09 December 2006

Senses Working Overtime

Saturday 12/9, Run #96: Sunset Park

Distance: 8.83 miles
Time: 1:05
Pace: 7:22
Temp: 28
Wind Chill: 16
Weather: sunny & windy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.58
Total Unique Miles: 750.85
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 43.09

For the complete route, click here

Notes: After an unscheduled extra day off yesterday (which, by the way, probably had nothing to do with the frigid temperatures and eight-degree wind chill), I was back on the road today for another visit to Sunset Park. I really enjoy running this neighborhood, and one of the things I like best is that it's kind of a multisensory experience -- especially along 5th Avenue, which in many ways is the Hispanic counterpart to the neighborhood's Chinese-American axis a few blocks over on 8th Avenue. In addition to enough visual distractions that it's pretty much a miracle I didn't get run over or knock over any pedestrians, there's also music coming from stores or blaring from car stereos (and, at one point, from a guy singing and playing the accordian with fingers that must've been completely frozen), and the various smells (mostly good ones, too), wafting out from the many restaruants and bakeries.

In fact, because of the bustling streets and the obvious Hispanic and Chinese influences it's the kind of place that a travel guide would call something like a "vibrant ethnic enclave." That's all well and good, of course, but I don't think the travel guides pay too much attention to what made the biggest impression on me as a runner, and that's the hills -- which are especially steep moving up from 3rd to 6th Avenues. My legs haven't received a workout like this in a while.

Okay, I'll be back tomorrow with more stories and hopefully, a handful of photos. In the meantime, here's a few from today:

gowanus expressway
Under the Gowanus Expressway

barber shop, sunset park
5th Avenue

accordianist, sunset park
Also on 5th Avenue

tacos, sunset park
51st Street

painting over a mural, sunset park
Last day for this mural on 47th Street

bakery, sunset park
Wedding cakes on 5th Avenue

07 December 2006

Off Day Odds and Ends

After some mild slacking off in the first half of November, I've been running a bit more of late. In fact, since Thanksgiving I've logged just under 70 unique miles, and I'm going to try to squeeze in another 70 or 80 before I head out to California to see my sister at Christmas (including travel days, it looks like I'll be missing about 10 days of running). The goal now is to hit the halfway point -- 871 unique miles -- by January 15th. This should keep me on pace to have the whole borough wrapped up by August 1st. Anyway, since I'm taking a day off today, I wanted to briefly (or, given my natural tendency toward prolixity, maybe not so briefly) touch on a few things that I've meaning to mention but which haven't found their way into my regular posts. Here goes.

  • From the Runs Brooklyn Pharmaceutical Desk
Regular readers may have noticed that, recently, at least, I've been complaining less about the many running-related aches and pains I've accumulated thus far in my adventures (especially those involving my heels). And I know, some of you must be wondering – is it some kind of miracle cure? Has my body completely regenerated itself despite my continuing to punish it in the course of my near-obsessive quest? Have I taken the healing waters at some secret or hitherto unknown spa? Has my diet – in which oatmeal, vegan cardamom cookies, chana masala, and Black & Green's chocolate bars comprise the bulk of my caloric intake – somehow been proven to have medicinal effects? Have I actually been getting more than my typical five hours of nightly sleep?

Actually, it's none of these. But I have discovered naproxen, the active ingredient in Aleve (though the generic version from my local Eckerd is half the price of the name-brand stuff). It's both an analgesic and a very effective anti-inflammatory, and – for me, at least – seems to be much more effective than ibuprofen. So if I'm not going to take better care of myself, I can at least subvert my body's natural warnings and make it hurt less by stuffing it full of pills. That'll teach it.

  • Photographic Update
Over on my flickr site (where I keep the photos I post here), they let you keep track of how many times people view your pictures. It's a cool feature, but it only serves to highlight how capricious and random such things are. My picture of the statue outside St. Ephram's Church (the one in which a pensive Jesus cradles the twin towers of the World Trade Center) has been viewed a remarkable 10,463 times (as of this morning), while my second most-viewed photo -- of a grocery in Flatlands -- has garnered 292 hits. Only one other picture tops 100, and the median number of views seems to be around 11 or 12. Weird.

  • Retreating Across the River
New York magazine this week has a feature article on the "hottest" new neighborhood in the city, which turns out to be – hold on to your hats – Jersey City, New Jersey. So in an effort to demonstrate my own prescience and urban hipster credentials, maybe this would be a good place to point out that I am apparently a pioneer of sorts, having lived in Jersey City from 1987-1989. Take that, Williamsburgers! Of course, I lived in a tiny, illegal, $300/month unheated attic apartment in which giant mushrooms would grow out of the bathroom carpet overnight. And it was on Bartholdi Avenue, only a few blocks from the border with Bayonne, which I'm afraid will probably never be on anyone's list of hottest anything.

  • Will Self Walks Brooklyn
Lastly, I'm not quite sure what to make of this story in yesterday's New York Times, in which it was reported that British writer and erstwhile self-destructive party boy Will Self recently walked to his Manhattan hotel from JFK airport, a trek of over twenty miles (most of it right here in Brooklyn). On one hand, the pedestrian in me can't help but applaud anyone who serves to remind us that there are indeed alternatives to driving, and that the best way to really get a feel for a place is to do so from the ground, making your way along a sidewalk under your own power. And twenty miles, no matter how you look at it, is a serious walk.

On the other hand, Self's new novel, The Book of Dave, was published just three weeks ago (to mostly positive reviews), and the cynic in me can't help but sniff at what is obviously a publicity stunt (unless, of course, the author just happened to run into a reporter and photographer from the Times out on Conduit Boulevard somewhere). Self's semi-pretentious and somewhat self-congratulatory proclamations on issues like race and urban geography are certainly entertaining enough (sample: "In the post-industrial age, this is the only form of real exploration left. Anyone can go and see the Ituri pygmy, but how many people have walked all the way from the airport to the city?"), though not as much as the reporter's admiration of the fact that Self actually walked (and against Rick Moody's advice, too!) through East New York and Brownsville. This shouldn't really be too surprising, since the author has a history of media-savvy self-promotion designed to draw attention to him at publication time. Right around the release of 1997's Great Apes, for instance, Self got himself kicked off British Prime Minister John Major's airplane for allegedly shooting heroin in the loo, which precipitated a field day among the UK's tabloids -- the clippings of which were thoughtfully included by his publicists in the novel's press kit.

Bottom line: The walk itself was a pretty cool thing to do. Brooklyn is huge, and dense with people and buildings and all kinds of things to look at and think about. And seeing it on your feet is indeed a wonderful way to experience it, especially those neighborhoods which many in the media (and blog world*) regularly ignore. But Self should be wary of appearing a bit full of himself – there are, after all, thousands of walkers, cyclists, joggers, part-time historians, parrot-watchers, street artists, amateur geographers, urban explorers of various stripes, and yes, runners, that already know this.

(That said, I'll also include a sheepish confession: as publicity stunts go this one's apparently quite effective – I kind of want to read his book now. Seriously, after reading the article and a few reviews, I have to admit I'm intrigued. I'll probably wait for the paperback, however.)

*I refuse to use the word "blogosphere," simply on principle.

Okay, enough of my thoughts. Instead, I'll move right on to a few bonus pictures from the last week's runs:

church, flatbush
Church on Farragut Road (the same one from yesterday's post, actually)

corner, sunset park
55th Street and 5th Avenue in Sunset Park

old ad, flatlands
Old advertisement on Flatbush Avenue

06 December 2006

Only 999 Miles Left!

Wednesday 12/06, Run #95: Midwood, Flatlands, East Flatbush, Flatbush

Distance: 9.88 miles
Time: 1:15
Pace: 7:36
Temp: 33
Wind Chill: 26
Weather: sunny & breezy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 8.44
Total Unique Miles: 743.27
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 42.66

For the complete route, click here

Notes: Yes, the day has finally come. Since the beginning of this whole project, I've been using a figure of exactly 1742 miles as my estimate of the total mileage of all Brooklyn streets. This is essentially a guess, though, since I don't think anyone knows what the exact distance is. I got this number from the Department of Transportation's website, where it was reported in a study about the bumpiness of the borough's roads. Yet other folks at the same bureau apparently offer the number of 1599 miles, and it's this number that tends to show up when newspapers or other media do a little story on me. I'm not sure why that is, but whatever.

Anyway, I've been going with the more conservative figure of 1742 when I provide statistics like "percent of brooklyn run." My operating theory is that if it ends up being close to that, I'll be prepared, and if it's the lower number, well, all the better for me. The truth is, I won't have an accurate number until I'm actually finished with all this. Now, what does this all have to do with anything? I'll tell you. You see, today my unique mile total reached 743. And that means that if I'm using the 1742 number as my best guess (which I am, of course), the number representing the number of miles I've got yet to go has dropped from the four-digit into the three-digit range. Simply put, as of right now I've got only 999 more miles to go! Yeah, I know, it's still a lot. But believe me, it sounds a lot better than a thousand-something.

The run itself was a solid one, filling in some holes on the "big map," especially in Midwood and Flatlands, but moving through a couple of other neighborhoods as well. I like this area, and so it made things that much more enjoyable. And while I still don't yet have gloves, I was otherwise prepared for the chilly morning, and wasn't too uncomfortable either while on the road or sitting on the subway for the ride home. After three runs in the past three days totalling almost 30 miles, however, I'm taking tomorrow off.

For whatever reason it was another lackluster outing from a photographic perspective, I'm afraid, but here's the best of what I came up with:

red hat, midwood
Day care place on E. 15th Street

houses, midwood
E. 19th Street

eglise, flatbush
Church on Farragut Road

prescriptions, midwood
E. 19th and Avenue M

grandstand, midwood
Grandstand at the Midwood High School athletic field (Avenue L)

05 December 2006

Another Cold One

Tuesday 12/5, Run #94: East New York

Distance: 10.05 miles
Time: 1:15
Pace: 7:28
Temp: 30
Wind Chill: 21
Weather: sunny & breezy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.96
Total Unique Miles: 734.84
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 42.14

For the complete route, click here

Notes: On this, a chilly but otherwise beautiful morning, I went back to the one of the bleaker corners of the borough. As I did a week ago, I headed out to the southeastern, industrial corner of East New York to start filling in the streets out there in earnest. Though I started and finished right by the Euclid Avenue stop on the A and C (a mostly residential area), I spent a good amount of time among the warehouses, small factories, recycling facilities, Sanitation Department garages, and schoolbus depots bewteen Linden Boulevard and Flatlands Avenue, or skirting the perimeters of the Louis Pink and Cypress Hills housing projects. I was a bit more comfortable than I was yesterday, however, since I actually wore my long running pants (they're on the thin side but still pretty warm) for the first time since I started back in June. I also felt a bit less conspicuous, too, which is not a bad thing since there were quite a few strange looks yesterday, when I was out there wearing just shorts and a long-sleeve tee.

Speaking of things weather-related, astute readers might have noticed a minor change in the information at the top of the page -- from now until springtime I've decided to provide the wind chill instead of the dewpoint. The latter, of course, is a terrific way of gauging how oppressive the air is in the warmer months, but doesn't really mean as much in the winter. And while I have my own problems with the overuse of wind chill numbers, they do give some idea of what it's like out there.

Anyway, picture opportunities were pretty limited today, mostly because for a good part of my run there wasn't really much to photograph except for brick walls and forklifts (though, like yesterday, numbness was a factor as well -- I've really got to get some gloves). Here are a few nontheless:

no dumping, east new york
Euclid Avenue

louis pink houses, east new york
Off of Autumn Avenue

apartments, east new york
North of Linden Boulevard

513, east new york
Just off Linden Boulevard

blocks, east new york
Shepherd Avenue

04 December 2006

Winter (Finally!) Arrives in Brooklyn

Monday 12/4, Run #93: Sunset Park, Borough Park

Distance: 9.34 miles
Time: 1:10
Pace: 7:30
Temp: 38
Dewpoint: 23
Weather: sunny & windy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 8.55
Total Unique Miles: 726.88
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 41.72

For the complete route, click here

Notes: On my last post I'd asked where winter had been hiding out, and today I received the answer -- it wasn't avoiding Brooklyn at all, apparently, but merely waiting to make a more dramatic entrance. True, it was a not-unusual-for-December 38 degrees when I headed out this morning, but a strong northwestern wind in the wake of a cold front that moved through last night is making it feel a whole lot colder. Now, given how crabby I've been about the unseasonably warm November we've had out here I suppose I should keep my mouth shut and enjoy it, but it was pretty chilly out there. I even wore long sleeves.

Today's run was a productive one, netting over eight unique miles and taking me through the neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Borough Park, which boast not only quite a bit to see and sidewalks crowded with people busily going about their morning routines, but a delightfully symmetrical street grid (and with consistently numbered streets). Without having to worry as much about where I am or whether I'm still following my route, I can relax just a bit more -- and spend more time looking around at the streetscape than scanning street signs to make sure I'm on course. Both neighborhoods exhibit a particularly strong sense of place, with the influences of the predominant ethnic communities ("Brooklyn's Chinatown" in this corner of Sunset Park, Orthodox Jews in Borough Park) being similarly pronounced, especially along the main thoroughfares like 8th Avenue and 13th Avenue, respectively. The residential streets in both areas are pleasant enough, with some especially nice rowhouses and brownstones in Sunset Park between 4th and 6th Avenues. Altogether a pretty nice run, though I've really got to invest in some gloves -- I could barely operate my (already simple-to-operate) camera by the end because my fingers were so numb.

In the world beyond running and Brooklyn, I attended the memorial service for my younger sister Tara in Augusta, Georgia, this past Saturday. All of my immediate family and most of my extended family was there, and it was great to see them all, even if the reason for our gathering was less than festive. Special thanks again to Linda, Kristen, Jen, Ron, Renee, Nel, Susan, Spike, Gardy, and everyone else who took the time out to offer support through comments and emails. It sounds a little odd -- since I barely know most of you -- but these messages were very much appreciated and helped me quite a bit during the last few weeks.

And speaking of comments, I've begun using the "word verification" feature that requires you to type in a series of letters and/or numbers before posting. This is not to make it more difficult to post comments (actually, I really enjoy reading them), but because in the last week or so I've started receiving more comment spam, which bugs me to no end. So I apologize if this makes leaving comments just a bit more of a pain, but please keep them coming anyway! Thanks.

A few of the pictures I managed to take despite shivering hands:

love and sharing, sunset park
58th Street

planet brooklyn, sunset park
56th Street

checker, sunset park
8th Avenue

synagogue, borough park
Synagogue on 15th Avenue

restaurant, sunset park
Restaurant on 7th Avenue