Thursday, November 25, 2010

Race Report: Thanksgiving Marathon

I got an email a few days ago from Mike Arnstein telling me about a trail marathon he and Mike Oliva were putting on in Van Cortlandt Park on Thanksgiving morning. I rejected the idea at the outset, having just run a 60K on Saturday and needing a recovery week. But I felt good on runs during the week, so I decided to go for it.

The marathon consisted of four 6.5-mile loops incorporating parts of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, the South County Trail (Old Put), the flats and the back hills. There were also a 10K (one loop) and a half marathon option (two loops). The trails were beautiful, leaf-covered and in good shape. It was generally flat, but did have a few fairly steep ups and downs, and some rocky sections.

This race was firmly in the fatass tradition - no entry fee, no aid stations, no t-shirt, just run. There were, however, finishers "medals" in the form of forks, which could be used for Thanksgiving dinner. There was a standard table fork for 10K runners, a medium fork for half marathoners and a large serving fork for marathon finishers. This no doubt was part of the appeal for the runners, and the reason about 200 people showed up for the three races, despite it having only been planned two weeks ago and making its way around by email and Facebook. About 100 of them were doing the 10K, an estimated 20-25 running the full marathon.

The weather was cool and cloudy, but good running weather. Without pushing too hard, I was happy to run consistently about 53 minutes per loop, and finished in 3:33:33, good for fourth place. Oz Pearlman, who had trouble at JFK on Saturday and DNF'd after 31 miles, won in under three hours. Mike Arnstein, who finished JFK, got third in 3:08. (Second place I don't remember the name.)

Frank C. and Emmy S. showed up for the 10K before going on to family events. Grant M. also ran, for the first time in about six months. Sal, Lucimar, Elaine were there, too. A lot of fun and a great way to justify overeating and watching football later in the day!

Race Report: Knickerbocker 60K

The 33rd annual Knickerbocker 60K was held on Saturday, Nov. 20, on a beautiful day in Central Park. I like this race partly for its historical significance, but also because it brings a lot of first-time ultra runners to the sport.

The race was first held in March 1978. It was the brainchild of Nick Marshall, and was planned for Forest Park in Queens, where it would've been called the Queens 60K, but snow and ice on the road required a move to Central Park. Richie Innammorato, who was helping Nick, wasn't crazy about the idea of having it in Central Park, since "everything was in Central Park". So he at least made it go clockwise, against regular traffic. It also required a name change, with Richie calling it the Knickerbocker 60K, for a New York name. Back then it used the full six-mile loop, including the Great Hill.

It was a pure coincidence that the first winner was Terry Knickerbocker in 3:51. There were four finishers under four hours that first year. Terry went on to set a still-standing course record in 1981 of 3:40:42, also setting an unofficial American record (official records aren't recognized for 60K).

Today, this is the only ultra still on the New York Road Runners calendar, and the only ultra still in Central Park. But with that kind of exposure, it brings a large field, many of whom are new to ultrarunning. (The race is also an introduction to ultrarunning for a lot of bewildered park-goers.) This make is very exciting, as you never know who might show up, like a fast marathoner doing his first ultra.

As for me, having won last year in 4:22, I was hoping for a similar result this year. I started out on pace, just under 7:00/mile, and shortly found five runners ahead of me, including Dennis Ball, who ran really strong at the Queens 50K in the spring. But I was running my pace and let them go, hoping they'd fade at the marathon point, allowing me to catch them. Well, one faded enough for me to catch him, but the others remained strong. The race was won in 4:08:36 by Gerardo Avila, a perfect example of a fast marathoner (in the 2:20's) running his first ultra. Second was Sebastien Baret, who finished second last year, but improved his time considerably with a 4:09:10 finish. Third was Michael Coveney, just edging out Dennis. My 4:24:01, only a couple minutes slower than last year, but good enough for fifth this year.

The top three women were Deanna Culbreath, 9th overall with 4:42:11, Elena Makovskaya and Jessica Purcell.

Although there were a lot of new faces there, there were plenty of old friends as well - Tony P., Wayne B., Dave O., Frank D., Al P., Lydia R., Sal C., Andrei A., Al T., Chris S., with Grant M. acting as a course marshall, and Admas stopped by on her training run.

Thanks to John Garlepp and Richie Innammorato for their work with the Road Runners in staging this race. It was another great race all around.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bridge of the Week #36: Kazimiroff Boulevard Bridge

This week's bridge is the Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff Boulevard Bridge over the Bronx River in the Bronx. The Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff Boulevard runs along the western and northern borders of the New York Botanical Garden. The bridge is on the northern border of the garden, east of the southern terminus of the Mosholu Parkway, west of the Bronx River Parkway, before the boulevard continues east onto Allerton Ave.

I can find no information on the stats of the bridge, when it was built, etc. It is a stone arch bridge that carries auto traffic, and a rather narrow sidewalk on the north side. Fortunately, there is a wide shoulder area on the roadway next to the sidewalk, so cars don't go whizzing by right next to you, and if you need to step down to pass someone, it can be done safely. It does connect a nice bike path and greenway from Mosholu Parkway to paths northward through Bronx Park, and on the west side of the Bronx River Parkway one can run south to the Pelham Parkway. Also, the New York Botanical Garden is right across the street.
The bridge (I'm not even sure if that's its official name) and the Boulevard are named after Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff (1914-1980), a dentist who was a strong advocate for protection of ecosystems and natural features in the Bronx, especially in Pelham Bay Park. This portion of road north of Fordham Road, formerly a part of Southern Boulevard, was named after the doctor in 1981.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

College Football Playoffs

I hope we can all agree that the BCS is a disaster and an embarrassment. If you're reading this, I probably don't need to tell you the history. But the BCS is its own entity comprising authorities from six conferences, which at the time of its creation were considered the strongest and most significant conferences in college football. The fact that that is clearly no longer the case (Big East, ACC - really?), and yet the BCS continues to serve those conferences while blatantly discriminating against teams from other, stronger conferences (MWC, WAC) is reason enough, and probably the main reason to do away with the BCS. The fact that it claims to want to settle the dispute over which team is the best "on the field" while ignoring results that took place on the field (i.e., overlooking undefeated teams in favor of one-loss teams) is only further evidencce of its hypocrisy and incompetence.

Since everyone knows the BCS is a joke, here is my solution, in the form of a 16-team playoff. The teams would include all of the 11 conference champions plus five at-large teams. The at-large teams would be the five highest-ranked teams that are not conference champions, combining the point totals from the AP and Coaches' polls. The teams would be seeded by ranking also by combining the points from those two polls. (There would have to be some set rule or procedure to avoid rematches, which I'll try to come up with.) No computer polls or other polls would have any part in the process. The BCS would be eliminated.

The playoff games would be played on successive weekends following the end of the regular season, all games being played at the higher-seeded school's home stadium, with the possible exception of a predetermined site for the championship game, as with the Super Bowl. This would help reduce traveling expenses, would provide income to schools hosting games, and would be a greater convenience to players and ticket-buying fans. The bowls would be eliminated for these top teams, but bowl games could still take place for teams not in the playoffs. These 16 schools, then, would play 15 games rather than eight, giving more opportunity for revenue generating, for those interested in money.

So, for example, this year's regular season ends December 4. The first round of the playoffs would take place Dec. 11, quarterfinals Dec. 18, semifinals Dec. 25, championship game Jan. 1. (There could be some adjustment possibly if the NCAA wanted to avoid Christmas.) In most years the championship game would take place near New Year's Day.

As a further example, I've compiled a list of the 16 teams who would play and where they would be seeded if the season ended today. In other words, the teams currently leading the conferences (ties being broken by the AP and Coaches' polls) and the other five highest-ranked teams. They would be as follows, with seedings in parentheses:

ACC: Virginia Tech (12)
Big East: Pittsburgh* (15)
Big Ten: Wisconsin (6)
Big 12: Nebraska (9)
Conference USA: Central Florida (14)
Mid-American Conference: Northern Illinois (13)
Mountain West: TCU (4)
Pac-10: Oregon (1)
Southeastern Conference: Auburn (2)
Sun Belt: Florida International* (16)
Western Athletic Conference: Boise State (3)

At-large teams:
LSU (5)
Stanford (7)
Ohio State (8)
Michigan State (10)
Oklahoma State (11)

*Currently, Pittsburgh is 5-4 and FIU is 4-5. If a conference champion would happen to not be bowl eligible, that conference would lose its automatic spot and a sixth at-large team would be chosen.

So by standard seeding procedures, the first-round games would be:
(16) FIU @ (1) Oregon
(9) Nebraska @ (8) Ohio St.

(12) Virginia Tech @ (5) LSU
(13) Northern Illinois @ (4) TCU
(15) Pittsburgh @ (2) Auburn
(10) Michigan St. @ (7) Stanford

(11) Oklahoma State @ (6) Wisconsin
(14) CFU @ (3) Boise St.

On Dec. 5, I'll put my plan to the test against the real end of regular season results. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Bridge of the Week #35: Madison Ave. Bridge

Just in time for the New York Marathon, here's the last of the five bridges that the runners cross - the Madison Ave. Bridge. I've already covered (in order, and yes I planned it that way) the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Pulaski Bridge, teh Queensboro Bridge, the Willis Ave. Bridge and now the Madison Ave. Bridge. It comes at the 21 mile mark when runners cross the Harlem River from the Bronx back into Manhattan.
This bridge is a swing bridge with a 300-foot swing span and a total length of 1,892 feet. It carries four lanes of traffic, two in each direction, and has sidewalks on both sides. The Bronx entrance is at E. 138 St. and the Major Deegan Expressway ramps, just west of the Grand Concourse. (Here the numbered streets of the two boroughs line up, although by the time you get up to the Jerome Reservoir, they're about 30 blocks off. While the street planning and layout of Manhattan and the Bronx is a fascinating subject, it is beyond the scope of this blog.) On the Manhattan side, the bridge splits, with Bronx-bound traffic, one lane of Manhattan-bound traffic and the south sidewalk entering (or exiting as the case may be) at 135 St. and Madison Ave. But one lane of Manhattan-bound traffic, which the marathon runners use, and the north sidewalk exits at 138 St. and 5th Ave. It was opened on July 18, 1910 and replaced a swing bridge on the same site that was opened in 1884 after New York City annexed three Westchester County towns on the west side of the Bronx River in 1874. Both the old and new bridges were designed by Alfred Boller, who also designed the original 145 St. Bridge, Macombs Dam and University Heights Bridges.
So that concludes the series of New York Marathon bridges. But don't worry, many more bridges to come, including ----- another retractable bridge; the only bridge to connect three boroughs (any guesses?); not one, not two, but THREE bridges to New Jersey(!); and a special bonus feature on a very special viaduct that we all know and love. So remember, keep your feet on the ground (but no more than one at a time) and keep reaching for the stars.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bridge of the Week #34: E. Fordham Road Bridge

So having completed the pedestrian-access bridges across the Bronx River south of the Bronx Zoo, now I'm moving to north of the zoo. This bridge is on E. Fordham Road, just north of the zoo, and runs right between the zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. It's one of those bridges you could drive across, even walk across, without even realizing you're crossing a bridge.

The E. Fordham Road Bridge carries the full four lanes of E. Fordham Road and two sidewalks across the bridge, between Southern Boulevard to the west and the Bronx River Parkway to the east. It is a concrete arch bridge 92.9 feet long, built in 1907.
There is a lot in the area for runners to enjoy, such as the Pelham Parkway to the east, once you get across the Bronx River Parkway, Boston Road and Willett Ave. (where the subway stop is for the 2 and 5 lines). The Mosholu Parkway path is also nearby, north of the Botanical Garden, but I'll describe that further with other bridges. To the west on E. Fordham Road is Fordham University and beyond that a busy commercial district that is hell to run on with the crowded sidewalks. One must run slowly and carefully and sometimes stop to walk in congested areas. And expect giggles and comments if wearing running shorts.

Pic: View south from E. Fordham Road Bridge