Thursday, May 14, 2015

He Still Runs. He Does Not Run Alone

Hello to the internet. It has been quite a while. How are you? Well hey, count your blessings, right?

I'm doing well, thanks. When I last checked in here I had a job where I worked at a desk. I never really made a point to mention it because it lacked relevance (other than the fact that I ran to and from that office). I was employed at this office for quite some time, and since my last post I realized that I was making compromises; ones that I could no longer accept or justify.

As I greet you today I remain diligent in traversing this city on foot, but I do it with renewed purpose: The vast majority of my city running since late January has been done with man's best friend at my side.  No, I did not adopt a dog of my own (that day will come), but rather I am earning money through taking other people's dogs out for runs or 'fitness sessions' if you will.

Many friends of mine are either currently dog-walkers or have walked dogs professionally in the past and I was inspired to channel my passion for running in to a practical and professional source of exercise, stress relief, and weight loss for the countless dog residents of this city. One nice byproduct of this would be, and indeed has been, a happier Joe; completely removed from corporate life for several months, spending time with wonderful canines and generally feeling more free to consider where I have been and where I'm going

Growing up with a black lab, my love of dogs began at a very young age . The bond between our species is undeniable and scientifically explained thanks to millennia of artificial selection, and my experiences thus far going running with all shapes and sizes of dog have served to deepen that bond.  Quadrupeds and Bipeds fundamentally have different approaches to and benefits garnered from a good run, but the plain truth is that, barring advanced age or disability, dogs love and need to run in order to be as happy and healthy as possible.

Save for a few breeds, dogs, like most quadrupeds, are best suited for faster runs spanning shorter distances. That said there is still plenty of benefit in conditioning them to enjoy going on longer runs. As we have for thousands of years, man and dog can meet somewhere in the middle and feed off of each other's energy to arrive at a happy and healthy compromise of distance and pace.  I'm never looking to push these pups beyond where they are comfortable, but it's also important to make sure they know that I'm ready to go sprinting a bit if they're feeling particularly frisky.  The flip side of that is working with the loving creatures when they are less inclined to run, showing patience when needed and understanding what might be bothering them in these instances.

More than anything, my running as of late has taken on a beautiful selfless quality that I wasn't accustomed to.  I remain in love with the activity, but I now practice it in service of others. The rather modest compensation also goes a long way in making this feel like less of a personal or selfish activity *nervous laughter*.  I am a vehicle, a facilitator, a trainer, a step-parent of sorts, and a friend to these animals, and I get to share some beautiful and enjoyable moments with them every day during a point in my life when running with company is both welcome and cherished.

Quira Ba

(pardon the pictures, but it's been empirically proven that people enjoy internet things more when cute dog images are involved)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Run and Tell: Life and Death and Bridges

Moving as I do through this city and it's many busy streets, greener patches, and connecting passageways, (sometimes during the later of the late night hours), you might imagine that I'd be privy to some fairly interesting sights/sounds/smells.  You're correct.  There are, essentially, an infinite number of stories playing out here, and I find myself getting tiny glimpses in to many of them.  But I am more than just a set of observant eyes.  My presence near, or injection in to many of these happenings can effect change through choice and action.

Two and a half years ago, while running home over the Manhattan Bridge at nearly three in the morning I witnessed something rather shocking and painful.  I first noticed a figure when it was roughly a quarter mile away from me.  As I got closer to this person it was clearer that he/she was homeless and pushing a cart filled with possessions and necessities.  Very quickly and without an ounce of hesitation I saw this person position that cart, and climb up on top of it.  My pace quickened as my chest tightened as they dropped from the bridge to the water far below.  It was surreal and sent odd shockwaves of pins and needles through my body.  It felt like something I wasn't supposed to have seen; some intensely intimate final moment between this person and an indifferent world that no longer had anything to provide to them.  When I reached the cart I paused there.  Part of me wanted to investigate the collection of objects to try and get a better picture of the person I had just watched die.  Part of me wanted to pay respects by simply breaking my stride and being silent.  I saw a hall pass made out of blue foam from an unknown school that had my first name on it and I took that with me.  I made my way over to the Manhattan side of the bridge, hoping that this man or woman found peace in their final moments of free fall and informed two cops parked near the bridge of what had happened.  They seemed more annoyed than anything.

Since that night I've often thought about why I was witness to that.  My mind goes through the tough-to-answers and the hypotheticals: Is there a 'why' to speak of?  If my pace had been just slightly faster upon leaving Union Pool would I have been able to prevent something?  Would it have been my place to intervene?  The incident became the example I would use when I was asked about crazy stuff I'd seen running wherever and whenever, and I would think about how often things that happen in this town.  Those are all nice questions but this was essentially just a thing that happened to me, until my memory of that night was vividly recalled and another chapter was written.

Come with me to the very recent past, during a different season and on a different bridge.  It is again nearly three in the morning and the clock rang in the new year a few hours prior.  Leaving the party I had attended with a bit of a buzz going, I get on to the 59th street bridge from Queens heading back in to Manhattan.  The air temperature is in the upper twenties and feels colder while traversing the bridge due to wind.  It isn't long before I notice a shadowy mass about a quarter mile away.  This one is not moving, however.  My mind does go back to that night on the Manhattan Bridge, but this could easily be a mound/bag of trash (I see plenty of those).  It isn't trash.  This is a man and he's not moving.  Because of the particularly cold temperatures and the celebratory evening there isn't another soul on this pedestrian path (and there wouldn't be for the rest of the time I spent on the structure).  I run right up to him and as I pause there, keeping stride to keep my own warmth managed, I notice that he has urinated on himself, is breathing, but is also unconscious.  His winter jacket and hat are decent but will not sustain him as he lies motionless, soaked in himself.  He's not homeless, the clothes are a bit too nice/new.  In a short amount of time this man will freeze to death, and the best case scenario is that he suffers some serious injury and loses some extremities.

My attempts to help him regain consciousness are futile.  Realizing this I immediately take a few extra layers out of my bag to cover certain parts of him after I dial 911 for the first time in my life.  An ambulance arrives near the Queens entrance to the bridge rather quickly but they have to bring the equipment to him so I run in circles to keep warm and periodically try to knock some life and sense back in to this man.  After one too many drinks he clearly thought it wise to walk back home over the bridge in the freezing cold: a fine idea unless you lose your ability to walk.  He will never know my name, nor I his, but there was a night on another bridge where someone died and now there's a night and a man and a bridge and no death.

I'm glad I was running that night and I hope he was as well. It's always possible that this man wanted to die, but he wasn't around to let me know.  I find it interesting on some level to have experienced these things and been able to shift from observer to aide.  There are plenty of metaphors one might conjure, but whatever.  Please remember to do the right thing out there.  Keep conscious of the mutual relationship we share and don't disassociate yourself from the world around you no matter how easy it might feel.

Quira Ba

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Elements pt II: The Unforgiving Concrete Tundra

Never stop.  My life as a runner can be pretty well summed-up by that phrase.  When I find myself in the depths of this city's most severe winter weather, it is a phrase that should be taken literally.  In most all cases, I do not see severe weather as a reason to avoid running, but rather an opportunity to experience something that I normally can't.  Running in extremely low temperatures, or during snow storms, can be a thrilling challenge filled with new motivating factors.  This is a beautiful city during the colder season with lots of festive lights and a quieter calm in the air than one might sense in the Summer, but it is even more important to take extra precaution than it is when the thermometer is getting way up there (meaning this post will be quite a bit longer than the summer running post).

The heat that is within your body is the most valuable and beautiful resource you have when city running in winter.  It is precious and harnessing it efficiently without negatively impacting your mobility is the key.  All is concrete and absorbing the cold.  Wind will already be a factor, but the faster you choose to carry yourself the more defeating the wind can appear.  You will feel the need to fight against it, but as long as you know and feel your own body's warmth through and through, there is no competition.

That isn't to say that you're safe running around in the nude screaming 'MY BODY IS A GOLDEN SUN EMANATING THE LIGHT AND THE HEAT TO WARM THE COLDEST OF SOULS.'  You will get stopped, and you will put yourself in danger.  There are many sorts of light weight insulating layers that work with your body's heat to effectively provide a second layer of skin while helping manage the danger of your perspiration pooling and making you colder.  I personally use Uniqlo's line of Heattech apparel, which is a unique composite of rayon, acrylic, polyurethane, and polyester.  While the classic and most traditionally effective winter warmers are made of wool, or a wool/cotton blend, Heattech is my go-to because of the light weight, low cost, effective insulation, moisture management, general softness, and lack of nipple irritation.  I cover my upper body in that while my lower body looks nearly identical to how it would during warm weather running.

The extremities and the head are the areas that one must be most concerned about when it comes to loosing body heat, or experiencing extreme pain due to lack of ample blood flow and tons of nerve endings.  I take what most might consider a 'rugged' approach to managing my fingers and toes, and it won't work for everyone but take note if you'd like.  Forgoing gloves, I stretch the Heattech fabric over my hands and keep them in a clenched fist through most of my running.  This keeps the fabric in place and my fingers huddled together, working as a team to retain as much heat as they can.  If they are feeling particularly cold, exposing and pressing them against the cheeks of my rear-end is a lovely quick blast of warmth, from me to me.  My toes are still in Vibram barefoot wear (haven't quite talked much about that yet), and they will certainly be far colder than they would be during the summer.  The kinetic energy and blood-flow of my constant motion is enough for them to find a comfortable enough equilibrium, which may speak to my personal pain threshold.  On my head I will either have a beanie hat or a simple set of ear-warmers depending on how cold it is. 

The genitals are an extremity.  Though this already occurs during general running, in the coldest of temperatures the bag full of future humans will retreat very far in to the body, as will the distribution tube.  If temperatures drop well below freezing, one must provide that area with extra insulation.  Thawing out and regaining feeling in the mushroom tip is FAR more painful than the same sort of thing applied to fingers or toes.  When necessary, I wear a pair of compression shorts under my regular running shorts and toss a balled up sock down there to block the wind and keep the little guy a bit warmer.  It has nothing to do with me feeling inadequate...

Let's talk about snow.  In this city it is only briefly 'pretty' and will very rapidly get packed down in to uneven masses, turned in to cold slush, or eventually freeze over entirely.  Combine all of that with the fact that the colder temperatures will naturally decrease your reaction time and you now must respect the situation and run differently.  You are not going to be able to stop as quickly or turn as sharply and the same applies to all cars on the road.  Everybody's traction is depleted and this must be taken in to account.  On top of that the air will likely be quite dry and exposed skin/lips will easily clam up or get irritated.  Keep the chap stick handy and maintain a habit of moisturizing your skin regularly as you might already during the season.

So with all the heightened danger and discomfort, why would I (or anyone) want to run out there in it?  The short answer is that I love it too much to let weather stop me, but there's a longer answer.  In winter, running takes on a beautiful urgency.  The body recognizes the conditions and the act of keeping it in constant motion, raising the core temperature slightly, becomes about survival.  Dealing with snow/slush/sleet/ice forces engagement of the muscles responsible for balance and stabilization just as much as the muscles responsible for propulsion; every step taken with care, focus, and calculation.  IT'S AWESOME.  You'll continually marvel at what your beautiful mass of bio matter is capable of through powers of adaptation.  It's about basking in the thrill of being alive.  It's about not allowing the state of your environment to purely dictate how you move through it.  It's about deep appreciation of the contrast present when you find your point B and get all cosy, well beyond the simple thinking of 'thank heavens I'm finally out of that dreadful cold.'  Be safe, have fun out there, and remember the most important phrase in winter running: never stop.

Quira Ba

Sunday, October 20, 2013

On Competition (Twenty Six Point Two for Luke)

Far too often we measure things by success or failure: binary; black and white; ‘if I haven’t done x, then I have done nothing’.  This frame of mind is disgusting and toxic to me.  So many adopt it in setting goals or benchmarks; in measuring themselves.  It leaves them two possible outcomes: they measure up, or they don’t.  On the morning of October 13th, as I got myself situated in my second wave starting corral of the Chicago Marathon with a scheduled 8 am departure, most all of the chatter surrounding me related to needing to finish by a certain time, or needing to finish at all.  Before so many of these runners gathered in Grant Park, within so many minds there was a single concern that dwarfed all others: crossing a line set out in front of them at what might be the most arbitrary distance I can imagine.  But that was before.  The chatter I was hearing was the result of remnant worry and nervous energy.

At its best, competition is a beautiful and healthy thing that inspires us to study, focus, adapt, and progress.  The results can often be attributed to a few, but the true benefits are completely mutual.  At it’s worst, however, it is adversarial in nature: cut-throat and maybe even malicious, breeding resentment, sabotage, or hate.  For better or worse it seems to lie at the foundation of this country’s core, at the system level.  If you get thousands of people together and ask them to make their way along from the same points A and B, we will call it a race.  As long as we are able to rank everyone involved and determine the person at the top of that list, we will.  It doesn’t surprise me.  For some involved it represents most, if not all, of their motivation.  That’s just fine for them.  There will always be those who measure themselves against others, but the resounding energy I felt that morning was the result of thousands realizing that the unique strength that they had access to for extra propulsion that day would come from the support of their peers.

It was as ideal a day as one could ask for that Sunday.  Temperatures rose in to the mid sixties with beautiful clear skies.  A truly remarkable Kenyan named Dennis Kimetto set a record for the course.  Myself, I felt the spirits of the thousands of runners coming to grips with the fact they were their only opponents.  I also must extend my gratitude to the city of Chicago with its countless volunteers and spectating supporters.  They make events like these exemplify the pinnacle of competition.  Beyond all of that, though, my deepest love and thanks goes out to my extended family for supplying a roof over my head, and more support than I could’ve ever expected.  They very recently adopted an adorable infant named Luke in to their unbelievably loving circle.  That’s the kind of inspiring stuff that can drive a man to do things he didn’t think he could.  That morning was a celebration of the loving arms extended to young Luke and the loving arms a city extended to me.  There was no failure state involved.

I wont often write about runs that I go on outside of New York, and competitive runs even more rarely, but there are always special cases.

Hooray for Luke

The next day I ran about 12 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan, and then another 8.5 heading home from LaGuardia airport.

Quira Ba

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Revisiting Harlem Roses. Twenty Three Miles on September Twenty Ninth

Almost two years ago, through a fantastic organization known as NYCares (, I volunteered to begin a beautification/restoration process on the Harlem Rose Garden.  The HRG, located on 129th between Madison and 5th, is one of a ton of public green spaces in NYC.  It was my first day of volunteering through the site.  On that 2011 afternoon I was tasked with sawing/chopping down a relatively small cherry blossom tree that was dead and rotting (like most of the other plant life in the garden).  It took several hours. I learned a thing or two about orchestrating the correct cutting angle to direct the tree's fall, and working down whatever sort of stump you're left with.  It was a tiring and satisfying day, and there have been many more similar afternoons in various other parks around the city since then.

This morning I woke from an odd dream that I wont bother detailing here, but the Harlem Rose Garden played a part.  The garden had that unrealistic and glamorized dream sheen on it.  I was drawn back there today, and the space has been completely transformed to a point not far from the ideal my mind dreamt up.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given the extremely dedicated botanists who manage these spaces and the nearly two years that have passed, but I was deeply moved.  My contribution to the current state of the garden is minuscule in the scheme of things, but seeing a living and thriving tree in the spot that I had cleared out was exactly what I didn't know I needed to see today.

I traveled 8.5 miles up the East River and over in returning to the garden, and then another 14.5 after a brief rest.  I was fueled by water, a banana, sweet tunes, and amazing weather.  I came away from today realizing with new clarity that when looking to plant something new it is just as important to completely clear, dredge up, and discard that which has passed.

This post is dedicated to my Harlem Rose. You know who you are :)

Quira Ba

Friday, September 6, 2013

Consecutive 2AM Half Marathons

Classic scenario: it's after 1 AM and a sibling approaches you (understandably) lamenting the fact that they didnt get any exercise during the day.  Your sibling also resides roughly 6.5 miles from your place or current location.  Logically the only real solution here is to head out on foot to satisfy the craving for movement, avoid minor mass transit expenses, get some bro (or sis) chatting in, and then return from whence you came.  We've all been there. This is what occurred on back-to-back nights this week.

Running in the dead of night: first of all let me say that if you are female I would advise against it unless you are armed, trained in some form of martial arts/self-defense, or not alone.  Secondly, it's pretty great.  This city might not sleep, but it certainly chills the fuck out extremely early  on a Thursday or Friday morning.  There's much more of a serene quality to everything, the air is normally cooler, and you get to run around pretending to be a super hero patrolling the streets while most others are off in slumberland (eg Pedestrio, or The Insomniest idk you get it).  As long as you're okay with an increase in open air rat activity, and more than a few cabbies treating certain red lights as stop signs then you should be able to extract some unique enjoyment from the activity.

I'm not suggesting that this become routine or commonplace for you unless it fits within a nocturnal schedule, and I do not see myself getting back in to it with regularity.  My motivation for these two nighttime treks (beyond spending time with a brother who is more and more understanding why I live as I do) came mostly from near perfect weather conditions and giving first listens to new anticipated albums.  However, what I felt and gained most from them was a powerful rush of nostalgia.  Several years ago during a period of under-employment I got in to the habit of running twice each day.  One of those runs would often be a bit after the witching hour.  This was a period in which I was beginning to fall in love with the practice, running for little other reason than sheer joy.  I've never stopped feeling that way, but I felt as though I was right back in those older shoes reveling in the fact that I had such astounding ability for locomotion that I had never fully acknowledged, and an essentially limitless span of earth to traverse.

Nostalgia is an unbelievably powerful force for better and for worse, and it's triggers are as varied and random as it is powerful.  Make sure to stop in and visit, but don't take your shoes off and put your feet up.  Go forth and be safe out there.

Almost entirely unrelated gif of an owl stuck in a car's grill:

Quira Ba

Saturday, August 3, 2013



These combine just so in order to make runners true kings/queens of the urban landscape.


Quira Ba