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

Monday, July 29, 2013

Twenty Five Point Five Miles on July Twenty Seventh

The weekends are a time when I normally go on longer runs, and that makes sense.  On these days it's rarely the case that I need to run longer distances.  It's not as though I feel like whatever running I enjoyed during the week was insufficient, but I have the opportunity to go on a relaxed run wherever I'd like without a destination in mind: an adventure.  That said, those weekends do come along when I do need to run a long way for a good long while.  It's these days when I don't have somewhere I need to be, or somewhere I'm trying to get to, but rather I desire to be be nowhere and to remove myself temporarily.  Surrounded by millions, the need for escape is felt strongly.

With some irony, it's normally following my most restless and sleep-deprived nights that I wake up least prepared for the extended runs I need.  On June 27th I woke up and needed at least a couple hours of self-removal.  It doesn't take me long to get a runner's high going, but runs like these have me exercising a particular level of sharp focus in the early stages to achieve a deeper and different high.  The rhythm of my contact with the Earth comes in to perfect concert with the pulses of my respiratory and circulatory systems.  I make my way to waterside pathways so that I can have the least amount of potential flow interruption, but even before I get there my body is almost completely on auto-pilot.  Where I am, where I'm going, and what I'm doing is nearly meaningless.

Sometimes I escape in to specific music, or in to whatever ambient noise presents itself, and sometimes in to pure abstraction.  In all cases, the goal is the same: enter a meditative state and silence a restless mind.  Any and all audio and visual stimuli combine to form a continuous feed of seeming randomness that blurs together and I'm no longer even moving.  My surroundings are moving relative to me.  In this state if I ever pass by you without giving a second glance or responding to a call-out, I apologize, but please understand that I am barely there.  Ultimately it's the inherent simplicity of the state of being which is most appealing.  Life is beautiful in it's complexity, but that same complexity can drown a mind that dwells on permutations of that complex equation which are theoretical or variables that are out of its control.  Potentialities haunt.  During the first 16 miles of my Saturday running, my incredibly frenetic and chaotic city was brought to a calming halt, and I with it.

The other nine and a half miles took place later in the evening, making up a round-trip in to Crown Heights in Brooklyn where I picked up a sweet portable sound system from a guy who was moving in two days.  Thank you, craigslist and thank you, Jan.  Best of luck in Jamaica.

The doldrums and sadness or despair in our lives need to be acknowledged and honored on some level.  They can teach us more than we know , but they need to be distilled down to their essence before they infect the whole of the mind.  Drowning or silencing those things for a period can serve as a mental reboot and a perspective shift (that's my goal, anyway).  Concerns can then come in how you go about silencing them, and how often.  Days like Saturday leave me feeling better, but also wondering whether my escapes are my main sustenance.

First run fuel: just some water
Second run fuel: two peaces, and apple, and a bunch of vegetarian lasagna.
Hours of sleep: four

Quira Ba  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Tribute to Baby Blue

Two and a half years ago I came in to possession of a small backpack thanks to a generous friend and room mate who, at the time, could not imagine how he might make use of such a small storage device.  I had just moved in to my current home in the East Village and was already fairly set on getting myself a bag that I could use to haul stuff while running; a bag that would hug my frame and not rustle around while I was in stride.  In this way, our meeting was somewhat serendipitous.  Back then I was not at a point where I was running as my main (and nearly exclusive) means of transportation, but it opened up a world in which I found myself running relatively long distances to places where I knew I could shower or freshen up.  Since then the bag, which I now lovingly refer to as 'Baby Blue', has helped to transform me in to a runner of this city.  As strange as it might sound, the bag has become a part of me to the point where I rarely like to run without it and I've come to care for it much like I would a person that meant a lot to me.

Now of course I know to put the well-being of a person above an inanimate object, but when a thing spends countless hours and miles so close to you; being there for you on nearly all your adventures as a dependable hollowed out appendage; when it weathers all of the elements with you and accepts your sweat and tears without question, this mere thing becomes and extension of the self.  He's been with me all around the world, allowing me all of the benefits of traveling alone without ever truly feeling alone.  He has the battle scars and the wear to show his age, and our experience.  He has become far more than a bag to me, and anyone who wants to entertain the idea of running to get places should find a Baby Blue of their own.

This post and this soundcloud track (that I will try to embed here) go out to the little guy.  Just tonight you joined me for a nice set of stairs and river run back home while carrying over four pounds of veggie lasagna and my work clothes.  When I put you around my shoulders and fasten that strap across my chest I consider my body weight increased, and I mean that in all seriousness.

With love, thank you so much,

British Theatre - As the Leaves Are to the Limbs

Two of us getting lost in London

Two of us trail running fjords in Norway

Two of us after running over 37 miles

Quira Ba

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Four Point Four Miles that I Should Not Have Run

Two days ago in New York City the hottest temperatures of the Summer were recorded.  The Sun was quite punishing, resembling a south western US Sun.  The thermometer had already breached the 90 degree mark during my morning commute without a cloud in the sky.  The bewildered looks and smiles from pedestrians were in full force.  Roughly three miles and a couple shirtless Times Square photo bombs later I was freshening up for the work day, but this would only be a half day.

On this Thursday I happened to have two separate work-related parties, both in outdoor areas close to each other.  The afternoon roles around and I arrive at the first function after a light jog clocking in at around a mile and a half.  I immediately go for the water and watermelon pieces, but I can not deny the strong desire for a beer.  Why not?  Here I am on a hot day at a party with free booze (and some quality booze at that) and I want to have a good time.  Beers follow some shots follow some more beers, all accompanied by fun conversation.  I become increasingly loose as my motor skills deplete while my hydration levels are going in the wrong direction given the day's conditions.

On my way two the second function, (just a short walk along the river),  I'm still comfortably in control of myself, but I'm not quite the same dude I was an hour earlier.  The beers continue at a moderate but steady pace.  I try to make a bit of an effort to drink enough water, but in retrospect I don't think I did.  Now, to be clear, I had quite the fun time and I never got to a point where I did anything I regret.  That said, by the end of party number two I was thoroughly inebriated and dehydrated to a meaningful level that I wasn't able to recognize.  It is in this state that I ran 4.4 miles home; a run that I don't remember going on.  

When it comes to alcohol and running, there is buzzed running and there is running while intoxicated.  The later, performed in a city like this right around the tail end of rush hour by a running enthusiast is a terrible idea; one's confidence levels are sky high while their reaction time is poor at best. Since that evening I have been able to recall split second images from that run home: fast and loose weaving through city streets taking advantage of windows of opportunity abound, I'm sure.  The first solid memory I have following a few distinct ones from the party is guzzling water by the liter and lying down in a cold shower for a decent while.

I'm confident that I came close to heat exhaustion, and quite possibly involvement in a traffic accident or two, and I regret what I did.  Given my reputation at the office, I think I was almost expected to run wee wee wee all the way home, but I can not let pride drive me down murky roads as I did.  I woke up the next day feeling fine (I did honestly consume close to three liters of water in twenty minutes that evening) but with a lot on my mind.  I hope I never have to recount something like this again and I will take the steps that I can to that end.  Stay safe, stay cool, and use your head.

Quira Ba 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Elements Pt 1: Manhattan, the Oven

There is essentially no weather that keeps me from running around this city, save for serious hurricanes or tornadoes and such (Irene and Sandy were fun runs, with all respect to those affected).  The heart of summer in this city brings some of the more dangerous conditions in to play: extreme heat combined with humidity.

Running through high temperatures and humid air is already quite taxing and should force most all runners to adjust their pace, apply that SPF, and hydrate more.  Bring those elements to one of the most dense urban sprawls on the planet and you have an environment begging you not to run amok amongst it:  endless commercial & residential property blasting hot air out from A/C exhaust 24/7, gridlocked automobiles spewing the searing hot residual poison of burnt fossil fuels, precious little green life to help balance the equation, and the concrete floor baking and emanating the days increasing temperatures back up at you from below after you've already been hit from all sides.

It is a gauntlet designed to make every stride feel like a dozen, and why do I love it?  Part of the answer to that question is probably a bit more disturbing than I care to admit right now, but I love being around the people, acknowledging them in this shared hot and sticky situation we've found ourselves in.  I feel alive with the collective on days like these more than almost any others as I watch life play out in slow motion, working just a bit harder to keep itself going.  It will keep going, either happily in an embrace of the elements or miserably in a false state of victimization or self pity.  Beyond the unique emotional draws, however, there is a physical reward that trumps all.

Immediately after finishing a run feeling completely spent, with sweat pouring off of you as if you were an ice cube in a microwave (if you are no longer sweating that is a DANGEROUS SIGNAL), hop in to an ice cold shower making sure that water makes first contact with the back of your neck.  Every single nerve in your body is electrified on an extreme level.  I would even caution people with heart conditions from trying it (but if you have serious heart issues I'm not sure why you'd be running several miles in an oven anyway).  This is a profound level of stimulation bordering on the spiritual that I haven't be able to reproduce by any other means.

Don't find an excuse not to run.  Find a reason to love it.

Quira Ba

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Eleven Point Seven Miles on Seven Eleven

A rather normal day of running.  My three mile cup of coffee in the AM was followed later by an arbitrary trek home that totaled 8.7 miles.  Part of the journey home involved 21 laps of a staircase with 48 steps on 68th st near the Hudson, before heading south along the river to Canal st.  I just found it neat that the distance and date mirrored each other when I got home and carefully mapped the day's travels.

AM Fuel: banana and water
AM Cargo: towel, work clothes, deodorant, empty food container
PM Fuel: yogurt, salad, two slices of thin crust pizza, some cake
PM Cargo: towel, work clothes, deodorant, Chop't Cobb Salad

Subway issues avoided: co-workers wouldn't stop complaining

Running jams:
AM in to PM: Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio
PM: Dillinger Escape Plan - One of Us is the Killer

Money spent on the day: zero dollars

Quira Ba

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Twenty Miles on July Fourth

Hi everyone,

I'm Joe.  I love music more than almost anything, I don't get as much sleep as I should, and this is the first post in my blog.  This is a blog about running, my home (New York City), me running around my home, and  embracing the practice of running as means of transportation (among many other lovely means).  It's about deconstructing a compartmentalized view of such a massive metropolis, and no longer feeling tied to mass transit as a necessity: understanding what distance actually feels like and moving through time and space at your own pace.  Elaboration on my journey to this point will come, but for now I'll speak to the adventures and musings of 7/4/2013.

On this Independence Day I ran from my apartment in the East Village of Manhattan to Richmond Hill in Queens, and back again several hours later: around twenty miles in total. My fuel was some water and a banana before heading to Queens, and veggies with hummus, a burger, beer, and some grilled chicken before heading back to Manhattan.  My backpack cargo was the usual towel and change of clothes.  Hanging out at the destination was a good time, but today was more about the journey.

Making my way through three of our five boroughs, an amazing smell of burning charcoal and grilled meats dominated the air from afternoon to evening, and a powerful aroma of gun powder pervaded once the sun had set.  Even though I could not always see the people responsible, the common smells and the pyrotechnics were strong sensory reminders of just how many distinct lives and stories and dreams are playing out in such a condensed space.  We instinctively become tribal and attach ourselves to our respective neighborhoods to a degree in order to cope with this, but it is extraordinary.

I timed my return trip so that I was crossing the Williamsburg bridge during the end of the grand Macy's fireworks extravaganza.  While I did have a good view of that, the more impressive stuff (that almost no one else standing around on the bridge paid any attention to) was found when I would gaze out in all other directions, unfocus slightly, and see countless other smaller fireworks displays.  Even as I write these words from my rooftop I am audience to various blasts of light, color, and sound.

Today, as an independent observer, I felt an overwhelming sense of the sheer density of human life in this city.  It, however, came with an almost awkward sense of forced or reluctant symbiosis.  I saw, very clearly, the result of common collective action on a grand scale, and it made me ponder what sort of awesome and resonant results could come from similar efforts that maybe didn't revolve around eating outside and blowing things up.  I don't mean to take anything away from the fun of the day, but I can't help but wonder.

Quira Ba