Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Running Year in Review

As I was thinking about the year gone by, as far as running, I thought it would be a good idea to put down my reflections in my blog. It was definitely a big year for me, so here is a basic summary of what made it so big, the highs and the lows, the daily grind and the new adventures.

First of all, the numbers. In 2011 I ran 3,197 miles (plus whatever I run Dec. 31), which might sounds like a lot but I'm sure a lot of people will be surprised it's so low. I ran 18 races, which break down as follows: 9 ultras (1 48-hour, 2 24-hour, 3 6-hour, 1 100-mile 3-day race, 1 50-mile and 1 50-km), 3 marathons, 4 half marathons, and 2 5-mile races. I got four ultra wins, which will at least get me onto UltraRunning Magazine's year-end list (BUS 6-Hour, 3 Days At The Fair 48-Hour, Pioneer Memorial 3-Day 100-Mile Trek, North Coast 24-Hour), and 1 tie marathon win (The July 4th Marathon, with Dennis Ball). All of the half marathons and two of the marathons were on the calendar of the incredibly suucessful and popular Holiday Marathons. I set two PR's (marathon and 48 hours), and three that were pretty darn close to PR's (6 hours, 5 miles and 24 hours). I won the New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix for the third time. Oh, and one American record and one national championship.

Not bad, considering that the year started on a low point in Phoenix, with me having pulled out of the Across The Years 48-hour race on the last day of 2010, a day earlier than planned, with a strained achilles. Fortunately it wasn't serious, and with a little icing and resting I was able to get back to normal training before long.

But I think it's fair to say the highlight of the year was 3 Days at the Fair 48-hour race, May 13-15, where I set a new American record (just ratified by USATF!) by almost nine miles, a total of 257.34 miles, which is also a world-best for 2011! No need to rehash the story when I've already written about it, but it was just a race when everything went perfectly according to plan. But I'll repeat my big thanks to RD Rick McNulty, Lydia Redding for crewing, my PT Jack Mantione, additional help from Sabrina Moran's family, and to Mike Arnstein and Mike Oliva for throwing me the awesomest bash ever!!!

Besides that, of course winning a second 24-hour national championship in three years at North Coast in Cleveland was another big highlight, with 153 miles. I'll get that PR yet!!! But it officially puts me back on the U.S. team for the 2012 world championships in Poland in September. Very much looking forward to that! My Boston Marathon PR was also very exciting. People who know me well know i'm not too concerned about my marathon times, but it really would be nice to get under 2:50! Maybe in 2012.

The one other race that I am very proud of, that many might have overlooked, was the Pioneer Memorial Trek, 3-day 100-mile race. It took place just two weeks after my 48 hour, and I wasn't sure if I'd be recovered enough to run it at all, but I knew I wanted to if at all possible because of the historical significance to the race, the fact that it honors Ted Corbitt and the other members of the Pioneer Club. The race has been held every two years since 1981, but this could be the last one, unless Rich Innamorato changes his mind, which I hope he does. But aside from some foot pain, I was feeling ok, so I gave it a shot, and I not only finished, but I won, winning each day's leg. And that was my third straight victory for that race.

I only ran two NYRR races in 2011, both 5-milers. But I was very happy with the Team Championships in August, where I came close to a PR - not bad for an old man! Shows I still have some speed left.

So for the lowlights, aside from the forementioned Across The Years just before New Year's, the big crash was without doubt the Back On My Feet Lone Ranger 24 hour race in Philadelphia in July. There I lacked the mental focus needed to deal with the heat and the somewhat unfamiliar situation of a long 8-mile loop. But not a total loss, as I did learn a few things from my mistakes, not to mention that it was a fundraiser for a very worthy cause.

The other lowlight was the cancellation of the 2011 world championship 24-hour race. After the 2010 race in Brive, it was announced that the 2011 race was confirmed for Brugg, Switzerland. In late 2010 the organizers in Brugg pulled out when they apparently had trouble getting the funding for the race, and the IAU couldn't find a replacement. It was a real shame, and a black mark not only on the Brugg organizers, but on the IAU.

Besides the races, I enjoyed some very fun group long runs, a loop around Manhattan, or a tour of the bridges of Manhattan, or the A Train from end to end. I hope to do a lot more of these in 2012.

But the thing that really stands out for the year is all the new friendships I made, or the recent friendships that got stronger. There are a lot of young, enthusiastic runners out there in New York, whether it's the Dashing Whippets or Dennis Ball's Tri Team, not to mention the Mikes and The Holiday Marathons, or the many other runners I got to know over the past year. The running future in New York looks very, very bright! Of course that is not at all meant to diminish my old friends, and "old" friends (they'd be the first to admit! lol). There's such a great community of runners here, I'm really looking forward to sharing the next year with them all!

So what exactly will I be sharing with them? The only race that's set in stone is the 24-hour world championships in Poland in September (hopefully it won't be cancelled). I will probably run the 3 Days at the Fair 48-hour race again in May, will possibly go down to Oklahoma in October to run 24 The Hard Way. I would love to run Badwater again if I can scrape together the dough. Locally I'm not entirely sure what's on the schedule, except for Caumsett, which I will probably run again. I'll probably do some marathons of halfs with The Holiday Marathons, and I would like to find a fast road marathon to try for a sub-2:50. Probably a couple of NYRR races, probably not the NY Marathon. I'm going to look for other races put on by smaller organizations. A lot of "probably's" there, but that's the scoop. I will also be putting on the RD cap with a 100-mile run in June, small and low-key, but promises to be a lot of fun (because I promise it).

And finally, a big thank you to all of you who are reading this now! It always amazes me that anyone cares what I have to say. Best wishes to you all for the new year - stay happy and healthy!

Pics: 1. Breaking the 48-hour record at Three Days at the Fair in Augusta, NJ; 2. Connie Gardner and me, 24-hour national champions at North Coast in Cleveland; 3. Hopkinton in April; 4. Dennis Ball and me after The July 4th Marathon; 5. The 10 runners who started the A Train run in the summer - 6 of us ran the whole 34 miles.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bridge of the Week #75: Boston Road Bridge

This week's bridge (even though it's a couple weeks late) is the last bridge I will be covering over the Bronx River - the Boston Road Bridge.

This bridge is not to be confused with the bridge farther north up Boston Road, over the Hutchinson River, which is called the Eastchester Bridge. This bridge is just south of the Pelham Parkway intersection, and west of the Bronx River Parkway, at the eastern entrance of the Bronx Zoo. Zoogoers must cross the bridge on foot to enter the zoo from the parking lot. Boston Road itself, in fact, has restricted vehicular access here and through the zoo, before regular public access resumes at E. 180th St. But you can very easily run, or walk here from Bronx Park East and the Pelham Parkway (very near the elevated subway station for the 2 and 5 trains). But as it's the entrance to the zoo, there are a lot of pedestrians, and it leads only to the zoo entrance, so not really a great running bridge. But it is near Bronx Park, which has a beautiful greenway north of Pelham Parkway, and Pelham Parkway, which has a nice greenway as well.

The bridge itself is a basic concrete bridge, I don't have the numbers on it, but you can get an idea of its length and appearance from the pictures above. One source lists it as being built in 1920, which sounds good to me. I'll mention here as well that Boston Road, called Boston Post Road north of the NYC line, was obviously so named because it was a road built in the 1700's to carry mail to and from Boston.

As I mentioned, this is the last bridge over the Bronx River that I will write about. However, according to Google Maps there are two other bridges over the river in the New York Botanical Garden, whic carry a roadway, named Bronx Park Road, over the river twice as it loops through the park. But the Botanical Garden charges admission, and since this is meant for runners' information, and runners are unlikely to pay to go into a park to do their run (and in fact I admit I've never been into the Botanical Garden), I won't be writing about those two bridges.

And also since this is the last time I'll mention the Bronx River, it's a good time to give a little trivia note. It's well-known that the name Bronx comes from Jonas Bronck, a Swedish-born Dutch settler who established a farm near the river in 1639. When he died in 1643 the river, named Aquehung, or "River of High Bluffs," by the Mohegan, became known as Bronck's River (later Bronx River). But the name Bronx was not associated with any area of land for centuries. The villages in what is now The Bronx all had their own names and were part of Westchester County until 1874 when New York City (just Manhattan at the time) annexed the villages west of the Bronx River, but it was all still named simply New York City, and New York County. In 1895 the city annexed the rest of what is now the Bronx, but it was still just called New York City, and New York County, until 1898 and the consolidation of Greater New York - the annexation of Queens, Kings and Richmond Counties, which became the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Only then did the northern borough receive its name, after the river that runs through it. (And it was only in 1914 that the borough achieved separate county status from New York County, and became Bronx County.) All that is a long way of saying that the borough was named after the river, more than actually after Mr. Bronck himself.

Sorry, one more trivia note about the river: it is the only true river in New York City, and not a tidal body of water. So there.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bridge of the Week #74: Goethals Bridge

This week's bridge is the Goethals Bridge, which spans Arthur Kill between Staten Island and Elizabeth, New Jersey. It is a steel-truss cantilever bridge with a central span of 672 feet and a total length of 7,109 feet, with a clearance of 140 feet above the water. It carries four lanes of traffic, two in each direction, and it has sidewalks on both the north and south sides that have been closed for many years.

Of all the bridges in the city, this has one of the more interesting histories and an interesting future. As far back as the 1860's a bridge or series of bridges have been proposed between Staten Island and New Jersey. But in 1924, with the increase of motor vehicles and the economic advantages to linking Staten Island with New Jersey, the states of New York and New Jersey passed legislation allowing construction of two bridges to take place, one near the north end of the island to Elizabeth, NJ, and one near the south end to Perth Amboy, to be carried out by the new Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Port Authority was already constructing the Holland Tunnel as the first auto connection between the two states, and these two bridges would be the Authority's first bridges. Both the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing were designed by John Alexander Low Waddell and opened on June 29, 1928. The Goethals Bridge (usually pronounced "Goth-" as in "gothic", sometimes I've heard "Go-", rhyming with "toe", which I believe may be more accurate, I've never heard it pronounced as if it were German with an umlaut and a hard "t", so don't try to be clever and pronounce it that way) was named after Major General George Washington Goethals, who supervised construction of the Panama Canal and was the first consulting engineer of the Port Authority. Sadly, he died in January of 1928, and didn't live to see the bridge opened.

Both bridges were built with pedestrian access. The walkways on the Outerbridge were eliminated in 1963 according to one source, to allow widening of the four traffic lanes. The walkways on the Goethals are still there for the most part, but fenced off. The south walkway I believe is partially deconstructed on the New Jersey end, but I've read reports that it's possible, even easy, though illegal, to hop the wall on the north side and cross. I haven't done this, nor do I recommend it. Access to the walkways was available, and the fenced-off entrances can still be viewed, west of the Forest Avenue intersections with Western Ave. (south walkway) and Goethals Road North (north walkway). In Elizabeth, the entrance appears to be west of the New Jersey Turnpike at Trenton Ave. But seriously, I've never crossed on foot, and I'm not saying you should. I've never been in that area of Elizabeth on foot. On Staten Island, there's not much for houses or businesses in the immediate area, but to the east is the neighborhood of Mariner's Harbor. But around there, most people get around by car or bus, and there's not much of interest to runners.

The Goethals charges a toll for drivers, but it was not self-supporting financially until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was opened in 1964, with which the Goethals is connected by means of the Staten Island Expressway. With the added traffic, and the fact that its traffic lanes are only 10 feet wide, making it dangerous for trucks and buses (and just downright scary even in a car), the bridge has been labeled "functionally obsolete," which is fine, since it has less than 10 years left of its lifespan anyway. Ideas were discussed about rehabilitation, possibly adding a twin bridge just to the south, but it was decided to build a completely new, six-lane cable-stay bridge and tear down the existing bridge. One article that I found from a few years ago gave a 2016 completion date, a more recent article said 2017. Another, still more recent, said that the President's latest budget was cutting out infrastructure projects such as this, so I'm not so optimistic. But the artist's renderings of the proposed bridge look beautiful, and it would include pedestrian walkways. On the downside, Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro wants to sell naming rights to the new bridge like many sports stadiums and football bowl games. So we could end up with a Qualcom Bridge or a Bridge. Let's hope this insanity is limited to his head only.

Pics: 1. Aerial view of the Goethals Bridge, courtesy of the Port Authority; 2. Ground view looking towards New Jersey from Goethals Road North; 3. The fenced-off north sidewak entrance; 4. The north walkway, as seen by leaning over the wall; 5. Stairway leading to the south walkway.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

College Football Playoff

Now that the regular season and conference championship games are over, I once again came up with my ideal playoff scenario. I can't imagine anyone objectively defending the BCS system or even the existence of the BCS. Originally establishing itself ostensibly with the worthy goal of setting up a national championship game to determine a definitive number one team. Previously, the bowl games chose participating teams based on their own interests, plus there were conference affiliations that often prevented a number one versus number two game. You might remember that the Big 8 champion went to the Orange Bowl, Big 10 and Pac 10 to the Rose Bowl, Southwest Conference to the Cotton Bowl, Southeast to the Sugar Bowl. As a result, there wsa sometimes a controversy over who was number one at the end of the season, and sometimes the AP and UPI (later the coaches' poll) chose different champions.

So the BCS was supposed to end the controversy, but if anything the controversies have increased, over who should be chosen for the championship game. Sometimes, like this year, one team is a clear choice with several teams possible for the second spot, sometimes there is no clear choice at all, and sometimes the clear choice is left out entirely, like the example I always bring up, the 2008 Utah Utes. Utah and TCU were the only undefeated teams at the end of the regular season, but not being from one of the "BCS Conferences", neither one received any serious consideration for the championship game, the excuse being that since they were from "small conferences" they haven't played a strong enough schedule. But both teams' play, especially Utah's, throughout the season showed that they were as strong as any other team in the country. One-loss Ohio State and two-loss LSU went to the championship game that year. Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl by two touchdowns.

There are many problems with the BCS, the most glaring being that it has chosen six conferences as members, supposedly the strongest conferences. Generally they are the stronger conferences, but in recent years no one can honestly say that the Big East or even the ACC are stronger than the Mountain West or the WAC (at least before the defection of Utah), or this year Conference USA. No matter how strong TCU or Houston or Boise State actually are, it's predetermined before the season even starts that they will have no chance of playing for a national championship. This is also the greatest hypocrisy of the BCS, that it purports to have the championship decided "on the field, not in the polls", but those who have displayed "on the field" that they have been better than their opponent every week are passed over for a team that has displayed "on the field" that another was better than them on at least one particular day. And then the undefeated team is supposed to get on their knees with thanks that they were selected to "a BCS bowl". I won't even get into the problems with the methodology of the BCS poll.

People have been proposing some changes that include a four or six team playoff system within the BCS. The only real choice is to totally dismantle the BCS. It serves no positive function, and only takes money from the bowl games and from tv advertisers, money that could go back to the universities. It has planted itself pretty securely and may be tough to dislodge, but maybe by pulling it up from its roots (the advertisers) it could be done.

So on to the good part - my playoff system. It would be a 16-team standard playoff that would automatically include ALL 11 conference champions and five at-large teams that would be chosen and seeded by a reliable and accountable independent commission. An independent team, such as Notre Dame, could be chosen as an at-large team. This system ensures that an undefeated team has a chance at a national championship. The games could be played at the higher-seeded team's stadium, except for the championship game, which could be a Super Bowl-like game. Teams not chosen for the playoffs could still play in bowl games.
The conference champions for 2011 are:
ACC - Clemson
Big East - West Virginia (actually a 3-way tie with Cincinnati and Louisville, but WVU is chosen by the BCS and for argument's sake is chosen here as well)
Big Ten - Wisconsin
Big 12 - Oklahoma State
Conference USA - Southern Miss
Mid-American - Northern Illinois
Mountain West - TCU
Pac-12 - Oregon
Southeastern - LSU
Sun Belt - Arkansas State
Western Athletic - Louisiana Tech

With no commission yet in place, I have chosen the five at-large teams: Alabama, Stanford, Boise State, Arkansas, Houston. (Note: USC is ineligible for postseason play.)

I have also seeded the teams as follows, based not only on record and conference standing but also to prevent rematches or postpone them as long as possible.
1. LSU, 2. Oklahoma State, 3. Alabama, 4. Wisconsin, 5. Oregon, 6. Stanford, 7. Arkansas, 8. Southern Miss, 9. TCU, 10. Boise State, 11. Houston, 12. Arkansas State, 13. Clemson, 14. Northern Illinois, 15. West Virginia, 16. Louisiana Tech.

If the higher-seeded teams each win the first two rounds, the semifinals would then include LSU against Wisconsin (or Oregon, close call there), and Oklahoma State against Alabama. Now that would be a championship!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bridge of the Week #73: Saw Mill Creek Bridge

This week's bridge is again on Staten Island - the Saw Mill Creek Bridge. This steel and concrete bridge carries Chelsea Road over the Saw Mill Creek in the Bloomfield area of Staten Island, an area south of the Goethals Bridge, west of the West Shore Expressway, where there are inlets and wetlands off Arthur Kill, the waterway between Staten Island and New Jersey. There are some industrial areas there and a few other businesses, but not much for residences nearby.

I don't have any stats on the bridge, the first picture above pretty much tells the story of its size. (The second picture is the view west from the bridge.) There are sidewalks on the bridge, but no sidewalks on Chelsea Road leading to and from the bridge. But when I ran it, there was little traffic on the road. While there actually can be some appeal to running on these low-traffic remote roads, I wouldn't think a lot of runners from other parts of the city or the borough would have much interest in taking the bus all the way out here for their run. Unless they happen to want to run all the bridges of the city.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Race Report: JFK 50 Mile

After years of being told I have to run JFK, the largest ultra in the country with over 1,000 finishers and possibly the oldest continuous existing ultra, I had signed up for the 2011 race. This race started out from a comment by Theodore Roosevelt that all military personnel should be able to cover 50 miles on foot in 20 hours. The first race was held in 1963 under Kennedy's administration.

I rode down to the host hotel in Hagerstown, Maryland with long Island runners George Worth, Jim Morris and Tim Henderson (first pic above). We received some shocking news at the pre-race briefing by race director Mike Spinnler, that the administrator of the Appalachian Trail, Pamela Underhill, not only refused a permit for an additional 500 runners but stated that no permit would be given for the Appalachian Trail after 2012, saying "the runners won't mind not using the Appalachian Trail"!!! What's up with officials refusing or rescinding permits for ultras (as in Morris County, NJ)?!?! Mike is hoping to get a Congressional resolution passed to allow continued use of the trail for six hours one day a year for future races. Please check back with the JFK 50 web site for details and updates.

But back to the race. I hadn't run this race before, and I haven't run any 50-mile race in quite a while, so I really had no idea how I would do. Only the first 15.5 miles is on hilly, tough trails, so I was estimating something between 6:30 (on the very optimistic side) and 7:00. I wasn't planning to worry too much about competition, just to get on the trails, which I don't do too often, step outside my comfort zone a bit and enjoy one of the most celebrated ultras in the country with the richest tradition.

I'm guessing that most people reading this have either run the race or know people who have, so I won't bother with a course description. The weather was good, cold at the start in Boonsboro at 31 degrees, but a forecast high near 50. Once we got on the Appalachian Trail, I understood what everyone meant when they warned me about the rocky trail. Most of it was fine and with some careful foot placement was very runnable, but a few sections were really tricky and tough to maneuver. Still, I was happy with my pace on the trails as I descended the switchbacks on my way to the to the towpath.

And once on the smooth, flat towpath I tried to get into a good road-type pace, hoping to pass some of the runners ahead. It was hard for me at this point to judge my pace, but there were mile markers on the side of the path, so when I did check my pace, I was happy to see it near 7:00 per mile. The scenery along the Potomac was beautiful to be sure, but I was getting a little chilled when the path went into the shade. But it was similar scenery the entire 26-mile length, and after roughly the 30-mile point I wasn't seeing any other runners, so it was getting a little lonely and it was tough to feel like I was making forward progress. The aid stations helped a lot with both of those issues, and they were tended by an amazing bunch of volunteers. So I was counting down the miles on the towpath, even as I did slow down a little the last several miles.

After about a 3:20 marathon on the towpath I finally turned onto the road for the last 8.5 miles, and I felt like I was home, being on pavement again! I was able to pick up the pace a little bit, and I saw a runner a couple hundred yards ahead of me, and I had hopes of catching him. Starting at eight miles to go, mile markers were place alongside the road, allowing me to really feel good about getting near the finish. Still, I was never able to get any closer to the runner in front of me, but I wasn't too concerned with that. Coming off the towpath, I looked to be well on track for a sub-seven hour finish, hopefully under 6:50. But as I neared the finish, I pushed a little more and was looking to take a few minutes off that as well. At this point I have to thank my friend Mike Oliva, an outstanding runner himself, who finished JFK in 2010 in 17th place with a time of 6:44 and I didn't remember how many seconds, because his time became my goal near the finish! The last mile seemed to take forever, but I finally finished in 6:44:24. It ended up being 19 seconds faster than Mike's time, so I do have bragging rights, at least for the time being!

So finishing at the school in Williamsport, the runners had massages, medical help, food and showers, and a lot of opportunities to meet and greet and swap stories, which really is the reward for all the work and pain we put ourselves through!

David Riddle won the race with a new course record time, unfathomable, of 5:40:45. Michael Wardian, continuing his amazing year (not to mention his career) finished a close second, also under the old course record, with 5:43:24. Cassie Scallon won the women's race in 6:31:22 and Meghan Arboghast, at age 50, got second with 6:35:16! Fellow New Yorker and past runner-up Mike Arnstein got 5th place. I was happy to see I just cracked the top 20, getting 20th overall, 18th male, and I was especially pleased to see I was 2nd male master, after Jon Lawlor, who finished 7th. My travel companions George, Tim and Jim all finished in excellent times, George taking an hour off his 2010 time. Many other friends ran and finished as well, too many to mention, but a big congratulations to all who ran! A big thanks to Mike Spinnler and all the staff and volunteers, and of course also to Tim Henderson, Jim Morris and George Worth for letting me tag along with them. And as always, a big thanks to my physical therapist, Dr. Jack Mantione, for helping me get the most out of this old body, and without injury.

Pics (sorry there aren't more): 1. Me, George, Jim and Tim back in NY at the GWB Bus Station; 2. Me and Serge Arbona after the race.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bridge of the Week #72: Richmond Ave. Bridge

We're back to Staten Island for this week's bridge, the Richmond Ave. Bridge. It carries Richmond Ave. over Richmond Creek, between Forest Hill Road and Arthur Kill Road.

Richmond Ave. here is a busy stretch of six-lane road about a mile south of the Staten Island Mall and just north of the north end of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Parkway (formerly Richmond Parkway). The street runs north-south, and there is a sidewalk on the east side, which appears to get little use. (There is also a sidewalk on the west side, but no sidewalk along the street leading to it.) There is little pedestrian traffic in this area, as indeed most of Staten Island is not at all pedestrian-friendly. Therefore I won't make too many comments, as there is not much here to interest a runner, with the notable exception of an entrance to the Staten Island Greenbelt nearby at the corner of Forest Hill Road and Richmond Ave. The Greenbelt is a large forested area in the middle of the island with a series of hiking - or running - trails, that actually extend, with the help of some on-street sections, all the way to Clove Lakes Park. I admit I haven't explored the Greenbelt much myself, so I can't speak about it too much. Also nearby is the site of the notoriously odoriferous former Fresh Kills Landfill, which was closed for trash duties in 2001, and which is now undergoing renovations to become Fresh Kills Park. Seriously, it has potential.

The bridge itself is just a standard steel and concrete bridge. I don't have stats on it, but it's a low-lying bridge, about 100 or so yards long. You'll notice I didn't even bother to take a picture of the bridge itself. Richmond Creek is part of a series of inlets from Arthur Kill, surrounded by protected wetlands. But don't let that top picture, the view to the east, fool you. This is not a nature lover's paradise. The wetlands are then surrounded by random unplanned development, cookie cutter town houses, and lots of concrete on the ground.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bridge of the Week #71: George Washington Bridge

I was going to save this one for last, but seeing as how this week was its 80th birthday, this week's bridge is the massive, majestic, beautiful George Washington Bridge. It opened on October 25, 1931 after four years of construction.

At the time it opened it was the world's longest suspension bridge. Its main span is 3,500 feet long and has a total length of 4,760 feet. It has 212 feet of clearance above the water at mid-span. Originally it was built with a single deck with six lanes of traffic, and an open section in the center that could accommodate either two additional lanes of traffic or a rail line. Eventually the roadway was built, giving the bridge eight lanes of traffic. In 1962 the lower roadway was added for an additional six lanes. It is still the bridge with the greatest vehicular traffic in the world. The bridge connects the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, between 178 and 179 Sts. across the Hudson River to Fort Lee, New Jersey. The main connecting thoroughfares in New Jersey are Route 4 and Interstate 80 westward, and the Palisades Interstate Parkway northward. In Manhattan, the bridge has access to the Hudson River Parkway and Riverside Drive, or leads directly to the Trans-Manhattan Expressway which in turn leads either to the Harlem River Drive, or across the Harlem River to the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the Major Deegan Expressway, as well as street exits. The nearest street access for motor traffic is at 178 St. and Fort Washington Ave coming off the bridge or 179 St. and Fort Washington Avenue entering the bridge.

There are sidewalks on each side, but they are never open at the same time that I've seen. Ususally the south walkway is open, which can be accessed by a ramp just west of the intersection of 178 St. and Cabrini Blvd. If there is some sort of maintenance work going on that they need to close the walkway for, they open the north walkway, which is at 179th St. and Cabrini Blvd. (But to get from one to the other, you have to walk around to Fort Washington Ave.) Both walkways have street access on Hudson Terrace in Fort Lee. The walkway is open only from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, and might be closed altogether in bad weather, such as heavy snow or very high winds. Hope you don't get stuck on one side, because the nearest foot crossings are the Bayonne Bridge (previously covered) about 15 miles to the south and the Bear Mountain Bridge about 35 miles to the north (well outside the city).

Much has been written about the history of this bridge, so I won't repeat all of that, but just a few of the items I found to be most interesting. A bridge across the Hudson from Manhattan had been considered for many years and at many locations. Prior to the GWB, the only road connection between Manhattan and New Jersey was the Holland Tunnel, completed in 1927. One location that had been given the strongest consideration was at 59th St. The current location was eventually favored for two main reasons: thanks to an outcropping of land at that point in Manhattan, the Hudson is at its narrowest there; and the high cliffs on both sides eliminate the need for long, extended onramps. Another interesting fact, the working title of the bridge during planning and construction was simply the Hudson River Bridge, and it was assumed that that would be it's final name. As construction neared completion, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who built the bridge (and still operates it) polled the public to decide on a name. The Authority seemed to favor the George Washington Bridge. Although it seemed fitting to honor him thus since a fort he defended in the Revolutionary War was nearby in Manhattan, others opposed it, in part because there already was a Washington Bridge at 181 St. across the Harlem River to the Bronx. The public voted overwhelmingly in favor of Hudson River Bridge, so the Port Authority naturally went ahead and named it the George Washington Bridge.

The bridge is very nice to run on, the walkway is about 10 feet wide, with enough room for everyone. It is very well-used by cyclists, who sometimes ride in packs, and sometimes there are clusters of tourists, but generally it's easy and safe to run, and except for the Manhattan on-ramp, it diesn't have too much of a hill, and the rise to the center is not very noticeable.

It has plenty to offer runners, even aside from the bridge itself. Northern Manhattan has great places to run, and the bridge entrance is close to access to the Hudson River Greenway, which can be accesseed at W. 181 St. or indirectly from W. 177 St. The Hudson River Greenway runs the length of Manhattan; this section runs through Fort Washington Park from the water treatment plant at 145 St. along the riverside and passes next to the Manhattan tower (and near the Little Red Lighthouse at the foot of the tower), under the bridge and up the hill to go alongside the northbound lanes of the Henry Hudson Parkway. About 3/4 mile north of the bridge on Fort Washington Ave. is Fort Tryon Park, a beautiful park with seom good opportunities for hill repeats. The George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, between Fort Washington Ave. and Broadway, 178 and 179 St., built at the same time as the lower deck of the bridge, has a deli and restroom facilities if needed (although it will soon be undergoing renovations and promises to have much more to offer).

The real treat is actually in New Jersey. Just on the north side of the bridge at Hudson Terrace is the entrance to the Long Path - a trail that extends all the way to the Adirondacks. At Hudson Terrace, you take a couple of stairways towards the north walkway (which is usually closed), and follow the stairs on up to the woods. The path leads along the top of the Palisades and is a great place to leave the city behind. You can even enjoy the Palisades staying on roads by following Hudson Terrace south past the Fort Lee Historical Center and downhill to the vehicle entrance of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. This road runs along the middle of the cliffside, has access to a few riverside dock/park areas and continues on to the park headquarters about seven miles north of the bridge. There is also a trail directly on the riverbank and occasionally trails from the top to bottom, so there are plenty of good places to run here on the Palisades.

This is my favorite bridge of the bunch. It's become an icon, and besides its crucial role in transportation between New York and New Jersey, it's a thing of beauty and a real New York City landmark.

Pics (the first three are my pics): 1. The bridge with towers fully illuminated on Sept. 11, 2010; 2. The view of the bridge from Fort Washington Park below; 3. The view of Manhattan from the bridge; 4. Opening day of the bridge, October 25, 1931, in a photograph by Weegee. Pre-Henry Hudson Parkway, I'm fascinated by the differences with today's spaghetti mess of onramps and offramps. Note also the undeveloped center lanes of the bridge. 5. The bridge under construction with Riverside Drive (currently the northbound HHP) in the foreground.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Race Report: 6-Hour 60th Birthday Run

The 6-Hour 60th Birthday Run was started by the Greater Long Island Running Club in 2000 to celebrate the 60th birthdays of Barry Aronowski and Mike Polanski. It's been held every year as a celebration of those runners who turn 60 that year. This was the seventh time I've run the race since 2004 (every year except 2008), and it's one of my favorites. It's on a nice course in Sunken Meadow State Park on Long Island (2.1 miles, about 2/3 trail, 1/3 pavement), most of the time the weather has been good, and there's a nice party afterwards with food and beer and birthday cake.

The weather for this year's event was picture-perfect, sunny with a light breeze and temps in the 60s. I was feeling good going into the race, so I thought I might be able to repeat my win from last year and nab my fifth ultra win of the year. As expected, it was a tough battle with Aaron Heath. But first, a little background.

Last year, I was leading late in the race, and I knew I would have one more big lap than Aaron, with race directors sending runners on a short lap, about 1/3 mile, as time ticks down. So I was a little overconfident, and seriously bonking, having not taken in enough calories during the race. So while I was slowing down on the big loop, Aaron was running some fast short loops, and unknown to either of us almost made up the difference, and he finished just .07 mile behind me.

So this year, Aaron and I started out running together at a good pace, and I gradually took a slight lead, but possibly due to some poor nutritional choices the night before, I had to make a bathroom stop after three laps which cost me a few minutes. I came out strong and tried to make up ground, but four laps later, another bathroom break. I came out running strong again, and I was hoping that with more than four hours to go, I could chip away at Aaron's lead. At one point, Ray Krolewicz told me he had about a five minute lead on me. On the one point of the course where you see runners coming towards you after a loop on the trail, I saw Aaron coming out of the loop, which was taking me four minutes to run, so I had at least a couple of hours to try to make up four minutes. The next several laps I didn't see him coming out of the loop, so I was thinking I was making up time, but then I saw him there again, and I figured time was running out for me to catch up.

I came into the start/finish area then with 24 minutes to go, alongside Jodi Kartes-Heino, who was running very well as usual. As we made the first turns around the parking lot I saw someone who looked like Aaron about 100 yards ahead, and I even asked Jodi, "Is that Aaron?" I didn't think I'd be able to catch up to him. She said, "Catch him and find out." I tried to catch him, and as silently as possible, but as I closed in on him on the trail alongside the little creek, I kept kicking dirt and gravel, but he didn't turn to look. I finally caught him, we exchanged a couple of friendly comments (seriously) and for a time we were running side by side with 15 minutes to go. I was confident that having caught up to him, I'd be able to then pull ahead, but he picked up his pace. I was thinking this could be a real exciting finish! But before long he put on a surge of power that I couldn't answer. I tried to keep as close as I could in case he couldn't sustain, but he did. My time for that lap was 16:12, my fastest since about halfway through. Back to the start/finish and on to the short loops, he stayed ahead, and ended up finishing .18 mile ahead of me, 45.41 to 45.23 miles. But I can't complain, it's a good total, and I'm happy that I finished strong.

But congratulating Aaron after the race, he told me that he never knew I took those bathroom breaks, and he thought I was ahead of him, and when I caught up to him at the end, he thought I was lapping him! Good thing for him his motivation to not be lapped was as good as motivation to not relinquish the lead!

Jodi ended up winning the women's race, for at least the third time I believe. She really does well here. Susan Warren and Alicja Barahona were 2nd and 3rd women. Jerry Panullo was third man. For those born in 1951, the men's winner was James Gawle from Massachusetts with more than 33 miles, and the women's winner was Patricia Carroll with 23.

As always, it was good to enjoy a beautiful day on the trails with so many friends, and a great way to end the New York-area ultra year. Next up: JFK!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bridge of the Week #70: Travis Ave. Bridge

I'm actually going to try to get these last several bridges in pretty quickly here, so here goes. This bridge actually falls under the category of "don't even bother." The Travis Ave. Bridge on Staten Island in the Travis neighborhood sits on Travis Ave. (naturally) and crosses the Fresh Kills Main Creek. It sits about a quarter of a mile east of Victory Boulevard on a stretch of road about a mile long on the way to Richmond Ave. that has no sidewalk, no shoulder and no respect for the speed limit. Not good for running. The bridge itself is a standard steel and concrete bridge, not very long, not very interesting.

The road runs down the middle of parkland and a wildlife refuge, off-limits to human visitors, and it doesn't connect to anything or go on the way to anywhere of interest to runners, except to bridge freaks like me. It is actually not far from the Staten Island Mall, and not far from the site of the future Fresh Kills Park, but there are better ways to get to either location than this road. The wetlands and creek areas around here are nice, but there are better places to go to get a glimpse of them.

Travis, the town, was named after Colonel Jacob Travis, an early resident of the area. The neighborhood is one of the city's more sparsely populated, and has a somewhat small-town feel to it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bridge of the Week #69: Town Bridge

This week's bridge is one of the little gems that is often overlooked, that has the distinction of being not only the oldest existing bridge in the city (I believe, but most certainly in my survey), but is also the shortest: the Town Bridge.

This is a small stone arch bridge built in 1845 (as you can tell from the sign in the picture above), and it carries Arthur Kill Road over the Richmond Creek in the area of Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island, just north of the intersection of Arthur Kill Road and Richmond Road before Arthur Kill Road becomes Richmond Hill Road. (Yes, keeping all the "Richmond" places straight on Staten Island, aka Richmond County, is no small task.) Just from observation, the bridge looks to be about 10 feet long. But it is wide enough to carry a two-lane road, although with no sidewalks. Many of the streets in this area have no sidewalks, shoulders or room for runners or pedestrians other than on the far edge of the traffic lane.

Historic Richmond Town is one of Staten Island's most significant historic and tourist sites. It includes buildings that date back to the 17th century, and it has many special events. Just on the north side of the creek is St. Andrew's Church with a churchyard/graveyard that looks like it's straight out of a haunted house movie (no offense to those resting there). The streets here are not runner-friendly, as is the case on most of the island, unfortunately, but in this area, near St. Andrew's Church, you can connect to the miles of trails in the Staten Island Greenbelt. These trails can take you to near the Staten Island Mall, to Willowbrook Park, or even all the way to Clove Lake Park. I admit that I haven't explored these trails much at all, but they are another one of Staten Island's great resources, I believe.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bridge of the Week Bonus: Manhattan Valley Viaduct

This is a bonus entry, since it isn't a bridge by the terms I've set out for myself, but a viaduct. In other words, it doesn't go over a body of water but connects two hills on either side of what is known as Manhattan Valley roughly at 125th St. I decided to do a report on this viaduct since it's a good size and significant, and it's got aesthetic value, particularly from underneath, and it's a good place to run.

The viaduct itself carries Riverside Drive across the Manhattan Valley from just north of 122 St. at the General Grant National Memorial (Grant's Tomb) to 135 St. It has four wide lanes of traffic as well as parking lanes and sidewalks on both sides. There's plenty of room to run or walk, as it does have a lot of pedestrian traffic, and the roadway even has plenty of room for cyclists, even without bike lanes. But it should be noted that the sidwalks are almost never cleared of snow in the winter. The viaduct is good for runners, as you can run along the west sidewalk of Riverside Drive, usually alongside Riverside Park, without having to cross any streets between 95 St. and just north of 165 St.

Directly underneath the viaduct is 12th Ave, from St. Clair Place to 135 St. 12th Ave. itself is a horrible place to run, since there's a lot of traffic, and the sidewalks are taken up by forklifts and the bike lane usually taken up by delivery trucks for Fairway grocery store. Fortunately, last year Harlem Piers Park opened a block to the west, right along the river, connecting the Cherry Walk to the south with a dedicated bike lane and sidewalk leading to Fort Washington Park to the north. This enables a runner to run traffic-free directly along the river from the midtown piers to Dyckman St. That option doesn't involve running on the viaduct, but it's good that runners have those options.

Prior to the viaduct, Riverside Drive ran only from 72 St. to the loop around the current location of Grant's Tomb (completed 1897) and Claremont Dolphin Playground, the northern tip of which is as far north as nearby Tiemann Place (then 127 St.). Where the playground is now, there used to be located the Claremont Inn, a hotel with some big names among its customers. An eastern branch of Riverside Drive also continued, as it still does, downhill from about a block north of 122 St. down to St. Clair Place. In 1897 a bond issue passed to permit the continuation of Riverside Drive north to 157 St. and connect to Boulevard Lafayette (which would be renamed Riverside Drive as well). This extension would require construction of the viaduct, which was completed in 1900. The city council wanted to pass the bond issue in 1897 before the 1898 consolidation with the other boroughs into Greater New York, since the other boroughs had more debt and the bond issue might not have passed after consolidation. The history and development of Riverside Drive/Boulevard Lafayette/Henry Hudson Parkway is fascinating, and may be the subject of another post after I'm done with my bridges.

Pictures: 1. Underneath the viaduct, looking south along 12th Ave. from 135 St.; 2. Looking north on the west side of the viaduct; 3. Looking north from Claremont Dolphon Playground.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Race Report: North Coast 24 Hour Endurance Run

Satuday, September 17 saw the start of the 3rd annual North Coast 24 Hour Endurance Run in Cleveland, which for the third year hosted the USATF 24 hour national championship. It's a very well-done event put on by Race Director Dan Horvath and his mighty team of volunteers, aid station workers, the medical team once again headed by Dr. Andy Lovy, and the timing system this year by Rick McNulty of the New Jersey Trail Series.

The excellent organization of the race, the near-perfect course of 0.90075 miles, and the weather which has been excellent each year here so far all helped to sell out the 200 available spots and to draw many of the best and potentially best 24-hour runners in the country and beyond. The top two male and female finishers would also be guaranteed an invitation to run for the U.S. 24 hour team at the 2012 World Championships in Poland in September (provided they meet minimum mileage requirements, which would prove to be the case).

For myself, I had high hopes for a good race. After a very big spring, I had a disastrous 24-hour race in Philadelphia in July, and I was really hoping for a big race which I hoped might include some of the following: a spot on the team to Poland; a win and a second national championship (having won in 2009); beating my PR of 154 miles set way back in 2007; beating the masters record of just under 158 miles set by John Geesler (I'd hate to do that to John again - almost); a milestone of 160 miles; and I was also holding out hope for the remote possibility of beating Scott Jurek's American Record of 165.67 miles. But I was feeeling in good shape physically and mentally, and I was ready to get to work.

I flew to Cleveland, landing at midday, made my way to the Days Inn in Lakewood and waited for Byron Lane, who I would room with, to arrive. Ultrarunners in the New York area don't need to be told about the history of Byron and me, but suffice it to say we've gone head-to-head many times and had many close races and in the process have become good friends. We'd roomed together at the national championships in 2008 (in McKinney, TX) when Byron won the title and 2009 (Cleveland) when I won, so I guess this was a good sign. We had a pre-race dinner at Players restaurant, which Deb Horn had arranged, getting a ride with Jackie Choi and Jackie Ong, and meeting a lot of the other runners, and sitting across the table from Howard Nippert, the USATF rep, it was nice to get a chance to chat with him for a while.

Jackie, Byron, Kino and I arrived at the race about an hour before the start and began setting up. Byron and I shared a two-canopy complex in Tent City with Deb Horn, Mike Henze, Roy Pirrung and John Geesler. The race was full with the top runners, besides the above, including last year's winners Serge Arbona and Connie Gardner, previous record holder Mark Godale, Zack Gingerich, Jamie Donaldson, Anna Piskorska, Lisa Bliss, and many other excellent runners with a lot of potential. Looking down the entrant list, I was thinking there could be 50 runners over 100 miles and possibly as many as 10 over 140!

I'd been asked about my chances of winning or how many miles I thought I'd run. They have to know I'd never answer those questions! At least not before the race. I honestly wasn't worrying about winning, since I can't worry too much about competition until late in the race. I did set as my mileage goal a very ambitious 160 miles, and I mapped out my race and pacing chart accordingly. It was ambitious, but possible I thought, and what better time to try, with good weather and good physical condition? I'd actually shot for this a few times before, and at least I knew if it wasn't going to happen I'd be able to back off before I killed myself, and still have a good total.

So my goal meant starting out at about 7:00 per lap, or about 7:45 per mile, which I had actually done the previous years also. Throughout the race I'd keep track of my pace by my lap splits, or actually by my 8-lap splits. This is partly for the practical reason that my watch can only count up to 30 laps, and also by grouping the laps like this it makes the race seem more manageable. By the end of the first lap I found myself in the lead with Zack Gingerich, and we were chatting a bit. The laps went by mostly uneventfully. There was a fairly decent breeze from the east, which was then at our backs heading back to the start, causing a noticeable temperature difference on the different parts of the course. But I was able to stay on the pace I had set for myself longer than in previous years, so I was feeling very optimistic at this point. And I was still in the lead, although Mark Godale was closing in on me, only a lap behind as we neared the middle of the race. But it was still too early to worry about competition, I just wanted to stay on my own pace. After a few hours with Mark a lap behind me and waiting for him to pass me by, I eventually saw him stretch out on the grass, and later do some walking, so it looked like he was slowing down. But I will say that even when he was close behind me, his sizeable and enthusiastic crew team would cheer for me as I went by, so a big thank you to them!

I hit 50 miles (56 laps) in a swift 6:43, and was still feeling really good. After darkness came I slowed down more than I would have liked, I think partly because portions of the course were pretty dimly lit and I wasn't totally sure of my footing, especially at one spot where there's a little bump. It was nothing in daylight, but at night I kept hitting it wrong, throwing me off my stride and causing cursing every time! Many runners had headlamps, and even though I'd run this race twice before with no problem, and even though I hate wearing one, a headlamp might have been a good idea. Still, I hit the 100 mile mark (112 laps) in 14:38, which I think is my best 100-mile performance ever (my Brive split might have been faster but I'm not sure of that split). And actually it's probably more like 14:30, since we reach exactly 100 miles very soon after 111 laps. By this time I had I think five laps on Mark and about nine on the other men's leaders, who included German runner Kai Horschig and Jonathan Savage, who I'd chatted with briefly early in the race, and I knew had had a good 24 previously but I didn't know what he might be capable of. Serge and his friend Christian Creutzer were in the top five earlier, but were falling back a bit by this time.

On the women's side, the race had been led at times by Anna Piskorska, Jamie Donaldson and Connie Gardner, but now it looked like Connie had a good grip on her race, and was not too far behind me. Deb Horn was still moving very steady as always, and Lisa Bliss was moving up the leader chart.

In the later hours of the race, I'd adjusted my goals. 160 miles was not going to happen, and neither was the masters record of 158 miles. Beating my PR was still a possibility, but with my achilles starting to feel the strain, I would be happy just to keep moving and get the win, and 150 miles if I stayed steady. Meanwhile, I was enjoying the company of the other runners. Even though I don't talk much during a race, especially as the race goes on, I received a lot of encouragement during those nighttime hours, and I tried to give encouragement back as much as I was able. A special mention to David Corfman and Tammy Massie who gave nice words every time I saw them, and to Bonnie Busch, who encouraged me during my multiple breakdowns last year and who was still encouraging now when I wasn't suffering as much. Kino was great to watch with his patriotic outlook and his bursts of energy during the night, and Jackie Choi looked great in her fedora.

In the end I finished first with 153.37 miles, just a mile short of a PR, but a total I'm very happy with. Jonathan Savage finished strong and came away with a second place and over 146 miles, qualifying for next year's team also. Kai Horschig finished a close third with 145.5 miles, but is not a USATF member and can't run on the U.S. team. Harvey Lewis finished third with 140 and Byron finished fifth with 133 miles, a PR for him by quite a bit, which I was very happy to see! Connie won the women's race, and came just a mile short of Sue Ellen Trapp's American record, finishing fourth overall with 144 miles. That's her third time over 140 miles that comes to my mind, it's possible she's done more. Deb stayed strong for second place with a new PR of 131 miles! She's come very close to the 130-mile mark a few times before, so I was very happy for her also! So she'll be joining us in Poland as well. Lisa ran an amazing race and got third with just short of 126, Laura Bleakley was fourth with 112 and Bonnie was fifth with 108.

One other trivia note, this was my third time over 150 miles in a 24-hour race, which I thought put me in good company with the likes of Roy Pirrung and John Geesler, but they told me they'd only gone over 150 twice, and I might actually be the first American to get 150 three times! I'll hace to look into that!

In any case, it was a great experience overall, I made a lot more new friends, and a lot of people had great experiences as well. Five runners broke 140, and 40 runners got over 100 miles! My thanks to Dan Horvath, Joe Jurczyk, all the volunteers, aid station workers, trash picker-uppers, all the people who made the race work, and to Rick McNulty of the New Jersey Trail Series for working and monitoring the timing station the entire race. And thanks to Deb for the use of her table, Chris for her help during the race, Jackie for the ride to the race, Lisa for the ride to the airport, Byron for not snoring, and all the runners for creating such an amazing community that make it such a pleasure to run ultras.

Pictures: 1. Me at home with my trophy, t-shirt and one of the shoes that got me there (shoe company prefers to remain anonymous); 2. Connie and I after the race; 3. Current and former 48-hour record holders - me, John Geesler, Roy Pirrung, Ray Krolewicz; 4. Tamra Jones and Shannon McGinn; 5. Jackie Choi in her fedora

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bridge of the Week #68: Robert F. Kennedy Bridge

This is the biggest, badassest bridge of them all: the Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Bridge. And yes, it makes my skin crawl to call it that, but that’s its official name now. For decades it was the Triborough Bridge but in 2008 it was renamed for that guy at the family’s request. For some reason, New Yorkers really seem to bend over backwards (or forwards) for that family. But that’s another story. On to the bridge.

The Triborough (from now on I will call it that) is definitely the biggest bridge in the city, mainly because it is three bridges in one: one from Manhattan to Randall’s Island, one from Bronx to Randall’s Island and one from Queens to Wards Island, all connected by viaducts and overpasses (one of which actually used to be a fourth bridge over Little Hell Gate from Randall’s Island to Wards Island, but the two islands were joined by landfill in the 1930s, so now that section is just a viaduct – and with no pedestrian element.) The vehicles therefore don’t have to go down onto land on Wards or Randall’s Island (unless they take that exit). But for pedestrians and cyclists they are separate bridges and you have to go down to the ground between each leg, which is a nice thing because Wards Island and Randall’s Island include some nice parkland and are nice places to run in their own right.

This leg crosses Bronx Kill, which is a quite narrow and shallow waterway, one that could probably be walked across without drowning, and which can support watercraft probably no larger than kayaks. The bulk of the distance of the span is actually across industrial areas in the Bronx. There are two entrances on the Bronx side, on the east and west side of the bridge at Cypress and 133 St. If coming from the west, note that Bruckner Blvd. sits where 133 St. would be, until it veers off to the north a couple blocks west of the bridge entrance, so your approach would be from Bruckner Blvd. The east entrance has a stairway and the west entrance has a switchback-type ramp system to get up to road level. The two walkways join just before descending onto Randall’s Island. The entrance on Randall’s Island is on the north side of the island just off the main road, between the baseball fields. It’s not hard to find.

The bridge is a steel truss bridge with a main span of 383 feet and a length anchorage to anchorage of 1,600 feet. It has a clearance of 55 feet above water. It carries four lanes of traffic in each direction. For motorized traffic, the bridge leads in the Bronx directly to the junction of the Major Deegan Expressway and the Bruckner Expressway.

Of the three bridges, this is the only drawbridge, a lift bridge. This also has sidewalks on both the north and south sides. The Manhattan entrances are at the northeast corner of 124 St. and 2nd Ave., and at the southeast corner of 126 St. and 2nd Ave. The Randall’s Island entrances are a little harder to find. They can both be reached from a north-south maintenance road between the main road on the north side of the island, west of the Bronx span, and the north fence of the golf driving range. Once you get to this maintenance road there are signs, but they are easy to overlook. The north entrance is on the east side of the road inside the covered section of the roadway under the bridge. The south entrance faces the fence on the north side of the golf driving range, a few yards north of the maintenance road.

The length of the main lift span is 310 feet, with an anchorage to anchorage length of 770 feet. When lowered, the bridge has a clearance of 55 feet, and when raised, 135 feet. It carries three lanes of traffic in each direction. Cars can get on the bridge in Manhattan on the streets at 125 St. and 2nd Ave. or from the FDR Drive on the south or the Harlem River Drive on the north.

This bridge is easily the largest and most impressive of the three. It’s also the one that is likely to bring out the acrophobe in you. In my opinion it’s actually the most intimidating of any bridge in the city, due I believe to the relatively low surrounding landscape (which also gives you an incredible view), the height of the sidewalk above the roadway, and the relatively low railing between the towers once the higher chain-link fence stops. Only the sidewalk on the north side is open for pedestrians. It seems that the south sidewalk hasn’t been open for quite a few years. As near as I can tell, the Queens approach was taken down in the early 2000’s and the Wards Island/Randall’s Island approach some time before that. For the open north walk, the entrance in Queens is at 27 St. and Hoyt Ave., and the Wards Island entrance is not hard to find, on the main north-south road near the entrance to the psychiatric center. You can take a ramp up the entire way or use a staircase which meets the ramp partway up a little to the south. Until a few years ago, the walkway followed the roadway quite a ways farther along and descended to Randall’s Island north of the parking facilities. The beginning of that entrance is still there, closed off, but most of that unused walkway has been taken down. The new entrance is nice because it’s much closer to the ballfields on Wards Island, and the roads around them which provide some nice running.

The main span of this suspension bridge is 1,380 feet, with an anchorage to anchorage length of 2,780 feet. The clearance above water at the center of the span is 143 feet. The towers are 315 feet tall. The roadway carries four lanes of traffic in each direction, connecting in Queens to the Grand Central Parkway and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

The idea bridge connecting Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens had been floating around for quite some time, to relieve congestion on the Queensboro Bridge, which was at the time the best way to get from the Bronx, upstate or New England to Queens or Long Island by car (this was long before the Bronx-Whitestone and Throg's Neck Bridges), until finally a concrete (so to speak) plan was proposed by Edward A. Byrne, chief engineer of the New York City Department of Plant and Structures in 1916. The city authorized funding for surveys, test borings and structural plans in 1925. Ground was broken by Mayor Jimmy Walker on Friday, October 25, 1929, one day after "Black Thursday." The five million dollars and change initially authorized was spent on condemnation of buildings, attorneys' fees and a few piers on Wards Island. In early 1930 the city appeared to abandon the project.

This is a good time to mention a few possibilities for the bridge that never happened. Engineer Gustav Lindenthal, designer of the beautiful Hell Gate Bridge, a railroad bridge from the Bronx across Randall's and Wards Islands and to Queens, didn't want a suspension bridge across Hell Gate close to his bridge to detract from its beauty. He proposed simply adding a second deck to his railroad bridge for motor vehicles, with spurs to Manhattan at 102 St. and 116 St. This proposal was not accepted, although the Queens suspension span plan was moved further south to give a little more distance from the Hell Gate Bridge. People today are so familiar with the bridge as it is, that they might not realize the clear logic of placing the Manhattan leg at 103 St., directly across from the Queens span and a mile closer to midtown. The 125 St. site was chosen because William Randolph Hearst owned property on 125 St., which would rise in value if the city needed it for a bridge approach. And Hearst had enough political power to call the shots, even after Robert Moses took over the project.

Speaking of whom, Robert Moses, New York City Parks Commissioner, New York State Parks Commissioner, Long Island Parks Commissioner, etc., etc., in 1932 convinced Governor Al Smith to resurrect the project, because he very much wanted the bridge to bring people out to his parkways and state parks on Long Island, including the immensely popular Jones Beach, as well as Caumsett and Sunken Meadows State Parks (had to give those two a mention) without driving through Manhattan streets. Moses himself drafted the state legislation to create the Triborough Bridge Authority, the "authority" being a relatively new concept of a joint public-private partnership, whose only significant precedent was the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which had built bridge and tunnel crossings between the two states. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed Moses commissioner of the authority. The Authority would be able to issue bonds and receive state and federal money for construction, in addition to approximately $37 million from New Deal programs, but it could operate under its own rules and wouldn't have to open its books. And importantly, Moses's legislative innovation was that the money from tolls that would normally go towards paying off the bonds and debts, at which time tolls would no longer be collected, could now be spent on other projects rather than paying off the bonds for the Triborough Bridge. This allowed Moses to amass huge sums of money which could be used to build projects like the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, the Throg's Neck Bridge, the Alexander Hamilton Bridge and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, as well as numerous parkways and expressways which he defined as bridge approaches. (The reader will note that none of the crossings mentioned in the last sentence have any access for pedestrians or rail lines.) The bottom line is that the Triborough Bridge was the foundation of Moses's amassing of power. His main office was even in the foundation of the bridge, in a building on Randall's Island underneath the toll plaza.

The bridge finally opened on July 11, 1936, at a cost of $60 million, greater than the cost of the Hoover Dam, and one of the largest public works projects of the Depression. To bring traffic to and from the bridge, the East River Drive in Manhattan (currently the FDR Drive), was extended north from 96th St., and eventually would come the Major Deegan Expressway and Bruckner Expressway in the Bronx and the Grand Central Parkway in Queens.

Soon after the bridge opened, it became clear that traffic congestion was not being relieved, but exacerbated. Rather than come up with any creative or innovative solutions, or improving mass transit, Moses and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (after it took over construction of the Queens Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnels, the word "Tunnel" was added to its name) built more expressways and bridges, notably the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and Throg's Neck Bridge, both of which passed directly from the Bronx into Queens, and neither of which relieved traffic congestion.

But that's traffic. For runners, the Triborough Bridge is a great resource, as a way to get to Randall's Island/Wards Island, to get from borough to borough, and the Queens suspension span is one of the great bridge crossings in the city.

Pictures: 1. The Bronx truss span over the Bronx Kill; 2. The Manhattan lift span over the East River; 3. The Queens suspension span over Hell Gate; 4. The pedestrian entrance in Queens; 5. The view of Queens from the Queens span; 6. The Hell Gate Bridge as seen from the Queens span.

Bridge of the Week #67: Mill Basin Bridge

We've finally arrived at the last bridge in the series along the Belt Parkway (Shore Parkway) in Brooklyn and Queens. The Mill Basin Bridge is the bridge west (actually more south) of the Paerdegat Basin Bridge and east of the Gerritsen Inlet Bridge and Flatbush Ave.

This is the only drawbridge along the Belt, a Bascule drawbridge, but it won't be for long. This is one of the bridges along the Belt undergoing or about to undergo total reconstruction. Apparently, the current bridge (including sidewalk) will remain open while the new bridge is being built. When I went over the bridge earlier this summer, it didn't look like work had begun yet, but supposedly the bridge will be done in 2014. Currently having 35 feet of clearance above the water when down, the new fixed bridge will have 60 feet of clearance. This is significant since Mill Basin, along with Gerritsen Inlet to the southwest, has a very active marina with a lot of sailboats and other recreational boats coming and going into Jamaica Bay.

The bridge was opened on June 29, 1940, and some reconstruction work was done in 2006-2007. It carries three lanes of traffic in each direction plus a sidewalk on the south side, which is actually the east side, since the bridge runs basically north-south. The Paerdegat Basin Bridge is about a mile eastward (though actually northward), and about a half mile to the west (south) is the Flatbush Ave. interchange, which is a full cloverleaf vehicular interchange, as Flatbush Ave. to the south leads to Floyd Bennett Field, the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge (previously discussed) and on out to the Rockaways. As the Belt turns to the west it soon crosses the Gerritsen Inlet Bridge (previously discussed). Northward on Flatbush Ave. is the nearest street access to the Mill Basin Bridge, at the corner of Ave. U and Flatbush, where there is the King's Plaza shopping mall, and a city bus stop. The nearest subway stop is still a couple miles up Flabush near Ave. H (2/5 train), or a couple miles west on Ave. U to E. 16th St. (B/Q train). But the most enjoyable running experience is to start in Sheepshead Bay, or even at Coney Island, and run along the Belt all the way to Howard Beach, about 8-10 miles depending on your start, and if you feel like going long, looping around onto the Rockaways using the Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge, the Cross-Bay Memorial Bridge and the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. Lots of nice running in New York City uninterrupted by traffic.

Pics: 1. The Sidewalk of the bridge; 2. The view east into Jamaica Bay; 3. The view west into Mill Basin - note the towers of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the far distance!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bridge of the Week #66: Paerdegat Basin Bridge

This week's bridge continues our journey along the Belt Parkway (Shore Parkway) in Brooklyn, heading west from the Fresh Creek Bridge we arrive at the Paerdegat Basin Bridge. Again, this carries the Belt Parkway (this section of which is officially called Shore Parkway) across a small inlet, this being the Paerdigat Basin, three lanes of traffic in each direction and a sidewalk/bike path on the south side.

Like the Fresh Creek Bridge, the Paerdegat Basin Bridge is undergoing reconstruction, part of a plan to rebuild seven bridges on the Belt Parkway (some of which are overpasses over streets rather than bridges over water, therefore will not be covered in this blog). The sidewalk remains open during construction. But the Paerdigat Basin Bridge will undergo quite a transformation. The bridge will be replaced by a pair of bridges, one serving westbound lanes, and one serving eastbound lanes and the sidewalk. The clearance will also be higher, as you can see from the second picture above, there will be fewer spans to cross the water, and the design is different and more interesting than the existing bridge. I believe construction on this bridge is expected to last another two years or so.

The bridge actually runs more north-south than east-west, as the parkway takes a turn to the south here on its way to the west. You have to run a couple miles to the southwest, past the Jamaica Bay Riding Academy and across the Mill Basin Bridge (next week's bridge) before you can get back on the city streets at Flatbush Ave. Heading northeast from the bridge, it's about 3/4 mile to street access at Rockaway Parkway, where you'll also find Canarsie Pier, a very nice recreational park/pier that is very busy on a nice summer day.

The basin itself separates the neighborhoods of Canarsie to the east and Bergen Beach to the west. The name Paerdegat comes from the Dutch word paardengat, meaning "horse gate."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Race Report: NYRR Team Championships

The annual NYRR Team Championships 5 mile race took place on Aug. 6 in Central Park.

As I lined up to run this race again for the West Side Runners, I really appreciated how this is probably the best race on the NYRR calendar. Even aside from the low entry fee (kept low partly by there being no t-shirt), it truly keeps alive the old traditions of road running in New York, being the one race more than any where the runners are really running for their team. No "unattached" runners may enter, and the men and women run separately an hour apart, so the numbers are low and manageable, only 866 male finishers. Nothing fancy, just a good fast five-mile race.

Afterwards, most teams also set up picnic areas for their members, and this is one of two real social events for WSX, the other being the post-New York Marathon party. So it's great to chat with my teammates. And despite the team competition, there is a lot of interteam socializing as well, and I enjoyed talking with my friends from Van Cortland Track Club, Taconic, Dashing Whippets, Prospect Park Track Club, and more.

As for the race itself, I was very happy with my time of 29:20, which was only a few seconds off my PR! If I had known, I might have pushed for it! I finished in 139th place, 12th in my age group, and third masters scorer for WSX, which took third in the masters division. In the open race, despite taking places 1, 2, 4 and 5 overall, West Side men settled for second in the team competition to New York Athletic Club.

But it was nice weather, a good race, and a good chance to reconnect with friends!

Race Report: Pajama Run 6-Hour

This is a little late in coming, sorry. But better late than never. Maybe. Anyway, on July 30 Rickie Innamorato and BUS staged the Pajama Run, a 6-hour race in the evening, from 6:00 pm to midnight, on a 1.27-mile loop in Astoria Park, Queens.

Despite being a somewhat late addition to the race calendar, 70 runners showed up for the start, more than I've seen at a BUS race in a long time. It was very exciting and encouraging. There were the usual regulars, but a lot of young newcomers or relative newcomers as well, including winners Tommy Pyon and Jimena Barrera. Tommy was kicking it and came up with 48.34 miles! Jimena, running very strong, had 37.93 miles.

David Plosonska, a multi-time Badwater finisher (top 20) came up from Baltimore and got second place with over 46 miles. I got third with 43.7. After my disastrous 24-hour in Philadelphia, I was happy just to keep running the whole six hours. Byron Lane got 4th and Eduardo Lara 5th. A true veteran Gail Marino finished second woman, followed by Amanda Goddard, Lucmar Araujo and Emmy Stocker.

The course was laid out well, it ran under the Triborough Bridge and the Hell Gate Bridge before looping back along the river to the start at the track area. It was heavy with parkgoers the first couple of hours of course, but the crowds thinned out as the race went on. It was also quite hot - about 90 degrees at the start - and stayed quite warm after the sun went down. But it's a beautiful park, it was a festive atmosphere, and Richie and the volunteers did an incredible job as always, but here especially taking on the higher than normal post entries. And it was a nice way to end the 2011 BUS season.