15 December 2006

The Best-Laid Plans...

Okay, so Robert Burns I'm not. But my immediate running plans (which, as recently as yesterday included, um, "cramming as many miles in before I head out west for Christmas") have indeed gone awry, and I've decided to take another unscheduled off day today. The truth is that I've been hurting more than I've let on (either in these posts or, indeed, to myself), and my body has becoming increasingly resistant not only to the analgesic properties of ibuprofen and naproxen but to my own vain attempts at positive thinking. I was hoping just to suck it up and limp (quite literally, unfortunately) into my ten-day holiday respite by running as much as possible right up until my flight leaves next Thursday, but now I'm questioning the benefits of such an approach. I may try to squeeze in one or two more runs, but I'm starting to think that tacking on a few more off days prior to the vacation itself may pay the highest long-term dividends, allowing me to get some serious, well-needed rest and then hit the ground running (so to speak) in the new year.

Since I started this whole thing back on June 25 I've run over 910 total miles (with about 775 of those counting as "unique"), and if you average that out it seems I've been running the equivalent of 5.25 miles per day, every day, including off days. Of course, this isn't all that much to many of my fellow runners, and there are plenty of distance runners and ultramarathoners and others who log a lot more miles than that. But for this 40-year old, creaky, achy, and more-or-less nonathletic body that is apparently plenty, and my muscles and bones and joints have been increasingly vociferous in their demands for a little rest. This time, I might just listen to them.

Like I said, I'll probably get one or two more runs in before next Thursday. But even when I'm not running there are still a few topics I've been meaning to write about and a number of spare photos lying around that I can post. So while I might be taking a short break from the running side of Runs Brooklyn, the blogging side should continue without too many interruptions. As always, stay tuned.

Another recent picture from the vaults:

islamic center, east new york
McKinley & Autumn Avenues, East New York

14 December 2006

Just Your Typical Brooklyn Neighborhood

Thursday 12/14, Run #99: Flatlands & East Flatbush

Distance: 9.84 miles
Time: 1:15
Pace: 7:37
Temp: 48
Wind Chill: 44
Weather: mostly sunny

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.79
Total Unique Miles: 774.30
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 44.44

For the complete route, click here

Notes: Apparently, our little taste of winter has come and gone, and as I was heading down to start today's run the temperature was close to 50, with a forecast high around 60. Perhaps I was premature in swapping out the dewpoint for the wind chill at the top of these posts. I don't mean to complain too much, though, since running in this kind of weather is nearly ideal for me (I tend to like winter a bit more in theory than in practice, I guess), and I'd much rather not have to deal with the layers of clothes and the frostbitten fingers. It is weird, though, to be standing on a subway platform with just a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of December (and judging by the occasional odd look from other straphangers, I'd surmise that a good majority of them agree).

My route today took me down to Flatlands for the most part, though a few parts of the run took me across Avenue H into what's generally regarded as East Flatbush. I like running down here quite a bit -- there's some diversity in the population (though those from the Caribbean seem especially heavily represented), but mostly I like it because it somehow seems very Brooklyn-esque. This, of course, is a subjective quality that I'm not quite able to fully define (nor understand completely myself, for that matter); it's more of an impressionistic perception I get from the accumulated experience of the last half-year's worth of running. But what I mean is that, for the most part, it's home to neither the wealthiest nor poorest residents, there is a wide range of houses and buildings (plenty of single-family and two-family homes, as well as some larger apartment buildings), and while it's mostly residential there are still a good number of small businesses and schools and churches and even some light industry along the streets closest to the Long Island Railroad tracks that cut through the region. I suppose it just feels kind of average. Or maybe "representative" or "typical" are better words, if "average" seems a bit inadequate or even deprecatory. I don't know. Given all I've seen over the last few months and having been through so many different neighborhoods, this corner of the borough just feels like Brooklyn to me, that's all. If I was a more enterprising individual I could look up census data and find out how this area ranks in terms of ethic makeup and educational background and home valuation and income and those kinds of things, to see just how typical it really is. I am not a particularly enterprising person, however, so you'll just have to take my word for it. In any case, I like running down there, and when you factor that in alongside the two days off and the pleasant meteorological conditions, it was a pretty fine run, indeed. Even if it did feel more like mid-April than mid-December.

I'll be back tomorrow (I've got to cram as many miles in as I can before leaving for the west coast a week from today), probably in East New York or maybe Canarsie. As usual, I'll let you know once I'm done. Meanwhile, a few pictures from this morning:

church, flatlands
Church on 40th Street

sign, east flatbush
Factory on Farragut Road

house, east flatbush
Houses on New York Avenue

empress apartments, flatlands
Apartment building on Kings Highway

mosaic, east flatbush
Mosaic on St. Vincent Ferrer School, 37th Street & Glenwood Avenue

12 December 2006

Runs Brooklyn, Phase Two

Although the title of today's post sounds a little like it might be referring to a condo development down in Bergen Beach or something, the real topic is my strategy for running the next major part of Brooklyn. If, of course, you can call what I've come up with a strategy at all, since admittedly it consists of little more than drawing an arbitary line on a map. As I've mentioned on here any number of times, my basic goal for what turned out being the first 35% or so of Brooklyn streets was to start at the southernmost neighborhoods and just fill in all the streets below a line that followed 65th Street (on the Bay Ridge/Sunset Park border) to Avenue P (which separates Midwood from Gravesend and Sheepshead Bay) and onto Flatlands Avenue, which runs through Flatlands and Canarsie and East New York almost to the border with Queens.

A couple of weeks ago (with the run around Floyd Bennett Field), I finally finished this part up, and now, at long last, it's time to announce my strategy for the next few months (I know, the suspense is probably unbearable). So without further ado, here it is: I'll continue working my way north through neighborhoods like Midwood and East Flatbush and Borough Park, while simultaneously working west through East New York and Brownsville. Yeah, I know. Pretty anticlimactic.

Anyway, I've drawn another imaginary line across the borough, this time starting around 15th Street in Gowanus and stretching east to Prospect Park, continuing around the southern boundary of the park itself (Prospect Park South and Parkside Avenue, specifically), on to the few blocks of Flatbush Avenue betweem Parkside Avenue and Linden Boulevard, east on Linden Boulevard out to Rockaway Avenue in Brownsville, up to Cooper Street in Bushwick, and then up to the Queens border. For those who are more geographically or visually oriented, here's a simple map. The blue line shows the northern edge of "phase one" (I know, but I can't think of anything else to call it), while the red line shows the limit of "phase two" (and the black line is the border with Queens):

phase 2

The plan now is simply to run everything between the blue and red lines (and west of the black one, naturally). At this point I'm not really sure when I'll complete all this, but sometime in April seems as good a guess as any. And once I've finished up, as you can see, I'll be left with a nice, compact area centered more or less around Clinton Hill (and none of which should be more than about a 20- or 25-minute subway ride from home, thankfully) for the third and final phase, which will take me into the summer. (For those unfamiliar with Brooklyn's geography, I live in Greenpoint, which is the neighborhood at the very top of the map.) As of now I'm looking to finish running the whole borough by August 1st, provided I can keep up roughly the same pace, don't get run over by an SUV doing 60 down a residential side street, and, of course, I am able to maintain the full use of my legs and feet.

Speaking of, I once again find myself kind of sore (I guess the naproxen's not the miracle drug I initially thought), and I may take tomorrow off, too. But whether I run tomorrow or not, I feel a whole lot better knowing there's some organizing principle behind this next stage of my project, however tenuous it may be.

Bonus photo from the archives:

wall, borough park
63rd Street, Borough Park

11 December 2006

City Line and Sun Dogs

Monday 12/11, Run #98: East New York

Distance: 9.71 miles
Time: 1:15
Pace: 7:45
Temp: 46
Wind Chill: 38
Weather: sunny

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.96
Total Unique Miles: 766.51
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 43.99

For the complete route, click here

Notes: Today, the new week found me heading back toward East New York, where the systematic filling-in of the neighborhood has begun in earnest. Although I typically don't plan more than one run ahead and I don't follow any certain order for which neighborhoods I visit, I imagine I'll probably be heading back out there at least once a week for the next couple of months as I work my way from the far eastern reaches of the borough back towards the center. Actually, I've pretty much decided how I'll approach running the next third or so of Brooklyn, but I'll write it up separately on my next off day. Which will probably be tomorrow, given how I'm feeling right about now.

Most of my route today was in and around the community of City Line, which is either part of East New York, part of Cypress Hills, or its own little neighborhood, depending on who you ask or which resources you consult. And while East New York itself is one of the two neighborhoods (the other is Brownsville) that people consistently warn me about when informed of my plans to run the whole borough, the streets I ran today didn't seem too bad. Sure, there were some run-down parts, but the main commercial thoroughfares like Pitkin and Liberty Avenues were lined with small businesses and many of the side streets had a number of handsome houses, even if some of them were indeed a little rough around the edges. I did see a few young men trying their best to look menacing, and there was this one kid standing on a corner who glared as I passed. A few minutes later, having looped around a few other blocks and heading back past the same point, I passed him again. He just looked up, cracked a bit of a smile, and said "that was quick." Of course, most of the people I saw were doing the things that New Yorkers are doing at 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning -- walking their kids to school, going to work, reading the paper, sweeping the stoop, or chatting with their neighbors.

That said, I'm not naive, nor do I believe that aren't people out there in some pockets of the city who could potentially do me harm. I think running in the morning helps, as does looking like you know what you're doing and not appearing too out of place (something that admittedly is not always possible). I have however, discovered one troubling aspect of running in some of the lower-income neighborhoods -- I sometimes feel overly self-conscious when I stop to take pictures. In fact, I deliberately avoid taking many pictures of particularly run-down houses or decrepit buildings, since it makes me feel like a tourist slumming in the worst parts of town, exoticizing the people who live there and trading off the poverty, crime, and official neglect they're forced to deal with on a regular basis. Most of the time I try to find things to photograph that are interesting enough I'd take pictures regardless of where I was, but it is hard at times to do that while also finding subjects that speak of the specificity of place.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll write more on this kind of thing as I spend more time in these neighborhoods. Regardless, I'll probably be taking tomorrow off and will resume things on Wednesday, though I'm not yet sure where.

For more on the City Line area, check out Forgotten New York's extensive page on the neighborhood (which includes plenty of pictures, too).

store, east new york
Store on Pitkin Avenue

babysitter, east new york
Garage on Lincoln Avenue

mural, east new york
Mural on Glenmore Avenue

green building, east new york
Hemlock Street

subway wall, east new york
Where Drew Street dead ends at the subway tracks just north of Glenmore Ave

yellow corner, east new york
Another brightly colored building (corner of Pitkin Ave and Crescent St.)

sun dog over east new york
Sun dog over the Linden Plaza Homes

10 December 2006

Another Windy One

Sunday 12/10, Run #97: Borough Park

Distance: 9.31 miles
Time: 1:10
Pace: 7:31
Temp: 38
Wind Chill: 28
Weather: sunny & windy

click on image for interactive map

Unique Miles Today: 7.71
Total Unique Miles: 758.56
Percent of Brooklyn Run: 43.54

For the complete route, click here

Notes: Today took me back down to Borough Park, the mostly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood just to the east of Sunset Park (where I was yesterday). I've run quite a bit down there already so I mostly know what to expect -- a lot of people out on the streets and sidewalks, scores of women pushing young kids in strollers (Borough Park has one of the highest birth rates in the city), and, of course, plenty of residential streets. In fact, there's a wide variety of housing on the streets I visited today, from older (but often quite handsome) six-story apartment buildings on 15th Avenue to rowhouses to semi-detached wood frame houses to a handful of enormous and apparently recently-built residences. A more commercial district is on 16th Avenue, with shops and bookstores and bakeries and a variety of other smaller businesses. And tucked away in the southern reaches of the neighborhood are a few streets -- 62nd and 63rd, especially -- with garages and small warehouses and light manufacturing (not so many people down there on a Sunday, but with the bright sunshine at an almost perfect oblique angle, there was a good number of interesting things to photograph). All in all another perfectly fine run, and if it started getting a bit warm near the end (the forecast high here is in the low 50s), it was balanced nicely by a blustery southwestern wind. It's always something.

In other running-related news, the Times ran this story in which some doctors question whether participating in marathons can actually cause heart damage in otherwise healthy individuals. Cited is the apparent rise in the numbers of marathoners who have literally dropped dead during a race (this happened to a woman my age a few years ago when I ran Chicago), though the researchers admit this might just be a statistical anomoly. I've run seven, and I know some of the regular readers here have quite a bit of marathon experience as well, so this is certainly some interesting reading. Not that any of us will stop running, of course.

Although Borough Park doesn't quite have the density of eye-grabbing photographic subjects that one can find in, say, Sunset Park or Bed-Stuy, I still managed to find at least a few things to point my camera at:

bang, borough park
Former laundry(?) on 63rd Street

frankel's, borough park
Books, tapes, and tefillin repair on 16th Avenue

apartments, borough park
One of the many older apartment buildings on 15th Avenue

garage, borough park
Garage on 62nd Street

domenick's, borough park
16th Avenue

building, borough park
Corner of 15th Avenue and 63rd Street