My Love Hate Relationship with Running

40554446_1929070970472585_1579221588832681984_nWhen I first took up exercise and healthier eating and living five and half years ago, I started with walking. I tried to walk at least three miles per day but I got bored with it and lower leg injuries started to get me down. Four months in I turned to weight lifting as well.

A family friend who is an avid runner told me that I was going to catch the bug. I told her she was nuts. I enjoyed a nice bit of humble pie with a side of crow when I had to admit to her that she was right. I had caught the running bug. I started with my standard, pat distance of three miles. My dearest friend, who just happens to be a cross-country coach, and former cross-country teammate of mine, told me I better switch up distances and pace or else wasn’t going to get any better.

Over time, I gained an appreciation for running. It became therapy. It became an idea incubator for my fiction writing. It became a sanctuary. Me, my music and residence in my own head. I ran a few organized 5Ks and I was building up to bigger races.

When I hurt my back in 2015, one of the toughest parts of recovery after surgery was not being able to run. I busted my hump to be able to get back to it and even had a 5K to train for to keep me focused.

A 2014 run in England hatched an idea. Normally, I travel a lot for work, as I have chronicled in this space. So, my regular readers will recall that I set a goal to run in every city I visit. The first year, I missed a run in Detroit because of the flu, the second year, I missed a run in Denver because I had the flu, and last year I hit them all, including Mexico City for the second year in a row.

The last run of the year and of the travel schedule was in Los Angeles. After that I must have felt like I had accomplished something. I no longer had the fire or the energy to run. I washed my hands of it.

Now, I hadn’t become a marathoner, hell, I haven’t even tried a half yet. I never managed to run an organized 10K either. My longest run to date is eight miles in Baltimore. In five and a half years, I have logged nearly 1,400 miles walking and running using the Nike Running Club app. I know that mileage is some people’s one year total, but I’m pretty sure I have logged 1,398 more miles than a lot of people.

I tried to pick running back up in March. Back pain, fear of injury, cardio-vascular degradation because of lack of running, tight quads and a terrible pace kept me from getting back to it on a regular basis. My last run came along the beach in Carlsbad, Calif., during a vacation back in June. That was more “Jerry wants to run on the beach in Carlsbad” than “Jerry is running for exercise.”

But I suppose that has been the point all along, right? Enjoy it. Run in different places. Experience the world through a different lens. I had forgotten that.

After that run in Los Angeles, you could say I fell out of love with running. After today, I won’t say I have fallen for running again, but it was a good first date.

And oh by the way, in case you had forgotten …

…I still run this town.

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B-Boy Running Adventures 2017 – Goal Accomplished

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In 2015, I set a goal. I set out to run in every city I visited as I traveled for work. I usually make 10 trips a year, sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less, and I thought this would be a great way to see the cities I visit and also keep me from getting bored with running. In 2015, I missed one run – Detroit – because I had the flu. In 2016, I made nine trips, and missed one run – Denver – because I had the flu. But I was able to add Mexico City to the list. This past year, I made 11 trips, including Mexico City again, and I nailed all 11. I was able to add a few to the list as well.

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The last two were polar opposites. I ran in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve, and near LAX in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. Philly was fun and interesting, except for the young lady who wouldn’t yield to me on the sidewalk and thought it would be better to mean-mug me instead. The City of Brotherly Love was less than friendly as the streets were packed with last-second Christmas shoppers. Most were oblivious to runners and pedestrians as they skylarked their way out of the shops along the busy byways of this historic city.

I got to see some of the historic sites and old neighborhoods. There is such a stark contrast between east coast and west coast architecture. I grew up in western New York so I am used to the rude behavior, the cold weather (it was a balmy 39 degrees) and the austerity of the buildings. I ran 3.61 miles in 38:08. I would have gone further, but the pedestrians and traffic lights get to be a bit bothersome after awhile.

IMG_1850My route took me past Independence Hall, Independence Historical National Park and the Liberty Bell. There’s something to be said engaging in such a modern activity like running, with state-of-the-art Bluetooth headphones connected to an iPhone and a GPS capable mobile app, through iconic, historic neighborhoods. What exactly I don’t know, but there is something.

I only spent approximately 30 hours in Los Angeles and I was determined to get a run in. I met up with my buddy Sal and we headed out toward LAX. I really would have liked to run Santa Monica Pier, but there just wasn’t enough time. It was just a bit too far from where I stayed.

IMG_1972The neighborhood was unremarkable. I think I did this one just to get it done. We ran a full 5K and my time came in at 33:26, not quite race speed. It was a cloudy 51 degrees in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve.

I am quite happy with the fact that I finally nailed every city. I even ran in Lima, Ohio, on vacation over the summer.

Here is the complete list of the cities I’ve claimed with a run the past three years:

In no particular order

Philadelphia – 1
Pittsburgh – 1
Buffalo – 1
Chicago – 1
San Diego – 2
Nashville – 4
Los Angeles – 1
Miami – 1
Jacksonville – 1
Tampa – 1
New Orleans – 1
Seattle – 1
Houston – 1
Dallas – 1
Kansas City – 2
IMG_1855Overland Park, Kansas – 1
Denver – 2
Minneapolis – 1
Phoenix – 1
Mexico City – 2
Washington, D.C. – 1
Baltimore – 1
Cleveland – 1
Lima, Ohio – 3 (one trip)

I’ll even throw in Pennyhill/Bagshot, England, in 2014 here because that is where I got this idea to run in the different places I visit. That’s 25 cities, two continents and three countries.

I must admit, I haven’t run in a month, and frankly, I have fallen out of love with it for the moment. Don’t worry, I’m starting to get the itch again. In 2018, I’ll be able to check off a few new cities and return to some old haunts.

“City to city, I’ma runnin’ my rhyme.”

B-Boy Running Adventures: Another Crack at Mexico City and A Pleasant Surprise

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The view from my room in Overland Park, Kansas, shows part of my running route along Lamar Ave. to the left.

Kansas City has become one of my favorite cities in the United States. The barbecue, the people, the aesthetic. It’s more cosmopolitan than you think it would be. I get to visit KC once a year and I have my usual haunts. I have made a couple of good friends there and we usually see a few sights and indulge in the local fare.

IMG_1830This year I stayed in Overland Park, Kansas, not too far from Kansas City proper, but far enough to be inconvenient. I wasn’t sure where I would be able to get a run in. Since I started this little project of mine, Kansas City runs have been a disappointment for some reason, I usually stay at Crown Center and I have never been able to find a good route. When you think of Kansas, you think flat and boring. You would be wrong.

I made sure I was ready for the weather this time after the Buffalo debacle.

A quick map check showed two parks, Nall Park and Roe Park,  not too far away. The heart of one was 1.3 miles from my hotel. I figured I would run to that spot and see what I could find. I headed out and took note that the first 3/4 of a mile were downhill. Just before I got to the park, I saw a paved trail to the right and I broke for it. Little did I know I had just discovered the Indian Creek Bike Trail.

What a pleasant surprise this was.

The trail led east with Indian Creek on my left. There were plenty of challenging hills and rises that left my quads burning in short order. The trail took me to the Overland Park Bike and Hike Trail into the other park and I made a bit of a loop after crossing Nall Ave. and ran back on the other side of the creek after making my way through Roe Park. The trail featured wooded areas and wooden pedestrian bridges. I got 4 1/2 miles in. That 3/4 mile uphill finish was a bitch or I would have gotten 5 miles done. My thighs and calves did their best Roberto Duran impression.

IMG_1831The run previous to this took place in Mexico City. I ran this amazing city the year before and did not have great results. The altitude was a killer and I had to stop every 1/2 mile to catch my breath. I am in better shape this year, and after a blistering fast run (for me) in Denver, I thought I could handle it.

After running into Chapultapec Park last year, my buddy Sal and I decided to run the main drag along the park instead. We ran to a traffic circle that featured a beautiful statue in the middle of the round-about. We took a photo break before resuming our run. This was the only break we took and we managed to get 4 miles done.

The statue is was none other than the Angel of Independence, or El Ángel and is officially known as Monumento a la Independencia.

It was a slow 4 miles for me, but I ran farther and longer non-stop at that altitude than I did the year before so I’ll consider it a win. All Sal did was complain about how I ruined his average per mile pace.

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The Angel of Independence, or El Ángel.

The street was blocked off for a 5K that had taken place earlier in the day as Mexico City celebrated the Mexican Revolution, which began Nov. 20, 1910, and lasted for more than a decade.

I have fallen in love with Mexico City and I hope to visit again someday when I have more time to see the sights and sites.

My last two road runs have been in two of my favorite places, and frankly I am glad I stayed in Overland Park. That was the best run I have had in the Kansas City area since I started my B-Boy Running Adventures.

Now I get to conquer the City of Brotherly Love, another city in which I haven’t run. I’ll have to do my best Rocky Balboa impression.

City to city, I’m running my rhyme.

B-Boy Running Adventures – More Cities Checked Off

IMG_1445I am nothing if not a creature of habit, and if I visit a city multiple times, I tend to run the same routes. I am not always that comfortable running in unusual places, this is usually reflected in my per-mile pace.

I normally run the 16th Street Mall in Denver. While out and about at my two favorite haunts in Denver, The Tattered Cover bookstore and My Brother’s Bar, I noticed a park I hadn’t seen before. If I had it was during the winter and at night, so I paid it no mind.

IMG_1293Commons Park beckoned. The riverside trails were fantastic and I turned in a terrific time for a three-mile run. I was only in Denver for one night so I had to make it a quick early morning excursion. Running along the South Platte River for a stretch was very pleasant. I had walked by Confluence Park, a favorite spot of The Beats in the late 1940s, so Commons Park was a nice find.

I usually stick close to the hotel, and Commons Park wasn’t too far at all. I definitely left a lot of trails to explore and I will hit this park again next time.

Ah Buffalo. What can I say about this western New York city 60 miles west of my hometown? Late October weather in Buffalo can be unpredictable. When I was a kid growing up in Rochester, I went trick-or-treating in the snow a few times. Oh, it’s not like  was trudging through six-foot drifts in one of those God awful plastic/vinyl drugstore Halloween costumes with the “I can’t see and/or breathe” mask with the cheap-ass rubber band to secure it.

IMG_1387I had no idea where I was going. I just ventured out and ran through the local neighborhood. Eventually, I found myself downtown in the theater district. The weather was shit. It was colder than it was supposed to be. It was windier than it was supposed to be. It was wetter than it was supposed to be. I don’t mind running in a little bit of weather, but I didn’t bring the proper gear and I was ill-equipped. I managed to make the best of it and get my three miles in.

I have been to Buffalo numerous times in my life. When I enlisted in the United States Navy, I did all of my in-processing at the Military Entrance Processing Station at the Federal Building. I don’t remember that many churches in Buffalo. Most were neighborhood Catholic parishes just like the ones back home. Austere brick buildings with elementary schools or rectories – or both – attached. I had never run in Buffalo, and although it was a familiar experience because it was so close and similar to Rochester, it was a singularly unique experience.

IMG_1455Miami. Another new one. I had been to Miami before but I had never stayed downtown, and I had never gone running there. Well, let me tell you. All of Miami thinks it is a dance club. The area near my hotel was so congested and under construction I figured running there would be too dangerous. I figured it would have been a bad look to get hit by a car while trying to get my miles in.

So, I decided to head to Miami Beach. I had never been to Miami Beach before and an online review of the best places to run in Miami had the beach at Miami Beach at the top of the list. I took an Uber over and set out.

Most of the beach is what you would expect, soft sand, barcaloungers, and plenty of beach goers. It was a bit overcast and the sky was threatening rain. I was thankful for that. The sun wasn’t blazing hot in the middle of the day like I thought it would be.

The back of the beach, however, was packed sand, plenty good for running. It was a little softer than I would have liked. You don’t get the return on each step like you do on a harder surface. I didn’t mind, I was running on Miami Beach for cryin’ out loud.

I headed south and just past the two-mile mark, I came upon a pier. I took a photo break and then turned around and headed back to my point of origin.

All of the beachfront resort hotels operate concession stands with a variety of refreshments. I took advantage of the opportunity and finished my four-mile run with an ice cold beer. I planted my feet in the Atlantic ocean and took in the scenery with a celebratory brew. It was a straight-line run for the most part. I do like some twists and turns, but I won’t complain.

Next up is Mexico City again, I hope. I hope I have time to get one in this trip. I am in much better shape than the last time and I hope to run farther non-stop than the last time. The altitude is a killer. I did better in Denver this time. That was an encouraging sign.

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Facebook Writing Prompt

A few months ago, an old military pal, Paula, posted one of these Facebook things and encouraged her online community to do it with her. Now, I don’t know how many folks have participated in this particular viral thing. However, when I looked at it, I thought of it more as a writing prompt. None of these things, to me, can be answered yes or no. So, I thought I would give it a whirl with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Tattoos………………….no. I am not opposed; I just haven’t gotten one yet. I did see a male motorcycle rider today with a tramp stamp. I firmly believe that if you are going to get one, spend some money and make sure you find a capable artist.

Piercings……………….no. I did have my ear pierced once a long time ago, it lasted four days before I took the stud out and let the hole close up.

Children………………..yes, two, one at home, one who lives with his mom in Florida.

Surgeries………………..yes, technically three, unless you want to count oral surgeries. Knee, butt and back. Don’t ask about the middle one. There’s a blog entry for that somewhere in the archive.

Broken Bones ……….yes, fractured my elbow once, fell off my bike when I was 11 I think. Pretty sure I broke my pinky during a flag football practice/scrimmage in Iceland but I never got it looked at.

Shot a gun………………I am ex-military so, yeah.

Quit a job………………..Quit, fired, what’s your point?

Flown on a plane…….more times than I can count, although the first time wasn’t until I was 18 and I was on my way to boot camp just outside of Chicago.

Gone zip lining………..no, but there are some batshit crazy guys in Wales who have one I’d like to try.

Given CPR……………….no, almost had to. We lost 21 sailors in a ferry accident off the coast of Haifa, Israel, 1990, and I was standing by on the hangar deck.

Been to Canada…………….yes, love Canada. Toronto, Winnipeg, Niagara Falls, been to a lot of places in Canada, including Canadian Tire.

Ridden in an ambulance…..no, almost. Was checked out in the back of one when I wrecked a car when I was in high school.

Been to Europe………………..yes, London, England; four places in Turkey.

Stamps in Passport(s) ……..yes, in addition to England, Mexico.

Been to Washington D.C….yes, stationed there for three years. Went as part of a class trip in grade school as well.

Florida………………………unfortunately.

Colorado…………………yes, it’s growing on me.

Mexico……………………………yes, last year for the first time. Best tacos ever.

Las Vegas………………………..yes, if you count a layover at McCarran Airport. They have slot machines in the freaking airport. Of course they do.

Sang karaoke………………..no. Nobody needs to hear me sing. Although I am a professional in the car singer, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

Had (a) pet(s)…………………yes, currently? Three cats, a dog, four turtles, Lord knows how many Koi fish, and several vagrant lizards and spiders.

Been downhill skiing……….yes, once, disastrous experience, still think I owe the ski resort money for a binding.

Ability to read music ………no, took piano lessons in grammar school, didn’t even get to Chopsticks. I am not a musical people.

Rode a motorcycle…………..no, I like at least 3,000 pounds of car around me when I go careening down the highway at 75 miles per hour.

Rode a horse…………………….yes, unassisted no…rode a camel once too.

Stayed in hospital…………….kinda, just not overnight.

Donated blood………………..no, my blood stays in my body there Drac.

Driven a stick shift……………Yes, learned on my dad’s 1979 Ford Mustang, four on the floor and four cylinders. It wouldn’t go faster than 82 m.p.h. Believe me, I tried.

Ride in Police Car ………..Military Police count?

Grandkids……………………no, although several people have accused me.

Driven a Boat ……………..yes! My wife didn’t think I could, but I showed her. “Just because you were in the Navy doesn’t mean they let you drive the boat.” Yeah well, I drove a damn speedboat, so there. I came into the slip a little hot, but, whatever. Everyone survived.

Eaten Escargot ……………no, never have, never will. Bleah.

Seen a UFO………………..um…

Been on a Cruise………..yes, if you count the USS Saratoga. Other than that, no. And you’ll never get me on a cruise ship either.

Run out of Gas…………..yes, in my own damn garage no less. Shut up, it’s not funny.

Eat Sushi……………………yes, but where I come from we call it “bait.”

Seen a Ghost……………..seen? No. Experienced? That’s a blog for a different day, but yes, three times.

B-Boy Running Adventures: Mexican Style

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A monument in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City.

I just experienced my first trip to Mexico. You’d think living in California would afford ample opportunities to venture south of the border and partake in adventures in the birthplace of the Aztecs, most of the American southwest and California, and the taco. But alas, this was my first trek and unfortunately it only lasted 36 hours. I accomplished a lot in a short amount of time and I enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

It was not lost on me that one of my literary heroes, Jack Kerouac, wrote of many Mexican adventures and I was hoping to have a similar Beatnik experience. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to explore even a fraction of what Mexico City has to offer. The New York Times’ Damien Cave actually went in search of Kerouac’s Mexico.

“I found Jack Kerouac’s Mexico on a strip of beach that separated the old hotels from the heaving Pacific, at a bar near where he sat on the sea wall and watched the sunset 61 years ago.” Damien Cave, New York Times

I landed at Toluca International Airport, (Licenciado Adolfo López Mateos International Airport), which was out in the weeds. The bus ride into Mexico City was long and winding. The sun went down shortly after landing so I didn’t get to see much. It gets dark quickly this time of year.

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The view from my room at the Hyatt Regency, Mexico City.

I stayed in a hotel near Chapultepec Park (Bosque de Chapultepec), which many liken to New York’s Central Park. A colleague mentioned that it takes an hour to walk around the perimeter of the park.

After getting checked in I met up with a pair of colleagues/friends, Ambrosio and Fernando, who are natives of Mexico. I must admit it was really cool to drink authentic Mexican beer (Modelo Negro) with a couple of authentic Mexicans.

Mexico City, and Mexico in general, has a reputation among many people I have known. Much of that reputation is undeserved as far I can tell. Home to more than 20 million people, it is much like any other mega-city with sprawling neighborhoods, mixed eras of architecture, upscale areas, down-trodden sections, and everything between. The traffic sucks and the place definitely qualifies as a sprawling metropolis.

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This taco chef at El Farolito became my new best friend.

After a few Modelo Negros, mis amigos and I set out to find some authentic tacos. We had a rough idea of where we were headed, but Fernando felt the need to ask directions every other block. We came across a Mariachi band serenading some tourists. The lead singer gave us the stink eye as Fernando began singing along as he was trying to put his mack down.

The three of us came across a couple of police officers walking the beat, and they pointed us in the right direction. Never mind the next set of cops we saw, who were apparently in the middle of a sting operation. I didn’t want to stick around for that.

We eventually found our destination – El Farolito – a neighborhood taqueria (18 locations). The first thing you notice when you walk in is the taco “chef” slicing pork off a giant rotisserie. The second thing you notice is the aroma. Your sense of smell is bombarded with the amazing aromas of several roasted, smoked and grilled meats. We enjoyed pork, chorizo and carne asada tacos. The first bite sent me into a tizzy. These were the best tacos I have ever had. And I’ve had authentic before.

Before you travel to Mexico, you hear all the stories and admonitions. Don’t drink the water, don’t eat this, don’t eat that. When you are with folks who grew up there, you trust them and my pals didn’t steer me wrong. Another Modelo Negro accompanied our meal.

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Best. Tacos. Ever.

We definitely needed the walk back to the hotel to burn off some calories. The evening ended with a couple of obligatory pours of tequila. When in Rome (do as the Romans do).

If you are a loyal reader, or know me at all, you know that I like to go running in the cities I visit. I went on 10 trips in 2015 and ran in nine cities. So far this year I have gone running in New Orleans, Nashville (twice), Baltimore, Jacksonville and Tampa. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to run in Bagshot, which is not too far from London, England. So, of course I was going to go running in Mexico City. I met up with two other colleagues, one a native of Mexico, and we set out for Chapultepec Park.

img_0217Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Mexico City sits at 7,382 feet above sea level. I have run in Denver, the Mile High City, which sits between 5,130–5,690 feet above sea level. The last time I went running in Denver, the altitude didn’t bother me. Maybe that was because I run regularly. The time before, I was miserable but that was at the beginning of my fitness journey. Last winter I rather enjoyed my cold three-mile run in Denver.

I haven’t run in three weeks for various reasons. My back has been bothering me, and I had a head cold, which graduated into electric yellow snot flowing sinus infection.

Let’s just say I wasn’t ready for the elevation in Mexico City. We lost one pal less than half a mile in. I could call him out, but I won’t be mean. My other friend, Sal, and I managed a mile non-stop before I needed a break. After that we took a break every half mile or so. My body felt pretty good but I just couldn’t catch my breath.

We ran around part of and through part of Chapultepec Park. The park was stunning. The natural beauty was interrupted with historical monuments. That’s not a bad thing. Visitors walked, ran and paddle-boated their way through the expanse.

My run time wasn’t horrible had it been non-stop. That’s what I get for taking three weeks off from running. I highly doubt it would have made a difference. At my age, with my body, taking any time off from exercise is almost catastrophic. It is so easy to get out of shape, and so hard to get back in shape. I only feel good when I am exercising – or eating amazing chorizo tacos.

As I mentioned, I was only in Mexico City for 36 hours or so, and I was there to work. I didn’t get a chance to visit the pyramids of Teotihuacan, or the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. But I did enjoy authentic tacos and I got to go running in another exotic locale.

Muy beuno.

Muchas gracias, Ciudad de México.