Autumn in New York and Running

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Suddenly there is a nip in the air on my early morning runs and I find that I have added a cotton layer to my togs and my running shorts have been put away. Sunrise is later and later these mornings and up to this point I have resisted going out before the sun is poking up onto the scene – I remind myself that this is still New York City and running alone in the dark is perhaps not the best idea nor indeed safe.

I am hitting the one year mark since I started running and thus far I have persevered through summer heat and two broken fingers. (Earlier running posts, and the broken finger story, can be found here and here.) I try to run most mornings, short of having to be in midtown for an in-person meeting before 9:00 which I increasingly often do for work. On those days I walk the three miles to (and often also back from) Columbus Circle instead. Those mornings I cut the city catty corner and walk through Central Park which certainly has its own early morning charm. I cannot help but compare and contrast these mornings to mine spent in our little east side enclave.

At the one year mark I run about three miles. I run a slow, gentle jog. Despite being exclusively on concrete I try to land softly, mid-foot, and to keep my joints loose. My right hip and the muscles reaching down tend to complain a bit, less so if I am rigorous in my warm up, which I try to be. I have psoriatic arthritis and I know that eventually it will all catch up with me, but I have taken the use it or lose it approach to my joints as I will ultimately be a great candidate for a hip replacement regardless. I have chosen to take the using them up approach to my joints. (A post devoted specifically to my workout as someone with arthritis can be found here.)

Sunrise is a bit later and later each day now.

I began running because I was spending so much time in our tiny apartment sitting in a chair, no longer able to go to the gym, that I realized I needed to do something. Walking (which took too much time and didn’t seem to raise my heart rate at all) quickly gave way to running. Although I like working out, especially lifting weights, I have never aspired to run so this was a strange turn of events, however it solved the cardio problem and also helped address the pandemic pounds I needed to shed.

At first my body resisted this turn of events, but with the help of my trainer I stretched and cajoled it into compliance. I have, over the year, lost close to 40 pounds (most of those put on in the first six months of the pandemic – read some of my baking recipes here and here at your own peril), although I warn anyone entering into this endeavor that it is very easy to feed a workout and gain weight instead of losing it. Losing weight, for me anyway, is tied to a careful (merciless really) counting of calories and thoughtful food choices in conjunction with exercise. Running has also largely eliminated nagging lower back pain I had acquired even before the pandemic from too much sitting, long hours of airplane travel and concert hall seats.

I commented to Kim this morning that running has changed my body in an interesting and far more overall way than I expected. Of course you expect more muscle in your legs, but it has changed my upper body too. Something about my posture and even the way I move is different. Far more than lifting and my former (devoted and beloved) gym routine the total impact is more significant it seems to me.

Carl Schurz Park near Gracie Mansion.

I run slower than most of my morning compatriots and speed just isn’t something I am competitive about, my competition is only with myself and is generally more about distance and consistency. I set myself at a comfortable pace and mostly only alter it to go around folks or if dogs get too inquisitive – in a nippy way. Some days are peppier than others, but regardless I take time to note the denizens of the Esplanade and those of you who follow my Instagram account know that I will take time to snap some photos. (My running adventures are documented more or less daily in my stories here.) I try to take a kindly attitude toward my middle aged body which is, after all, answering my call to this kind of exercise. I remember that it is serving me well and I should not be critical of its efforts on my behalf.

FDR on recent morning run – complete with fire trucks stuck trying to get somewhere.

I used to listen to books but while running I replaced those with music – at least to the degree I can cajole my iPhone to play it while running while still snapping the occasional photo. I tend to like to listen to the same thing over and over, and then switching to something else. Wynton Marsalis’s Swing Symphony accompanied me on many a run, second maybe only to Beethoven’s Seventh. I have wandered through some classical – YoYo Ma playing solo concertos, Moonlight Sonata – popular music of my teen years (think Bruce Springsteen) and most recently Billie Holiday which is a bit of surprise. I usually like something more upbeat. However, I was taking a tour of Autumn in New York this week, hence the name of this post. (A few choice versions can be found on Youtube here, here and here, Sinatra, Holiday and Sarah Vaughn respectively – at least available at the time of writing this.)

Dogs romping and being walked probably deserve their own post. They sometimes take great interest in me – sometimes offense too!

I pass the qi gong and tai chi practitioners, some stationary, others in a sort of walking-moving meditation. Folks are taking boxing lessons (I would like to try this some day, broken fingers notwithstanding), others working out with someone instructing them via their phone, yoga gatherings and a series of trainers who are set up along the river just beyond the park’s environs – Juliet and Darryl are among the trainers who watch me run by everyday, their white boards with contact info and declaring their names. They have stopped offering their cards, but I watch their instruction with some interest daily. The gorgeous view of the river is great for this (and meditation and yoga which is also all around me) and I find the time near the water restorative. I am nicer and kinder in general on the days I run. I often think that if I worked for me I would make sure Pam was out there every day!

On my route there is one camp I always note, set up by a gentleman in a choice spot over the river in a little cul de sac above some sort of Con Ed semi-deserted building. Recently he has added house plants, an interesting framed print and most poignantly a Fischer Price type child’s toy of a house. I don’t see the resident often, although occasionally I see him communing with some sea gulls who seem to know him. He disappeared for awhile and it seemed that someone was packing up the area but he came back and it seems to have rolled back to where it was.

Pigeons congregate in this spot early every morning. They barely move for me and only dogs will make them rise en masse.

Among the permanent residents, Collage Woman is either sleeping or working on gluing things from catalogues into her books. Writing Guy, if he is there, has nodded out on his bench and over his notebook. Then there is a steady stream of people, virtually all men, who I suspect have only recently joined the ranks of the homeless. Often they are using a roller suitcase for their possessions, although sometimes a back pack with frame and a sleep mat. One day I ran behind one very large man using a table leg and a Fresh Direct bag as a bindle. This group fared poorly during the harsh storms and hurricanes that battered us a month or so back (our tales of flooding and leaking can be found here and here), but I worry about all of them as the colder weather approaches. This group seems especially and terrifyingly ill-prepared for it.

The East River Esplanade, running along the river and along with Carl Schurz Park, waking slowly into being our Yorkville town square these days as I wrap an early run at the north end. The morning traffic along the FDR drive runs less scenically along one side of me. As I head up back from 91st Street I look at it and always have a moment being grateful that I am not commuting in one of those cars today.

Beloved and dependable Bagel Bob’s.

I loop back through the park and stretch some more. At this hour we runners and early bird walkers are slowly outnumbered by commuters are lining up for an early ferry, the dog walkers who have multiplied, school kids making their way to their destinations, as well as people heading to work on bikes, motorized scooters and of course walking – this group replacing those of us in work out wear with office attire. In my mind I run through an unconscious rule of thumb which is: vehicles should give way to runners, runners give way to walkers and we all find our way around those who, for various reasons but usually involve dogs, are standing still in the path. Not everyone follows this rule and we try not to be run down by the various newly motorized bikes and scooters, not to mention regular bicycles, sometimes in the hands of a nascent rider. I worry about those because they usually do not sport a helmet either.

The Mansion Diner in full Halloween regalia recently.

I smell the coffee and breakfast sandwiches of those who are parked on the benches, just enjoying the sunrise or communing with their phone. It wakes my empty stomach up with an inquiring growl and I remind tummy that reward in the form of coffee and breakfast awaits us too, but after the run. These days I split my breakfast acquisition between Bagel Bob and The Mansion Diner. Bagel Bob became my pandemic go-to in the neighborhood and a couple of eggs on a whole wheat wrap is my order there. I stand in a line of bagel buyers and folks on their way to work or school. Although it has re-opened its few tables it isn’t really a sit down sort of place. People at Bagel Bob’s are on the go.

Interior of The Mansion Diner.

The Mansion Diner, another neighborhood stronghold, is more of a sit down affair and now offers a broad range of seating both in and out. It is frequented by our local policemen taking a break on the job, but also folks who have the time to savor a proper breakfast, or maybe having take-out like me, or supplying the ongoing delivery business which seems to employ a small army of men. (Who orders breakfast delivery in the morning? I have long wondered about this. Doormen? Is it a version of breakfast in bed for the UES clan?) I wait for my single egg on an English muffin here, listening to a rather consistently fine loop of Frank Sinatra blasting inside (this invariably makes me think of college Sunday brunch) and out while checking my email, or occasionally heading back outside to finish my stretching on neighboring stairs, while my breakfast is being prepared.

Unlike Bagel Bob’s, The Mansion stays open to cater to a dinner crowd, even in these nebulous post-pandemic (can we say we are post I can’t help but wonder?) times. At one time it would have been mostly elderly people and some with young children, but now that we all eat earlier (six o’clock is the new eight o’clock here) and as it is very local it is a broader sampling of the neighborhood.

Ferry recently on an early morning commuter run to Queens.

I am starting to eye warmer socks online, also running caps as my baseball cap will seem insufficient soon. (Yes, the dreaded moths have eaten all my wool hats I ran in last season.) I am giving reflective garb a sideways look too – if for no other reason than when I run at my mom’s house in New Jersey where cars are a bigger issue. (Running there has been documented in a recent post here.) I am somewhat confused by the idea of putting screws in the soles of old sneakers for snow and ice traction. But my cotton baseball shirt will give way to a proper sweatshirt and it will take more willpower to get out the door in the morning. I know autumn will quickly turn to winter here, but I do plan to be out there even on those frosty and snowy mornings.

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