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!

Pushing Thru The Pain For The Euphoria

Each and every time I start to get dressed for a run, I utter to myself, β€œMan I don’t want to go on this run”. Even once I am stretched out and start hitting the pavement, I still harbor the same resentment for pretty much the entire first mile. But somewhere along the way, those feelings of angst start to dissipate. Maybe it’s the thoughts of every day life that start running thru my head, or perhaps it’s the song on my headphones, or the surroundings I pass that make me forget that I am running. And even in the rarest of occasions, if I am just having a bad day of running and I feel crappy the entire run, there is one thing that has never failed to happen – the sense of accomplishment that I have when I am done!

For some of us that do we run because we β€œthink we have to”. While running is a great way to stay fit, ever try approaching it as a way to set goals for yourself? For me, it’s been a new way to push yourself and the fun thing is that you can set new goals for yourself every day whether they or short term or long term goals. No matter what it is in life, achieving any type of goal is extremely gratifying isn’t it? The next time you run, don’t just hop on a treadmill or run around the block, set a goal instead. Set a mile as an initial goal. Then change it next time to either be longer or faster. For folks that have been running a while, set a calendar for yourself and mix your running experiences up.

Goal crushing is EUPHORIC! To look back and see what you’ve done and feel the euphoria is tremendous! To have run a bit while you were crushing goals is not only a benefit to your mind and self esteem but to that body of yours as well!

So what are my goals? Well 4 years ago, I just wanted to lose weight. After a year, running was helping me to lose weight but I started to fall in love with running again because of the gratifying feelings I felt after my runs. So I signed up for the NYC Marathon lotteries for a couple of years. Last year I got tired of being rejected for entry to the race. So I signed up for the NYC Half Marathon lottery and got accepted into that. Now my goal became training for that half marathon. From then, I’ve kept scheduling races for myself and they have served as my goals on a consistent basis.

Now back to you guys. Looking at yourself and I am sure you are all busy with day to day responsibilities, maybe races are not achievable goals right now but focus perhaps on setting aside time for you to workout and run just a little. Build on your goals from there . You can do it. The EUPHORIA awaits you. Don’t let others enjoy it while you cling to the same hapless feelings of the everyday monotony!

Get out there, put one front in front of the other and RUN!

Taking The First Steps…

RUNNING.

Go ahead, say it, ”Uggh I hate it!”

I know a lot of us do and even those of us like me who have learned to like it still struggle with the very first step. So do not feel alone! In today’s society we have been forced to juggle so many things that many times, we neglect ourselves. 40% of adults in the United States and 19% of youth in the United States are obese. About four years ago my job held a complimentary wellness fair and guess what; I was told that I was obese.

At the time, I was a 38 year old male. I weighed 195 pounds but I have always been short, standing at 5’5”. BMI standards said I was obese. I went home to my family and did what I normally did with them. Had a rather unhealthy meal, sat on the couch, maybe dozed off and finally, logged into work at night once everyone was asleep only to look at my calendar and realize that for the next 4 weeks, my weekends were jammed.

That’s where I stopped and I took my first running steps. Well I really didn’t because I was sitting on the couch but it donned on me that something needed to be change. Time for me to change needed to happen otherwise I was going to spiral out of control.

Today, in looking back on that day, I am thirty-five pounds lighter and my lifestyle has changed thanks to running. Over the course of the last year dating back to October of 2016, I have increased my running but I have done so because in speaking with my friends and posting about it on social media, I have found that I have inspired a lot of my friends. I know that there are MANY of you out there who are in the same position that I was four years ago. Its ok. It is normal to be bogged down. However I want you to walk away from reading this blog today and maybe tomorrow and many other days and start to implement some time for you!

And just maybe, I will see you somewhere around New York City doing this thing that I love but for your personal benefit, RUNNING!