nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Get your New York on

This is the strap line for this year’s New York City Marathon. It is everywhere. I was running in Central Park yesterday and ran through the part of the loop road that is the final stretch of the marathon and there’s a vast amount of temporary building being erected for Sunday’s event. The park is looking particularly beautiful with the colours of the leaves changing nicely; it’s almost as if the park is putting on its best for the runners as the world watches them speed down the last part of the race.

Today I went to collect my race number for the 5k ‘dash to the finish’. I will not be dashing, but I will do my best as we start by the UN building on the east side and then run along 42nd street, past Grand Central Station and along to 6th Avenue and  up into the lower part of Central Park to end at the marathon finish line. Pretty cool to do that but not have to run 26.2 miles first!

Number collection was at the Javits Convention Center which is way over on the west side on 11th Avenue at 34th Street. It was so busy, but no surprise gieven there will be 50,000 people pouring through their doors over two days just to collect their race number.

I won’t be running, but I will volunteer like I did last year. This time however I am at the finish and will be one of 150 volunteers guiding runners and members of the public out of the park. Funneling 50,000 runners through the park and out onto the west side is a huge feat of organisation. When I ran yesterday, I followed the route that will funnel the runners and it goes on for 20 blocks! Blimey.

So wish me luck, standing around from about 11am to 6pm on Sunday, hopefully being vaguely useful. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain!

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$8,000 bench

If you have have been to New York and walked in Central Park, you are very likely to have sat on a bench for a bit of a rest. It’s 800 acres of loveliness, same size as Hampstead Heath in NW3: yet another wonderful coincidence. I was using a bench earlier today to do tricep dips in a vain attempt to combat bingo wings. I am a lady of a certain age and anything I can do to stop my upper arms wobbling is worth a try.

Anyhow, I’m huffing and puffing and trying to recover from running in ridiculously humid New York when a man in a van stops by. He’s from the Parks department according to the words on the side of the van he is the man who sorts out the benches . Adopting a bench is a programme of the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy. He looks pretty well kitted out for the job with brown leatherish apron and a drill in the his hand. I watch him examine each bench in turn and then he focuses on mine. What’s wrong, I wonder? Have I ruined the bench’s aesthetic with my sweaty bum? No, apparently not. He is there to switch the silver plate that dedicates to the bench to someone who loved the park. Seems like a nice thing to do and not uncommon in other parks, other cities and other countries.

A man stops by and talks to the parks fella and asks how much it costs to get a plaque on the bench. “$8,000, sir”. The man, clearly not expecting this, looks amazed, slightly crestfallen, and wanders off. The parks man explains to me, because I am still nearby, cluttering up the place, that you get the bench for life and it’s a small price to pay to help with the upkeep of the park. I’m fairly sympathetic to this and agree with a sweaty nod; I bet there are lots of fancy New Yorkers to give them the cash for more benches in the future. Don’t think I’ll get one dedicated to me and my triceps, not quite how I want New York to remember me.

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Seen today

In Central Park:

1. A man running bare foot. But wearing a hat and gloves!? It is minus 2 degrees Celsius with a bitter Easterly wind. It was not the man I had seen previously who ran literally in just his shorts. 

2. A man juggling whilst running. I have seen him before, he’s quite old and favours wearing bright orange. 

3. A woman wearing a hooded fur coat which was so large she looked like a yeti from behind. 

That is all. 

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Sun, snow and sadness

I’m getting used to running in minus temperatures. It’s bloody hard to start with, but once you get going, you warm up a bit and with just my face exposed to the elements, I’m covered from head to toe. Running along the streets, it’s cold and sunless, despite the fact that I know it is a beautiful sunny day and not a cloud in the sky.  I pop out on to Fifth Avenue and breath a sigh of relief as the light returns and the pristine snow of Central Park beckons. It is lovely.

The 6 mile inner loop road used by runners is clear but the bordered by walls of snow. Vast swathes of the park are just covered in a blanket of white snow and everyone just seems quite happy. I run the bottom half of the loop road from north to south, all the way past the ice rink at 61st Street which looks great in this weather. Too cold to hang out at the reservoir for some stretching today, so I tootle back down to Fifth Avenue and the sun disappears in the shade of the tall buildings of Manhattan.

I pause at Park Avenue as I just miss the lights and am faced with a wall of photographers and TV cameras camped out in the central reservation of Park Avenue. What’s this? I quickly realise it’s the funeral of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s not yet started, but the press are out in force, flanked by many NYPD officers. In the few minutes I wait for the lights, I see no one arrive but the anticipation is great and they clearly expect Hollywood stars to appear at some point to pay their last respects.

The lights change and then I’m off. It’s a surreal pause in my journey today, where sun, snow and sadness mingle together in the freezing streets of New York.

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Bare foot running by choice?

So I read about bare foot running in the New Yorker not that long ago and I have never seen anyone doing it in Central Park. It’s nuts and given the amount of dogs in this city, it can’t be hygienic. But today I saw one and he was not only bare foot running but bare chested. He was wearing just a very brief pair of shorts and let’s just say I wasn’t staring because he had a great tan and great abs. He was huffing and puffing his way along the east side part of the loop road. I did wonder if he had been mugged. Blimey.

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The lure of lulu

Lululemon, dresser of the lycra clad ladies of New York. Ever wondered what that funny little symbol is on all the ladies running in Central Park or pouring out of Soul Cycle? It looks like the hair of a  cartoon lady but with her face missing.  According to their website:

“The lululemon name was chosen in a survey of 100 people from a list of 20 brand names and 20 logos. The logo is actually a stylized “A” that was made for the first letter in the name “athletically hip”, a name which failed to make the grade.”

I had also been wondering what these funky bags were that the same lycra clad ladies were carrying. They seem to be a bit of status symbol and often go with Toms wearing, so it’s clearly a look here. They are essentially posh carrier bags, too nice to throw away, but sturdy enough to carry your stuff around and tell everyone you shop at lululemon. Proudly.

I’ve been feeling sartorially inadequate for a while, so I bought a lululemon top to perk up my running wardrobe. I got it from their website which rather coyly says ‘we made too much’, which I think really means, they overstocked and it wasn’t very popular (or it’s a bit crap and no one wants it).

Oh, and I just visited their website and there is a deeply depressing picture of a gorgeous woman in a swim suit who looks nothing like anybody normal. Don’t look.

Check out my new top and the funky lululemon symbol and unthrowawayable bag:

blog pic 26

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And there were over 5,000 ladies

That’s a lot of ladies running 10k in Central Park at 8am this morning. And today it included me. It’s hard for New Yorkers to run 10k as they have the imperial system here, so you have to think in miles until the final mile when they suddenly introduce metres! I was doing quite well until the final mile, but then realised that 10k is more than 6 miles and with the addition of metre signs, I got confused and I blame this for my pace slowing…

It’s great being in a race with over 5,000 other women and running along roads that are normally packed with traffic. Running past the Natural History Museum and other sights on Central Park West before entering the park felt pretty good, stopping traffic for us! I thought the park was pretty flat but apparently not. Someone seemed to introduce small hills at the top end of the park, the bit I don’t normally go to. And then there was a huge outdoor swimming pool that I’d never seen before, empty but worth noting for yet more hot summer days. What a great way to discover bits of the park. I finished in 56 minutes, so pretty good for me given how humid it was, but I’m in no hurry to do another. I looked aghast at the lady who tried to foist a leaflet for a half marathon in my hand – could she not see the colour of my face? 10k or 6 and a bit miles is more than enough for me.

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Someone left the heating on

That’s exactly how it feels in New York right now. You are in a nice, cool air conditioned building and then you walk outside and hot air hits you. It’s quite disconcerting to go from the cold inside to the hot outside. And disorientating when you are walking along the hot pavements and you get hit by cool blasts from air conditioning vents. What’s worse is that it doesn’t cool down. It’s late at night and still warm enough just to wear a t shirt.

I was in the Central Park on Friday. Our first experience of sprinklers. When I was a kid, a sprinkler was the small device your dad used to water the lawn on the odd day it seemed a bit warm. I can remember running in and out of the spray of water as it moved from one side to the other. Here sprinklers appear in the playgrounds for the kids to run in and out of and keep cool. J loves his first experience, running into the water and then squealing with slight shock and real delight when the blast of cold water hits his face. He is resplendent in his water gear and enjoys every moment. It will be a theme for the summer.

By lunchtime on Friday I was gratified to see that few people were crazy enough to be running in 30+ degree heat. At 730 on Saturday morning I go for a run in Central Park because I think it will be cooler and I am very wrong. It is hot. The temperature has not dipped below 23 degrees. Too hot for running and I have to keep stopping to prevent myself from over heating. It brings out a lot of early runners and a lot of barely clad people. Men in skimpy shorts and no tops; women in shorts and even shorter tank tops showing rippling bellies and many bosoms that need more control.

By 8am people, mostly men, are playing baseball in regulation coloured t shirts tucked into cream coloured trousers and looking deadly serious in baseball caps. The little leaguers are still asleep but will emerge soon to look like cute versions of these committed sportsmen. The park looks fabulous, lush and green with its canopies of trees giving grateful shelter to mediocre runners like me. Too early for tourists but early enough for random groups of people to be hanging around. Some are getting ready to marshal a race in the park but with others I have no idea what connects them together so early in the park. Maybe it’s just the heat forcing them outside: air conditioning is a luxury in NYC.

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Soul destroying?

So today is my third visit to Soul Cycle. Soul Cycle is a spinning club. For those of you who think this is some kind of arts and crafts club, let me describe spinning: imagine a bike that doesn’t move, has a really uncomfortable saddle, only takes funny shoes with clips in and is controlled by a single dial to determine how hard or easy the cycling will be. It’s nothing new, and you’ll find spin studios in most gyms around the world. In New York (and elsewhere in the US) Soul Cycle sets itself out to be a bit different, a bit like a cult. A sweaty cult with a nice line in designer lycra and and obsession with yellow. I like the fact that you can just buy a class and turn up without much notice and no more commitment than that. I don’t like the cost – $37 including shoe hire, but once a week, it’s probably cheaper than a gym membership.

Everything about Soul Cycle is super cool – I am not. Everyone seems to know what they are doing – I don’t.

I can’t work out how to clip my shoes into the pedals and have to ask, even though I’ve been twice before, I am still clueless. I am anticipating the class to be full, very dark, apart from some candles and with an instructor who is embarrassingly fit and muscle-bound. And I’m right. I am glad it is dark so that I can’t see how ridiculous I look. I made the mistake on my first visit of sitting near the front to see what’s going on, but that’s really not a good idea because the front row is reserved for those who know what they are doing and like to shout a lot and not the uninitiated. I am expecting a lot of hyped up instructions from the muscle man and get them. I’m intimidated by the super fit girls at the front who appear to be like Bruce Forsyth’s ladies in Play Your Cards Right but without the oversized playing cards, but I follow them because the muscle man keeps walking about and confusing me. I’m also slightly perturbed by his red bandanna – is that even legal in 2013?

I think I’ve got the routine right: up down, back and forth only to find they have moved on and I am woefully behind. I am told to listen to the beat and follow it but I cannot find it. Where is this beat? My body doesn’t do beat. I recognise some of the songs, but realise I am ancient when Taylor Swift starts going on about boyfriend trouble – and the only reason I know it’s her is because I remember the song from the New Year’s Eve TV show and that she even exists is only thanks to my weekly subscription to Grazia which is obsessed by her and that bloke from One Direction.

I find my consolation in the bloke next to me who seems to be as useless as me. Even I can do the bit with the small dumb bells, trying not to clonk him in the process. I’m also thankful that the bloke in front of me doesn’t sit too far back as those bikes are so close together, I’m not willing to become that acquainted with his behind.

Anyway, I’ll do it again, I’ll try and hope it’s dark and hope that somehow the beat will find me. Alternatively I’ll just get really red faced and sweaty and not have to turn the heating on for the evening.