Sunday, March 28, 2010

Queens 50K, Mar. 28

Today was the latest running, the latest version of the Queens 50K, held in Alley Pond Park. The weather was good for running, although a bit chilly with temps in the low 40's, and an overcast sky. A little spotty light rain came after about the 4-hour mark as well. But I do like chilly weather for running, and was probably the only person there in just shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.

We ran exactly 8 loops of a course of approximately 3.88 rolling/hilly miles. It started at the same location as the second-day course of the Pioneer Memorial 3-day race last year, and started by heading up the same hill. But at the top it takes a right turn instead of a left and follows a path that eventually leads to the old Vanderbilt Motorway. This was an early private roadway built by the Vanderbilt family in the early 20th century, and was even the site of some of the first automobile races, with speeds reportedly reaching up to 50 mph! Today it's a bike/running/walking path. Our course used a little of over a mile of the roadway as an out-and-back. It's quite a rolling terrain, with a particularly noticeable uphill coming back after the turnaround. After retracing our steps we resumed the Pioneer course around the clearing and back to the start/finish.

There was a good turnout, not huge in numbers, about 35-40 people, but were huge in spirit. A lot of the regulars were there, and it was good to see them again (too many to mention here), and some newcomers ran strong as well, at least new to BUS races. In fact, even though I had a lead early on, one of those newcomers was right on my tail the first 3 laps, then ahead of me, and kept extremely close through the first 6 laps before he slowed down, allowing me to take the win in 3:33:56. This newcomer, Dennis Ball, finished second. He had run the North Face 50 in Washington last year, and is signed up for Leadville this year, so he's one to watch. Third place was Tim Henderson, finishing under four hours, with Brennan Wysong not far behind him. On the women's side, Alicja Barahona finished first, one week after returning from her win in a mountain race in Africa. Susan Warren took second and Amanda Goddard third.

Richie put on another excellent race, and was supported by the best volunteers, so thanks to all of them. And thanks to Julie and Lydia for the ride, to Tim for the Badwater pictures, and to all for their spirit and encouragement. I hope to see most of this group again at the awards brunch on April 11!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bridge of the Week #8: Ward's Island Footbridge

This week's featured bridge is the Ward's Island Footbridge, opened on May 18, 1951. It is a lift drawbridge for pedestrians and bikes between Manhattan and Ward's Island over the northern end of the East River. It is 1,247 feet long and 12 feet wide. On the Manhattan side it connects by ramp to the East River walkway at about 102nd St., and an overpass that gets to the west side of the FDR Drive for street access. The east end of the bridge lets out on the southwest corner of Ward's Island.

The bridge is open only during daytime from spring through fall. I'm not sure of the specific hours or dates, but I thought it was April through October, although I was pleasantly surprised to see it open last Saturday. It is raised when closed, so it's easy to tell from a distance if it is open or not.

Ward's Island, which sits at the confluence of the East and Harlem Rivers (neither of which is an actual river), was joined by landfill to its nearby neighbor, Randall's Island in the early 1930's when the land was developed for park use. Much of Ward's Island recently underwent reconstruction, but is almost fully open now. With Ward's Island and Randall's Island (still spoken of in separate terms) there are soccer fields, baseball fields, bike paths, a driving range, I believe a tennis center, and other standard park facilities. Randall's Island is also home to Icahn Stadium, a world-class track which every summer hosts the Reebok Grand Prix, bringing many world-class runners to New York. Cirque de Soleil also sets up shop there sometimes. Ward's Island also has the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center and a waste water treatment plant. At one time it was a potter's field. Ward's Island and Randall's Island belong to the borough of Manhattan.

The other major inhabitant of Ward's Island and Randall's Island is the Triborough Bridge (which I will cover in a later post), which also provides pedestrian access to the islands, as well as vehicular access. Special mention should also be made of the Hell Gate Bridge, a railroad bridge that uses the land for a connection between the Bronx and Queens. For mass transportation, you can take the M35 bus to the islands from Harlem.

Ward's Island was named after Jasper and Bartholomew Ward to owned the land after the Revolutionary War. Randall's Island was named after Jonathan Randel (or Randal), who owned the island in the late 1700's after the British withdrawal.
There is also a history of ultrarunning on Randall's Island, as it used to be the location of the Sri Chinmoy 6- and 10-day races, now held in Flushing Meadows, Queens.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bridge of the Week #7: Brooklyn Bridge

This week's bridge is the granddaddy of them all, the Brooklyn Bridge. Along with the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, this is one of the iconic images of New York City. The history of the Brooklyn Bridge is well documented, and I won't get into all the deatils here, but here are the basics.

A crossing between New York City and Brooklyn, then two separate cities, over the East Riv(which is not actually a river but a tidal strait between two islands) had been imagined in various fomrs throughout the 1800's. John Roebling proposed his bridge in 1855. In 1867 the New York Bridge Company was formed to build the bridge, and all approvals were obtained in June 1869. Less than a month later, Robeling's foot was crushed in an accident while examining the site for the Brooklyn tower, and he died from tetanus in July. His son, Washington took over construction of the bridge.

Ground was broken on January 3, 1870. In 1872, Washington suffered from the bends after being in one of the caissons, and he was eventually left crippled and unable to visit the construction site. His apartment in Brooklyn gave him a view of the site, and he continued to supervise construction while his wife Emily took over construction site management.
The grand opening of the Brooklyn Bridge took place on May 23, 1883, with President Chester A. Arthur and Governor Grover Cleveland in attendance. Emily Roebling was given the first ride across, holding a rooster in her lap. Apparently a rooster is a symbol of victory. The towers were (and are) 276 feet, 6 inches high, and clearance above the water 135 feet. The main span is 1,595 feet 6 inches, and the total length of the bridge, including approaches, is 6,016 feet. An elevated pedestrian walkway was constructed along the center of the bridge, and on either side was an elevated railroad track and two lanes for carriages and horseback. There was originally a penny toll for anyone wishing to use the bridge, including pedestrians, but the toll was discontinued in 1910 and today the bridge is toll-free for all. (And I myself hope it stays that way, although there are talks to add tolls for vehicles.) During reconstruction of the bridge from 1944-1954, a number of elements were strengthened, new approach ramps built, and all railroad and trolley tracks removed and replaced with three lanes of auto traffic in each direction. The bridge helped unite the cities of New York and Brooklyn (Brooklyn by 1893 had annexed all the towns of King's County), and in 1898 New York City annexed Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island to create the five-borough city of Greater New York.

So what does this mean for the runner, I'm sure you wanted to know. To walk, run or bike on the walkway is an incredible experience, naturally with stunning views not only of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, but New York Harbor, Governor's Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Bayonne Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge. The walkway outside of the anchorages is concrete, and in between is a wooden boardwalk. Benches are placed periodically along the way, and at the towers are plaques describing the history and engineering of the bridge, and giving other interesting facts as well. Walking, running or cycling (but especially walking or running) across the bridge is something I highly recommend for tourists and for residents. In fact, its popularity with toursits, commuters and exercizers, especially on a beautiful afternoon, is its only flaw. A white line is painted down the center of the walkway with one side (the north) designated for cyclists and the other (the south0 designated for pedestrians. For the most part, pedestrians do stay on their side, but there are those who cross over and cause a hassle for cyclists. When I run across, which isn't often, I try to stay on the white line to avoid the bulk of the pedestrian traffic, but being able to carefully hop over to the cyclists' side briefly if necessary. But be cautious of, and have particular courtesy to the cyclists. They have a hard enough time there. I think it's best to treat such a run as a casual, recreational jog and enjoy the view. For a real workout, or if in a hurry to get from one side to the other, I'd recommend taking the Manhattan Bridge (which I will discuss at a future date).

Pedestrian access to the bridge is easy on the Manhattan side, just to the east of City Hall at Park Row and Centre St. It is right across the street from the entrance for the Brooklyn Bridge subway station, for the 4, 5, 6, J, M and Z trains. There is another entrance a bit along the walkway which can be accessed by a staircase from the Park Row underpass. There are two pedestrian entrances in Brooklyn as well. The main entrance, located in the traffic median at Adams and Tillary Sts., leads you along a rather long sidwalk between the traffic lanes before you reach the bridge itself. Closer to the bridge is an entrance at Prospect St. and Washington St./Cadman Plaza East. The High St./Brooklyn Bridge station for the A and C trains is located nearby at Cadman Park. The bridge lets you off in downtown Brooklyn, and the waterfront is not far away (logically). Also, if doing a bridge circuit, the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge is only a short distance away, especially if you use the Prospect St. entrance.

So that's the Brooklyn Bridge from a runner's or pedestrian's perspective. Like I said, much has been written about the bridge itself, and it is an American icon. It has given its name to, among other things, a short-lived 80's sitcom and a piece of music by composer Michael Daugherty for clarinet and concert band. There is a book about its history called The Great Bridge by David McCullough, that I fully intend to buy and read some day. In 1883, Harper's Weekly declared, "The work which is most likely to become our most durable monument, and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity, is a work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, not a palace, but a bridge."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bridge of the Week #6: Broadway Bridge

Better late than never, this week's bridge is the Broadway Bridge. It carries Broadway over the Harlem River Ship Canal between the Inwood neighborhood of northern Manhattan and the Marble Hill neighborhood, which is technically part of the borough of Manhattan, although on the mainland with the Bronx. The Inwood end is just north of the intersection of 9th Ave. and Broadway and teh Marble Hill end is at 225th and Broadway.

This is a steel lift bridge whose main span is 304 feet and total length is 558 feet. It carries two lanes of traffic in each direction, 8-foot sidewalks on each side, and the 1 train on an upper level. Construction began in 1959 and was opened July 1, 1962. When open, it has clearance of 136 feet above the water, and 24 feet when closed. It still operates as a drawbridge, although it is seldom raised. I have never personally seen it raised, but I did pass by just after it had lowered.

It is the third drawbridge built on the site since the channel was cut in the 1890's. Previously the Harlem River ran farther to the north, leaving Marble Hill part of the island of Manhattan, which is why it's still part of the borough of Manhattan. In colonial days, the wooden bridge over the original river was called the King's Bridge, which is how the Kingsbridge neighborhood of the Bronx got its name. The first bridge on the current site, a swing span, was floated downstream in 1905 to become the University Heights Bridge. The second bridge, also a swing span, was dismantled in 1960. The current bridge underwent a minor overhaul in 2003, and is scheduled to undergo a major three-year reconstruction beginning this year.

It's a quick, uneventful run across the bridge, with no approaches to speak of. Pedestrian traffic can be fairly heavy, though, so use courtesy. From the west sidewalk you get a nice view of the Harlem River ship canal as it meets the Hudson just past the Henry Hudson Bridge, as well as a nice view of Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan. The park is an excellent place to run, with flat, open areas and lots of good forested hills. It is the last stand of natural forest left in Manhattan. It can be reached on 218th St., a few blocks west of Broadway. Also close by is Baker Field, the football staduim for Columbia University. The view from the east sidwalk is less appealing, with more industrial areas visible.

The 1 train, elevated here, has stops at 225th St. immediately north of the bridge and at 215th St. a few blocks to the south on 10th Ave. Just to the west of the bridge on 225th St. is the Marble Hill station for Metro North's Hudson Line.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Caumsett 50K

The Caumsett 50K again served as the USATF road 50K national championships, and it brought many excellent runners from near and far. Unlike previous years, the weather was warm (temperatures in the 50's) and sunny. Like previous years, GLIRC put on a first-rate event.

The course was slightly altered, with an out-and-back section added to bring the course loop to an even 5K. I wasn't crazy about slowing down for the extra turnaround, but mentally it was nice to have to run only 10 laps instead of 12 or 13 as before. And the return of the staging and finish line to the Winter Cottage, near the parking lot, was very welcome.

The warmer weather brought a more relaxed yet energetic feel to the start line. The field included a lot of top runners, including two-time returning champion Michael Wardian, Ben Nephew, Daniel Verrington, Mark Godale and Scott Dunlap for the men, and Annette Bednosky and 2009 24-hour co-champ Jill Perry among the top women. All the local favorites and friends were there too, too many to mention, but you know who you are! Met many new friends, too, always a good thing.

The race in general went well for me. At the start, Michael Wardian took off like a flash with a group of runners not far behind him. A fairly large gap opened up between them and another group of runners that I was at the front of. This group included early women's leader Jill Perry and Aaron Heath, who I was leapfrogging with for the first four laps. Eventually the other runners in my group dropped back a bit but I saw no sign of the runners in front of me, at least not until Michael lapped me on teh fifth lap, and 2nd place runner Malcolm Campbell lapped me nearere the end of the race. But I was able to keep consistent pacing and felt secure in my 9th place position. It didn't look like I would beat my PR from last year of 3:25 and change, but if I kept up the pace I could still finish under 3:30. On the second half of my last lap, Ray Krolewicz pointed out the 8th place runner, Jesse Regnier, who was only about 30 seconds in front of me and who looked like he might be slowing down. I did try to catch him, but he wasn't slowing down that much. It was very close, but he finished 14 seconds ahead of me. My finishing time was 3:28:48, a good second-best personal time. I did finish first among the local runners, a few minutes ahead of my buddy Byron Lane, so unless one of those eight come back for another race this year, I'll get 1,000 points in the Grand Prix race. (And the race is on...) ;-)

Michael won the men's race in 2:55:50, coming within a minute of his course record time from two years ago, second was Malcolm Campbell and third was Scott Jaime, two runners whose names were new to me. The women's winner was Yolanda Flamino in 3:34:26, second was Annette Bednosky and third was Jill Perry.

It astounded me, however, that there were nine people finishing under 3:30, and there were 21 who finished under 4:00! It was a very strong field. And there were also some incredible runners there who were not running. Howard Nippert was there as the UASTF liaison. Ann Heaslett was there supporting her daughter, who I believe ran the 25K. And Scott Jurek, who was in New York on a speaking tour, stopped by to visit and say hello, and I believe his girlfriend ran the 25K.

It was good to catch up with all my friends after the race, not having seen most of them since the fall. Food and beverages were plentiful after the race, and all were in high spirits.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bridge of the Week #5: Washington Bridge

For this week's bridge I went back to northern Manhattan, and the Washington Bridge, not to be confused with the George Washington Bridge nearby, which is completely separate and different. The Washington Bridge crosses the Harlem River with 181 St. of Manhattan on the western end and University Ave. (or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) of the Bronx on the eastern end. It was actually built quite a bit earlier than its namesake to New Jersey. It was proposed in the 1870's due to the rapidly growing population in Washington Heights. Construction began in 1886 and it opened to pedestrian traffic on December 1, 1888. Its traffic lanes were to have opened on February 22, 1889, which is not only Washington's Birthday, but also the 100th anniversary of Washington's first inauguration (or close enough). However, it didn't fully open until December 1889.

The bridge currently carries six lanes of traffic and 6-foot sidewalks on either side. It originally had 15-foot walkways and a grass median which were narrowed/removed during renovations in the late 1940's-early 1950's. It is a double-span steel and masonry arch bridge, which actually has six parallel arches supporting the roadway. Each main arch, one over the Harlem River, the other over Metro North tracks, the Major Deegan Expressway and other streets in the Bronx, is 510 feet long. The total length including approaches is 2,375 feet. The clearance above the water is 135 feet.

After construction of the George Washington Bridge in 1931, which connects 178-179 Sts in Manhattan to New Jersey and the subsequent 179 St. tunnels in Manhattan, ramps were constructed to connect the tunnels to the Washington Bridge. But in the 1950's, with the planning of the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the addition of the lower deck of the GWB, it was determined that a new bridge would have to be the main connection between the two, hence the Alexander Hamilton Bridge a couple blocks to the south, and the Manhattan entrance to the Washington Bridge was moved to the surface streets at 181 St and Amsterdam Ave.

The sidwalks are accessible from University Ave. in the Bronx just south of Featherbed Lane (one of my favorite street names) and in Manhattan at the intersection of 181 St. and Amsterdam Ave., although the north walk actually comes out at the north end of Laurel Hill Terrace. The sidewalks are narrow and close to traffic, which is separated by a 3-foot concrete barrier. When running, be courteous to pedestrians. If you get tired, there are concrete benches spaced periodically along the way. You can also stand on the benches to get better views, which are quite remarkable. On the north is the upper Harlem River with the Inwood neoghborhood of Manhattan and University Heights of the Bronx, and the University Heights Bridge (week #2's bridge). On the south you can look down on the Alexander Hamilton Bridge next door (which has no pedestrian access and will not be covered separately in my blog) and the beautiful and historic High Bridge a 1/4 mile to the south (which currently has no legal pedestrian access but will be covered later in my blog) and High Bridge Tower. For some reason, however, the south walkway doesn't seem to get cleared of snow in the winter, as I found out today. The Manhattan entrance to the north walkway also connects to the paved pathways of Highbridge Park, which can be a lot of fun to explore, although some lead to dead ends, and exploring the paths after dusk is not recommended.

A few blocks to the west of Amsterdam, on St. Nicholas Ave., is the 181 St. station for the 1 train, and a few blocks to the west of that is the 181 St. station on the A train. The George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal is also nearby at 178-179 St. and Ft. Washington Ave., which has standard terminal-type amenities as well as buses to New Jersey. The nearest subway station in teh Bronx is the Mt. Eden station on the 4 train at Mt. Eden Ave. and Jerome Ave., just a block south of Featherbed Lane.
The Washington Bridge was named after - wait for it - George Washington. But it should be noted that the proliferance of place names in northern Manhattan that carry his name, such as the Washington Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, Fort Washington Ave., Fort George Hill, as well as the neighborhood of Washington Heights (and Fort George, a subsection of Washington Heights not universally acknowledged separately) is most likely due to the location of Fort Washington up here at the current location of Bennett Park, at 183rd St. and Ft. Washington Ave. It was the site of an unsuccessful battle in 1776, unless you're British, in which case it was a bright spot in an unsuccessful war.