reflect the nickname Lavender Lake, but it is not.
Joralemon Street wraps around 1 Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Once I was one of those unhappy drivers stuck on the BQE.  At the moment I was a happy runner.
At last, Brooklyn Bridge Park, even if I did not get there via the fancy jogging path.

A great view of the new WTC and the good ol' Brooklyn Bridge.
Not readily seen from the highway, this waterfront path is so inviting to running.  Too bad it is not that long, but then that's where the other path can be used.  Governors Island is in the background.
A fork in the road in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  I think I went right.  Perhaps the left fork would lead to the hilltop that the series of steps I decided not to take would lead to.

A wild side of the Brooklyn Bridge Park.  There is a stream running but in trying to capture the entire height of the bridge I failed to include it.
At last the jogging path that had eluded me so long.

There were a few boat ramps along the path, such as this one.  It's closed off, made me wonder when it's open.  I would have loved to stand barefeet in the water.
Spiral Pool.  I sure rather be here than stuck in traffic on the BQE in the background.
In the background, perhaps near the white blob, is the entrance to the path, across from the loading dock of the Grey Building.  To the left of the photo is the exhaust tower of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.
Lost in Red Hook.  When I realized that yellow-and-blue building is Ikea, I knew I was too far south of Third Avenue.

05 August 2012

Police Sergeant Keith Ferguson 5K

I resumed running seriously in 2009 and stayed with it, partly thanks to social media.  It really helped to see encouraging words from my friends on Facebook and DailyMile.  Still, it would be even better to have someone along with in real life.  I did meet some DailyMile people in meatspace (as opposed to cyberspace) but they are faster runners so we don't usually stay together that long during the races, or during the beginning, where runners are usually separated into different corrals based on pace.

A Facebook friend, Ramon, recently discovered the joy of running.  He took the next step and signed up for 5K races and asked friends to show some support.  He actually did better than me and had his wife and children with him for the first race.  That race took place on a Saturday, a work-day for me, so I couldn't make it, but for his second race, on a Sunday, I decided to surprise him by meeting him at the race as a runner.

Ramon's second 5K was the Police Sergeant Keith Ferguson 5K .  According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Sarge Ferguson died in the line of duty in 2004 of a heart attack after running to aid a patrolman.  Active.com has race results starting 2009 so it is logical to assume that the Memorial 5K Walk/Run started that year.  The race started at the fountain in City Hall Park at the foot the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side.  Runners would get out of the park at the south end then U-turn to get to the Brooklyn Bridge, bottleneck into the pedestrian bridge in the middle, reach the Brooklyn end just before Tilary Street then make the trip back to City Hall.

In researching about the race the day before, I came across The Epicurious Runner's race recap of the event.  5K is not my preferred distance and the idea of a fun run was not appealing either.  I also do not like the Brooklyn Bridge since the pedestrian path shares the road with cyclists so there is little room to move.  The tourists don't help either but hey we need their dollars.  But I made up my mind to give Ramon some on-course support, if needed, so I went ahead with the plan.

As usual, there was subway track work so I had to go further away to get to a subway line, the N, that would take me into Manhattan.  Good thing I am a runner so I jogged there, with some time left to cool down.  The train arrived and I tried to take a nap on the trip in.  I got to City Hall with plenty of time to spare.  It was the first time I signed up on race day, $25, ouch.  Based on my bib number, above 900, I did not get a T-shirt after signing up.  I would get one after the race, I was told.  There was no bag check, but it did not matter to me, as I rarely use bag check anyway.

The few portable johns had locks on them that supposedly no one had the keys for.  So what would you do?  You flag down some police cruiser and get a lock-cutter and off went the locks, of course.  After using the still fresh john I made a loop of City Hall Park.  Back at the south end, I found out that the food truck there with water, coffee, snacks, etc. was there for the runners, not some enterprising businessman having a prime location.  I have a weak bladder so only took one small cup of water.  Then I decided to reach out to Ramon.  He was not too far away and shortly later I met him and his wife Dorothy.  We took photos together and chit-chatted a bit, runners' shop talk, of course.

Eventually it was time for a slow walk out of City Hall Park via the south side to get to Brooklyn Bridge.  During my walk around the park earlier, I saw the ramp to the bridge being closed and wrongly assumed that we would be running on the bridge itself, which would be great.  In reality, we milled about on the sidewalk just across from the bridge until about 8:45.  Slowly we entered the bottleneck and did not know when we should start our our GPS watches.  I am used to see some clear temporary gate to indicate the starting line, with large digital clock.  The Epicurious Runner did say that there wasn't net time, just gun time, but I secretly hoped that things may have changed since 2010, the year the E-Runner wrote the blog entry.  When the crowd started to run Ramon and I kicked off our watches, but it turned out we were a few steps behind the invisible starting line, supposedly.  There was some starting line but in reality the race was measured more in terms of starting time and ending time.  Once the starting time kicked in, the race started, whether you are right at the starting line or five minutes back.

I already knew it would be a fun run with kids and people pushing strollers but it still took me some effort to avoid the kids and the strollers, as well as the walkers.  I wish there were separate waves for runners, stroller-pushers, and walkers.  Sure I am a slow runner but I still want to give my best without having to maneuver around the non-runners.  The climb up the Brooklyn Bridge was tough, even though I knew better not to push too hard.  At some point during the ascend Ramon ran ahead of me and I decided to catch up with him on the downhill trip on the way back to Manhattan.  There was a water station at the first bridge tower but I skipped it.  I usually take water only after Mile 2 or so, definitely not so soon after a race started.  Near the Brooklyn end of the bridge, where runners would turn around to head back to Manhattan, I started looking for Ramon to give him a high-five and encourage him along.  I can always blame my slower finish to my being a few years older than him, I figured.  But he was nowhere to be seen.  I went on back to Manhattan and stopped for water just before the descend.  I picked up speed afterward and actually sailed pass a few people.  Just before the U-turn into City Hall Park's south entrance, I sprinted for the finish line.  It was nice that the announcer mentioned me as I cross the finish line.  Someone already added my name to the database some time after I signed up earlier.  Good data entry!

I remembered to ask about the T-shirt but it was all gone.  I got to leave them my home address so I suppose they'll mail me one.  Later on I met Ramon and his wife.  It turned out I passed him at some point before the turnaround in Brooklyn.  I don't run with my near-sighted glasses so I don't see that well.  Whew, I was afraid he would beat me but this time he didn't.  We were separated by just a few minutes, really.  Of course, I've been running regularly for a few years whereas Ramon just started a few months back, so I still have a little advantage over him.  Hopefully with him in my back-view mirror, I'll train better and run more regularly, not the every-other-day or whenever schedule that I am stuck with lately.  Keep up running, Ramon!

Yay, ramp to the bridge is closed, we will get to run on the road with plenty of elbow room.  NOT!

The finish line, where there was a clock and mats on the ground. 
Food-and-drink truck, get your registration fee's worth!

The four portable john before their locks were clipped.  No wonder there was no line.