29 July 2006

Running and Procrastination: a Brief Strategic Analysis

OK, I'm supposed to be packing and moving and everything right now, but I've been thinking quite a bit about running strategies (no doubt as a mechanism for avoiding any unpleasant moving-related thoughts), and wanted to use today's post to work through a couple of things. By "strategies," of course, I mean the ways in which I'll work toward my goal of running all the streets in Brooklyn. But there are numerous ways to accomplish this, and despite my constant cogitation, I have yet to arrive at any conclusions which support one strategy over the other. So herewith is my groggy, early-morning, procrastinational overview. Then I'll pack. Really.

Strategy No. 1: The Random Run: running wherever I feel like, whenever I feel like it.
  • Pros: It's fun, it requires no planning, and it's infinitely customizeable so I can adjust on the fly for weather conditions, aches and pains, gastrointestinal exigencies, etc.
  • Cons: Without any advance planning, it's hard to remember and document my exact route. It's also much more likely that I'll repeat streets, meaning it will take longer to complete the whole thing.

Strategy No. 2: The Big Loop: pretty much like it sounds -- a more or less simple geometric shape (rectangle, trapezoid, whatever) stretching out over a relatively large surface area.
  • Pros: It's easy to document and to not get lost. I also typically get to see a number of different neighborhoods.
  • Cons: It's easy to ignore or miss smaller streets. Also, some advance planning has to be done to make sure I begin and end near subway stops.

Strategy No. 3: The Themed Run: This strategy consists of picking a route which would have a particular, well, theme -- trying to put together a run that has some kind of organizing principle.
  • Pros: Plenty of opportunity for interesting runs. I could do a themed run which would take me by colleges, or hospitals, or subway stops, or cemeteries, or along the boundary with Queens.
  • Cons: Would take extra time for research and planning.

Strategy No. 4: The Systematic Run: This would be where I pick a small region (16-20 blocks in one neighborhood) and just run all of them, usually in a back-and-forth fashion.
  • Pros: It's relatively easy to document, and it easily and conveniently fills in little sections of the map all at once.
  • Cons: It's kind of boring, and doesn't provide a whole lot of experiential diversity (or much in the way of cool things to photograph).

So what to do? After typing this all out and thinking about it some more, I've concluded that the best overall strategy is... a combination of all of these. Well-planned big loops could overlap one another and cover lots of ground, linking together whole neighborhoods. Then I could systematically fill in the gaps when I feel like it. And the occasional random or themed run would probably be a good tonic for the spirit, keeping me motivated and interested and reinforcing the idea that this whole thing, after all, is supposed to be fun.

Whew. So after half an hour, I've pretty much arrived at the same spot I started at. Which, I suppose, is precisely the point of procrastination. Thanks for indulging me. Now I'm going to go put things in boxes.

Bonus moving-day photo from yesterday's run:

Fortune cookie wisdom on 18th Avenue

28 July 2006

Nelly Bly, the NYSD, and Waving Fields of... Corn?

Friday 7/28: Coney Island, Gravesend, Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, Borough Park

Distance: 10.63 miles
Time: 1:30
Pace: 8:28
Temp: 79
Dewpoint: 71
Weather: warm & humid

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today:
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: I started at the Stillwell Avenue subway stop, headed north to Mermaid, west to 30th, north again to Neptune, and back east to Stillwell. Then I headed up to Avenue Z, went west and crossed over the Belt to Shore Parkway, then up to Bay Parkway to Cropsey to Bay 31st to Bath to Bay 32nd to Benson to Bay 31st again to 86th and back to Bay Parkway. Then northeast to 77th, west to 13th Avenue, north again to 66th, back east to 18th Avenue, up to 47th, east to Webster, and then around the block (Seton and 18th Avenue) and ending at the 18th Avenue F stop.

Notes: Geez, it's oppressive out there. Once again, I tried to spend at least a few miles of today's run near the water (Coney Island and Gravesend, specifically), but it didn't really make much difference. It was just awfully warm and muggy. Weather aside, though, the highlight today was running the section of Gravesend between the Belt Parkway and the water. There were several abandoned-looking parks, as well as yet another Sanitation Department garage (serving district 11 this time, and yes, that's three in the last week -- without even trying!). Across from the garage was a substantial NYSD facility right on the water (perhaps where they load garbage on barges? I'll have to look into it), and there was also the Nelly Bly Amusement Park, which was a modest little place apparently for children. The Caesar's Bay shopping center (with a Best Buy, Toys 'R' Us and an enormous parking lot) was down there, too, but the best part was probably the park at the foot of Bay Parkway, which had a fantastic view of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Oh, and since I lived in Iowa for the last decade, I ought to mention the substantial patch of corn growing next to the dead-end part of W. 23rd Street on Coney Island. I'm sure there are small plots and gardens all over the borough (I've seen a few already), but this one kind of caught me off guard.

Anyway... tomorrow's moving day (yes, it's supposed to be 92 degrees), so I'm taking it off from running. I'm still tentatively planning another longer run on Sunday, but it's going to depend entirely on how I feel when I get up. Either way, I'll be resuming my "normal" running schedule on Tuesday -- only from Greenpoint instead of Park Slope. Some pictures from this morning's excursion:

W. 23rd Street

The promising Coney Island corn crop

A fellow runner taking in the view at Bensonhurst Park

Teaching an old bug new tricks on 66th Street

27 July 2006

Exceptional Pedestrians (or is it Pedestrian Exceptionalism?)

It feels a bit strange not running on a Thursday, but for a couple of reasons I've decided to take today off. First of all, though Kate and I are relocating to the new apartment in Greenpoint this weekend, we've yet to begin packing, cleaning, or any of the myriad other chores that accompany such a move. Perhaps more to the point, however, the trip down south to visit my parents last weekend (and the attendant time off from running) screwed up my standard running schedule (which consists of a longer run on Sunday, shorter runs Tuesday-Friday, and off days on Saturday and Monday). So taking today off is a way to "reset" things. I'm sure the packing and moving will wreak its own havoc (we're moving out of a fourth-floor walkup and into a fifth-floor one), but whatever. Come Tuesday, everything ought to be back to normal.

On another note, one of the unexpected and fascinating aspects of this whole project is hearing from people with similarly obsessive foot-based geographical aspirations. I've mentioned a few here previously, but here's a quick rundown of the five most interesting examples. I've also included a separate links section (over there on the right of this page) for the websites of these "exceptional pedestrians."
  • Any New York list would have to begin with the exploits of Caleb Smith, a librarian at Columbia and transplanted Albuquerquean who walked all of Manhattan over two years, ending in December, 2004. One of the things about Smith's trek I like the most is his low-tech approach to cartographic documentation -- he used a regular Hagstrom map onto which he drew in the streets he'd walked with a Sharpie. His website is excellent, and you can check it out here, and don't miss the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" piece about him from 2005.

  • Also in Manhattan, the upstart Shawn Wines is currently in the process of his own feat of ambulatory completism. A recent college graduate, Shawn has decided to also walk all of the island, and is documenting his journey on his blog, Walking New York. His project is kind of similar to mine (with the obvious substitutions of walking for running and Manhattan for Brooklyn), and he includes maps and photos from his excursions on the blog. We were both also recently profiled (along with Caleb) in a recent NY Post article.

  • On the other side of the continent, I received an email last week from a woman named Jen who's currently walking the entire city of Berkeley, California. She, too, blogs about her progress, and she also includes excellent photographs in addition to thoughtful musings on the aesthetics and politics of walking.

  • Another Californian is engaged in walking a substantial portion of that most pedestrian-unfriendly city, Los Angeles. Walking in L.A. is a website that documents one individual's ambles throughout the town over the last five years, with maps and photos. While not a completist in terms of attempting to walk every street, it's pretty amazing how much he has managed to traverse.

  • And it's not just urbanites who feel the urge, apparently. Catron County Walk is a blog in which Suzanne, a resident of said county in New Mexico, works toward her goal of walking all 400 miles of paved road there. Although it appears not to have been updated recently, there are great pictures and observations from a decidedly more rural, southwestern perspective.
And it seems there are similar things going on across the globe, too, with pedestrian forays across Sydney, Australia and Christchurch, New Zealand. Who knew this kind of subculture existed? When I get a moment I'll have to get to the library and catch up on my reading on everything from Guy Debord's ruminations on psychogeography to Walter Benjamin's conception of the flâneur. Once I'm done moving, of course.

Still, while I certainly identify with all of these kindred spirits, I find myself as a runner kind of on the periphery. Are there any other folks out there attempting to specifically run an entire city? A county? A small principality? I'd love to hear from anyone in a similar position.

Lastly, here's an outtake from yesterday's Sheepshead Bay run. Despite the dire forecast of increased heat and humidity, I'll be back on the road for longer (hopefully, 10+ mile) runs tomorrow and Sunday.

On Shore Parkway

26 July 2006

Boats, Alleys, and a Memorial

Wednesday 7/26:
Sheepshead Bay

Distance: 7.45 miles
Time: 1:00
Pace: 8:03
Temp: 76
Dewpoint: 68
Weather: muggy and hazy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today:
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: I started by taking the Q to the Sheepshead Bay stop, then running toward the bay. The route is pretty complicated (if you're really interested, you can check the map above), but basically I ran all the little streets between Voorhies and the water, from 16th Street to Nostrand. I also did a little loop around into Manhattan Beach and ran the pedestrian bridge back to Shore Parkway.

Notes: Though today's run more logistically complex than usual, it was particularly good in terms of things to see. There were some very nice older houses, a few handsome apartment buildings, the party boats docked along the bay, and a varitey of businesses, from bait shops to chain restaurants. One surprise, of sorts, was stumbling onto two pedestrian alleys with houses along them (Canda and Hitchings Avenues, which are essentially just sidewalks). A house on Canda Avenue had a for sale sign in front, so when I got home I checked it out -- it can by yours for $459,000, and it's only a block from the water. Also of note was the Holocaust Memorial in the little park between the edge of the bay and Shore Boulevard, which consists of a central monument surrounded by smaller granite ones, each inscribed with information about a specific individual or place.

Today's photo parade:

Bait shop on Emmons Avenue

Holocaust Memorial

Anchors on one of the party boats

Odd juxtaposition of the day (on Voorhies Avenue)

25 July 2006

Heading East

Tuesday 7/25:
East New York, Canarsie, & East Flatbush

Distance: 7.61 miles
Time: 1:00
Pace: 7:53
Temp: 74
Dewpoint: 66
Weather: partly cloudy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today:
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: I started by taking the 3 train to the Pennsylvania Ave stop, then heading north on Pennsylvania one block to Dumont. I followed Dumont until it ended in front of the Cypress Hills public housing, before going south on Fountain to Wortman, and then west to Louisiana. Then I ran north to Dewitt and went west again, following Dewitt to where it merged with Avenue D and then continuing on the latter to Remsen. I took Remsen north to Winthrop, then headed west to New York Ave, and south to Beverly. I caught the 2 train home.

Notes: Today represented my deepest foray yet into the eastern reaches of Brooklyn, only about ten blocks or so from the boundary with Queens. Much of East New York looks like it's seen better days, but there were also a considerable amount of newer-looking townhouses, and while the broken-glass and crumbling-sidewalk quotients are probably a little higher than in other neighborhoods, it wasn't nearly as rundown as I'd been led to believe. It looks like the northern half of East New York is more residential, while south of Linden Avenue the landscape was dominated by large warehouses and light industry. And for the second day in a row, I encountered one of Brooklyn's 18 Sanitation Department garages (the one today, if you're curious, serves district 16). Industrial areas like this often pose the same photographic challenges as some of the more suburban-like regions I've run due to the sameness of the landscape -- after all, how many grafitti-covered warehouses can a person take pictures of? In any event, I ended the run by heading back through East Flatbush (and past the imposing Kings County Hospital complex), which is becoming one of my favorite places for running -- cool buildings, lots of people out and about, and a whole lot to see.

As always, some snapshots from today's travels:

Just off Dumont Avenue

Satellite dish at the Mediacom building on Avenue D

Avenue D

New York Avenue

24 July 2006

Back to Business

Monday 7/24:
Borough Park and Bensonhurst

Distance: 8.35 miles
Time: 1:05
Pace: 7:47
Temp: 74
Dewpoint: 62
Weather: sunny & dry

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today:
Total Unique Miles:
Percent of Brooklyn Run:

Route: Basically a big loop, starting at Church and McDonald. I headed down Church until it ran into 14th Avenue, then continued on 14th to 86th Street. I ran east on 86th to 18th Ave, then north to 73rd, west to 15th Avenue, north to 67th, east to 18th Avenue, north a block to 66th, east to 19th Avenue, and then north to 52nd. Then I went west to the interestingly named Old New Utrecht Rd, followed it northwest to 48th, looped out to 13th Avenue and back on 47th Street to 15th Avenue, then up to 40th Street to Ditmas Avenue to Ocean Parkway.

Notes: Now this is the kind of weather I could get used to. Today the morning was dry, (relatively) cool, and really quite pleasant -- more like early September than July. It won't last, of course, but it made for a terrific reintroduction to the streets of Brooklyn after four days in Augusta, Georgia.

The visit went very well, actually. I got to see my two brothers, their wives/girlfriends and their one-year old sons, as well as my sister Mel and her husband Rob (my little run with Mel was the topic of last Saturday's post here). It was also especially nice to visit with my relatives on my mom's side -- my uncle George and aunt Z, and my cousins Heather and Erin. I hadn' t seen them in years, and I had a very nice conversation with Erin about literature, writing, and obsessive behavior, some points of common interest I hadn't realized we'd shared. The whole trip was fun but tiring, and I'm very glad to be back home.

Anyway, the time off from running and the wonderful weather left me feeling great this morning, so I headed down to Bensonhurst and Borough Park, neighborhoods I've visited before but which have plenty of streets left to explore. It was a pretty typical run, but some highlights were the Sanitation Department's garage for Brooklyn district 12 on 19th Avenue, a whole slew of cool old art deco apartment buildings in Borough Park, and the usual colorful storefronts along 86th Street and some of the other commercial areas.

BTW, a few posts ago I speculated that I might unwittingly be part of a trend toward obsessive pedestrianism in the city. And it looks like others might be thinking the same thing -- the NY Post ran an article by Billie Cohen on Saturday which included brief profiles of me as well as a number of others who have already walked all the streets of Manhattan or are in the process now. I've also learned about people doing similar things in California and New Mexico, so stay tuned. I'll write more about these folks on my next off day (probably Wednesday or Thursday).

Some pictures from today's run:

On 86th Street

Garages along 67th Street

Laundromat on Ditmas Avenue

NYDS garage on 19th Avenue