Monday, March 21, 2011

Race Review: SIAC St. Paddy's Day 5K

Here's a race review I was asked to write for a friend's website. It may seem slightly off-topic for those of you who are not runners, but I hope you find it interesting just the same.

Hey fellow runners, it's me Jenny, otherwise known as the Dancing Dog! You may have seen me running races in and around NYC in my bright pink tutu and floppy dog ears and thought, "What's the deal with that crazy costume?" Long story short, I'm doing it for my dog.

For those of you who are dog lovers, you understand how they can overtake our hearts and lives. My dog, Sophie, is an eight year-old pit bull terrier whom I adopted six years ago. She has been my constant partner in crime and a has upended my life in the sweetest way. When Sophie was diagnosed with lymphoma in October 2010, I was devastated. Along with the ensuing financial panic as I scrambled to find the best treatment for her that I could afford, I was also hit with an enormous emotional burden—I am currently single and have pretty much always been a one-woman machine (i.e. very independent and reluctant to ask for help). At the eleventh hour, a foundation called Frankie's Friends came through with a generous grant to kick off six months of chemotherapy for Sophie, and in order to raise the rest of the money I needed, I became a fundraiser overnight. That's when was born.

The stuff about Sophie being sick is a huge downer, but working on her fundraising campaign has been a welcome and fun distraction. Sophie's in remission now and feeling great! If you'd like to read more about our progress and learn more about us in general, I encourage you to visit our website or Facebook page ( and to consider making a donation of any amount, or just leaving a few words of encouragement on our guestbook. But for now, this is a race review, folks!

I am up bright and early on the morning of Saturday, March 19, as I have been every weekend morning for out-of-town races over the last few weeks. I am heading out to Prince's Bay for the Staten Island Athletic Club St. Paddy's Day 5K. I live in west Harlem and I don't have a car, so this morning I am opting for public transportation. The race begins at 10am, so at least the sun has come up by the time I head out the door. HopStop has come through for me as usual with spot-on directions: I'll be taking the 1 train down to Park Place to catch the X1 express bus, board the Staten Island Railway at Eltingville, and get off a couple of stops later to walk about a half-mile to the park.

I'm delighted to see that I am a few minutes ahead of schedule...That is, until I take a wrong turn into the park and wind up spotting the registration area across a small bay and a bank of trees! Unless I've packed my wetsuit, there's no way to get over there without backtracking and using the next park entrance. (I mapped the whole ordeal on dailymile and wound up adding 2 miles to my total that day. Ha.) Thank goodness it's a stunning sunny day, so I just breathe, take in the scenery and try not to panic. I hate being late.

Once I'm finally there, I scramble to pick up my bib and swag (cute socks, SIAC, thanks!), and am relieved to see my new friend Josh Pesin! Known as "joshp" here on NYCRuns, Josh recognized my little Dancing Dog icon on some website or other, and when he saw that I planned on running the St. Paddy's 5K, he e-mailed the entire Staten Island Athletic Club that I would be running! I've been working hard to gain exposure for my fundraising campaign, so a favor like this from a fellow runner (whom I'd never met before today) is just invaluable. Josh and I have a quick chat while jogging back to the starting line.

Wolf's Pond Park is a 302-acre gem with shaded woody areas, a gorgeous beach, a dog run, preserved wildlife areas, and a beautiful monument to the veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Today's 5K course is about half-in and half-out of the park, looping around paths and dirt trails and dipping into the tranquil suburbs. The field is small—maybe a couple hundred runners—and the camaraderie from other runners as we pass each other on the loops is a real boost today. I receive the usual shout-outs along the way, high fives, aside comments ("Was that a bunny?"), and my personal favorite, which is starting to catch on: "WOOF!" I mitigate the occasional quizzical look by shouting over my shoulder as I pass, "It's for a good cause!"

There are a few steep hills that slow me down more than usual. I'm pretty sore from a tough plyometrics workout last Thursday, marking my return to strength training after a too-long hiatus. A friendly woman I recognize from previous races who's about my same pace hovers within a few strides as we trade brief walking breaks following the hills. We don't talk much during the race, but seeing her there makes me feel like I'm running with a buddy. We reach the finish around a respectable 32:30, and I am just fine with that. I'm not here to win, I'm here to have a good time and spread the word about Sophie.

Josh is at the finish line with his camera—Thanks, Josh!—and as I'm taking a quick video for my YouTube channel, I am approached by none other than Steve of NYCRuns. Steve and I have met briefly at a couple of recent races "Hey, it's that dog girl who keeps posting on my Facebook page!"), but have never had a chance to speak at length. We ask about each other's dogs (Steve recently adopted), and share opinions about pit bulls (mine is a poster girl for the breed; Steve is wary) and how the system of pet adoption in our city can stand to be improved. It's great to connect with a fellow runner about these things, and I can tell that Steve is a great person to have in my corner right now.

I'm grateful for some free time to mingle before catching my train back to the city. A young woman named Heather approaches me asking to take a photo, and I give her my card in hopes that she'll send the photo to me. Heather seems genuinely interested in Sophie's story, and tells me about her yellow lab, who died of a stroke. He was trained as a seeing-eye dog before losing his own vision to cataracts, and lived a long and lucky life with Heather. These are the kinds of conversations I love to have, because they leave me with a feeling of being part of a larger community. These moments go a long way toward helping me stay strong for what lies ahead for Sophie.

In addition to Josh, Steve, and Heather, my other memorable meeting is with a gentleman who rivals me closely for silliest costume, decked out in St. Patrick's Day regalia and an enormous pair of sunglasses. He's a warm and gragarious guy who also happens to be a walking race calendar—I'm tempted to take notes as he rattles off his upcoming events!

I take a few more photos at the finishing area, take advatange of the water and plentiful snacks on offer, and get ready to leave. I've really grown to enjoy these smaller hometown races, with their warm reception and friendly vibe. I feel like a VIP today! Josh and Steve offer me a ride to the train on their way to the post-race party, which I'm sad to have to miss. (Sophie and I have an important doggie playdate back in the city this afternoon.) This race will make 45.7 "Tutu Miles" for me, and it was clearly worth the trip.

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