Central Park

Running Against Time

Lifelong runners tend to push their limits. We run despite injury often in the face of adverse weather and limited time. However, there are times as we age when we find ourselves questioning how we can possibly keep going. Our bodies change and become more vulnerable. Our stamina deteriorates and our joints become more fragile—and still we run. There are three stages in a runner’s career where it is time to step back and reflect on the best way to move forward:

Young Masters

Although many high-impact sports prohibit athletes from competing into their thirties, running is different. Marathonguide.com states the average age of a marathon runner is 38.7 years old. In fact, Constantina Dita was thirty eight when she won the gold medal at the 2008 Bejiing Olympics. Carlos Lopes was thirty seven when he won the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.

Even though running may be high-impact, runners are often able to compete much longer than basketball or football players. They are, however, still prone to literally slowing down in this stage. So, although injuries may not be common yet, this stage does require a mental shift. Runners need to embrace setting less ambitious, more attainable goals in order to continue moving forward.

According to Amy Begley, a 2008 Olympian, every athlete has to be open to the change that comes with age. “There was a high point, and now they have to reset the goals.” While, yes, the body does continue to develop, it does so a slower rate and often discourages athletes. They become fixated on collecting a record of ‘personal worsts’ that creates a vicious circle of depression and thus more poor results.

Middle Masters

Although you may not be able to perform at your career peak during this level, this bracket of competition can still be incredibly rewarding. It offers a newfound opportunity to be the ‘young runner’ yet again, and allows you to reset your goals.

Many who had a busy family life in their thirties—and could not be as devoted to their running practice as they were in their youth—may suddenly find themselves with more time than ever so as their children become older and require less supervision. This allows middle masters to return to running whole-heartedly.

 It is also vital to remember that aging at this point is beginning to exact a toll, and the only way to ensure your forties aren’t spent fighting off and recovering from injuries, is to reevaluate personal records and adjust accordingly for a changing body.

Calves are of particular note. More specifically, inflexibility and muscle pulls are a plague that must be vigilantly guarded against at this age. The best way to accomplish this is to run upwards on a steep hill and count your strides as you climb. As you get stronger and faster, you should take less strides to cover the same distance. This way, you can measure your success and watch yourself grow. 

For middle masters, the most important thing is to be aware of typical injuries and to run with an attainable goal.

Super Masters

According to Marv Metzer, an 87-year-old from McCook, Nebraska, training has become more and more like work. Naturally, this makes it hard to continue running; but no matter how hard, it is important to continuously wipe the personal record slate clean, and revise appropriately.

In the face of physical deterioration, most seniors agree the only way to stay healthy is to keep exercising. Mike Reif, the coach of the Genesee Valley Harriers (an upstate New York club that has won dozens of masters championships), recommends that seniors “Use it or lose it. It’s very important to stay active and healthy.” Essentially, in order to keep the ball rolling, you should keep running.

Some seniors may opt for alternative forms of exercise that seem lower impact like yoga when running seems like it’s too much strain on the body; but that’s not necessary. You can shift your mental orientation. You can wipe the slate clean and reevaluate your personal record goals so are challenging but achievable. Each stage represents a new bracket of masters competition. Keep your eyes on the finish line.


Running in Manhattan

Manhattan is a city that you can live in for 100 years and still not see everything. Running here is much the same way. As my feet pound on the sidewalk alongside the Hudson River, I can remember the many trails I have explored throughout the metropolis. There are a few, in particular, that have stood out to me though. From Central Park to the Hudson River to the Five Bridges, here is a curated list of the finest running paths in the city:

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Hudson River Run (8.91 miles)

While running paths in Central Park are generally the first to spring to mind for someone less familiar with the city, the Hudson River Park also offers equally stunning options with fantastic views of sunsets and shimmering waters. Very popular among pedestrians, runners, and cyclists for good reason, the wide path allows you to maneuver around hoards of people with ease. Not to mention, it takes you by some of New York’s most recognizable landmarks (the Statue of Liberty, Chelsea Piers, USS Intrepid, art installations, and the George Washington Bridge). Sweat and sightsee all at the same time, not a bad deal.

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Five Bridges Run (16.67 miles)

Traverse the boroughs on your own two feet as you cross the 59th St. Bridge, the Pulaski Bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and (of course) the Brooklyn Bridge. Although this route is reserved for more seasoned runners (considering it is quite long, 16 miles in fact), it provides an excellent opportunity to change things up and see sights you usually wouldn’t encounter. On a Sunday morning, there are few things better than island hopping across New York City.
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East River Run (16.07 miles)

With unbelievable waterfront views of Manhattan, Hell’s Gate Bridge, Astoria, and Queensboro Bridge, this route is a fantastic chance to explore the city along a relatively unbeaten path. Even though it delves a little deeper into the city than most running trails, it avoids most of the cumbersome foot traffic that is so prevalent in the metropolis. There are also bathrooms and water fountains on Randall’s Island that you can use during a brief rest.

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Central Park Ramble (6.68 miles)

What would a list of running routes in Manhattan be without including Central Park? Although it doesn’t boast quite the same waterfront views as the East River and Five Bridges runs, it is significantly easier, shorter, and more apt for beginners. Plus, it does have some amazing views of the city’s most famous park. This trail will take you along the lakes in the park in addition to some of the outer rim in order to ensure you see the majority of the landscape while working up a sweat. When jogging by lush lawns and diverse trees in the summer, the monotony of running fades to the back of your mind, letting you push yourself to the absolute limit.

Well, I hope you are able to enjoy these running paths as much as I have been able to in the past. I have named the most well-known paths above but I am on a hunt for secret beauties so if there is a running path that you would like to share with me please don’t hesitate to send me a note!

To Rest or Not to Rest? That is the Question.

Last week, I decided to switch my running route up a bit to keep things fresh. I opted to stick to Central Park, but rather than run up West Drive next to the lake, I moved into the garden area just north of that. Much more narrow than West Drive, there is a multitude of meandering paths that criss-cross over each other as you run. Gorgeous trees provide a cool shade but the countless hills pushed my calves to the absolute limit.

As my legs were screaming, I concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other to keep moving. I passed by bewildered tourists staring at me as I weaved around birdwatchers, playful toddlers, and other joggers. Just as I saw the path break before me into open road, I felt my ankle roll unnaturally and I fell to the ground. I felt my ankle go limp and I knew I had paid the price for forgetting my form, even if it was just for an instant.

Immediately, I began wondering when I might be able to get back out here to run again. Rest is vital to recovery, but I didn’t want to fall out of my rhythm, or take any longer than necessary to get back to my routine. In a previous post, I extolled the benefits of rest and how it can be absolutely integral to recovery. Yet, I also feel there is a balance to be struck between recovery and losing the gains I have worked so hard to attain.

Too much rest can get in the way, especially if it’s not a serious injury like a mildly rolled ankle. Fortunately, I came across this article noting that one does not need to stop exercising completely if they have been injured. While a period of rest from a specific routine is suggested, one does not need to stop all exercise entirely.

Apparently, Michael Wardian, a professional runner, “had multiple pelvic stress fractures and sports hernias,” but rather than spend his time lying on the couch, he rode a bicycle. He hiked across the mountainside. He aqua-jogged and swam his way back to health; and he’s not the only one.

Many athletes across all ends of the spectrum strive to remain as active as possible regardless injuries. Whereas before painkillers and numbing agents were the go-to’s of rehabilitation, experts have now realized that cross-training could very well be the answer to retaining fitness even after having suffered an injury. That said, there are several guidelines for working out while injured:

Know your body.

If, while cross-training, you experience any pain whatsoever, you should stop immediately. Talk to your doctor to ensure you are not worsening any physical issues. To overextend yourself is to extend your injury. Also, while painkillers, especially in this scenario, may seem like a viable alternative, you should remember that pain is important. It keeps you aware of your body’s health, and informs you if you are pushing things too far.

Figure out how you hurt yourself to begin with.

Recurring injuries are common because all-too-often we don’t realize why we hurt ourselves in the first place. If we are able to figure out why we hurt ourselves, we will be able to prevent the same mistake in the future. While physical therapy can certainly heal current issues, it cannot make you avoid them outright. So, pay attention to what caused your injury, and make sure you are able to avoid the mistake down the road.

Eat well.

Many athletes eat less and reduce their calories to avoid gaining weight during recovery, this is not necessarily the right course of action. In fact, if you lessen your nutrient intake, you could be extending your recovery time. Truthfully, the best idea is to balance your diet with your workout routine. If you are able to consistently exercise by cross-training, you shouldn’t have to alter your diet at all. However, if you are forced to cut back a little, you should only reduce your diet slightly. Make sure that just because you’re not exercising as much as usual, you don’t overcompensate by reducing your food intake too much.

The need for rest changes dynamically depending on the circumstance and severity of the injury. I suppose the best way to approach rest is to understand the nature of your injury, and then that way, you can properly assess the best course of action moving forward, whether that means no exercise whatsoever, or exercise that does not exasperate the sensitive area.

Never Neglect Rest

As the gravel crunches beneath my feet and sweat beads on my forehead, I pass by families, tourists, and fellow runners. Jogging down West Drive in Central Park may not be the most spacious of routes, but it may just be one of the most beautiful. The lake is adjacent to my right and it’s apparent that spring has arrived. Smiling, I swerve around slower runners and neglectful parents with toddlers when I realize I need a break and head over to a shaded area for a quick moment to catch my breath.

Arriving, I lie down on a piece of manicured lawn, breathe deeply, and look up at the leaves, taking note of the sunlight shining through the branches here and there. Closing my eyes, I feel my heart rate begin to slow, finally. My fifth day in a row running this week, I can feel my shins burning more than usual. My knees are aching and I’m not catching my breath as fast as I normally do.

Generally, I only run about 3-4 times a week so this extra day is taking a toll, a greater toll than I expected if I’m being perfectly honest. Acknowledging such to myself means one thing: I need to rest. Tomorrow, the only place I’ll be running to is my living room couch. It’s important to know when to rest. My last decade of running experience has taught me at least that much, but there are indicators other than simple fatigue that mean it’s time to take a break:

You’ve lost noticeable weight since your last run.

More specifically, by noticeable, I actually mean a 2% drop in weight. If it’s 2% or more, that can potentially mean a body fluid fluctuation, which likely means you just didn’t drink enough water either before, during, or after your last workout. As a result, your body is working overtime to counteract a lack of hydration and the extra work is taking a physical toll on your body, as can be seen by the 2% drop in body weight. If your body is already working overtime, then it cannot work to bolster your running performance, considering your body’s resources are already being spent trying to rehydrate you. It’s important to remember to rehydrate and rest so that your body’s resources can be spent on increasing performance.

Your resting heart rate is faster than usual.

To find out what “usual” is, you should take your pulse every morning when you wake up. As you can imagine, your resting rate is most exemplified when you’re sleeping. If you do this and then realize your resting heart rate is actually faster than what is normal, you should absolutely take a rest day. A sign of stress, an elevated heart rate essentially means that your nervous system has released hormones into your body in order to transport oxygen to your muscles and brain more quickly. So, if your heart is racing at rest, you’re best off taking a day to recuperate.

Your urine is a dark shade of yellow.

While not the most glamorous of indicators, if your urine is a dark shade of yellow, it may be because you are dehydrated, which means you should take a day off, drink a lot of water, and relax. However, certain vitamins, supplements, or specific foods (or the lack thereof) the night before can also induce a color change. Regardless, if you’re peeing dark yellow, you should take note and be wary.

Rest is integral to recovery. While pushing through the fatigue may seem like the most resilient thing to do, it is often not the smartest thing to do. Your body needs a chance to recover, even if your mental stamina doesn’t. With rest, your body will be better able to perform, to rebuild, and to exceed prior performance. With rest, you can continue to progress. Without it, your athletic performance could in fact regress.

Alexi Harding, Running, Mental

Cognitive Benefits of Running

It is nice to change things up a bit. When I run outdoors I’m usually accompanied by throngs of runners as we circle the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park. It’s close to my apartment and it’s a quick 1.3 mile run if I need to build up some energy before I go into the office. Today I happen to be in Florida….finally…..outdoor weather above 50 degrees…..and it’s relaxing to have a little solitude…but as I ran by what seemed to be endless channels of lakes I had a discomforting thought “If an alligator exited these waters and came after me, could I beat it?” I smiled at a security guard when I ran by his post and thought “Well….if I couldn’t beat it, I could certainly beat the guard….and that would buy me some time” ☺

Alexi Harding, Running, Mental
Ten years ago I would not have been so confident….not about the guard of course…but about my own running ability. I was never the athletic type. For me, sprinting involved running from my current bar to the next bar. This all changed in 2003 when my girlfriend at the time, a photographer, told me over drinks she needed a male model for her Banana Republic photo shoot. I of course volunteered, but to my horror she unhesitatingly replied “Baby, I love you but have you seen your belly?”
That night I didn’t sprint to the next bar. I went home instead to absorb the humiliation alone. I felt embarrassed. I felt undesirable. Then I decided to fight back. I am the captain of my fate. I am the master of my soul. If I did not want to feel this way then I had to do something about it!

Alexi Harding, Running, Mental

The next day I walked past Banana Republic on 86th street and went into Equinox on 85th street. I paid for a one-year membership in advance to limit any chance I might try to back out and then I got to work. At first I tired easily. Within twelve minutes I was breathless and I felt foolish for even trying to be the next Asafa Powell. But then it occurred to me that all the other people at the gym had to start somewhere. They were not instant athletes. I had just seen a Star Trek episode where even Data was beaten at Stratagema until he figured out the right approach….so I had to figure out what all these other people knew that I did not.
Over the course of the next year I sprained my ankle, broke 3 toe-nails and hurt my neck, but that taught me the importance of proper shoes and I looked at the posture of others around me to learn proper form which would allow me not to tire so easily. I chose equipment near the mirror in order to analyze my form so that I could adjust it to that of others in the gym who were exhibiting superior performance. Ultimately, the belly fat went away but by then my mind (and my aspirations) were on a higher plane. The true benefit of the experience was not the weight loss, but the discipline that had been instilled in me to bring about that weight loss. I had started running thinking of it purely as a physical challenge but it is in fact a mental challenge. I am reminded of people who walk on hot coals. For years, they have said the same thing; training their minds was the key to their success.

Alexi Harding, Running, Mental

As running is now a permanent part of my life I have bolstered my gym routine with an educational component, so I am always reading about new methods and watching videos in an attempt to improve my own technique. I came across a Forbes article a couple of years ago “How Exercise Makes Your Brain Grow” which details running’s substantiated effect on “neurogenesis.” Neurogenesis refers to the brain’s ability to generate new cells. What’s more is that neurogenesis is prominently associated with endurance exercise (such as jogging). While the exact reasons behind this association is not known, evidence of the correlation exists. To elaborate, it has been demonstrated that “exercise stimulates the production of a protein called FNDC5 which is released into our blood as we sweat.” Eventually, this increased presence of FNDC5 facilitates and incites additional production of BDNF, another protein. It is this BDNF that is in turn responsible for supplementary production of “new nerves and synapses-the connection points between nerves.”

Effectively, when you run, your brain becomes stronger and quite literally grows. Your capacity for memory and affinity for learning increase to a noticeable degree. So, not only does your lung capacity increase and your heart’s resilience improve, but you receive added psychological benefits as well. Besides a tangible improvement in one’s health, running provides quantifiable mental enrichment that improves one’s quality of life both personally and professionally. While we are on the topic of brain functionality I thought some of you might like to watch this video. It’s not about running but it’s an artistic visualization of brain activity that you may find interesting.

It’s funny how one former girlfriend (yes, former) hurting my feelings has led to a lifelong love affair with running. I feel better, look hotter, and think smarter. What was a step back over ten years ago has become a 100-pace leap forward. Every runner has a story. This is mine. I suppose all I can say to my girlfriend of 2003 is, “Thank you.”