Category Archives: New York

Beautiful Autumn Day in the Hudson Valley

IMG_2131Ulster county, New York.

IMG_2146Waterfall in Hyde Park, NY, in Dutchess County.

IMG_2112Crossing the Walkway Across the Hudson from Poughkeepsie to Ulster county.

IMG_2126Ulster county, NY

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An autumn hike and some sassafras tea

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On one of my days of rest from running last week, I went for a little hike in a wooded area near me, enjoying that early autumn coolness. The leaves are still stubbornly holding on to their greenness, but they will eventually change into all sorts of brilliant colors within a few weeks as the temperatures fall and the days get shorter.

As much as I enjoy the fresh air and greenery of a hike, I also venture out into the wilderness to see what Mother Nature has to offer me. As I often like to say, if you can identify edible wild plants, a hike in the woods can be like a visit to the supermarket.

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Sassafras growing on the edge of the woods

Unfortunately, my favorite wild mustard greens are all dead; so are most other wild greens. Fortunately, sassafras grows plentifully in this area, and I’m in the mood for some spicy tea. Sassafras is usually a small to medium sized tree, and saplings are common in this area. Believe it or not, during the colonial era, sassafras was one of America’s biggest exports to Europe.

Sassafras is easy to identify, due to how it produces 3 different types of leaves: one with 3 lobes, one with 1 lobe so it looks like a mitten, and one that is oval shaped. Very few plants in the north-eastern U.S are like this. If you can’t identify it by sight, you can try cutting off a little section of leaf or twig and smelling it. It will smell sweetly aromatic, sort of like cinnamon to me.

Sassafras root

Sassafras root

Although you can make tea from any part of the sassafras plant, the roots pack the most punch.

Luckily the soil was kind of loose so it was easy for me to dig up some sassafras root with my hand.

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Sassafras tea

I brought it home, cut it up and then put in some water to boil then simmer it for 20 minutes. I then poured the sassafras water through a strainer into a tea cup. It tasted amazing, it’s very soothing, tasting sort of like cinnamon or even ginger at times.

It’s a pleasant tasting tea, but I don’t know if it has any medicinal effects, beyond some mild anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Sassafras for the longest time was one of the main ingredients in root beer, but I will explain below why this is no longer the case.

The potential carcinogenicity of sassafras

Sassafras contains safrole, which according to animal research is a carcinogen. I think everyone should be made aware of this, even if the evidence for harm in humans isn’t especially strong. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Sassafras is Safer Without Safrole:

Research: In the 1950s and ’60s, researchers showed that high doses of safrole caused liver damage and liver and lung cancer in mice and rats that were fed the compound for long periods of time. Nursing mice developed tumors when their mothers were given safrole. Because human studies are lacking, researchers don’t know what dose might cause cancer in adults or children. (Safrole occurs naturally in many spices, like nutmeg, but in amounts tiny enough to be considered harmless.) Although lab experiments show that safrole has antifungal and antibacterial properties, no clinical research has provided evidence for its — or sassafras’ — supposed health benefits.

Based on other things I’ve read, root beer makers can still use sassafras so long as the safrole is removed. Since I drink sassafras tea about once every 4 years, and in small amounts, I don’t think I have a whole lot to worry about. This post isn’t necessarily a recommendation to drink sassafras tea; you can still enjoy the fragrance on hikes or even use it as an air freshener, but there are a million other herbal teas you can safely drink that may even have some medicinal effects.

This site has some interesting information on sassafras, suggesting the cancer risk is overblown – Safrole is not nearly as dangerous as you would think

If anyone reading this is a chemist, I would love to know what you think about the cancer-causing potential of sassafras. How dangerous is it?

How I did at the Yonkers Marathon

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A few minutes after crossing the finish line

First of all, congratulations to all finishers of the challenging Yonkers Marathon! And a big thanks to everyone supporting and cheering us as we raced!

Yesterday, I completed the hilly Yonkers Marathon while juggling, my first ever marathon. It felt spectacular! It took me 3:51:43, to complete the 26.2 mile(42.1 km) course. I wasn’t expecting completing in under 4 hours, not just because this was my first marathon but also because of all the hills. And some old injuries which occasionally give me problems. Most of the hills aren’t very challenging, the inclines are mostly gentle, except at the point where Main Street in Hastings-On-Hudson meets route 9 when the route loops back into Yonkers, between miles 4 and 5(17 and 18 during second loop of full Marathon).

The race was a combined full and half-marathon, so at the 8 AM start there were around 1,200 runners total, with only 196 doing the full marathon. Half-marathoners did one loop, full-marathoners 2 loops. My overall place was 86. It was really crowded at the start, in front of the Yonkers library in downtown Yonkers. Because I’m a joggler, I wanted to be toward the back and by the side, in case I dropped the balls. I dropped them 4 times.

The first few miles north on Warburton Ave were a breeze(it was 55 F or 12.7 C at the start) and is mostly a gentle incline. I decided to start slow, and it would have been difficult to pass many runners due to how crowded it was. At first the route is very urban, and kind of slummy, but it became increasingly suburban the further north we went. Between mile 2 and 3, there were some decent views of the Hudson(trees tend to block much of the view in the warmer months). Just after mile 3 it starts feeling rural, with lots of wooded park areas. Some of the houses in this area have great views of the Hudson. It was around this time that I had my first drop, all because I wanted to drink some Gatorade.

The Newington Cropsey Foundation art museum. It is one of the most interesting sites places the marathon route passed. It is located near the middle of Hastings.

The Newington Cropsey Foundation art museum. It was one of the most interesting places along the marathon route. It is located near the middle of Hastings.

A little after mile 4 and we’re in Hastings-On-Hudson. This is a picturesque small town just north of Yonkers with a Bohemian feel to it and some historical sites. By this time the crowd of runners started to thin out and I was passing a lot of runners. Some were impressed while others felt bad about having someone run faster than them who is also juggling. There weren’t a lot of crowds along the path, mostly just water and Gatorade stations where everyone cheered loudy for the passing runners and usually louder for me(this made me feel a little uncomfortable at times since I don’t normally enjoy being the center of attention). The staff from NYCrunners, and the Boy Scouts handing out water were very helpful and supportive. The police were also great at keeping traffic from interfering with the race(the route isn’t completely closed to traffic). I always thanked them as I passed.

A little after mile 6 and I was back in Yonkers. I was still passing runners but not as much as before. Between miles 8 and 9 I mostly stopped passing runners, and the route went from pleasant suburban to ugly industrial. I tended to grab water or Gatorade every 2 to 4 miles, running while drinking(though not juggling, these breaks were always very brief).

From miles 9 to 10, some runners would pass me and I would occasionally pass some runners who decided to walk. It also became increasingly urban as the route approached downtown Yonkers. I started to feel a little tired by mile 10. The temperature was rising, and there was nothing blocking the sun’s increasingly stronger rays.

Miles 11 to 12 were very urban, and there were a lot of people out in the streets watching the runners and cheering us on. My right hip started to bother me around here though strangely started feeling better a few miles later. The route comes within a quarter mile from the Bronx(northernmost borough of New York City) which is to the south, and even feels like the Bronx at this point. The route then goes west on Valentine Street, and then turns north and away from the Bronx on Riverdale Avenue toward the area where the Marathon started at mile 13.1. The crowd support at the starting/finish line area was great, so many were amazed by the joggling.

The strange turn-around to do the second loop for the full marathon was a bit confusing when the head of the marathon explained it at the beginning, but luckily helpful staffers were able to show me and other runners the right direction to go in. I probably would have ended up in the Hudson river if not for their guidance.

The crowd support at the center of town, and the knowledge that I was 50% through the race was very invigorating. The crowd of runners had thinned out, since it was now only us full marathoners. It almost felt like I was doing a training run because of the few runners I saw ahead of me on the road, mostly in the distance. My speed improved and I passed several more runners between miles 14 to 18, but I would occasionally slow down to quickly recharge my batteries. By mile 18 I felt I had hit the wall, in part due to that steep hill on the edge of Hastings village I mentioned earlier. I dropped the balls a couple of times between miles 18 and 20, and was passed by some faster runners. Besides this, the temperature had risen to the upper 60s(20 C) and I felt it and started to sweat a lot.

It was pretty lonely after mile 20, with a lot of space between me and most other runners. I could barely keep pace with the runners 50 to 200 feet ahead of me, when I could see them, and walked for 1 to 2 seconds a couple of times in hilly areas. By mile 24.5, after one last incline, there were no more hills. It was all downhill toward the finish line!

I had my last sip of Gatorade and felt reinvigorated at around mile 25 when told there was just 1 more mile to go. My speed picked up. As I approached the finish line area there were a lot of people cheering me on. As I crossed the finish line I did one of my tricks, throwing a ball above the finish line banner and catching it on the other side as a coup de grace. The crowd loved it. Although I didn’t do it perfectly, I was surprised I could do it at all due to my tiredness. I don’t think I’ve ever been cheered for that loudly before. Of course, I am not the first person to joggle an entire marathon, this has been done countless times before.

As I approached the baggage area I felt like I was going to faint and a few staffers were concerned. I quickly recovered though felt very sore. I drank a lot of Gatorade and water and had a Cliff Bar.

I felt very sore after the marathon, and feel a little sore now. However, I managed to walk for a few miles after the marathon to get some exercise. I’ve been drinking a lot of tart cherry juice and blueberry juice to help me recover. I also drink some blueberry kefir juice, and I think drinking this the day before and the morning of the race may be why I had no digestive complaints whatsoever during the marathon. Ordinarily I would at least feel some stomach pain if running over 15 miles.

All in all, a great experience. Some people might like to believe vegans can’t run marathons. I had certain people laugh at me when I told them I would complete one – while juggling the whole time. Now, I am laughing at them. Of course, a lot of people laughed at me during the marathon due to my juggling, but it was more of a complimentary laugh. They were also laughing at the male runner dressed in a tutu, though it’s not a real marathon if there isn’t a man in a tutu running it. I laughed too, though laughed less and less when I realized how fast he was.

Alas, I couldn’t keep up with the runner in the tutu, but there is always a next time. I hope everyone does great at their races!

If anyone reading this has any good photos from the marathon, please email me.

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Great Spirits of the Loch Ness Marathon 2013

Tomorrow is the Big Day!

Course of the Yonkers marathon. It's a double loop course.

Course of the Yonkers marathon. It’s a double loop course.

Tomorrow is the Yonkers Marathon. 26.2 miles through the city of Yonkers, through near rural areas, through very urban areas, and also some suburban areas. The contrasts should keep things interesting, not to mention all the hills.

I am not sure if there are any other vegans running the Yonkers marathon this year. Almost certainly, I will be the only one joggling it. There may be around 1,000 participants in this race, but most will be there for the half-marathon. If it is similar to last year, only about 100 to maybe 150 runners will be doing the full marathon.

I’ll let everyone know how running the second oldest marathon in the country goes, and I wish everyone much success with their races and their fitness regimen. Thanks for your inspiration and support!

Marathon training: A review

IMG_1731A review of the many things I have covered on this blog and I am doing to help me prepare for the upcoming Yonkers marathon:

A look at my workout routine – My Marathon Training

If anyone has any advice, go ahead and share, and good luck to my fellow runners out there!

OOTD – Some time in the 1940s

3143229960_50bfc0f5e3_zMy grandmother, some time back in the 1940s. Besides being a terrific mother and grandmother, she always had a really good fashion sense. It’s too bad I didn’t inherit it, though she did what she could to help.

Dinner at Andy’s Pure Foods

IMG_1993After that 22 mile run yesterday up to Millwood yesterday, I needed some super-nourishment. So I eventually made my way down to Rye, New York and had an early dinner at Andy’s Pure Foods, which is located in the heart of Rye village on Purchase Street. No, I didn’t run there, I drove.

Andy’s Pure Foods specializes in fresh, organic vegan food. They have a very large selection of delicious legume based meals and fresh salads, and sandwiches, as well as fresh juices, smoothies, and even some vegan deserts. They also have many raw vegan meals.

I decided to have the butter beans with dolmades(stuffed grape leaves) and falafel. The dolmades are very fresh and tasty, almost as good as the ones my family makes. The falafel was delicious too. They have a lot of other Middle Eastern vegan food, like hummus, and various chickpea dishes and I can’t even remember the rest.

IMG_1989All in all, it was a fantastic recovery meal. I even think I could run today if I really wanted to, but my legs need a rest. I highly recommend Andy’s if you’re in the area.

Longest distance run without doubling back

Screenshot from 2013-09-14 21:04:20Today’s 22 mile(35.4 km) run wasn’t a record breaker in terms of miles covered, but it was the farthest distance I’ve run from anywhere without doubling back. It’s also the farthest north I’ve ever run. I ran up to Millwood where my ride was patiently waiting. Millwood is about as “middle of no where” you can get in Westchester county(it’s not even on the map above because it has such a small population). It took me 3 hours and 19 minutes to complete. I took a short break in Elmsford at the 10 mile mark to get some apple juice from the grocery store. This is also the first time I ran through the notorious gap in the Putnam trail between the northern terminus of the southern portion and the start of the northern portion in the middle of the village of Elmsford. The gap isn’t much, but the streets have a lot of traffic in this area.

The temperature through most of it was in the mid to upper 60s, so I didn’t sweat a lot. I dropped the balls several times. The northern portion of the Putnam trail, also known as the North County Trailway is steeper than I had anticipated. From Elmsford to Millwood, it is mostly an upward slope. I saw some cyclists struggle with it in a few steeper areas. It proved a challenge to me in some parts, and the resulting tiredness is a large part of why I dropped the balls many times.

Another runner seemed interested in challenging me to a race. Somewhere just north of the Irish famine park, I started hearing another runner behind me. Before I knew it, she zoomed ahead of me and looked back at me smugly. I was taken by surprise. I normally don’t race other runners, especially during long runs but I couldn’t resist. I tried keeping up with the woman in the pink leggings, but couldn’t. She kept getting farther and farther away. Eventually I slowed down to a very slow jog to regain my energy.

After doing this for a little less than 10 seconds I felt an energy rush. I was soon able to keep pace with her, though I was still far behind. I eventually caught up to her, and was just several feet behind. My competitive side took over me and soon I ran right by her on the approach to Elmsford. At the same time I think she was slowing down anyway. I lost sight of her by the time I got to Elmsford for my break. She was a very fast runner. If you’re reading this, I had a lot of fun. And yes I dropped the balls many times.

At the end of the run I was tired and sore, though I felt I could have run a few more miles, very slowly.

It’s a Turkey Vulture!

IMG_1785Remember the big bird in the photo from my last post, “Spectacular Views From Beacon Mountain” I needed help identifying? According to commenter John:

Nice clear skies to be able to see the skyscrapers 50 miles away! That’s a turkey vulture in the one photo. They look so graceful from a distance, soaring over the mountains, but from closer up — yikes! — the naked red head is pretty ugly.

I agree, they sure do look graceful. Thanks for helping us identify it. I believe that in nature, even “ugly” creatures can still be beautiful in their own way. Check out John’s site, Life With John, for some great nature and travel photos.

Here are some more pictures of the turkey vultures from a few days ago. There were several of these birds flying around as I was in the fire tower.

IMG_1787IMG_1782IMG_1783IMG_1771I wish I could be a turkey vulture for a day. Or a week. Or a year! That way I could soar through the skies like I’ve always dreamed of. I’ve had other hikers tell me about turkey vultures before, usually as a warning to not climb a fire tower if they build their nest in one, since they may attack to defend it. Otherwise, they are harmless.

The turkey vultures of the Americas are also a good example of convergent evolution. They are not in the same avian group as Old World vultures, which belong to accipitridae, while New World vultures are in cathartidae. In spite of this, evolutionary forces have made them very similar.

If you could be any animal for a day, which animal would you choose to be?

Spectacular views from Beacon Mountain

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Looking south from Beacon Mountain fire tower

I went to Beacon Mountain yesterday, and the weather was perfect! At 1,611 feet(491 m), Beacon Mountain is the highest peak between New York City and the Catskill mountains. It is the highest point in the Hudson Highlands and so offers spectacular views of the Hudson valley. On a clear day, you can see for 75 miles from its summit. From the fire tower on top of Beacon Mountain, if you look south on a clear day you can even see the Manhattan skyline, which is 50 miles south. Look closely at the horizon toward the middle of the picture below(which is a zoom in of the same view of the picture taken above – not a zoom in of the same picture), and a little toward the left, and you can sort of see the skyscrapers of New York City.

IMG_1815The photo below shows the skyscrapers a little better.

IMG_1815I tried joggling up Beacon Mountain on the main trail leading to the top, but couldn’t get very far because of how steep and rocky it was. I was reduced to running and then reduced to doing running/walking intervals. There really isn’t any actual “climbing” involved, unless you want to climb this thing off the main trails where it is much steeper. It was much easier joggling down the mountain, and managed to do this 60% of the way down. I took many short breaks while up there to take pictures, to juggle and of course to eat and drink. Due to all the hill running I do, my legs aren’t all sore from this steep run/walk. Years ago I probably would have had trouble walking for a week after doing something like this.

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Juggling at the top of Beacon Mountain.

It is called Beacon Mountain because it was used during the Revolutionary War for setting signal fires to alert the continental army of British troop movements. In fact, Beacon Mountain and the surrounding Hudson Highlands were so important to the revolutionary cause that if they didn’t exist, or the British had managed to take them, Queen Elizabeth would probably be our Head of State today. Or at least that’s what the historical markers below the mountain want us to believe.

Beacon Mountain is actually made up of 2 main peaks, the North peak, and the South peak. The South peak is the higher one(1,611 ft), and this is where I took most of the photos from and where the fire tower is located. These two peaks are pretty close to each other, so its easy to go up one, then down a little, then follow the trail to go up the other, though the North peak is more easily accessible from the main parking area below.

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Inside the fire tower

If anyone knows what species of bird that is in the photo below, please tell me in the comments.

IMG_1785It was a little cold and windy up there, but I can handle the cold better than the heat. I highly recommend running up this mountain to train for the hilly Yonkers Marathon.

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Fire tower on top of the South peak in the distance. Look closely.

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Near the top of the fire tower on the South peak, the same tower in the previous photo.