Sunday, March 20, 2016

Marathons - No Boston But.....

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time you know that I have harbored a fantasy of running the Boston Marathon for a charity for a while now. Boston is different than any other marathon except for the Olympics. There are only two ways to get to run the Boston Marathon. The first way is to qualify, which means that you have to run another marathon in the previous year and post a time that is as good as or better than the qualification time for your age group. This is no mean feat. For example in my age group, women 60-64 years old, the qualifying time for 2016 was 4 hours and 25 minutes. The fastest I have ever run a marathon is 5 hours and 32 minutes (and 15 seconds!). And, not only would I have to improve my marathon time by over an hour, I would probably have to best that 4:25 time by several minutes at least, because the fastest people in an age group are allowed to register first, and once their age group is filled up that’s it.

The other way to get to run the Boston Marathon is to run it for a charity, and raise money for their cause. I first seriously thought about trying to get a charity bib after the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013. Our family had two runners in the race that year, so there was a group of us there cheering them on. Although everyone finished and we all came through unscathed, the horror of that incident inspired me to want to get a charity bib. The problem was I had no idea how difficult getting a charity bib was going to be.

I decided that 2016 was the year that I would run Boston, so in September of this past year (2015) when the charity bib application process opened I chose several charities and began to apply. I applied to 6 different charities initially: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the American Heart Association, Leukemia and Lymphoma Team in Training, MR8, Dana Farber, and Boston Children’s Hospital. Each charity had a fairly detailed application. They wanted information about my marathon experience, how much money I was willing to raise, my plan for raising that money, and a statement explaining why I wanted to run for that particular charity. The minimum amount for most charities was $5,000, but they rather broadly hinted that they really wanted people to raise $8,000 or more. I tried to make my applications as convincing as possible, but it started to seem a bit like the process of applying to college.  What are your grades? Where is your essay? Where did you go to school? And SHOW ME THE MONEY!

A few of the charities, Multiple Sclerosis, The American Heart Association, Leukemia and Lymphoma and Boston Children’s, rejected me outright. However MR8 and Dana Farber strung me along for months before rejecting me. And as time went on I ended up trying a couple of other options as well. One of my friends thought he could help me get a bib from one of the smaller charities that have just a few bibs allocated to them through the John Hancock Foundation, so I also applied to the McCourt Foundation, a charity that supports research for MS and Alzheimer’s. And there is another group of smaller charities under the umbrella of something called the Boston Marathon Charity Team. I looked through their charities and found one for Lazarus House, the homeless shelter in Lawerence, MA. The food pantry where I volunteer has a close association with Lazarus House so I thought that might be a possibility as well.

Well, nothing worked out. I was eventually rejected by every single charity I applied to. Much like college applications I don’t really know why. I did find out that there are only about 2,600 charity bibs for Boston, and thousands upon thousands applications, so maybe it really IS like applying to an elite school and in some ways I’ll probably never know.

To tell the truth I really appreciated the charities that just rejected me outright. I don’t know if Dana Farber and MR8 were seriously considering me, but it was hard to wait until the first week in December and then get rejected anyway. And I applied late to Lazarus House so maybe if I had applied to them right away I might have had a chance. The McCourt Foundation only has a few bibs and I got the feeling those bibs were already promised to other people. OH WELL!

For a little bit I was disappointed. But then I pulled up my big girl pants and started looking for another marathon to run this year. At first I tried to find an April marathon. I had started my marathon training for Boston just in case and didn’t really want to readjust it. I found three possibilities, Pittsburg, Cincinnati and Gettysburg North and South. I rejected Gettysburg pretty quickly. Although they have an interesting premise (You declare whether you are running for the north or the south and run a different course depending on your declaration!) its a very small marathon, and very rural. I rejected Pittsburg next. The course covers 5 bridges in downtown Pittsburg, which by definition makes it a very hilly course because every bridge is a hill. Plus they have a lot of construction going on which means the actual course was yet to be determined. Cincinnati’s Flying Pig is supposed to be a great marathon with a good reputation but I just couldn’t get that excited about it, plus although most of the course is not too bad there is a REALLY big hill around mile 22, late enough in the race to make it a significant barrier to a decent time.

So now what? I went back to my marathon bucket list. Big Sur? Too late, it had reached its maximum number of runners long ago. San Francisco? Its at the end of July, so not this year, we’ll be sailing then. I didn’t want to wait until the fall to run another marathon. What about Grandma’s in Duluth? Was it still open? Yes! I quickly filled out my application and got my bib for my next marathon.

So now I’m set. Grandma’s is run along the shores of Lake Superior. Its a medium sized marathon, about 8,000 runners. Its been in existence for a long time and has a good reputation. Its in mid June in northern Minnesota so the weather should be cool, and its a mostly flat course! Maybe this will be the year I finally break 5 and a half hours!

People have asked me if I will try again to get a bib for Boston and I say probably not. I have plenty of marathons still on my bucket list and I know I probably have a limited time to keeping running long distances. I did recently discover a group called the New England 65+ Runners. They support and encourage older runners and I can join them when I turn 64 and a half, a little under a year from now. They have some Boston Marathon bibs, and hold a lottery every year to distribute them. And if that doesn't work and I’m still running marathons when I turn 80 the qualifying time is 5 hours and 25 minutes. I might just have to go for it then!

Friday, March 11, 2016

New York December 2015

On Dec 8th I get my hair cut in the morning and we drive to NYC in the afternoon. Fortified with homemade rye bread sandwiches in car, we enter Manhattan via Queens. We're staying on the lower east side this time, in an apartment in alphabet city. The apartment is nice,  large and comfortable and we find a parking space just a few doors down. Not too long ago this was a seedy area of Manhattan, but now it's more like early Brooklyn hipster.

Once we are settled we walk to a nearby bar for our welcome to the city cocktails. The bar's name is Subject. It's quiet, uncrowded, and we have a good time talking to the bartender, his off duty friend, and a young girl sketching at the end of the bar. Dinner is at Balaboosta, a reliable Middle eastern restaurant. The food is good, especially the fried olives and hummus. All the restaurants on this trip are gleaned from recent reviews in the New Yorker Magazine.

Monday morning I go out for a run along the east River. I've never run on this side of New York before. There are nice parks along the river going south toward the Brooklyn bridge. I don't know what happens past the bridge though. The best thing to do might be to just run across it and on into Brooklyn. Going north things end before too long and then you're forced onto the city streets. I think this side still needs work! 

After breakfast we walk to Proper Cloth, a custom shirt place, to get Erik's Christmas present. Lee thinks their shirts are as nice as anything he can get in Hong King, and the fabric selection is better. Then we have lunch at Ramen Ye, and THEN we check out the new Whitney. This is an awful lot of walking, close to 9 miles. My feet hurt! 

No more walking that day, we use Uber to get back and forth from our dinner reservation with Chris and Adrian at Little Park. Little Park is okay, but doesn't really live up to the hype, or their prices. We have such a good time talking to the Alleys that we hardly notice the food....

Tuesday is a slow morning. We eat a late breakfast, an early dinner, and a late night snack. For breakfast we go to B and C Cafe by Thompkins square. They have excellent coffee. Lee has a mushroom salad, I have the chorizo and egg sandwich. My dish is spicy, with the largest, fluffiest eggs ever. It's very, very good and then I'm very very stuffed. Then we do a little Christmas shopping and go back to room to rest. We have an early dinner at Bensons on 1st Ave and Houston. I'm not very hungry. I don't even want alcohol, just lots of water. We share a nice salad, then I have a light flatbread pizza with apples, blue cheese and arugula, and Lee has a burger. I have a few bites of the burger and some of his frenchfries of course.

Then we take an Uber up to theatre district. It's 5:30 pm and the traffic is just awful. It's takes a good 45 minutes to get to 42nd street. The show for the night is Fun Home. It's played in the round and there are no bad seats in the house. Such a powerful, moving, funny, heartbreaking story. Allison, a graphic novelist, looks back on her childhood. Her dad is a closeted homosexual. She herself is gay. Dad restores old houses; they live in a funeral home. The family presents a facade of normalcy while hiding from themselves and each other. Actors play three different Allisons; the little girl, the college kid and the adult, looking on, drawing what she sees. The dad is tragic, but Allison breaks free of the family pattern and starts to become her true self. The show is very intimate, you are close to the actors and can see their expressions. We both really really liked it.

Afterward we take the subway back downtown, then a taxi across town. We have some late night Japanese at Sanye. It's very good sushi, especially the yellowtail and amberjack. The thin young people at a nearby table eat an immense amount of sushi. They are still eating when we leave, on their 3rd or 4th entree. Impressive.

On Friday morning I go for another run along the East River. Then it's off to lunch at a nearby  Malaysian/Thai/Vietnamese place. It's good, especially Lee's curry soup. Then we walk over to the Union Square Christmas market. There's lots of crafts and the usual stuff. I buy some fun patterned stockings, chocolate covered pretzels, puzzles, dog treats. We get some apples from the farmer's market next door too. On the way back to the apartment we stop for coffee at a little espresso place. Then we pop into a record store and buy Dan some vinyl for Christmas: Stagefright by The Band, and Ruben and the Jets by The Mothers of Invention. 

After a rest it's time to go meet Eugenie. The bar we have chosen as our meeting place is loud and noisy. We are the same old friends, even when we haven't seen each other for a couple of years. We talk about art, sanity, friends. We yell at each other companionably for awhile, then stroll to our dinner reservations at Racines NY. When I made this reservation I was afraid this place would be a bit snooty and more style than substance, but although it is somewhat formal the food is FANTASTIC. The flavor beat the presentation, which was lovely before we devoured it. We order three apps and two mains and share it all. The apps were a red snapper, a Parmesan tart, and something else that I forget. The mains were cod and duck. The only complaint I had was that I thought the duck should have been sliced thinner; it was a little chewy. We had a chocolate caramel tart for dessert. Afterwards we walked Eugenie to the subway. As we were crossing a street suddenly she stopped. She looked downtown. "9/11," she murmured, and then we continued on our way. For some New Yorkers that memory can pop up unexpectedly and catch them unaware, even 14 years later.

I see a sign that looks exactly like a subway stop. "Any Which Way" it says. I laugh, thinking to myself that this is the best subway stop ever. Only later when I peer at the picture I took more closely do I realize that it is an advertisement for Lyft, the ride sharing service. How much did I have to drink that night, anyway?

Saturday is the day we have tickets to see Hamilton. I'm excited and a little apprehensive. I paid a lot for these tickets, which puts a heavy burden on this show. I've listened to part of soundtrack. It IS hip hop, but with Broadway influences. 

Here is what I thought right after seeing the show:

Hamilton Is good, very good. The music is entertaining and I can understand most of it. The actors are great, especially Hamilton (Miranda the writer and star), Aaron Burr, and Thomas Jefferson. King George is hilarious. It's kind of astonishing because it's really a fairly dry story, the financing of the revolution, but he makes it interesting. Hamilton was very ambitious, a womanizer, married rich. The part about the duels is sad, both he and his son were killed in duels.

Now several months later do I still feel the same about this show? Well in a word, no. I think Hamilton was fine, but do I hum the songs, dwell on the story, daydream about the experience? Not at all. I actually think Fun Home was the better show, and I could pick three or four of the musicals we've seen in the past couple of years and say I liked them more than Hamilton. Would I tell you not to see it? No, go see it, by all means, but unless you are a big hip hop fan I'd wait until the tickets are much cheaper!

Dinner that night is a traditional French place, La Sierene. Very much the French bistro, very delish. I have the roasted pear app, then filet mignon with pate. People are speaking French in the kitchen; its a nice place. It's in an odd location though, right at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel with trucks periodically roaring by. Ah New York!


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