Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bridge of the Week #1: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Since I love running on the bridges in New York City so much, I've decided to do a profile on all of the bridges, one a week. I've counted about 35 total - the big ones, small ones, one or two pedestrian bridges - that can be run across. If it covers any significant body of water, has any significant length or elevation change, I'll do a profile on it, after having run across it of course. Which to include will be at my discretion, but I think I should eventually cover any bridge anyone can think of, but suggestions are welcome.

The first bridge I'll cover is the biggest of them all, and the only one that runners are not normally allowed on - the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn. At the time of its opening, on November 21, 1964 and until 1981, this was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with 4260 feet in its main span. Including approaches, it is 13,700 feet long. There is no pedestrian walkway, and the only occasion one can run across the bridge is at the start of the New York Marathon. The sight of thousands of runners streaming across the bridge during the marathon is one of the most impressive pictures in all of sports.

Other facts: the bridge has 228 feet of clearance above the water at the center of the span. I remember when the Queen Mary II cruise ship came through a few years ago, it made it through with not much room to spare. The towers are 693 feet tall. The bridge was the last one built under the watch of Robert Moses. It was designed by Othmar Ammann, who designed 5 other major bridges in New York. It was named after Giovanni di Verrazano, the explorer who discovered New York harbor in 1524, and the Narrows, over which it passes.

A few years back, Mayor Bloomberg proposed adding a pedestrian/bike way across the bridge, which may have been a halfhearted attempt and never gained any steam. I know that cyclists in particular would like that, as they are not allowed to bring bikes on city buses, so they have no way to access Staten Island's bikeways except from the Staten Island Ferry from Manhattan. Perhaps someday a walkway will be built.

On a personal note, when I first moved to New York in 1994, I was staying with my relatives in Stapleton, Staten Island, and from the window in my room I could see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which is a beautiful sight, especially at night. That fall I went to a park near Fort Wadsworth and watched the runners cross the bridge at the start of the marathon. That was one of the big sources of inspiration for me to run my first marathon, the New York Marathon, which I did in 1997. I guess I never looked back from there.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Winter Group Runs

Those who know me well know I love running in the cold, and that includes running in the winter. But in those dark, cold days it's good and can be motivating to do a long run with a group of friends. I've been lucky enough to do two of these so far, with one to go tomorrow.

On Dec. 19 was the Solstice Run, an informal run put on by Lydia Redding and Julie Rosenberg, who are not only ultra friends but musician friends as well. The idea was to run from sunset to sunrise, roughly 4:30 pm to 7:15 am, on the longest night of the year as a way to go get the sun and bring it back. A nice reminder that the days will get longer from here on out! We could run as much or as little as we wanted, with Lydia and Julie's house as a rest stop, including two meal times. About a dozen of us ran at least some of the time, with Alicja Barahona, Jay Lustgarten and Elaine Acosta (running her first ultra distance!) spending almost the entire night on the neighborhood streets. Myself, I needed a little nap partway through. It just so happened that this was the night of the first big snowstorm, with about 8 inches falling overnight. It was actually very calm and peaceful except when you had to dodge the snowplows out doing their job. The highlight for me was running with Alicja and listening to her stories of her races through the Sahara, and Alaska. That woman is just amazing! A big thanks to Lydia and Julie for hosting this fun event!

On January 3, Grant McKeown led a hardy group on a 20-mile fatass fun run, mostly on the paths and trails of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, with a side trip via the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail to Tibbet's Brook Park in Yonkers. New friends of mine Cliff and Tamara (I later found out that Cliff lives in my building!) ran a shortened course, while Grant, Nick, Kevin and myself ran the full course as Grant mapped it out. It was a lot of fun, I made some new friends, and Grant, Nick and I got to share pancakes and eggs at a nearby diner afterwards.

Tomorrow, January 31, which would have been Ted Corbitt's 91st birthday, is the annual run around Manhattan Island in Ted's honor, put together by Dave Obelkevitch from his apartment on W. 97th St. It will be my third time running this, although it's been going on for several years. In the past, Ted would meet the runners at the first pit stop at 218th and Broadway, but since his death in 2007, the run has taken place in his memory. The second pit stop takes place at Susan Lucks' apartment on E. 86th (and maybe I'll tickle the ivories again), and her hospitality is much appreciated! The third pit stop is the Staten Island Ferry terminal, then up the west side back to 97th St. It is always a friendly relaxed run, a good workout, and a great way to remember Ted. There should be a good turnout this year. Running with friends always makes the cold miles pass by quickly!