My Obsession With Vanny

This is what makes cross country what it is!


For absolutely no sane reason, cross country running is something that has stayed with me for some time now. It is the type of running that I do the least of because sadly there aren’t too many cross country style courses by where I live to run on. But yet when an opportunity presents itself to run it, I jump at the opportunity to do so! 

What is cross country running you ask? No it’s not running from east coast to west coast! And it’s definitely not road running! It’s for the most part trail running, occasional grassy patches and lots of brutal hills with unstable footing at times. In short, it’s misery for those that have never run it. I think the reason that it has a special place in my heart is because when I first did any type of organized running in high school, it was the first type of race I ran. 

The Infamous Back Hills Of Vanny

The course that I ran the most was the famous course at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, affectionately known as Vanny to many “harriers” or cross country runners. The New York Times wrote up a great piece about the course a few years back. The article describes the many facets of the course that I fell in love with as a high schooler. 

This Saturday, I go back and visit my old friend Vanny. For the last few years I have been paying Vanny an annual visit as I run the alumni race that is part of my former high school’s city championship meet. For me it’s not only a chance to run a cross country course that to this day I still admire, but it’s a chance to see some old coaches, and cheer on my alma mater. 

As I go back each year however it’s a continuous challenge that i’ve set for myself.  To put this challenge into perspective I recall how in high school, my best time on the course was under 15 minutes for the 2.5 miles course (4000 meters). Keep in mind I ran that course four years straight each weekend from September thru November. When I returned to the course for the first time since high school back in 2009, I didn’t know what to expect. I went into the race that year with a mentality of “whatever happens, just happens”. Well when I crossed the finish line, the clock read 23:32. I just looked at the time, laughed as it was almost 10 minutes slower than high school and then hit the floor because my quads and hamstrings were shot from scaling those hills for the first time in 22 years. It was quite a scene and quite a memory now that I  look back on it. 

The serenity of Vanny makes it very deceptive!

So I’ve gone back 4 of the last 5 years to challenge Vanny again:

2012 – 21:45

2013- 21:10

2015- 20:30

2016- 19:30

I return to visit my friend Vanny again this Saturday. While I can tell you that as I am typing this that I feel confident that I can run faster than last year, I have to remember that we are talking about cross country here, especially Vanny. What if I twist an ankle in the “Back Hills”? What if I hit a ditch on the grassy flats? What if I didn’t train on enough hills and they destroy me again? What if I take a tumble on the steep and fast down hills. 

This is what I love about cross country. The fact that there are so many different variables makes it even more challenging. Just when you think you are ready, you just never know what might happen!
As I go into my “date” with Vanny, I can’t help but remember an old saying one of my high school coaches used to tell us :

“You’ve never lived until you’ve died in the Back Hills of Vanny”

That saying is true as it’s known by a lot of New York City runners. I’ll let you know on Monday how my date with Vanny went!

FOCUSED – Monday Workout!

Definitely not – it will require consistent work!

On Monday I was determined to get a workout in no matter what. In my home, both my wife and I like to get out workouts into our schedules so long as someone is handling the kids. Being mindful of my wife’s workout frequency is yet another thing I have to factor into when I will be getting my own workouts completed. In the month of October my youngest daughter has been practicing with her cross country team around 6:30pm two afternoons per week. I particularly like this coach because he encourages parents to join the workouts and while they don’t necessarily have to run with their kids, the parents at least get some exercise in. Monday my wife decided to go to my daughter’s practice and run at the practice which gave me free reign to get a great workout in.

Me crossing the line during my 2016 cross country race

My next race is a 2.5 mile cross country in the Bronx at one of the best cross country courses we have in New York, Van Cortlandt park. The course is home to many prestigious races in the northeast at all levels of cross country running. For this distance and for this race, my distance running has completely stopped. I have been focusing on my speed more and actually trying to implement weight training. On Monday I wanted to do both so I did something I had never done before. I belong to Life Time Athletic gym in Garden City, NY and I love their facility. The one thing I despise at that gym, and actually at any gym for that matter. is the treadmill. I cannot tell you how much I hate these machines. The notion of running in place just annoys me in every which way. Yes, sometimes it is the only alternative in inclement weather and I will give in and run on the treadmill in inclement weather but we aren’t quite there yet. It was 70 degrees last night!! I did want to get that weight training in so I decided to drop my bag off in the gym and head back out the front door for a quick run in the neighborhood.

Why had I never done this before? The area was very well lit, in fact I would say more so than my neighborhood at night. Little to no foot traffic to interfere with my run and I was able to get thru a swift run to start my workout. On Monday, I aimed to run the distance of my next race, 2.5 miles. My thought process is that this would be the slowest I run this distance while training for this race. I plan on running the distance a couple of more times before race day with the expectation that each time I get faster.

My time on Monday, 19:31 for 2.42 miles. I’ll take that considering that when I ran this same race last year, I ran 19:30 on the course. Now keep in mind that this course has some nasty, steep, rolling hills. These hills keep coming for a whole mile and they can really test even the most seasoned runner. One of the things that is different when you are facing a race with these type of hills is that you have to make sure to have some weight training, especially in your upper body. You will need that to pump your arms some to get up the hills that await.

That brought me to the second part of my workout. Today I wanted to start focusing on my arms with the daunting thought of those hills in my mind as the music blared through my headphones. Here’s what I tackled on Monday:

3 sets of Arm Curls (25, 30, 35 lbs)

3 sets of Deltoid raises (12, 15, 15 lbs)

3 sets of Lat Pulls dowsn (60, 70, 80lbs)

3 sets of Rope tricep pulldowns (45, 50, 55lbs)

I have to say doing my run outdoors got me warmed up like a treadmill never had before! I maintained my sweat the entire time I was lifting weights. I left the gym on a Monday night feeling great! I’m hoping to complete two more quality workouts like that this week. My goal for race day as of now is to go under 19 minutes. It’s going to require some hill work and some more speed work. Ah yes all good things to look forward to! lol

Remember, it is always about setting GOALS, working hard to try and achieve them and hopefully CRUSHING those goals!! It won’t come over night but BELIEVE that you will get there!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workout – Thursday 10/19/17

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Say no to the couch and yes to sweat!


Ever since I ran the Staten Island Half-Marathon two Sundays ago, I have scaled back on my running. The training for that race put a lot of miles on my legs and with my next two races being a lot shorter, I decided to scale back a bit. In fact scaling back after a half marathon is highly recommended by the so called experts – see this article!

This past Monday, I did some striders on grass to stretch out the legs a bit. On Tuesday, I ran some shorter distances on the track and focused on speed.

Today the weather was too nice to not go for a run. The layoff from running long distances seemed to have helped as my pace overall was pretty swift.

Here is the funny part though and the part that I think pertains to many folks reading this. I commute from Manhattan each day on the dreaded Long Island Railroad. Today I knocked out on the train ride home. I mean I was dreaming and the whole bit! Got home and felt like sleeping some more, but with the weather as beautiful as it was, I knew I wasn’t going to get too many more days like this to run during the week. So I pushed myself. I downed a Gatorade Endurance Carb Energy Drink and off I went. I highly recommend these if you are feeling sluggish before a workout!

Got back at 7:30pm in time to enjoy some quality time with the family before everyone is off to bed. Once they knocked out, I logged on here about a half hour ago to write this. Why am I telling you my day? Because I want you all to see that even though our days can be busy and you may feel bogged down by it all – you can still get that work out in! You don’t need that much time – I gave it an hour today but a half hour would have been more than enough. I always say – “a little workout is still better than no workout“!

I’ll be posting my workouts from time to time. If you start to workout too, share yours with me! Would love to see your progress!

That 4th mile was under 8:00 because I waited at a traffc light for like 30 seconds during that mile – argghhh!!