Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jogging Librarian Commutes Eight Miles on Foot!

Last Thursday I jogged to work again for the fifth time this school year. It was the third time I've been able to complete the trip without stopping, since the first two times I bonked and had to take a bus. I've changed my route since the first try, as the most direct route from my apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens to Williamsburg, Brooklyn has two long stretches without sidewalks. The route I take now is a bit more circuitous, but is much more pedestrian-friendly. If you're curious about the route, you can click here to see it on Google Maps.

I'm running wearing a backpack that holds my work clothes, my swim clothes (keep reading), my lunch and a few other items. I'd been leaving a pair of work shoes at school, however this past Wednesday I forgot to do so, which meant I had to carry those as well. That made it my heaviest pack run so far and my time did suffer. I'm trying not worry so much about the speed on these jogs though; I'm just focusing on getting in the miles and building up the stamina that running with a pack requires. The result is that my short, unencumbered runs are already getting faster.

Once I'd decided to try jogging to work, I had to choose the right backpack for the job. I looked at a few different packs through a mix of virtual and old-school physical shopping. I decided to go with a North Face pack called the Recon, which has both chest and waist straps to keep it steady en route. It can also accommodate a hydration system, which I may purchase one day. I got the yellow-ish color, called Chai Yellow, because it's slightly reflective and as it's quite dark out at 6:00 AM when I begin my long jog/schlog, it seems like the best color choice for the purpose. Luckily, it was available at a local sporting goods shop less than 15 minutes on foot from where I live, Emilio's Ski Shop in Forest Hills. Not only did I avoid waiting and paying for shipping, but I was able to support a local business in the bargain.

I've been very happy with the pack, even though I did read on the Bloggling Joggler's blog post on the subject that a simpler pack, without the extra chest and waist straps, can actually improve your form by forcing to you to shed any swaying or other wasted movements in your stride. I tested this theory with a small, light, unstructured pack that folds into a pouch when not in use, on a five-mile round-trip run to the farmer's market at the Atlas Park mall. It's true: the apples and tomatoes I'd bought started alternately slapping each of my kidneys as the pack flopped back and forth, until I was somehow able to correct my form in response to this feedback and steady the load. Interesting, but I still wanted to feel more secure with larger loads on longer runs, so the Recon it is, at least for now. And if really want the swaying effect, I can always unbuckle the straps.

Now, you may be asking yourself, "So how does this relate to being a school librarian?" Here's why I mention it: sustainability. Ever since I started teaching, I've been driving a car to school. I was not a driver for most of my adult life before teaching, save a brief period when I worked at LexisNexis and had large clients in both New York in Boston so I took a second apartment in Wallingford, CT. There aren't a lot of ways to get to and around the small towns of mid-Connecticut without a car, so I had one then, too.

One of the schools on my campus is The Green School: The Academy for Environmental Careers. Sustainability is literally the key word, the driver, if you'll excuse the pun, of The Green School's ethos. The other two schools on campus are no less committed to forging better and more sustainable ways to live our lives than we did in the 20th century than The Green School is. When I first arrived at the William Gaynor Campus last year I noticed lots of very young, energetic, idealistic teachers riding their bikes to school. I would love to ride my bike to school, but there's always some "but" involved in bike commuting for me. Always always has been.

I've had bikes stolen. I've had cramped apartments that hardly had enough room for me to turn around, and roommates who made it impossible for me to keep a bike indoors. My supportive partner and I tried it in one apartment, but the five flights up and down the building's narrow staircase made it untenable. Not to mention the tension bike rack we tried that popped one day while we were out. We found the bikes on the floor and our terrorized cats hiding under the bed wondering why they'd been attacked by flying bicycles in the middle what had probably been a pretty ordinary day. In our current coop, we tried hanging the bike directly on the wall, but it seemed to dominate the living room. Now, stashed behind a rolling kitchen cart, it seems like a huge effort to maneuver it into our tiny elevator or fight with six flights of stairs in order to ride it.

At one point, I even researched renting garage space for a bike, but there was no such thing at the time (I think such a setup may exist now, but I'm not sure). The kicker was, after moving to Kew Gardens, I went to visit a good friend of mine who still lives in the Manhattan building I'd moved out of and when I went downstairs with her to drop off a trash bag I was stunned to see a full-fledged, fully utilized bike rack. I'd been trying to get the building's management to get a bike rack for years and no-one listened. Then, after I leave they get one?!? This could only be the universe telling me to try another way.

Concurrent with all of this, I've always used jogging and running as a way to attempt to stay in shape and to clear my head. In fact, during periods when I slack off, I find myself sinking into a depression that only lifts when I start regularly making tracks on pavement again. Last semester was one of the slack-off periods, unfortunately, and I made a commitment to myself in August that I'd put those running shoes to good use again. What better way to get back on the road than to take my car off the road one day a week, thereby alleviating my guilt about driving, at least by one-fifth and forcing myself to do what for me is a long run? This, and the fact that one of my goals as always been to run a marathon at some point in my life and I might as well start training now. Between living more sustainably, getting more training miles under my belt and combining exercise and commuting time, jog-commuting (jommuting?) fulfills a lot of needs.

As sustainability has been on my mind a lot, since even before I started working with The Green School, it's starting to slowly permeate my thoughts and deeds, if even in small ways. I've been thinking of how libraries provide a sustainable model for information sharing. All this makes me think of the bulletin board I put up outside of the library at the beginning of the school year:

The "Third Century" line on the display refers to the original Library of Alexandria. I can't be the first person to have thought of it, but I particularly pleased with the whole "Read, Return, Recycle" riff on the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" motto.

My sustainability/training goal for this year is to boost the jogmuting to at least two days a week, possibly adding Tuesdays to the Thursdays I'm already jogging. I'm currently using mass transit to get home on Thursdays, but I'm mulling over perhaps jogging back home at some point as well.. As a person who prefers 5K races and training runs of about three miles maximum, I used August to build up to about ten miles a week, of which the Thursday commute became my long run. I'm now up to about 14 miles per week total. I'm trying to be as sensible as possible to avoid any over-training injury that would result in my bagging the whole endeavor. At this rate, I'm on track for a second weekly jog by late November.

One of the big logistical problems in this undertaking is the lack of showers in the locker rooms on our "campus" (i.e. run-down old junior high building). The locker rooms are right across from the library. Wouldn't it be just perfecto if they were in working order? Wouldn't it be even more perfecto if the kids who go to the schools in our building could actually shower after their required gym classes?!? It's kind of hard to believe that these kids are forced to run around and sweat, without a way for them to get clean afterward. In April and May the poor things walk around soaking wet the rest of the school day after they have gym class.

As far as my jogmuting is concerned, it means I have to run about mile beyond the school building to the Metropolitan Pool, the beautiful public pool, built in 1922 in Williamsburg, to take a shower. So much the better. I get in more mileage, and while I'm at it I swim for about 20 to 30 minutes, which stretches out my leg muscles and joints as well. You can see a video of kids taking swim classes at this pool here. I'm there during morning adult lap swim time, of course. I then walk back to school, holding my pack by the top strap, because at that point the back panel is still drenched with perspiration.

By the time I get home on Thursday evenings, I'm dog tired. Good tired. I feel as though I've really pushed myself, but for a good, healthy reason. On Friday mornings, after my self-inflicted Thursday ordeal, I get in the car with a heightened sense of appreciation for being able to drive to work and more than a twinge of guilt that I'm back behind the wheel. The Kenyan runners who easily trounce Americans in races always say in interviews that all their lives, if they ever wanted to go someplace faster than walking speed, their only option was to run. They ran to relatives homes, to markets, to school, or to neighboring towns on errands. Now I'm giving myself a small, belated dose of that very human experience. Seated comfortably, looking out the windshield, adjusting the volume on the radio as I zip schoolward I now have a deeper sense of what a luxury driving to work in the morning truly is.


  1. You are an inspiration! Loved reading your story.
    Check our when you get a chance.
    Looking forward to following you, Shared with a librarian friend.

  2. I like the way you write. Abres tu alma al escribir. Que pena que no te tengamos en Cleveland!! Se siente tu ausencia.