Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bridge of the Week #58: Little Neck Bridge

Continuing east on Northern Boulevard, this week's bridge is the Little Neck Bridge in Bayside, Queens. It carries Northern Boulevard over Alley Creek from the Cross-Island Parkway on the west to

The bridge carries six lanes of traffic, three in each direction, and a sidewalk on both sides. It is a fixed bridge, opened in 1931, and is at least the second bridge on that site, the first being a drawbridge built in 1822.

Northern Boulevard actually underwent a few name changes over the course of its history and over the course of its course. In some parts it was called Jackson Ave. (and still is on its far western end in Long Island City), and in some parts, including over Alley Creek, it was called Broadway. Little Neck is the piece of land in far northeastern Queens that kind of sticks out into the water (Little Neck Bay) and that includes the neighborhoods of Little Neck and Douglaston. This is as opposed to Greak Neck, a much larger piece of land that stick out into Long Island Sound just across the Nassau County line.

I don't know how much interest there is for runners in Douglaston (although it is a beautiful, very well-off part of town) or Little Neck (which I don't think I've ever visited). But on the western side of the bridge is a pathway along the Cross-Island Parkway that extends north to pass underneath the Throgs Neck Bridge (another neck!) and just to the south, south of the Long Island Expressway, is Alley Pond Park, and from there you can hit the Queens park corridor all the way to Flushing Meadows and even Forest Park with little traffic interruption.

Pics: 1. Little Neck Bridge; 2. View north; 3. View south

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bridge of the Week #57: Flushing Bridge

This week's bridge, the Flushing Bridge, is one that can be hard to find, and is nothing too amazing in and of itself, but it can be a nice connector if going on a long run through Queens.

The Flushing Bridge carries Northern Boulevard over Flushing River between Willets Point and Flushing, Queens. The bridge is very close to the Whitestone Expressway/Van Wyck Expressway intersection (really just an extension of the same expressway), and the Grand Central Parkway is not too far to the west, and there are a lot of onramps and offramps for Northern Boulevard as well, all on the western side of the bridge. But there is also a nice pedestrian/bike path along the edge of Flushing Bay that runs from just east of LaGuardia Airport to the mouth of the Flushing River which is actually a part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. But this pathway ends on the east at a rather foreboding unnamed one-way road (westbound) with a crumbling sidewalk that passes by heavy industrial areas and carries heavy traffic, including truck traffic, either coming straight off westbound Northern Boulevard or going from the Van Wyck to westbound Northern Boulevard. But the road is at least wide enough to avoid putting yourself in any real danger, and within about a quarter mile you will see on the right the pedestrian entrance to the bridge. The eastern end of the bridge is much easier, with easy access at the northwestern corner of Prince St. and Northern Boulevard. From there you can continue on to College Point or any of the other northeastern Queens neighborhoods bypassing the busier Roosevelt Ave to the south. From the Flushing Bay path, of course, you can also get to Citi Field and the rest of Flushing Meadows, although the area between the stadium and the bay is not the most pedestrian-friendly, either.

*Addition/correction: I originally called this the Northern Boulevard Bridge, simply because it was on Northern Boulevard, and I didn't see any name to the contrary. But just after posting this, I found a reliable source that called this the Flushing Bridge. Furthermore, I've discovered that there have been a few bridges on this site dating back to the 19th century. A drawbridge built in 1906, replaced by another drawbridge in the 1930's, and finally replaced by the current higher bridge which opened in October 1980. Northern Boulevard, by the way, was originally called Jackson Ave., and now only the very western end of the street retains the name Jackson Ave.

Pics: 1. View of downtown Flushing from the bridge; 2. The Flushing River; 3. A concrete plant (apparently) on the east bank of the river.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Race Report: Boston Marathon

April 18, 2011 was my fourth time running the Boston Marathon, and the first since 2005. I ran in 2003, 2004 and 2005 with mostly pretty disappointing results. 2003 was a fairly warm day, and I finished in the 3:15 range, and was the first time I'd ever walked in a marathon. 2004 was downright hot with temperatures around 85 degrees, and my goal eventually became to just cross the finish line on my own two feet, rather than on a stretcher, as I saw many runners being attended to in the medical tents. That is still my slowest marathon, in 3:54. 2005 was much better, and I finished in 2:56.

But Boston is a tough course, and many stories are told of those who start out too fast on the downhills and crash on the uphills between miles 16-21. Still, I was feeling in good shape and thinking that a PR was possible, my current PR being 2:52:06 in New York in 2007. I don't run as many marathons as I used to, in 2008 not running any at all. But I thought everything was looking good. Even the weather forecast was looking good, with high temperatures around 60 and a good tailwind.

I rode up to Boston with Mike Arnstein, who also arranged for a home stay with a family in Hopkinton. So right off the bat, I have to give a big thanks to Mike and to our hosts, Cecile and David. They were also hosting another runner, Jeff, and his wife Tania, so it was nice meeting them as well.

After being dropped off within walking distance of the athletes' village and finishing my preparations and dropping off my bag, I was on my way to the corrals and the start of my fourth Boston Marathon. Since I don't run many marathons, my qualifying time of 3:01 from the 2009 New York Marathon was a bit slower than my PR, so I was placed in the third corral behind the elite men. At the start, the field around me was running slower than I would have liked to, but it was so crowded I had no chance to move up for a while. My first mile, even on that steep downhill, was about 7:00. I was not just shooting for a PR, but for a sub-2:50, so I would have to average about 6:28 per mile to accomplish that. But I knew I'd have time to make up the slow start, and it might even be to my benefit to start slow.

Eventually I did settle into a 6:20-6:22 pace, a little slower or faster depending on the terrain, but always staying under 6:30. My 5K splits were almost exactly 20:00, just a tad under for the first 25K. My first half split was about 1:24:14, so in theory I was on pace for a sub-2:50, but those hills were yet to come. I did slow a little on the tough hill leading into mile 18, and the next couple of miles also were in the 6:40 range, but I was hoping I'd still be able to make up the time on the subsequent downhills and crack that 2:50. I was feeling confident about the PR still.

On the downhill at mile 21 I did feel like I was flying, and except for some involuntary muscle twitches, was still feeling good, although exhaustion was setting in. Turning on to Beacon St. the course leveled out and I just tried to keep my focus on my pace. At mile 24 I remembered my first two years when I stayed with my cousin Kirstin who lived near that spot and she would cheer me on. No one was cheering for me now, but with only two miles to go, I could sense the end was near. But I always get frustrated because it doesn't look like the end is near. And it also became clear that I wasn't going to get in under 2:50, but was still likely to get a PR, as long as I kept pushing. Two weeks before, I let a 6-hour PR slip away because I let up at the end, and when you have a chance to run your fastsest time ever, and the conditions are good, you don't miss the opportunity.

But before you know it, you're on the familiar stretch leading into downtown Boston. The final right and left turns onto Boylston St., the finish line came into sight, still close to a half mile away. But it got closer and closer, and I finally finished in 2:50:55, a PR by over a minute. And just seconds after I finished, I heard the announcer say that Joan Beonit Samuelson had just finished, and I looked over and saw her come through. It was nice to be in her presence. In looking back over my splits and her splits, we were actually running very close to each other the entire race, and I didn't know it!

So I was very happy all things considered. When I heard Geoffrey Mutai's winning time, I thought I should have been able to run faster, under 2:50. But even with the downhills and the tailwind, it's still a tough course, and to get a PR at age 42 after 13 years of running marathons is not bad. I'll get that 2:49 yet!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bridge Updates: Williamsburg and Queensboro Bridges

Here are a couple of updates and news items for our bridges. The Williamsburg Bridge now has separate entrances in Brooklyn for bikes and pedestrians. Pedestrians now enter on Bedford Ave. under the bridge. The other entrance, mentioned in my previous post, is just for bikes now. The two paths join each other partway across to Manhattan. Also, this week Mayor Bloomberg signed into effect the renaming of the Queensboro Bridge to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, in honor of the former mayor. I don't like it and most New Yorkers don't like it, but there it is. I don't know how many people will actually call it that. A lot of Manhattanites still call it the 59th St. Bridge. At least they didn't name it after a Kennedy.

Bridge of the Week #56: Bronx Shore Footbridge

Well, how about that, another footbridge! This one isn't even done yet. It's a footbridge between the Bronx and the north end of Randall's Island over Bronx Kill, and it sits underneath the Hell Gate Bridge (train bridge) viaduct. It will connect what will apparently be some new bike paths in South Bronx at 132 St. and approximately Willow Ave. with a bike path under construction on Randall's Island and Wards Island, which will sit underneath said viaduct for its entire length on the islands.

I shouldn't call it a footbridge, since it will also get heavy cycling use. People can currently walk across the Bronx leg of the Triborough Bridge, only a few hundred yards to the west, but cyclists are supposed to walk their bikes across. And with that bridge's height and length, this simple footbridge will be much more convenient not just for cyclists, but for kids and older folk. I don't even know if I should call it the Bronx Shore Footbridge, but the web site for Randall's Island calls it that, so that's good enough for now.

This bridge was first planned way back in 2001, with funding from the New York Power Authority. It was to be community remuneration for some power plants they wanted to build in the Bronx. But eventually remuneration took the form of power-saving endeavors in the Bronx, and plans for the bridge were shelved. The plan was later revived with help from ConEd, who wanted to put power lines on the underside of the bridge. This is not without controversy, as canoers and kayakers say the with the cable ducts, the low-lying bridge will be impossible to get under at high tide, and at low tide the water of is sometimes too shallow to paddle. And the Bronx Kill is otherwise a perfect place to canoe or kayak because of its lack of commercial traffic. But it looks like the plan is going ahead. If you look closely at the top picture you can see the ducts and how close they are to the water. The bridge will supposedly be done (as of August 2010) in mid-2012. The bridge structure has been in place since at least May 2009. Doesn't look that tough, but what do I know. To be fair, they had to remove some old ducts and install the new ones before surfacing the bridge. But let's hope they git 'er done.

Actually it will be very nice, and is expected to really open up Randall's Island and Wards Island to Bronx residents. There are a lot of new ball fields that have just opened up in that northeast corner of the island as well, the "Sunken Meadow" area.

Pics: 1. The bridge under construction (it's fenced off, but I stuck the camera over the fence); 2. Location of future bike path on Randall's Island south from the bridge.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Race Report: BUS 6-Hour Race

On Saturday, April 2, the BUS (Broadway Ultra Society) 6-Hour Race took place in Hendrickson Park in Valley Stream, NY. It took place along with a 3-hour race in conjunction with the New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix Awards Luncheon. This was the second year the luncheon (previously a brunch) took place in the administration building at Hendrickson Park, and the administrators and village officials should be commended for permitting us this great event! In previous years the brunch was held at the GLIRC clubhouse in Plainview, Long Island, preceded by voluntary group fun runs on the roads or trails. Last year the brunch was moved to Valley Stream and an organized 3-hour race (not an ultra for most people) was held beforehand on the 1.453-mile park path loop. This year, BUS director Rich Innamorato decided to hold a 6-hour race as well as the three-hour, with the 6-hour being a scoring event in the 2011 Grand Prix.

The weather forecast was good for race morning, with temperatures to reach the low 50's. I uncharacteristically opted for a long-sleeved shirt, wary of possible cool temperatures. Despite this being a grand prix event, I couldn't quite get out of the fun run mindset, especially since the one man who's been my toughest competitor in my ultra career, Byron Lane, told me beforehand that he wouldn't be able to come. That, with the Boston Marathon being two weeks away, and a 30-mile tough trail training run the week before, left me hoping I wouldn't have to push too hard on this race, and a PR was not one of my goals. I didn't even look back to see what exactly my PR was, or how many laps that would be.

The usual crowd began to gather before the start, although quite a few of the regulars were in North Carolina running the Umstead 100. But it was great to see those who were there, not just the runners but the volunteers and the race directors of the other Grand Prix events. And the crowd suddenly got younger as Dennis Ball arrived with his friends from the Tri-Life triathlon team, most of whom were first-timers at a BUS event. Dennis himself hasn't run a lot of ultras, but he came in a close second to me at the Queens 50K last year, and beat me at the Knickerbocker 60K last fall, as well as the St. Patrick's Day Marathon in March, and he also won a 50K in New Jersey in March. That Knickerbocker performance in particular worried me, as it was not too far off the distance we would be running this day. And I couldn't help but think that one of those guys could be a real speedster too.

At the 8:00 start, Dennis and I ran side-by-side and had a nice friendly chat, although we kept a brisk pace, about 7:20 per mile. I felt that it was a little fast, but it was still comfortable, and I didn't want Dennis to get ahead of me. After an hour of side-by-side running we took turns making pit stops, the result of which left him about a minute and a half ahead. At the north end of the loop I could see that he was keeping the same distance ahead of me each loop, so I just tried to stay patient. After about three and a half hours at the same fast pace, I caught up to him again and we ran side-by-side again for a few loops. But then he waved me on saying he couldn't keep up the pace. Of course, I didn't know if I could keep up the pace, but I tried to get some separation. Eventually I lapped him as he was walking and saying that his shin was giving him pain. That enabled me to relax a little, which was good, because it seemed like the wind from the south was picking up quite a bit. So I did ease up on the pace a little, thinking of Boston, not worrying about a PR, and having only a rough idea that I would finish with about 46 miles.

To finish the race, the course was marked off in 100-yard increments, with a numbered stake in the ground at each mark. I finished on the east side, running against the wind, and relaxed as the seconds wore down. I passed the #17 mark and thought I might be able to reach 18, but the whistle blew about 5-10 yards shy. I wouldn't blame a runner for giving himself the next mark if his momentum carried him through a second or two after the whistle, but if I really wanted that mark I would've pushed it the last few seconds, so as John Garlepp came by with the clipboard noting our marks, I gave him 17. Besides, I was two laps up on Dennis, so why would I care about 100 yards? Well, my final total was 47.46 miles. My previous PR, set at the Staten Island 6-Hour in 2008, was 47.48 miles. By my calculations, .02 miles equals about 35 yards, and I ran about 90 yards past the mark. So there you have it. But it's my own fault for not knowing my exact PR and for not pushing at the end. BUT, I remember that finish in Staten Island, and I remember just reaching a similar mark when the whistle sounded - no extra distance. So even though my official scored distance is not as much, the actual distance run was more, so in my personal books I'm giving myself a tie for a PR!

Dennis got second and Michael Ryan third. Gail Marino, a true veteran, won the women's race, with Dennis's tri friends Susan Schmelzer, Brittany Klimowicz (a 2011 Badwater entrant) and Allison McDevitt taking 2, 3 and 4. And I was also given my 2010 Grand Prix championship award, my second after 2007, with Jodi Kartes-Heino receiving the women's award.

But it was a great day, lots of great friends to run with, and even with the wind the weather was beautiful. It was great to see Grant there helping out, even if not running due to recovery from surgery. Barbara S. ran well, we had a quartet of Franks - Collela, Stonitsch, and Deleo and Pellegrino who ran together a lot of the way. Jim Morris, my co-crew from Tim Henderson's Vermont run, ran well. Sal, Sam, Tim Ryan, Bruce, Lanny, Bob Falk, Lydia, Lucimar, Ruth, and so on - my apologies for not naming you all. Quite a few came for the 3-hour as well, including Al Prawda tossing a baseball while he ran, Elaine Acosta arriving late after another race in New Jersey, and Mike Costello, my Badwater pacer from 2009.

Pics: 1. Jodi and me receiving our Grand Prix awards; 2. Dennis, Michael and me, 1,2,3; 3. Gail and me with the 6-hour trophies; 4. Dennis and the Tri-Life team

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bridge of the Week #55: E. 238 St. Bridge

This week's bridge is a nice one - the E. 238 St. Bridge in the Bronx, which may also be known as the Nereid Ave. Bridge, since Nereid Ave. is the name of the street that crosses it, but more on that later.

This bridge crosses the Bronx River as well as the Bronx River Parkway and the Metro North railroad tracks. A bridge on the site was proposed as far back as 1915 to eliminate a street crossing of the railroad lines. But disputes between the railroads and the city over responsibilty for financing the bridge, pasrticularly since it also crossed the Bronx River, pushed back the start of construction. An agreement was eventually reached to build bridges at both E. 238 St. and E. 241 St. (previously covered). Construction began in 1929 and the bridge opened on April 23, 1931.

The bridge might not look like much while crossing it, but from the bike path that runs underneath (which dead-ends not too far north - see Muskrat Cove Footbridge) it is an attractive bridge with ten high arches, reminiscent of the High Bridge Aqueduct. Overall it's 822 feet long, 80 feet wide, carries four lanes of traffic and easily accessible sidewalks on both sides. The bike path underneath can be accessed from 233 St., at the Woodlawn train station. I've covered this pathway and this area of town for running interest while discussing other bridges, so I won't repeat that here, except to remind that Van Cortlandt Park is not far to the west and the Bronx River pathway continues south from 233 St. a few blocks south.

Nereid Ave. and the bridge are located in the Wakefield neighborhood in the extreme northern section of the Bronx. In fact, Wakefield is the neighborhood that sticks up north of the city line with Yonkers to the west and Mt. Vernon to the east, and Nereid Ave. at that point runs even with the city line. So on the west side of the bridge, the north-south intersecting street is Webster Ave. to the south (New York) and Bronx River Road to the north (Yonkers), and Nereid Ave. itself becomes McLean Ave. as it gently curves north in Yonkers. Bronx Blvd. is the intersecting street on the east.

I was actually putting off discussing this bridge for a while because as much as I looked I couldn't find out why or when E. 238 St. was renamed Nereid Ave., a fact itself that I'm only assuming. A plaque on the bridge names it as the E. 238 St. Bridge. In at least one other case, the Eastern Boulevard Bridge, when a street was renamed, the bridge would retain the old street name. Nereid Ave. does sit where E. 238 St. would be, and I've seen many references that give both street names, particularly references to subway stations, and one unreliable source that said the street was renamed in the 1980's. The word nereid just means a mythical sea nymph, so the street was not named after anybody. However, several blocks to the east, the street angles to the northeast to join the street grid pattern of the Edenwald neighborhood of the Bronx, and I did see one old New York Times article that mentioned how confusing street names became when all the different villages of the Bronx were annexed into the city in 1898, so my best guess is that the angled portion of Nereid Ave. was always there, and E. 238 St. was E. 238 St., but at some point they decided to continue the Nereid Ave. name onto E. 238 St. Confusing enough?