Monday, September 22, 2014

runemployed 06: Church Hill

In which I try to turn a negative situation into a positive one and explore Richmond in the process.

Today was a beautiful day for a jog. Bright yet the air had a crispness to it. Still green, but with none of the drawbacks of summer. Of which there are many. (Yes, I'm a hater.) Why not spend it in the part of town that I've frequented the most, aside from the times I was schooled and resided in the West End? That's right, it was time to go to Church Hill.

Liberty, Death, or Draw!
Church Hill is a lovely part of Richmond where you'll find old houses owned by people who aren't too keen on new baseball stadiums, some great places to eat and drink, and O.G. patriot Patrick Henry's favorite place of worship. Sections of Church Hill are quite upscale. Others... uh, not so much. Last week I used this space to gush over my friends and this neighborhood has the largest concentration of them, hence my spending copious amounts of time here. Heck, I was even part of a formidable pub trivia team for a while. (The Publicans 4 life, son.)

Fat and awkward file photo, 2009
So, I love this area and figured it was about time that I jogged through it. Over the weekend I went to Chimborazo Park for the first time, to catch a showing of O Brother, Where Art Thou? As I am bona fide, that was a good enough starting place as any for me today.

The inspiration for Weekend Update with Dennis Miller.
Chimborazo is a National Battlefield Park, which during the Civil War was the site of the largest military hospital in the world, consisting of 150 buildings and 100 tents. Long gone are the 76,000 patients, but I assume their specters still roam the park, forever trapped on this mortal plane. Or not. The only other entities I saw as I ran through there were a few guys sitting in parked cars. I should've stopped to pick up one rock of crack while I had the chance.

Not a cloud in the sky. Except for that one. And that one. And that one...
The jog through there itself wasn't bad. Some of the streets are closed to traffic, but the ones that aren't have wide sidewalks that run along them. The loop around the entire park is pretty short, so I continued on to another park a few blocks away.

Taller than the Union Soldiers Monument, so technically the South has risen again.
I made my way to Libby Hill Park next. Here you'll find a spectacular 180 degree view of Richmond. It's said that the city got its name because William Byrd thought the view from this point closely resembled a village west of London called Richmond upon Thames.

I just don't see it. Byrd was crazy.
As its name implies, Church Hill has got some hills, broseph. I kept away from the major inclines, but still hit some that made me put in some effort. And this is where I found them. Part of the perimeter loop around the park is pretty steep. It mixed things up nicely, though, and kept my run interesting.

You're gonna hear me roar.
This is by far my fastest run since I started logging them with Strava, if not of all time. (Previously I used Runtastic and I think you have to pay extra for that kind of information. Eff that noise.) It could've been the day's weather or possibly the elevation, but I think I pushed it harder than usual because I was running against the wind for the first part of my trip. Whatever it was, I set personal records for my fastest mile and kilometer. Remind me to check the DMV site to see if HOTSHIT is an available license plate.

It's not every day you find motivational sidewalks.
Being up here gives me a strong itch to get out of the suburbs. Every day my soul dies a little more down there. I need to be around my friends and non-chain dining and interesting sights, sounds, and smells. Which brings me to today's selection from my running playlist: The Killers' "Read My Mind," off of their 2006 sophomore effort Sam's Town. More than any other band currently working, these guys really have a way with a soaring chorus and this is my second favorite number of theirs, right after "All These Things That I Have Done." I think my desire to leave is reflected nicely by the song's narrator.

I never really gave up on
Breakin' out of this two-star town
I got the green light
I got a little fight
I'm gonna turn this thing around

Three cheers for carbs!
Having banked some calories and with it being lunchtime, I decided to stick around Church Hill for a bite to eat. My first choice was Proper Pie Co., which I've been wanting to try for a long time now. Savory pies made by a Kiwi? Count me in. Well, it was poor planning on my part because they're closed on Mondays. So I hit up aspiring den of iniquity Capt. Buzzy's Beanery for an iced coffee, a bacon, egg, and cheese on wheat bread, and a chocolate and peanut butter scone. I left full and satisfied. Not bad for a second choice.

I know all about bloody runs.
It was a great early autumn morning to get out and while I only covered 2.6 miles, I hope to traverse a lot more of Church Hill in the future. Maybe as a resident? We'll see. I could probably find a burnt out townhouse in the sketchier part of the neighborhood that I could squat in. Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!

Friday, September 19, 2014

runemployed 05: Carytown & The Museum District

In which I try to turn a negative situation into a positive one and explore Richmond in the process.

I don't know what I'd do without my friends. They're the best and have been a huge help during this rough patch of mine. (Now in its 39th year!) Without the support of them - as well as my wonderful family - I don't know what I'd do. Honestly. You'd probably find me in a gutter somewhere, more pathetic than 30 Rock's Lenny Wosniak:  "I gave my gun to my pastor. You know, in case I get the ol' 'gloomies' again." (BTW that is the greatest line ever uttered by Steve Buscemi.)

I like how my car's photobombing via my sunglasses.
That's why I was delighted this morning when my friend Suzanne, a confidant and very knowledgeable resource during this blog project you're reading, asked if I wanted to get out of the house and join her for a run through Carytown and the Museum District. Of course I did.

They are Groot.
The Museum District is where you'll find not only the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society, but also a residential area with lots of wide, shady sidewalks. They are particularly great for running. I was pretty impressed with this part of our jaunt and will definitely add it to my rotation.

Shopper's paradise.
Ever since my high school years, Carytown has been my favorite place to hang out in Richmond. During those impressionable years I considered Plan 9 Music my Valhalla. These days it's Bev's Homemade Ice Cream, located a few blocks away. This section of town spans several blocks of Cary Street and features a plethora of great restaurants and interesting shops. The sidewalks there are also good for running, but I don't know how they'd hold up during peak shopping hours. Probably not ideal, what with the shoppers moving at a Southernly pace.

I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson. I am for real.
This morning's run was a great one. Beautiful, cool weather and a very scenic route. I had a good guide. Suzanne's a hardcore runner currently training for November's half marathon, so I joined her as she was already a few miles into her run. That worked out well for me because by then her pace was slower, but still a little faster than my usual one. Sometimes it's nice to be pushed like that.

The shortest point between two distances is a line.
How did I do? I have NO FREAKIN' CLUE due to my being confounded by technology. After three miles exactly we took a little breather. I thought it was the end of the run, so I went to upload it on the Strava app. It turns out that Suzanne was just assessing where to go on our last leg. So I cancelled out of that upload, which ended up discarding my whole run up to that point. ARRRGGGGHHH!!! Inadvertently doing stuff like that gets to me - like when I notice halfway through the day that my Fitbit Flex is in sleep mode - and will dampen my mood for hours. The run was wasted! There's no record of it, so it never was! (Yeah, yeah, my health... whatever.) So just look at Suzanne's Strava results on the right above and reduce it to the three miles on the bottom of the map. That's me.
It's not what you think it is. What a letdown.
As this was a social run, tuning out the world with my music wasn't an option. I'm not a jerk. It speaks volumes about how far I've come this year that I can carry on a conversation while running, albeit between loud gasps for air. But still. Anyway, my playlist song for this particular run is Placebo's "Pure Morning," the lead off single from their 1998 album Without You I'm Nothing. Strip away the seedy subtext and it's a lovely little ditty about friendship.

A friend in need's a friend indeed
A friend with weed is better
A friend with breasts and all the rest
A friend who's dressed in leather

A friend in need's a friend indeed
A friend who'll tease is better
Our thoughts compressed
Which makes us blessed
And makes for stormy weather

Window dining.
We capped off our run with a trip to Starbucks, where I finally redeemed my free birthday drink voucher for a pumpkin spice latte, natch. (Skim milk, no whip, thank you very much.) Then I dropped Suzanne off at her house and I went back to Carytown to take some pictures for this post. Normally, I take breaks during my run and snap those, but I didn't want to slow her roll. That gave me a chance to do some leisurely browsing at Road Runner Sports and grab a French toast donut from Dixie Donuts. Yeah, calorically I was back at zero, but I earned it, dammit!

This is why I run.
As much as I love getting lost in my own little world when I hit the road, it does feel great to go out with friends. They make you step up your game, strive to do better. It gives you an excuse to hang out under the ridiculous guise of "being healthy." Plus, doing so gives me the basic human contact that I need and that escapes me way down in the suburbs. Since pretty much all of my friends are located in Richmond, my desire to get out of here burns with the white hot intensity of 1,000 exploding suns. No, that is not hyperbole. I don't even know what that word means.

Seriously, what does it mean?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

runemployed 04: Pocahontas State Park

In which I try to turn a negative situation into a positive one and explore Richmond in the process.

I am what one would charitably call "indoorsy." I've never enjoyed getting dirty. Bugs are the worst. Camping holds a tiny bit of appeal, but then I think of the bathroom situation and the lack of AC and I'm content with staying put. Darling, I love you, but give me Grove Avenue.

And yet ever since I started this thing I've been curious about trail running. Maybe it's because it's supposed to be easier on your joints than street running. (My aching knee would certainly appreciate that.) Maybe I've been longing for a change of pace. Maybe it was an aching to commune with nature that's laid dormant in me all these years. Either way today I decided to give it a shot and I made my way to Pocahontas State Park.

You are here.
At 7,925 acres, Pocahontas State Park is the largest state park in Virginia. There are 80 miles of trails of varying degrees of difficulty for hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and even horseback riders. It's only 20 miles south of Richmond, but even closer to me here in the 'burbs. I used to go to summer camp there, but haven't been there since I was a kid. I certainly wasn't running on trails back then. More like counting the days until I could be reunited with my TV.

Nice Beaver... Lake.
Studying a map of the park and doing a little online research, I chose the Beaver Lake trail chiefly because it is one of the shorter ones in the park. If I found that trail running wasn't for me it would be over quickly and I could sooner be reunited with my TV.

Chesterfield or the forest moon of Endor?
Anyone who knows me knows that I have zero sense of direction, so there was a fair chance that I'd be wandering around the woods for days, on my way to being the subject of a Dateline NBC segment. The Blair Witch may or may not be involved. Luckily, I was able to find my way to the lake without incident.

I did *none* of these things.
Now, one reason why I've held out on trail running is because that I've heard that you've really got to put your full attention towards it, what with the roots and stumps in your way on the paths. Not to mention the fact that you're sharing the trails with mountain bikers. And so tuning the world out with music is a no-no. Well, I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel. Plus I need music when I run otherwise it's a real chore. I was able to both step lively and have a soundtrack to my jaunt. Suck it, haters!

Ensconced in green.
It was a beautiful, cool, sunny afternoon, so only one song from my running playlist was a contender to be featured in the post. That'd be The Polyphonic Spree's 2003 single "Light & Day." Really, if you want to be at one with nature, this overly joyous ditty is your guy. It makes me want to put on one of my old graduation gowns and run through the hills in a state of pure, optimistic rapture.

You don't see me flyin' to the red
One more you're done
Just follow the seasons and find the time
Reach for the bright side

You don't see me flyin' to the red
One more you're nuts
Just follow the day
Follow the day and reach for the sun

I took the road less traveled... like an idiot!
Running the trails turned out to be quite fun! It's a very pretty park, though I expected there to be a little more lake to be viewed along the Beaver Lake trail. Some of the hills were fairly steep and I fully expect my legs to be feeling it in the morning.

Hey! I'm relatively healthy! Why not?
I have three constant companions when I'm on my runs: my shoes, my phone, and one of my sweatbands. For some odd reason I totally forgot to put the latter on. A few minutes into the trail I was being blinded by sweat, but I pushed through until the end. Who says I can't handle great adversity?

Not pictured: Jason Voorhees.
All in all, I enjoyed my time today. Unlike the rest of my runs during this project, this one actually cost me money: a $4 parking fee. (Actually, $5 because there was no one working the gate and I didn't have exact change. Yeah, I could've chanced it and driven on through, but I'm an honest rebel.) Next time - and with so many trails to try, there will be a next time - I'll pack a lunch and spend more time there to get my money's worth.

So, I followed the day. I reached for the sun. I made it home in plenty of time to watch the New Girl and The Mindy Project season premieres. Whew!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Pumpkining: Beyond Pumpkindome '14

A new (hopefully annual) culinary throwdown was started yesterday: The Pumpkining. My friend Suzanne suggested that the two of us each put together three pumpkin-based desserts and decide once and for all who is Master of Pumpkins. The gauntlet was thrown down. I picked it up.

The GS3 *really* needs a dedicated camera button.
So after a brisk run down Monument Ave. to bank some calories for later on in the day we got to work. Well, I did. She prepared most of her dishes beforehand, which was just as well. No one was getting in the other's way.

First up: My entries.

Nutty for Nutella.
Pumpkin Nutella muffins. (Recipe, only mine were gluten-full.)

Pumpkin bread pudding. (Recipe)

Easy like Sunday morning.
No bake pumpkin oatmeal cookies. (Recipe)

And now Suzanne's offerings:

I'm this many years old!
Banana pumpkin mousse tart. (Recipe)

Pumpkin cinnamon roll ice cream. (Recipe)

(Note: I woefully neglected to take a solo picture of her third dish, a pumpkin gingerbread trifle. My bad.)

Pumpkin gingerbread trifle (Recipe, but Suzanne "replaced heavy whipping cream for the Cool Whip because gross.")

All together now.
With them all now fully prepared, two tasting plates were given to the judges:  food blogger Paola and her husband. She even classed up the presentation by a factor of ten and put it on Instagram.

It looks like it belongs in the pages of a magazine, if such things still existed.
A little while later the verdicts were in and slipped under Suzanne's front door. (Did I mention that the judges are her next door neighbors? Hmmmm... biased?)

The rundown.
Kneel before Suzanne! Her pumpkin desserts pleased the judges' palates more so than mine did and I can't quite argue with their findings. I would've given top honors to the trifle. But at least my muffins made a good showing. They were pretty damn good.

She and I were pretty much in agreement with our own personal notes. The trifle would make an excellent Thanksgiving dessert, as autumn transitions into the Christmas season.  The banana overpowered the pumpkin in the tart. Ain't nothin' wrong with the ice cream. The muffins were great as is.  The cookies were way too sweet. The bread pudding was just the opposite and could stand to be topped with caramel, ice cream, whipped cream, or some wicked combination of the three.

Also of note was that there was way too much sweetness going on the judge everything at once, so modifications will be made for next year's contest. I think we're looking at an appetizer/entree/dessert format.

So the First Annual The Pumpkining came to a close. Laughs were had, tears were shed, diabetes was narrowly avoided. With that stress now out of the way, I can fully commit myself to enjoying all the fruits of autumn. (Fun Fact:  a pumpkin is classified as a fruit.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

runemployed 03: Bryan Park

In which I try to turn a negative situation into a positive one and explore Richmond in the process.

So far on this little jaunt I've done a city landmark and a famed street, so I figured it was about time that I ventured over to one of Richmond's many parks. I randomly pointed at a map thoroughly studied my options and chose Bryan Park.
Don not taunt Happy Fun Gate.
Situated in the city's Northside area, Bryan Park housed Confederate troops during the Civil War as Richmond's Outer Defense Line. Years later it became the home of developer and newspaper publisher James Bryan until the land was given to the city to turn into a park following his death in 1908. These days it's chiefly known as a place where dudes have sex in public.

Fountains of Bryan.
Within Bryan Park's 262 acres you can find rolling hills, lush greenery, and beautiful flowers. There are soccer fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a disc golf course. You'll also encounter gentlemen sitting alone in their cars waiting for someone - anyone - to come along and provide them with the thrill that can only be achieved via an outdoor tryst.

Today was a cool and cloudy day, but that's the kind of weather I thrive in. It was perfect. I had a good run among the park's mostly pedestrian-only roads. Thankfully, the men in the midst of their amorous episodes took it into the woods or restrooms, so I didn't have my run interrupted by them. 
Fowl weather.
Even if I was approached by a lonely chap inquiring about my receptiveness to a sweaty, anonymous fling in the shade, I'd just tune him out because I have to have my music pumping during my runs. Today's selection from my running playlist is Keane's 2004 single "Everybody's Changing." I'm not really into this band (largely out of ignorance of their catalog), but the song really hits home. I look around at my friends and at this point in their lives they have advanced careers, loving spouses, growing families, disposable income, retirement plans, reasons to pay property taxes, etc. I'm sort of feeling left behind and, I admit, jealous. Being rudderless is the worst. I can only do my best making my way and hope that something will come along that strikes my fancy, putting me back on track to getting the things that right now seem unattainable. Or at least knock out my crippling student loan while I'm still on this mortal coil. (Yeah, right.)

So little time
Try to understand that I'm
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake and remember my name
But everybody's changing and I don't feel the same

Please don't eat the whatever the hell these are.
While I enjoyed my run, I don't think I'll be adding Bryan Park to my rotation. It's kinda out of my way and I'm not really into the prospect of stumbling upon fellas engaged in an impassioned rendezvous. Not that there's anything wrong with it.

My car looks on approvingly.
I capped off my time on the Northside with a well-deserved trip to Roy's Big Burger, a Richmond culinary institution. There's nothing quite like some hot and tasty meat rammed down your gullet, right? I know where you can find some enamored blokes who'd agree.

Friday, September 05, 2014

runemployed 02: Grove Ave.

In which I try to turn a negative situation into a positive one and explore Richmond in the process.

I really didn't feel like running this morning. For the past few weeks I've been suffering from stress-related insomnia where I just can't shut my brain off. Some nights are better than others. Last night was one of the terrible ones. I got barely any sleep. Restless around 2:30 am - clearly a time when you're using your better judgment - I took a sleepy time cocktail of melatonin and ZzzQuil. Unfortunately, it failed me. My alarm proceeded to go off at 7:00 am. Still extremely groggy, I figured since there was no way I was going to sleep in that I might as well continue on with this project.

What further enticed me to roll out of bed was that I planned on running in one of the areas I was looking forward to the most when I conceived of this endeavor:  Grove Ave.  In retrospect, though, it was probably unwise for me to operate heavy machinery in order to reach my destination. That was one cloudy-headed drive, I'll tell you what.

Just before Gozer came down  and reclaimed his throne.
Why do I run? Health? Mental wellness? A license to eat and drink terribly? Yes to all of those reasons, but like all of man's endeavors big and small - from shaving to the moon landing - it all comes down to one thing: women. And in all of my years at the University of Richmond and living in the West End afterward, one of the city's surest constants is that Grove Avenue is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to hosting attractive women out for a run.

My hopes weren't too high, though, since I was going to be there in the late morning, after peak hours. Clearly the beautiful people have better things to do while the rest of us schlubs are watching personal injury lawyer commercials on TV. To my surprise there were several pretty women out running then, automatically putting my normal suburban route to shame.

No creeper shots because those are, well, creepy. So here's a panorama of some retail and dining spaces.
But really, it's all just eye candy and motivation for me to get out there. Realistically, I'm not going to be picking anyone up while running for two reasons:  1) It's rude to interrupt someone during their exercise routine, and 2) I have zero game. I'll just have to meet my future mate at a more traditional venue, like a grocery store or mud wrestling night at the Booby Barn.

Which brings me to today's running song from my playlist:  "All the Pretty Girls" by fun., off of their 2009 album Aim and Ignite. If you're one of the many who got hip to the band with Some Nights, definitely give their debut a listen. It's a good listen.

All the pretty girls on a Saturday night
Let it be, you'll come to me with the look in your eyes
Will you break and take all the words from my mouth?
I wish all the pretty girls were shaking me down

So rather than a hook up joint, Grove Ave. is just a plain great place to run. There are shady sidewalks on either side of the street, which is a key thing to look for during Richmond's hot and muggy summers.

Lots of greenery and bricks to be found on Grove Ave.
It's also a pretty level and straight stretch of road. I went down one length of it and returned on the other side. My Strava app, however, got all jacked and thought I was trying to shake a cop's tail or something. It completely miscalculated my run. It was closer to three miles, not five. Also, my pace was much, much slower than that.

Wildly erroneous.
I did get to take advantage of one of Richmond's running landmarks: The Grove Avenue Water Stop. I only found out about it this morning when doing some pre-run research, but it was set up several years ago by Sheri Crowell as a way to keep runners and walkers along Grove hydrated. Every morning she fills it up with water and even sets out dog treats. How cool is that?

More than a water cooler. It's community.
While I was drinking my cup of gratis water, Ms. Crowell's mother parked her car in front of the Water Stop. I talked to her for a few minutes about the thing. It turns out that Crowell also organizes impromptu fun runs and collects used jackets to donate during the winter, all centered around the Water Stop. This is exactly the community spirit that I love about Richmond. She is an RVA sticker personified.

That's some high quality H2O.
I capped off my morning with a well-deserved iced coffee from Starbucks. Now, that place is the meat market I've been looking for. Wow. Chicks dig an overly sweaty guy wearing a fanny pack, er, "waist pack," right? RIGHT?

Coffee pickles way outsell the dill.
All in all, Grove Avenue is one of the best places that I've run around here. No wonder it's so popular. I'm definitely going to add it to my regular rotation.