Running in Phoenicia

Usually when I go on holiday I leave the running shoes at home. But this year I was keen to pack them for two reasons.

One I want to keep ticking over more than usual so that I’m not starting from scratch when I get back home. Looking at my training diary from 2014 I got home from a two week holiday in Austria and my training was pretty poor in terms of the mileage level I was operating at and it gives me a lot of confidence that this year will be a better xc season again. That’s key as I will be running from Fast pack and need to up my game.

Second, I’m keen to do the obligatory run around Central Park but also I’d seen that Phoenicia, a hamlet in Ulster County New York, would be ideal for running.

And so it turned out.

Phoenicia is surrounded by the Catskill Mountains. The village itself is 250m above sea level. There are amazing relatively traffic free roads to run on and also some extremely challenging trails although I didn’t realise how challenging until I gave one a go!

The Romer Mountain Trail would be challenging to walk let alone run but I found a 1.8 mile segment on Strava that I felt I could nab as the course record was 28 minutes.

So I set out from our cottage and did a 2 mile warm up onto Main Street and then backup to the trail head.

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Not for the faint hearted

One of the things that was playing on my mind was the thought of black bears and rattle snakes! That didn’t help as I started to negotiate the first part of the trail.

Almost immediately I realised how technical it was, almost going over an ankle within the first few minutes. Also, the elevation gain was quite rapid and my heart rate was quickly into the 180s and at threshold level. Of course I can maintain that intensity for 30-40 minutes in normal circumstances but the taxing ground and elevation gain meant I was forced to adopt a fell runner walking style to keep from blowing up.

My plan was to run for 2 miles and turn round but as I struggled to ensure I was keeping to the trail (sporadic blue signs on trees) I started doubting myself. The humidity and heat was a factor. Sweat was pouring and I was thinking of turning back.

I kept going a little longer. Running on the flattish spots. Hands on knees on the more difficult climbs. I was painfully aware that I was nowhere near completing the 2 miles.

I decided to throw the towel in and turn back. Heading back down was much more fun! My heart rate got back into the 160s and I got into concentration mode, totally focused on where the next foot was landing, arms out to keep balance. This reminded me about what I love about xc. I was able to smile and enjoy.

Still I was a little relieved to get to the bottom and off the trail. I was dripping with sweat!

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Trail fail but still a good little workout

When I got back to check the run out on Strava I realised how lame an attempt at the segment it was! Still, about 400ft of climbing in maybe 10-15 minutes.

I’ve always fancied a go at fell running but runs like this one remind me how tough it must be. I’m not sure whether I could get really competitive as a trail runner but it would surely be great to develop a tougher mental outlook and also good training.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get back onto the trail. Beer and shots led to a hangover on Friday.

I got out for a road run but it was a painful “recovery run”.

Felt much better today but decided a hard trail run would be unwise as we are heading back to the city. Got out for another easy run on the roads.

Next stop Harlem!

Soundtrack to Phoenicia

One of my favourite things about finding a great bar is hearing a tune that I’ve never heard before, liking it, finding out who it is and then falling in love with the band and being obsessed with said band for the next 6 months!

We were in a late bar in Williamsburg earlier this week and that thing happened. The guy behind the bar was cool and I asked him who the band was (luckily Soundhound didn’t work on this occasion). I knew he knew the band cos he was doing air drums to the song.

He not only told me the name of the band but he also advised that the first two albums were good but the rest shite.

The band is Pinback.

So I looked them up on Spotify. Turns out they are a West Coast band but signed to a New York label.

The first album came out in 1999 and provides the perfect soundtrack to Phoenicia where we currently are having a very chilled and perfect time!

New York – first impressions

I’m currently on a bus from NY to Phoenicia so thought I’d write a blog update although it won’t be running related really.

We flew to Newark New Jersey direct from Newcastle and had a pleasant flight.

Most people I spoke to said getting through passport control was a bit serious but we got through no problems and had a chuckle at the conversation that was being had between the two passport police. One was offering the other a spare leather gun belt. Not a conversation you’d here at home. Also got first strange look saying reason for the trip – holiday rather than the standard vacation!

Actually at times the American language is foreign as they have a peculiar way with words and more often than not I find it amusing. The funny thing is they feel the same about my English way with words. But it hasn’t taken long to start saying check instead of Bill and rest room instead of toilet etc.

Getting to Brooklyn from the airport took well over an hour and we needed an air train, a train to Penn Station (Manhattan) and then a subway to Jefferson Street (Brooklyn).

Again we were ready for a confusing experience on the subway but were fine. If you’ve used the tube in London then NY is no different in my opinion. Your head does get boiled on the platform but the trains are air conditioned.

Arriving in Bushwick was interesting. It felt surreal. When you’ve spent your life watching American tv dramas you feel like you are In a movie set. The graffiti is prevalent but welcome. The huge gas guzzling cars, beeping horns. A mix of cultures. In this area there is a large community of young white hipsters living side by side with undoubtedly poorer African Americans and latinos. It’s really multi cultural. It would be easy to feel unsafe, especially at night. But once you realise how friendly the majority of people are that feeling subsides.

Bushwick is a great place and I found it more interesting than near by Williamsburg. There are some great food places and dive bars which serve beer and shots in a dark bar with neon beverage advertisements just like you’ve seen them (but not smoke filled!).

One of the highlights so far was a trip to Coney Island which is New York’s equivalent to Blackpool. This is where New Yorkers go to holiday and the sights and sounds are great. Like the guy carrying the 80s ghetto blaster pumping out James Brown to the guy in Nathan’s hot dog place shouting “what’s the hold up here” in the greatest accent in the world!

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Wonder Wheel in Coney Island

Getting into Manhattan for the first time proper was another surreal experience and something that’s difficult to describe. It just feels weird. I’d definitely not want to stay in Manhattan.

Broadway wasn’t for me. I needed sunglasses at night. Too bright, too loud.

When the twin towers were destroyed in 2001 I have to admit I was morbidly fascinated and couldn’t stop watching news and documentaries. I found it hard to comprehend how it could happen and how frightening it must have been to be caught up in the chaos. So to visit the site was something I wanted to do.

I think the city has made a good job of honouring those that died and the site of the two towers have been made into huge water fountains. You get a sense of how big those towers were. I’d have liked to have visited the museum but the queues were too large and we had other things to do.

The top of the Rockefeller building gives amazing views of the city and is well worth the trip to the top. We were lucky to see the view in daylight, the sun set and night time.

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Top of the Rock!

In terms of Bushwick and night life, I would definitely recommend Johnson’s bar and ask for a “painkiller” which is a rum based frozen cocktail.

So looking forward to Phoenicia and hoping to get some more running in than I did in Brooklyn. I believe there are some good trails and I’ll be hoping to use Strava to find them!

New York break and thoughts on next phase

So I’m sitting on the flight to New York with some time to spare so I thought I’d write some thoughts on my running.

Every year during the summer I take a two week break (I’m very lucky in that its usually abroad and usually an adventure!).

This year I’m really excited to go to New York for two full weeks!

I’ve never been to the US before and I’m really looking forward to it. Running wise I’d usually leave the kit at home and just take the break from training.

As most competitive runners know this is easier said than done and I am no exception. Paranoia about lost fitness, will I be able to get back to where I was etc is easy to feel.

Personally I’m starting to feel more relaxed about it. I think two weeks a year away from running is good for body and mind. The body has a chance to chill out and recover a little from the stresses and strains of what is a very high impact sport. Also, the mind is able to re focus and get serious again about the goals of the next period.

That said, this year I have packed my running kit. Mainly because I want to experience New York from a runners perspective.

Whilst in Brooklyn I’ll try to check out a few parks (and see if I can nab a Strava segment!) and of course there’s the famous Central Park to explore in Manhatten.

But ultimately these will only be a few jogs within the period. Other than that I’ll be generally enjoying myself – eating and drinking too much and probably not getting enough sleep.

So I’m conscious that when I get back to the UK I’ll be out of running shape and I’ll need to patiently rebuild – jogging for a few weeks and then slowly re introducing some harder training.

My key goals for September onwards are to get back fit as we move into the new cross country season. I’m looking forward to competing for my new running club Elswick Harriers but I’ll need to use the first few fixtures (Farringdon XC relays / Sherman Cup) as hard training work outs with the big aim of an even stronger performance than last year in the North East XC Championships in December.

But until then I’ll be taking the down time and enjoying the Big Apple.

Until next time – happy running!