Jersey Daughter, Part 2: Running

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I pick up from where I left yesterday, but use the opportunity to focus on running. Pictorama readers know that about 18 months ago I started running. I have slowly (very slowly!) built my distance up to 4.5-5 miles four or so times a week, as my work schedule allows. This morning, having a bit of leisure time at my disposal, I topped out over 5 miles.

Today was overcast but warm. Rain has moved in since so I am glad I got out early. (Although it means you all are getting this post later than usual as a result!)

This contemplative area with these plaques seems to be new to me. It ajoins the church property.
Close up of one of the plaques.

Running in NJ tends to encourage me to expand my footprint a bit as I investigate the neighborhood, poking down new blocks, cul de sacs and deadends. I am confident enough in my mental map that I don’t worry now about getting lost, although I tend to keep myself hemmed in to the east and the west by major roads it is easier not to cross.

As I have said in my previous posts about running, I run slowly. For a tall person I have short legs and therefore a less than impressive stride, but I cannot blame my overall slowness just on that. My feeling about running is pretty much that I find a pace I can generally just keep up, more or less indefinitely. As if I was an automaton toy, set into infinite forward motion. I will speed up around obstacles or otherwise as needed but there is a general lope that I keep myself to. Everyone passes me – people running with baby strollers pass me – the older and the younger alike. My only interest in increasing time is a sense of efficiency about the amount of time I have to devote to running and therefore the ratio of distance to time.

First flowers of the season I spotted in bloom today!

For me running is about being in the moment which releases me from all the nagging worries that I nurse throughout the day (and night) otherwise. I focus on my stride, where my feet are falling and the music (today was largely Bruce Springsteen in honor of New Jersey) which is familiar enough to be ritual as well.

Suburban life is stretched out before me as I run here. Today was no exception. The first part of my run takes me to the crossroads of several churches and a synagogue. This morning I was treated to the church bells ringing as I started out. This church is next to a playing field and a small wildlife preserve that I circle before heading back out into a neighborhood north of here.

I ran further north and then west than usual and encountered the elementary school for the town, tucked away behind a main street but somehow on a block I think I never encountered growing up here. The Viola Sickles School is a pretty Art Deco designed building. It has a large playground and playing field behind it which I toured. Just on the other side is a pretty little downtown street of restaurants and shops on a main road. My mom lived in one of the houses on that main street which was converted to a candy store which we used to visit occasionally when I was little. Somehow I couldn’t get rid of the idea that my mom grew up in the candy store but this was not the case. I think it was a small gas station that my grandfather had at that time and before they moved to a neighboring town.

This one needs a new roof, but what a sweet little house!

The houses near the school are old and lovely. These few blocks seem to have somehow escaped the general gentrification of the area. I hope someone buys them and restores them on their tiny lots instead of tearing them down.

I loop around and head south for the most familiar part of my run which I have been saving for last recently. It is overcast and the sun alternately fights to come out and gives up. Today is one of the warmest runs I have had this winter and the temperature is hovering around 50. Robins are everywhere, as well as sparrows, cardinals and bluejays. I see a bunny with a bushy white tail – too fast for me to get a picture. Back at mom’s the chipmunks are in evidence again as well. I spy the first snowdrops of the season in bloom and snap a photo of them.

Another cute little house on this school block.

Around mile four I start to feel it in my legs a bit. I use a GPS driven running tracker now called Strava as my phone seemed to be inconsistent about recording miles. I had some trouble with it at first – it would turn itself off which was frustrating – but I seem to have gotten past that.

Strava makes me more competitive with myself despite not really intending to – can I be faster on the big inclines? Go a bit further today? It sends me electronic encouragement for each of my runs. I am a sucker for its praise.

Knights of Columbus meeting establishment.

This week I see several book exchange boxes in the neighborhood, but don’t take the time out to examine them. I do note them however for future reference. Today I realize one is in front of the Knights of Columbus meeting place. I run through the parking lot and notice these rather special benches below.

Kind of love these benches with the American flags built into the design.

I realize that I am already over time and distance and still have to get home. I think of one of my favorite phrases – save something for the swim back. It is true of running – and many other things too.

January

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This past week I went on a particularly long run in New Jersey, more than four miles. The weather was an agreeable 35 degrees and my morning of meetings started late enough that despite being a bit cold I took the opportunity to explore a bit.

Discovered the local police station nearby recently.

When I first started running there I was afraid of getting lost as I didn’t know the area and there are a lot of dead end streets and cul de sacs to get lost in. It took awhile for me to get the lay of the land and understand where my mom’s house is in relation to a few large roads that will always put me back on course eventually, making it almost impossible to actually get lost I now know. (I have written about running in New Jersey before and one of those posts is here. One of my early posts about teaching myself to run can be found here.)

Wooded area where I run. Looks more wild than it is – there are the backs of houses within sight.

I have written a bit about this area which exists in my mind these days as a sort of ideal small town with more ball fields and playgrounds than I can count. Communal basketball hoops adorn many of the dead end streets and it is easy to imagine a spring and summer rife with kids playing there. It has become my other reality or parallel universe now that a spend more time with my mom at her house.

There is a charming middle school at the end of my mother’s block, Knollwood it is called, and each morning when I run there I see kids in various states of readiness migrating toward it to start their day. They come on bikes or walk, alone or a few together, sometimes running or pedaling hard as it gets later. Cars and buses are dropping them off on the other side, but that isn’t usually what I see from the side of the school I approach.

The houses here range from new build large and obviously affluent, to bungalow and Cape Cod small, like my mom’s. They indicate a fair amount of disparity in wealth I think as I run by them, but somehow they manage to knit together a community, homes almost universally cheerfully neat and tidy looking.

If I head further in one direction I know that beyond the woods where I start these runs that the homes will grow larger and further apart in the town where I grew up. As I go in the other direction the homes get smaller and closer together and older. This area forms a literal meeting point of three towns and each has a different flavor.

The suburban street near mom.

As I survey my surroundings (to an unlikely soundtrack of Billie Holiday which I am stuck on for no identifiable reason), I ponder how mindfulness can be uncomfortable and how sometimes forcing yourself to be in the moment is so much harder and more painful than escaping it. For me and with my personal history January is the most terrible of months, stinking with the memory of illness and death. Accepting that and not trying to escape it is hard. Despite a determined brand of personal optimism, I tend to skirt the beginning of each year warily, more just getting through it than embracing it as a new beginning.

This year has its own challenges and this week packed a wallop of January-ness my way along with some sodden snowy rain. The anniversary of my sister’s death, two more resignations at work, spending time (mostly reliving the past) with my mom who is not well – it has been a rocky road and I will be glad when the 31st passes, hopefully gently, into February. A tsunami of these issues clamor for attention in my brain and only the gentle repetitious pounding of my sneaker clad feet can help me unsnarl these thorny thoughts.

Flowers in memory of my sister Loren, brought by a friend earlier this week.

As I make my way over, up and through this neighborhood I think about it. The word liminal keeps looming in my mind so I examine it. Liminal, the space between things, the moment on a threshold. We all are existing in that liminal space right now as we try to figure out what the world is going to look like, needing to let go of what was and embrace this unknown next thing. That space is a bit of a respite from the drive forward, but you know you are going to have to take the plunge so there is little comfort in that perch, like standing above icy water before diving in. By its nature it is an uncomfortable place to be.

I think I understand the desire to leave for a new job and to assign all that was bad about the past two years to what employed your hours during that time. I can see that a new job might be a fresh new page to draw on and a way to reinvent yourself and push into the new world. So I try not to resent the further dwindling of my work team and the demands it will make on me and the remaining folks, but I admit it is hard.

One of the endless playing fields I run through on my NJ mornings.

My own style however is to dig my heels in and have a real look at myself, marshal my reserves, retrench. It is only by facing what is hard that we can actually resolve it. One of my expressions is the only way through is through – a self-evident but annoying truth. I see signs of reluctance in myself that I need to square off, face and resolve. I remind myself that there is a steeliness I can call on when needed and it is called for now. I use it and add on that extra mile.

Jersey Jogging

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am pausing in the Pictorama photo post fiesta which will likely resume tomorrow, the reflect a bit on my return to running. I run slower than ever since my fall running on Memorial Day which resulted in two broken fingers. (Posts about my nascent running and the finger crushing fall can be found here and here.) In the heat of summer it is tough going to get back to my former distance. Still, every morning which does not require a breakfast meeting, or it isn’t pouring rain, out I go to give it my best.

I rarely show the westside view of the Esplanade where I run along the FDR, preferring to share the river views which I try to focus on, as below.
Winter view of the Esplanade at about 79th Street.

Running clears my brain better than most things. (Lifting weights can also have this effect, but the hand is definitely still too weak to be trusted much with the free weights in the apartment. I wrote about my studio apartment pandemic workout a few months back and can be read here.) While I used to listen to books while working out at the gym it has developed that it has to be music for running. I have become partial to Beethoven, in particular the 7th Symphony, but I have roamed around a bit too. I love Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach cello concertos and am very fond of the Moonlight Sonata, but neither runs quite as long as I need and I find myself mid-run looking for the next thing to listen to. As I Jersey girl I will admit that I also have Bruce Springsteen as a fallback – always good if I need a kick in the pants to get me going.

I am also a bit strangely partial to Wynton Marsalis’s Blues Symphony. (As a staffer I would be remiss not to point out that the free download can be found here and a variety of other places on the web.) And in fact I was listening to it when I fell – apologies Wynton, but true. That did not dampen my affection for it however and I still like it very much and have it in rotation. My usual run down by the East River is along the FDR Drive and that means that half of it is quite noisy with commuter traffic. I had a day of trying to listen to Russ Columbo (long-standing Pictorama readers know that I am partial to popular music from the 1920’s and 30’s – this post found here is one of several which touches on that part of my life) while running and alas his voice is too soft to hear. You need a bit of boom to be heard over the morning traffic I am afraid.

Last weekend I made the trip to Jersey to visit my mom. I had last seen her earlier in the fateful Memorial Day weekend when I had been in for a wet, cold concert on that Friday evening – perhaps my exhaustion that morning contributing to my fall. (Arg! That tale can be found here.) The rigors of hand in cast, followed by ever so much ongoing physical therapy have occupied me greatly and made travel a tad harder so this was my first chance to get back there.

Ten second or so of ferry ride under the bridge!

Sunday morning had breakout sun and heat for my ferry trip after a night of heavy rain. Unfortunately a quick front moved in just as we pulled out of the Sandy Hook stop on the ferry, a summer stop only for beach goers. Pulling away from the piles of families we just left on the beach in a very sudden, pouring rain, which then lasted the rest of the day. I thought about those poor stranded folks for the rest of the day as there is virtually no shelter there and the next ferry would be a wait.

On Monday morning I woke early with good intentions and determination to head out for a run, despite the gray morning. I threw on my running togs, layered for some Jersey chill, and said a quick hello to mom and went out the door – and into a new torrent of rain. I regrouped and had a nice coffee with mom, ate a really memorable Jersey peach, and was ultimately rewarded for not eating a full breakfast when the rain cleared around 7:30. Out I went. I queued up Beethoven although it would have been a nice day to nod to Bruce as I was virtually down the street from his home.

Mom’s front yard, soaking wet somehow made the colors dramatic and saturated.

These days my mom lives in a town just a few miles from the one I grew up in. I am familiar with it in a general way, but realized early on that I could easily get lost in the roads walking or running around in the area surrounding her new house. I mapped a route earlier in the spring, but wanted more distance today and so I peeled off toward a grammar school with a playing field I figured I could check out. I always had my phone to get me back to her house after all.

Where the turkey vultures come from?

The morning was still heavy with rain water and the trees, flowers and grass were soaking. I resigned myself to sodden sneakers early on and instantly wished I had thought to pack extra socks. (I have a friend/antique jewelry dealer on IG, Mia aka @therubyfoxes who runs in the British countryside and always shows photos of her mud caked sneakers post-run. I was channeling you Mia!)

Observing the etiquette of the suburbs I greeted the few folks I met along the way with a cheery greeting of Morning! (In Manhattan the most you might have is a nod at someone you encounter frequently, but in all fairness, there are a lot more people here in New York.) I took my chances and followed a road beyond the school up, figuring I could make a big loop without getting hopelessly lost.

The roads around my mom’s house are named for schools. She lives on Oxford and I found myself running along and past Dartmouth, then Harvard, Princeton and Rutgers – a nod to the home team I guess. My sister had a high school boyfriend who lived on one of these streets – I think it was Dartmouth. I was trying to remember and see if any of the houses looked familiar, although many are newly built on the sites of older ones. I may have picked it out, but hard to say.

There are a number of cul de sac dead ends where basketball hoops proliferate and kids clearly command the streets. Several homes sported unmask our kids signs which reminded me that it had always been a community that wore its politics on its sleeve with yard signs favoring political candidates, making statements. Maybe all suburbs are – it is the only suburban community I have ever lived in so I am unsure.

Deer not dog!

I continued on, up toward some additional community playing fields boardering on a heavily wooded area which I believe is responsible in part for the diversity of birds my mom enjoys in her tiny yard – including hawks and, surprisingly, turkey vultures. As I approached the field I saw unleashed dogs playing and was hesitant to run through – however as I got closer I realized they were instead young deer romping. I jogged the perimeter of the field and noted a nice community garden with someone just beginning his work there, along one side.

A stray mailbox and flag on the edge of the woods – didn’t see a house though.

Running on turf as opposed to concrete, as I do here in Manhattan, was a bit heavenly and I couldn’t help thinking that a fall here would likely only result in getting muddy as opposed to broken bones. Meanwhile, don’t think heroic thoughts about how much I was running. It was my usual three miles and still required (several) periods of walking and as there were no inclines to challenge me I can only admit I really just don’t have my wind and stamina back yet.

Tree bursting with apples along the route.

There is something downright edenic about being out in the suburbs though, especially after our long months bound to our apartment and our corner of the city, although I always feel fortunate to have grown up in such a pretty place. These days though even being on the ferry and out on the water, some part of my brain releases and relaxes in a way it doesn’t quite ever do here these days – although my time along the esplanade in the mornings comes close.

My route ended with a loop around the original area I had mapped out. Street names that my friend Suzanne had helped me list during a walk one day as I found an initial route. I checked in on Forrest (my grammar school nearby was Forrestdale), Park and Beekman, easy for a Manhattanite to remember for obvious reasons – touched base near her house on Ridge, and turned tail home where mom and a (not New York) bagel with smoked salmon awaited me.