Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bridge of the Week #89: Manhattan Bridge

Thank goodness, this week, just in time for the end of the year, is the final installment in the Bridge
of the Week series! We end with one of the big ones, the Manhattan Bridge. Its construction began
October 1, 1901 and it opened on December 31, 1909. The bridge was designed by Leon Moisseiff,
who also worked on the George Washington and Triborough Bridges, as well as the ill-fated Tacoma
Narrows Bridge (I’m sure you’ve all seen the video). It joins Canal St. in Manhattan at the Bowery with
the Flatbush Ave. extension in Brooklyn at Tillary St. across the East River. It is a suspension bridge with
a main span of 1,480 feet and a total length of 6,855 feet. It is a two-level bridge carrying seven lanes of
traffic – four on top and three on bottom, and four subway tracks which carry the B, D, Q and N trains
(and sometimes R). The height of the towers is 336 feet, and clearance above the East River is 135 feet.

A dedicated pedestrian walkway is on the south side of the bridge, and a dedicated bike lane on the
north side. Construction in recent years has caused temporary closure of the bike lane, but as of now I
believe both are open. The walkway is accessible from the Bowery’s southern approach in Manhattan,
although pedestrian crossings do exist across Canal St. and the Bowery. In Brooklyn, the walkway and
bikeway must be accessed from the intersection of Jay St. and Sands St., directly underneath the bridge.

The Manhattan Bridge is heavily traveled by walkers, runners and cyclists for both recreation and
functional transportation, but the pathways never feel crowded. It is an excellent and enjoyable run, in
no small part due to its proximity to the Brooklyn Bridge to the south, of which runners get a beautiful
view. Many runners make a loop of both bridges, some also including the Williamsburg Bridge to the
north as a fun series of river crossings. The Brooklyn ends of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges are
very close together, just a short distance along Tillary St. for the Brooklyn Bridge’s long entrance or
Prospect St. for the shorter stair entrance.

On the Manhattan side of the bridge, both the Bowery and Canal St. are very congested areas with both
vehicular and pedestrian traffic, being in the heart of Chinatown. That could make for slow or stressful
running, but back when I would regularly run across the bridge home to Brooklyn from work, I came to
love the obstacle course running down the Bowery at rush hour!

In Brooklyn, the bridge has actually given its name to one of the city’s more recently-trendy
neighborhoods with a cute acronym name – Dumbo, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan
Bridge Overpass. Despite the hype, the area, along with the area under the Brooklyn Bridge, is a very
nice area with old historic buildings converted to art spaces, independent stores and restaurants, and
the new addition of Brooklyn Bridge Park right on the water’s edge. The bridge is also a short distance
from Brooklyn’s civic center and downtown, and you can continue up Flatbush Ave. to the Barclay’s
Center, and Prospect Park after just a couple of miles.

The Manhattan entrance features a monumental arch and colonnade that was built from 1910-1915,
designed by the architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings, and includes a frieze by Charles Rumsey
called “The Buffalo Hunt.”

That’s an overview of the Manhattan Bridge. And that about does it. I will follow up with an overview,
summary, thoughts and reflections on the bridge series. Till then, thanks for reading, and have a happy

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Ultrarunner of the Year

Every year UltraRunning Magazine comes up with a list of ultrarunner of the year (male and female) as well as performances of the year. I don't know who votes for it - probably nobody who reads my blog - but since other ultrarunning bloggers like to come up with their lists, here's my attempt to influence voters to prevent injustices similar to those of the past. So here is my detailed list of 2012's ultrarunner of the year.

1. Mike Morton
2. Everyone else

1. Connie Gardner
2. Everyone else

Performance of the year - male:
1. Mike Morton's 24-hour world championship (American record)
2. Everything else

Performance of the year - female:
1. Connie Gardner's 24-hour world championship (American record)
2. Everything else
(with special mention of Sabrina (Moran) Little's 24-hour North Coast and Amy Sproston's 100K world championship)
Of course, everyone's entitled to their opinion, but if your opinion is not the same as that above, you must have rocks for brains. Not that there aren't a LOT of awesome runners and performances in the "everyone else" category, but none that compare with Mike and Connie. Seriously, if these aren't unanimous choices, there is something very wrong with the system, which we know there is anyway.

Looking back over the last few years, it's becoming more and more clear that the best ultrarunning in the US these days is taking place on the roads, and the track. Since the beginning of 2010, 7 American records have been broken (Josh Cox - 50K, twice; Scott Jurek - 24 Hours, Mike Morton - 24 Hours, Sabrina Moran - 24 Hours, Connie Gardner - 24 Hours, me - 48 Hours) and several other close calls, the recent performances of the US 24-hour and 100K teams, one age-group world record (Jay Aldous - 50+, 100 miles), a dozen male 24-hour performances over 150 miles, and at least 10 women's performances over 135 miles, and we just had two sub-13 hour 100 mile performances. The quality and depth of quality is outstanding. The roads, and track, are where it's at, baby!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Race Report: Desert Solstice 24 Hour/100 Mile Run

Phoenix doesn't like me. I just have to come to terms with that. Two years ago I ran the 48 hour race at Across the Years, and although I missed the typhoon of the first night of the 3-day running festival, during my first night the temperatures in the 20's and my strained achilles made me drop out after about 24 hours.

Despite vowing never again to run a winter 24 or 48 hour race, I signed up for the 2012 Desert Solstice 24 Hour Run (which also has a 100-mile option) for a few reasons. 1. The Coury brothers of Aravaipa Running always put on top-notch events with the runners' needs and desires as top priority (as I experienced at Across The Years). 2. I was looking forward to running a 24-hour race on a track. 3. Most importantly, I was trying to qualify for the 2013 US team to the 24 hour world championships in the Netherlands, having run poorly at the 2012 championships in Poland. Besides, I figured what would the chances be of bad weather again? The weather forecast for race day looked good, with light rain in the morning and good temps.

I came into the race feeling undertrained, without a race plan, and with a slight pain in my lower back that I got from lifting heavy boxes the wrong way. The pain had mostly gone away in the days before the race, and I arrogantly assumed that if I ran a smart and not-too-ambitious race I should have no problem running 150 miles and qualifying for the team.

There was a limit of 20 runners on the track at the start, a few of whom were shooting for a good 100-mile time, including Ian Sharmin, Jon Olsen, Dave James and Mike Arnstein. I had many friends in the 24-hour race, including US teammates Connie Gardner, Deb Horn, Carilyn Johnson, Joe Fejes and Mike Henze. All on the track were experienced runners and a pleasure to share time with.

Shortly after the start I felt twinges of pain in my back. I pushed the pace a little, more than I expected to, in an attempt to bank distance in case I crashed later on. Ian and Dave took off like a flash, with Jon not far behind. Mike Arnstein started fast, but relatively conservatively by design, in an attempt to negative-split the 100. Dave Carver also had a fast start, going after a Canadian age-group 50-mile record.

Shortly after the start of the race also it started to drizzle. Then the drizzle turned to light rain, which became occasional downpours. Naturally, it hadn't rained in Phoenix in months, I was told. The temperature I don’t think ever got out of the 40’s. I also had a bad sign when runners I would pass said they knew by the sound of my feet that I was coming. My feet aren’t supposed to make any sound, but I was scraping the surface of the track. I couldn’t get my legs to lift my feet properly. After about 4 ½ hours the pain in my back forced me to longer walking breaks and attempts at self-massage. The walking in combination with the rain meant chills. I added clothes but soon those layers were soaked through as well. Mike A. gave me a heating pad to put on my back, but I couldn’t feel it at all. However, after a long rough patch I tried something close to a race-walking pace, which led finally to proper form and the pain in my back subsiding enough that I could run 10-minute miles.

I had hoped to hit 50 miles in seven hours, but I felt it no small victory to have reached that distance this day in eight hours, and I thought I still had a chance at 140 miles. But sure enough, the pain comes back, the rain keeps pouring and the chill gets deeper. The Courys had put up a long tent under which were tables where runners could keep their stuff, with room for crews. I was being helped by Mike Henze’s wife Jill and Carilyn Johnson’s husband Tim and sons Spencer and Grant. (Sidebar – I can’t say enough positive things about this family, I can’t even begin to say what great people they all are!) I sat down under the tent to try to find some dry clothes and regroup but my first lap out again brought on hypothermia. The hot and plentiful food at the aid station didn’t help enough, and I vowed that I wouldn't go back out as long as it was raining. Although I’d be able to walk and jog the rest of the way, it was still only 9 ½ hours into the race and I knew I wouldn’t get a good total, not enough to qualify for the team, and with no desire to do further damage to my back, my race was over after just 58 miles.

As for others’ races, the big news was Jon Olsen and Mike Arnstein both running 100 miles in under 13 hours! Jon ran 12:29, missing the American 100-mile track record by just two minutes, and Mike ran his negative splits, including a sub-3-hour final marathon to finish in 12:57. Mike had been aiming for a sub-13 100 for a long time, so I’m very happy he achieved that major career goal! Dave James had to stop fairly early, and Ian Sharmin got hypothermia and stopped after 70 miles. Pam Smith won the women’s 100 in 15:01, the 2nd-best American ever on the track, behind only the legendary Ann Trason. Jay Smithberger also had a great time of 13:49.

Joe Fejes, my roommate in Poland, won the 24 hour race with 156 miles, making him one more person to beat my PR! Nick Coury got 2nd with 139. Connie Gardner won the women’s race with 132, and Deb Horn close behind with just under 131. Deb never ceases to impress me with her strength and consistency. Joe and Connie already had qualifying performance for next year’s team, but Nick and Deb made the list of top six qualifiers (so far) with their runs. I was sorry to see Carilyn pull out, as well as Mike Henze.
As for me, my streak of being on the US team every year since 2007 will come to an end. But I’ll be back! Big thanks to Mike Arnstein, Mike and Jill Henze, the Johnson family, and especially the Coury family who all helped put on a world-class event. But with my record in Phoenix, please forgive me if I don’t return.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bridge of the Week #88: Jewel Ave. Bridge

On the bridge, looking west along Jewel Ave.

Looking north at the Flushing River and the ramp from the park

Looking south at Flushing River, Willow Lake, and the onramp to the Van Wyck

This week's bridge is the Jewel Ave. Bridge across the Flushing River on the edge of Flushing meadows Corona Park in Queens. It's one of those bridges you might cross without even knowing it. This is right at the point that Jewel Ave. meets an onramp/offramp for the Van Wyck Expressway, then crosses the Van Wyck, just west of the intersection with Park Drive East. The river here is at the spot between Meadow Lake and Willow Lake. Nothing of much interest with the bridge itself, a standard utilitarian concrete bridge. For runners, it's a way to get to Flushing Meadows from the neighborhoods to the east, in the 60-70 avenues. There are sidewalks on both sides, but it's kind of a crazy traffic area, so be careful, even with the pedestrian signals and crosswalks. One note: the onramp and offramp in the pictures above don't have sidewalks, so those bridges will not be covered in this series.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cancelling the ING New York City Marathon

When the New York Road Runners and the city first announced immediately after hurricane Sandy that the ING New York City Marathon would take place as scheduled, I was pleased, and my main concern was for the logistics of transporting runners to the start. The marathon is a fantastic event, a great celebration of life, and marathon runners are tough people who can take anything thrown at them and overcome.

But yesterday it suddenly hit me that there's no way that this race should be taking place this weekend. I apologize to those who have signed up (I'm not signed up this year), but it's become clear that the marathon should be canceled. I think it hit me when I saw news reports of residents of Rockaway Beach and Staten Island desperate for food, water and other basic necessities who were only just receiving their first deliveries from the Red Cross. If not that, then it hit me Thursday when they found the bodies of two small boys in a marshy area just a few miles from the start area, after being ripped from their mother's arms during the storm by the rushing waters on Monday night.

There are many in the general public who don't understand the significance of the marathon, those who think it trivial, which of course, I do not. Nevertheless, it's my feeling that the marathon is going forward for the wrong reasons. I believe that the marathon has become, in a way, too big to fail, or at least too big to be canceled. Mary Wittenberg has truly put all her eggs and NYRR's eggs in this basket, cancellation would be too devastating for NYRR, and I believe she's convinced Mayor Bloomberg to go along. And that's the problem - the marathon has gotten too big - way, way too big.

The Mayor and others have stated that the race represents the resiliency and toughness of New Yorkers, but that just doesn't fly. It's true that individually, the runners are extremely tough and resilient and ready to go. I have runner friends who are still without power and are ready at this moment to go out and run a marathon, or a 50-mile or a 100-mile race, which is absolutely awesome!  I ran the marathon in 2001, two months after the terrorist attacks that killed thousands.  People were still grieving, many were still unaccounted for, and I believe "The Pile" was still on fire, but we'd had time to absorb the shock of what happened, the city had recovered basic functions, and we were rebounding. Furthermore, the attitude during the race was not just resiliency, but a victory run, an act of defiance to a corporeal enemy on the other side of the globe. (I might add that there were about 21,000 runners that year, a few thousand less than the average field around that time, and less than half the number of runners signed up this year.)

Currently, we're still in crisis mode.  Much of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, not to mention New Jersey and Connecticut, will still be out of power for more than a week. People still haven't had a chance to bury their loved ones, or to figure out where they're going to be living for the coming months or how they're going to be able to earn a living, or to pull cars out of their living rooms or boats out of their yards.  Regardless of whether the Staten Island Ferry will be operating on Sunday morning, regardless of whether NYRR will be able to bus tens of thousands of people through darkened, battered neighborhoods to Fort Wadsworth, regardless of whether it's city funds or private funds providing water, Gatorade, security, medical supplies and personnel along a 26-mile stretch of the city, holding the race just six days after the hurricane hit is extremely insensitive to those still in deep suffering. There will be truckloads of bottled water, bagels, coffee, power bars and other supplies brought to Fort Wadsworth, not to mention generators, while just steps away are people who are truly desperate for just those very items, and have been since Monday.  Let us show our resiliency after we've shown our compassion. Let us have our victory run after we have earned the victory.

If cancellation would be too devastating for NYRR or for the ING New York City Marathon, then they only have themselves to blame. No race should be too big to fail. Many of you know I'm a devoted ultrarunner, and the biggest races in ultrarunning have had to be cancelled - Western States a few years back due to forest fires, Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc once cancelled and once shortened due to rough weather - and they've survived, even though runners had spent large amounts of money and traveled from all over the world. The runners understand. The Chicago Marathon was stopped a few years ago due to heat while many were still running, and the race survived. Those who have traveled here or are on their way can still come here and enjoy the city, or at least the parts of the city that are open. They will understand. Those who have pledged money to charity runners would have to be heartless to take back their pledges - I think they will understand. The athletes will understand, anyone with a capacity to understand may be disappointed, but they will understand.

My statements here I suppose are just foolish posturing, since I make no decisions for anyone but myself, I have no power. And I'm not calling for anyone to boycott the marathon, and I don't mean to dampen anyone's enthusiasm. I take that back, I do mean to dampen enthusiasm. The usual enthusiasm, excitement and downright giddyness at the start and along the course of the marathon is simply inappropriate this year. Those of you who are running, please consider the suffering taking place just a short distance from where your race starts. Remember as you pass near the Barclay's Center that just a few days earlier there were lines of thousands of people waiting for a bus to get to work. Above all, remember that the marathon is a great statement of humanity, and that regardless of what the NYRR decides or the city decides, do not, as an individual, lose that humanity.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bridge of the Week #82-87: Brookville Park Footbridges, 147th Ave. Bridge

They're back! After a much-too-long absence, back to the bridges of New York City. A reminder for those who are new, I'm covering all the bridges of New York City that can be run (or walked) across, and have traveled to every corner of every borough to visit the bridges personally and cross them and take pictures, to help runners enhance their running experience in this city. I've done 81 up to now, which is most of them, certainly most of the major bridges, but I've got a few left, so here we go.

147th Ave. Bridge
Bridge #1
 The main reason for the delay in this series is that I haven't had a chance to get out to Rosedale, Queens to visit Brookville Park until very recently. This is a very nice park that runs between 147th Ave. and S. Conduit Blvd., and between 232nd St. and Brookville Blvd., following Hook Creek. It's not far to the north-northeast from JFK Airport. There are five footbridges in the park that cross Hook Creek, as well as a vehicular bridge on 147th Ave. that I've included here as well even though it doesn't have a sidewalk, and even though the southermost footbridge in the park is only a few yards to the north, because it can be run or walked across. The footbridges are shown below, from south to north.
Conselyeas Pond in Brookville Park
Hook Creek is a small stream for the most part, but in the park, it does widen into a nice pond, Conselyeas Pond. The footbridges are small and cross the narrow stream. I don't have any specs on them, and don't know when they were built, sorry.

Bridge #2
 Like I said, this is a very nice park, and a nice spot for an easy run. But at only about a half mile long, not much of a place for a long run (although a good potential spot for a short-loop ultra!). It's surrounded by a nice residential neighborhood, and JFK Airport to the south, not a lot of great running spots nearby, unless you want to run the length of Rockaway Blvd. out to (or from) Meadowmere and Five Towns. And there are no subways anywhere near, although the Rosedale station for the Long Island Railroad is just to the north of the park.
Bridge #3
 This is another case that brings up the question, what is a bridge that I cover in this blog? I decided that park footbridges would only be covered if they crossed a legitimate waterway, and small as Hook Creek is here, it qualifies. But just to the north, as the creek flows under S. Conduit Blvd., Sunrise Highway, N. Conduit Blvd., and Francis Lewis Blvd, and on to the north (or from the north rather) alongside the Laurelton Parkway it is routed under through man-made channels rather than crossed by bridges, and becomes a much less significant waterway, and I don't think I'll be covering those farther north crossings. I figure if there's a good amount of earth and plants and trees on it, it's not a bridge for the purposes of this blog. I might change my mind later, I've done that often enough already, but the 147th Ave. Bridge and these five footbridges are the end of the line for Hook Creek I believe.
Bridge #4
 Not too many bridges left! Stay tuned, more to come.

Bridge #5
Hook Creek

Under S. Conduit Blvd.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Race Report: 2012 World Championship 24 Hour

Standing - Mike Connor (team doctor), Deb Horn, Harvey Lewis, me, Connie Gardner, Jonathan Savage, Anne Lundblad, Carilyn Johnson, Suzanna Bon, Lana Haugberg, Tania Pacev (team manager), Mike Spinnler (team assistant); Front - Mike Morton, Serge Arbona, Joe Fejes

In the better late than never category, here's my report on the 2012 IAU World Championship 24 Hour race in Katowice, Poland, on Sept. 8. It was such a momentous event for American ultrarunning that I wanted to be sure to get my report out there with the others'.

I flew into Krakow on Wednesday via Vienna (wish I could've spent some time there), and with some of the other US and Canadian team members hopped on a bus to Katowice, where we met up with more of the team checking into the dorm we were being housed in. I had a good roommate with Joe Fejes and shared a suite with Carilyn Johnson and her family (husband Tim and sons Spencer and Grant), who are some of my favorite people anywhere. We had a few days to rest up, do some short runs, get acquainted with each other and the city. Most of the team I already knew, but it was great to meet and get to know Lana Haugberg, Mike Morton, Joe Fejes and Anne Lundblad, as well as friends and family members who had come to crew. We really had a great group to crew for us!
The Spodek, an arena in Katowice
Akos Konya, former California resident, on the Hungarian team
We had a nice opening ceremony on Friday and made our final preparations for the race. Saturday morning we loaded onto buses for the park where the race was held. It was a very nice park, with the course, a rectangular course of just under a mile, going around a lake.  We were told that about 150 yards of the approximately mile-long course were on rough bricks, but I didn't get around to visiting the course before the race, so when the gun went off I was somewhat surprised that besides the rough bricks, one of the long sides of the course was surfaced with brick pavers. They were smooth here, but I worried about my feet and legs running on the hard surface (harder than asphalt) over the course of 24 hours.
The park in Katowice where the race was held
Me and Joe Fejes, roomies at the start line

Crewing area
The weather for the race was perfect, ranging in the 50's throughout, except for the sunny final few hours, and spotty drizzle and light rain at a few points in the night. I felt great and was fully expecting a PR (154 miles) with an outside shot at 160 miles. The race started out very well for me. I went out at about the pace I was planning, and yet after 45 minutes I was lapped by Mike Morton! This wasn't totally unexpected, since he'd run 163 miles in a qualifying race, and I was thinking that he had a real good shot at Scott Jurek's two-year-old record of 165.7 miles. Still, he was moving fast! And not too far behind him was Harvey Lewis! Harvey qualified with about 142 miles, and he had an excellent Badwater race as well this summer, but I was a little concerned about his starting speed.

The entire men's and women's teams seemed to be starting off well. Unfortunately after about four hours, Carilyn tripped and fell, causing her to faint, and she had to withdraw from the race soon after. I hit the 50-mile point in 7 hours, just as planned, and was feeling good. I was being crewed by Spencer and Tim Johnson, and they did an excellent job getting me what I needed. Still worried about the bricks, I made the conscious effort to stay as smooth and light on my feet as possible. I had no idea what my place was, but I was not among the leaders, which was fine with me, there was time to move up if I kept the pace. Harvey settled into a more sustainable pace and Serge Arbona was moving well, too. Joe Fejes and Jonathan Savage were behind me but orunning well. For the women, Connie Gardner, Suzanna Bon, Lana Haugberg and Anne Lundblad were looking strong, Deb Horn was moving well, but looked to be struggling a little. Mike kept passing me about once per hour.

After about nine hours I developed a strong pain in my feet, particularly my left foot, which I blamed on the paving stones, and which caused me to take longer walking breaks. I was hoping to work my way through it, and after a couple of painful hours, with a little help from some Tylenol I did and was able to run at a good pace again, and still had hopes for 150 miles. A few hours later, however, more pain came shooting from my feet up my legs into my hips and back. This caused me to take more walking breaks, and even when I ran I wasn't able to run at a good pace. I was hoping I'd be able to work through this like I did before. But even when I blocked the pain, it felt like my whole body had shut down and I wasn't able to get back into race mode. So I kept on as well as I could.

By this time, Jonathan had to take some time off the course, but Joe had picked up some steam. Mike was still lapping me regularly, Serge had started to have some GI issues, but Harvey was going well. Deb was struggling some, but the rest of the women were looking very strong.

After about 16 1/2 hours I came up to Serge, who was walking, and he said his digestive issues were preventing him from running and he'd have to drop out, which was very disappointing for him since he'd trained very hard, he had two excellent 24 hour races this year already and was ready to run 160 miles. Soon after, team assistant Mike Spinnler told me that I was now the third American man after Mike and Harvey, meaning that I was now in position to score for the team (the top three men's distances are added for team scoring) and that we were in medal position. I didn't hear him say what medal, but it spurred me to pick up the pace as best I could. But I couldn't pick it up a lot, which is why I was relieved to see Joe come passing me a few times and take over the third place spot.

In the final hours, not being able to move very fast, I made it my mission to try to encourage my teammates. I tried to be sure I was running whenever I saw Mike coming up to me, because I felt bad and I didn't want to discourage him. I was also doing what I could to get position updates from Mike Spinnler and relay them to team members. In particular, he told me that the men's team was still in gold position, but the German team was closing in, so I tried to encourage Harvey and Joe. Mike was still flying and I wouldn't be able to get out more than a few words before he was gone anyway! I was told that Connie was a lock for third place, and possibly second, and the women's team was running away with the gold medal! I was hoping Connie would also get the women's American record, given her history with the chase and knowing how much she wanted it.

One bright side of moving slow was that I was able to meet and talk to some of the other runners from other countries. I had met Sweden's Torill Fonn at several races in the past, and she was on pace for a PR with over 200 km and second Swedish woman. I chatted with runners from Australia, Ireland, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark and Hungary. Akos Konya, a Hungarian formerly living in California and one of the best Badwater runners ever, I think hasn't been running as much lately, but I saw him near the end of the race and despite the Hungarian uniform instead of his usual fiery singlet, his stride was instantly recognizable, and was good to see.

So in the end, Mike won the world championship, blowing away Scott's record, with 172 miles, which I believe is the world's best besides Yannis Kouros (who was running the race for Greece) and one Russian runner. Second place was about 10 miles behind. Harvey and Joe pushed and pushed, both finished in the upper 140's, but the Germans and the French just overtook the Americans, leaving us with the bronze medal in a close team race.

Connie won second place, and also set a new American record! The previous official record of over 145 was set by Sue Ellen Trapp in 1997. Connie came heartbreakingly close to it in 2007, Sabrina (Moran) Little  passed it this spring with 147 miles, but before that could even be ratified, Connie overtakes it with 149.3 miles! Suzanna Bon was not far behind in fifth place and 143 miles, and Anne Lundblad finished in ninth place with 138 miles. Lana also had a PR with over 129 miles. The women handily won the team gold medal!

Crew members Tim Johnson and Larry Haugberg (Lana's dad), and Joe Fejes
Super crewman Spencer Johnson

The women's team getting their gold medals
So I had great pride in my teammates, and great disappointment with my own race. I kept blaming the brick surface on half the course, but it didn't seem to bother Mike or Connie or most of the others. I'd hate to think it was just a mental letdown, that I couldn't get myself moving once a little adversity set in. Regardless, it reminded me of the 2009 championships in Bergamo, Italy, where I had an even worse race after feeling invincible going in. But there are a lot of factors involved in any race, whether it goes well or not. And when something goes badly, you have to find the balance between learning from it and overanalyzing it. Sometimes you just have to let it go.

So a few of us found a nice little pizzeria in town to celebrate in, and rehashed the experience and swapped stories. It's always a bit of a loss to then go your separate ways after spending several days together. But the next day I took the train to Krakow and spent an afternoon and evening in and around the beautiful city square and the impressive compound of Wawel Castle. Krakow really is, I believe, one of the great old European cities, and I wish I had more time to spend there. But I made it home smoothly, and began to recover and prepare for the next race, whatever that might be, I still haven't decided. If I want to qualify for next year's team I will have to run another 24-hour race this fall or winter (and run it well), so I'm thinking about that.

Big thanks to all my teammates, and their spouses, family and friends who made the trip to help us out. Hope to see you soon!

St. Mary's Basilica on Krakow's main square

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Art of Ultrarunning

"A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways as they're capable of understanding." - Steve Prefontaine

There's an artist in Queens named Shaun El C. Leonardo, whose work I like. His paintings, drawings and performances explore the masculine identity in his own life and his Latin culture, in many cases through sports imagery, particularly the hypermasculine (or combat) sports of wrestling, boxing, football and bullfighting. ("El C., or "El Conquistador" is his masked wrestling alter-ego.) Last September I saw him as one of 15 wrestlers in a blindfolded cage match, lasting until only one man was left. Cool as hell, by the way. Since he was set up as the hero, I was surprisingly surprised when (spoiler alert) he lost.

Fast-forward to May 2012 when I ran the 48-hour race at 3 Days at the Fair in Sussex County, NJ, trying to break the 48-hour American record I set in 2011.  After 14 hours and 100 laps of the course I suffered a mental letdown, a simple lack of motivation that's very tough to describe (and is not the point of this essay anyway), and I ended up dropping out just shy of 24 hours into the race, with less than 100 miles. I soon thought of Leonardo's wrestling match, and the theme that runs throughout his work of the defeated hero - does El Conquistador ever actually conquer? - feeling like a defeated hero myself. (I should mention of course that I don't mean hero in the literal sense of someone who sacrifices or takes significant risks for others, but more in the literary sense of the protagonist - or possibly in Leonardo's case, a more mythological sense.) I'm no art expert, and this I believe is not the main point of Leonardo's work, and running is not a hypermasculine sport anyway I wouldn't say, but it got me thinking, if he can incorporate athletic performances into his art, then why can't I incorporate art into my athletic performances?

That started me thinking about the Steve Prefontaine quote, and how I might possibly think of my own running as a work of art, and how that might influence my performance or at least enhance my personal experience. I don't strictly mean my own performances necessarily, but ultrarunning in general, all of us who undertake this activity. Just as a blindfolded cage match with 15 wrestlers might sound insane or extreme to some, so does running nonstop for 24 or 48 hours to some, or running across Death Valley in the middle of July. And for crying out loud, Pre ran 5K's! If his races were a work of art, a 24-hour race has gotta be the friggin' Sistine Chapel!

So why and how can ultrarunning be art? I don't know that it is, at least it would probably require some expansion of  many people's definition of the word art. And I'm generally not the envelope-pushing type. But if you think of art as a means of self-expression, putting yourself out there for the public to see, then just maybe it might just be something to think about. And I think ultras, especially the longer ultras of 100 miles or 24 hours or more, say a lot more about the athletes than other races do. It's beautiful to watch Tyson Gay sprint down the track, but the zombie-like shuffle of a runner in a 100-miler speaks a lot more to the soul.

And the races themselves can be performances worthy of comparison to the great symphonies or operas, even if it's not always apparent at first. Many people, even accomplished ultrarunners, can't comprehend the significance and beauty of a 24-hour race, for example. A group of runners of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and abilities collectively running in roughly mile-long circles (usually) feeding off each other, their supporters and event staff to accomplish goals and cover distances that are unimaginable for many, all in the course of one rotation of the earth. There is a definite arc of drama when you think about the excitement of the first few hours giving way to a more relaxed pace once the energy burns off, various ups and downs, pains and aggravations, a variety of adversities through the evening and night to which some people succumb and which others overcome, relationships of various types that develop with the other runners, whether spoken or unspoken, friendly or competitive, or both, all the while feeling those legs hurting just a little more with each passing hour, feeling those hot spots develop into blisters maybe, wondering what can be done to get the most out of your body, and finally the climactic final hours when the sun comes up, and resting or struggling runners rise from the dead miraculously revived, and you push yourself to the fullest, often in that zombie-like shuffle, until the 24 hours is up. This is not National Geographic, no beautiful scenery, it's more Finnegan's Wake, and a meaningful experience within each runner which is shared with the other runners and the observers.

This is not to dismiss the scenery entirely from the conversation. A beautiful environment - a high mountain trail or a secluded forest - can be personally fulfilling in many ways, and one of the rewards of your efforts, but for the most part it's not at the heart of what the sport is about. I also don't feel that more difficult courses necessarily enhance the experience. It brings to mind my college days as a piano major. My friends and I would sometimes discuss what the most difficult piano pieces or piano composers were, as college students tend to think that sort of thing really matters. My college piano teacher, the late great Norwegian pianist Audun Ravnan, pointed out that a lot of composers are difficult only because of things like a lot of jumping around, meaninglessly fast and awkward passages, even Beethoven and Mozart have their awkward moments, while a composer like Chopin is difficult, but is beautiful and satisfying to play, because, as he said, "it fits the hand." I've been seeing more and more race descriptions where the director or runners praise the course for its difficulty, almost as if a race's value is directly proportional to the elevation change and/or the percentage of the course that's not runnable. I say that while there is definite value in tackling tough challenges, there's no value in being tough for the sake of being tough. The more important question is, does the race "fit the feet"? In this question I suppose I'm not talking so much physically, but emotionally. For all the work you put into it, what does it give back to you? I do most of my racing on the roads, which always give back to me at least the satisfying sensations of running without worrying about footing, allowing me to some degree to transcend the immediate world around me. The bigger trail races I've done, Western States, Vermont 100, and JFK, give back as well and are immensely satisfying experiences. Others are just tough and awkward.

But Badwater is Chopin. No race gives back more. It's 135 miles from the lowest elevation in the U.S. up to the side of the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. For one thing, all of recorded human history is scattered with stories of people going to the desert or the mountains to seek solitude, wisdom, retreat, enlightenment, or sometimes sent there not of their own will but still coming through the experience changed in some major way. What could be more epic than a race combining the hottest desert with the highest mountain? It is very tough. The difficulties include running over 40 miles through heat that can reach 125 degrees or more, and three relentless climbs of 5000 feet, 3500 feet and another 5000 feet to finish the race. But as with a 24-hour race, it's the shared experience that makes the impression. You and your crew and 90 others and their crews and race staff are working together, feeding off each other, making yourselves greater than the sum of your parts in order to push you across the desert and up the mountainside. It has billed itself as "The World's Toughest Footrace", which it probably isn't, but it's got to be the toughest footrace that's worth the effort, that gives back every ounce, every drop of sweat that you put into it. It's elegant and it fits the feet. That's why it's Chopin.

So I think those are a couple of ways that an ultra could be thought of as art. Maybe someone should set up some sort of art exhibit on a football field, include sculpture, performance, and whatever else captures the imagination, and include a runner running on the track around it for 24 hours. It might or might not really work, but I'd be up for it! All this of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and someone watching an ultra might not notice anything that resembled art. But if it affects the way you as a runner think about your race, it just might provide the emotional motivation you need to get you through your rough patches and get more fulfillment from your experience. I admit that I intended to run Badwater this year thinking about it as a work of art, and occasionally during the race I told myself, "This race is a work of art." But in the end, I don't think it had any effect! Oh well, just rambling words for thought. But give it a shot - be your own artist, be your own hero. I'll try again at the 24-hour world championships next month, which happens to be taking place in Poland, homeland of...Frederic Chopin.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Race Report: NYRR Team Championships

The NYRR Team Championships is a nice tradition, almost a throwback to the golden days of the NYRR. Teams earn double points for the yearlong competition, and with the postrace picnics that take place it's a good chance for runners to reconnect with each other, on their own teams and with other teams as well.

The race is a 5-mile race, separate events for men and women, and open only the NYRR members and those who are members of one of the many teams in the city (and beyond). I've been running for West Side Runners (WSX) for several years now, and we again had a very strong men's team at this event. The race was won by our own Mikael Tesfaye Kahsay in 24:30, WSX took 8 of the top 10 and 11 of the top 15! Our masters took 3rd place, but I was not among our team's scorers. Still recovering from Badwater and the BUS Pajama Romp the week before, I finished in 31:15, 209th place overall (but who's counting?).

But again, it was nice to catch up with other runners afterward. And I think this is the longest current streak I have of any race, having run it every year since 2007. I'll have to double-check that.

Race Report: BUS Pajama Romp 6-Hour

Rich Innamorato and the Broadway Ultra Society put on the Pajama Romp 6-Hour for the second straight year, on July 28 in Astoria Park. Last year's race was surprisingly well-attended, and again this year about 70 runners were expected. Mark your calendars, July 28, 2012 was the first time Richie used electronic chip timing for a BUS race!

The Pajama Romp (originally Pajama Run, but apparently someone has a trademark on that name, but I like Pajama Romp better anyway, it sounds slightly scandalous, especially since it lasts for 6 hours) is unique in that it is an evening run, going from 5:00-11:00 p.m. The course is a nice loop of about 1.27 miles in Astoria Park, looping under both the Triborough and Hell Gate Bridges, and it has a nice view of the water and Wards Island, as well as the Manhattan skyline.

I had just run Badwater 12 days before, so I was using this as a training run, a fun run, and a chance to get together with my cool running friends. I was hoping for 42-43 miles and a strong finish, but I did tire out as time wore on and I finished with about 39 miles, good enough for 4th place male, 6th overall.

Dennis Ball, who also donated the Gatorade, won the race with 45.31 miles, with Aaron Heath less than a mile behind, and Christopher McGovern got third. Jimena Sachdev repeated as women's champion from last year with 41.97 miles, Jodi Kartes-Heino was second and Elaine Acosta third.

The weather was a change from last year - instead of intense heat we had heavy rain. The rain started about 15 minutes before the race and finished shortly after the race began, but it lasted long enough to be an inconvenience. Most of the time the weather was good for running, you just had to go around one big puddle. There were some glitches with the electronic timing, which happens sometimes, but it was backed up by manual lap counting as well. All race directors who put on loop races should take a lesson from Richie on how to do manual timing!

The best part of these races is always the comeradery, hanging out with the other runners, especially at a timed race where everyone finishes at the same time. Pizza and pop were provided after the finish, and it was another excellent adventure with BUS and the New York ultrarunning community!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Race Report: Badwater Ultra

I was eagerly and optimistically awaiting the 2012 Badwater Ultra, but not from the start. I signed up hesitantly, not being sure if I'd be able to race due to personal circumstances.  But I did, and after I got accepted I still wasn't sure if I'd confirm, until Mike Arnstein enthusiastically convinced me, having gotten accepted himself. So we were sort of a team from the get-go.

The big news before the race was the mild forecast, with highs on Monday, July 16 in Death Valley predicted to be only 108 or 109. People who sign up for the Badwater Ultra, a 135-mile race starting in one of the hottest places on the planet in mid-July, continuing over three mountain ranges and finishing more than 8300 feet up the side of Mt. Whitney, sign up for the full experience, the greatest challenges, otherwise what's the point?  It can normally be 125 degrees during the race, so a high of under 110 is a real disappointment for many. My two previous races, 2009 and 2010, were pretty hot, so at least I've had that experience. This year I had a new and unexpected weather experience. Friday night before the race after I drove out to Stovepipe Wells (mile 42 on the course) with Mike and met my crew - my brother Ted, his wife Becky, and their sons Andrew, Garret and Riley - we were sitting in the saloon and saw the wind pick up a strong sandstorm. Next came the rain, and some heavy downpours! That area gets about two inches of rain a year, mostly in February, and here we just got about an inch! The storm left its mark, with dirt and gravel washed over some roads, and a big standing puddle covering the road just north of Stovepipe until well after the race passed through.

Anyway, the race. I was certainly hoping to improve on my past performances, both between 29 and 30 hours and both good for eighth place. But I didn't have the experience on the course to really judge what I might be capable of. I was hoping at least to take a little time off each leg of the course, not stop for breaks, move a little faster up the hills, keep my running pace up, and with a little luck maybe take a couple hours off my time. My crew was experienced, all five having crewed me in 2010, and Ted and Becky crewed me in 2009 as well. They were all excited to be back and so was I!

Maybe the best aspect of Badwater is seeing running friends from across the country and the world who you don't get to see very often, as well as making new friends. I was especially looking forward to seeing defending women's champion from Japan, Sumie Inagaki again. I ran with her in my first 48-hour race in Surgeres, France in 2008. She got second overall and I got third, but she broke the world record, so I can't be too disappointed. It was also nice to see some familiar faces from the New York area. Besides Mike, there was Ken Posner and his crew, Tony Portera and his crew (who I really didn't see until during the race itself), two friends who were members of Maryland runner Dave Ploskonka's crew, and Milko Mejia, who was on the crew for a 2011 top-10 runner from California, Mark Matyazac. There were also two other members of the upcoming USA 24-hour world championship team entered, Mike Morton and Harvey Lewis.
Jackie Choi and Shannon MacGregor at runner check-in
Me with Ken Posner and crew at runner check-in: me, Todd Jennings, Dennis Ball, Ken Posner, Elaine Acosta, Emmeline Posner
Oh yeah, the race. So at the 10:00 start, the weather was not too hot at all, and there was a stiff tailwind. Counting the runners ahead of me at the very start, I was in ninth place. I'd try to keep track of people passing me and me passing people, but that didn't last long. I just wanted to do better than eighth place this year! I soon caught up to Mike A. as he was on one of his regularly scheduled walking breaks and we chatted a bit. There were some runners and crews that I'd see a lot of during the race, and Mike was one of them. Everything started off smoothly, with my crew doing an excellent job. I'd forgotten to bring sponges, but a cold wet cloth worked even better to wipe my face, neck and chest, and also provided some moisture to breathe when held over my mouth.

The McCarthy crew at Stovepipe Wells: Andrew, Garret, Ted, Becky, Riley

Sumie Inagaki and me before the start
Mike Arnstein and me before the start

I got to Furnace Creek (mile 17) in 2:24, 11 minutes faster than 2010. I attributed that to the weather, but I'd take it! Continuing on without incident, I got to Stovepipe Wells (mile 42) in 6:24, still 12 minutes ahead of previous pace, but feeling much better, and not stopping as I had before. Still, I was feeling the effects of the heat, and needed to walk a bit to cool down and give myself a breather. The 16-mile, 5000-foot climb up to Towne's Pass in the face of a hot howling wind would be my first real test. I planned to employ a strategy of 10 steps running, 10 steps walking. Not too ambitious-sounding, but better than walking it all, plus it might motivate me to expand my running segments. It was doing this that I slowly came closer to Mike, who had passed me some time ago. But as I tired Mike pulled away. In a nice moment, Dean Karnazes came up from behind me and gave me some very kind words of encouragement before continuing on ahead. I'd run a number of races with Dean, but hadn't had much of a chance to chat with him. Another nice note, his pacer there was Michelle Barton, showing the high quality of crew and pacers at Badwater! So as I climbed, caught my breath, and as the weather cooled, I was eventually able to settle into a very productive pattern of 32 steps running, 16 walking, even into the strong wind. (I'm a musician, so everything I do is in groups of four.) I got to the top of Towne's Pass having passed Dean back and feeling great, knowing that I've got good strong quads to fly on the following 12-mile downhill

Night fell, and I did fly on the downhill, passing Mike and seeing the lights of Panamint Springs get closer and closer. But by the time I neared the bottom, I was again needing to catch a breather from the constant fast running, and the beating my legs were taking. Plus, my stomach was feeling a little tight, and for much of the race felt just on the verge of being queasy. So I slowed to a walk on the Panamint Valley flat (where Mike passed me back) and suffered a morale slip. Then Ted gave me an Ensure, which was not quite cold enough, and I returned the chocolate liquid to the valley floor. Having done what my stomach felt like doing for quite a while, I suddenly felt better, reenergized, and ready to take on the climb out of Panamint, having hit the time station there about 1/2 hour ahead of 2010.

This was my big leg of the whole race. In both previous runs, I walked nearly the whole climb. In 2010 I suffered from nasty blisters as well as nausea that made me take almost an hour break, and almost made me pull the plug at mile 80. This time I did my 32-16 pattern and moved well up the hill, helped a lot by my nephews Andrew and Garret who took turns pacing me. (Garret and Riley are both high school students, by the way, and top-notch athletes themselves. Andrew is a very good runner as well, and had no issues with a recent knee injury.) I soon realized that without that stiff wind from the first mountain I could run more than 32 steps at a time. This was good, because the winding roads were steeply cambered, and running the curves did much less damage to my feet than walking them. Halfway up I passed Mike again, and he said how do I do it. But he was doing it too, after all. I really did make good time with Andrew and Garret's pacing, and Becky's cheering (you'd think we were at a Nebraska game!).
On the road early in the race, Ted Philip's car in background

On the road up to Towne's Pass
Ted, Garret and Andrew, close to Lone Pine

Out of the canyon, continuing uphill toward the Darwin turnoff, I was passed by Mark Matyazac, who I'd see a lot of for the rest of the race. Sometimes I'd pass him while he was walking or resting, but he'd pass me  running and take off.  Darwin (mile 90) seemed to never come, which seemed to be the case the last two times as well. But it finally came at 17:37, or 3:37 in the morning. This was huge for me! I made that leg in just over four hours, whereas it took me almost six hours in 2010, when I reached Darwin at almost 6:00 a.m., and almost 5 a.m. in 2009. And I still felt strong! But when my crew told me my place there, I was still in eighth place! I was determined to get out of that place.

A good downhill followed when I saw Sumie close ahead of me, and I was confident that I could catch her. And to my surprise I soon cam across Marco Farinazzo, the 2009 champion, walking down the hill, and passed him! But soon enough, Mark passed me by and took off. I was thinking this could be a real close finish, with Mark, Marco, Sumie and myself all close together, with Mike possibly not too far back, plus I was still seeing Dean's crew van, and I was told that Harvey Lewis was not too far ahead. With Marco being a recent champion, you couldn't count him out of having a burst of speed after struggling a bit.

So I kept on as well as I could. It was a long, long stretch to Lone Pine as any Badwater runner will tell you. But it was much easier being there so early. For one thing, it was cooler. For another thing, it was too early for the trucks from Keeler to be out and whizzing past. The road was blessedly nearly traffic-free! I'd come close to Mark only to see him pull away again, and I eventually had to let him go. But I saw less and less of Marco's and Sumie's crew vans.

That last curve towards the Lone Pine road just would never come. I was still running most of the time, with only short walk breaks, but my running pace was pretty pedestrian. I was becoming disappointed with myself and my current pace. I was hoping to get to Lone Pine before 9:00 ("Lone Pine by 9!" became my crew's mantra), but it was looking less likely as time went on. Still, I could meet two big goals: 1. Get 7th place or higher, 2. Break 27 hours. Getting to Lone Pine by 9:00 would give me a full four hours to get up Mt. Whitney, so I did have a little cushion, having walked up it in 3:44 in 2010.

I made the right turn to Lone pine right at 9:00, and the time check in town at 9:20 (23:20 race time), and was told I was in 6th place - a nice little surprise! It's always exciting to get to Lone Pine, knowing you only have that last, killer mountain to climb. For me, normally the pressure's off actually, as there's only so much you can do to get up the steep 5000+ foot, 13-mile climb with any speed. But I would have to work to take some time off my previous climbs if I wanted to break 27 hours. I started again with my 32-16 pattern, but before long it became too steep to make any running worthwhile for me. I also had Riley or Andrew, whoever was walking with me, keep checking back for Marco. But I did keep a good brisk walking pace, compared to my more casual walking pace in past years. And it paid off - with Ted walking with me and my crew joining at the very end, I crossed the finish line in 26:52:01! This was two hours, 20 minutes better than my previous best of 29:12 in 2009. It was a very satisfying end to a good race.

At the finish, I met Harvey and Mark, who had both finished within the last hour, and who were engaged in a pretty tough battle against each other. Mike Morton had won the race, almost beating Valmir Nunes's course record, Oswaldo Lopez was second, Zach Gingerich third, then Harvey, Mark and me. I rested at the top, went to visit the nearby stream, and then had my crew take me down to town, having been told that the next finishers were a ways away yet. But I was disappointed I didn't stay a little longer, because driving down, I soon met Marco on the way up, then Dave Ploskonka, and a host of other runners on the way down, including Kirt Lindermuller, Terry Sentinella, Sumie, Dean, Jonathan Gunderson, Pam Reed (who I high-fived) and of course Mike Arnstein, who I exchanged a few words with, and who was looking good on his way to a 16th-place finish in 31:04:55.

The crew and I went to the motel and crashed. On Wednesday we would enjoy the awards and pizza party (now a lunch party with the 48-hour cutoff), and a few beers at Jake's Saloon. The other runners and crews and I exchanged stories, congratulations, and went our own separate ways. But not before I put my third Badwater finish on the wall of Jake's Saloon. If you go there, it's in the back on the left-hand side, about seven or eight feet up the wall near the little stage.

I have to give a big thanks mostly to my crew - Ted, Becky, Andrew, Garret and Riley, who all really rose to the occasion! Thanks also to Dr. Jack Mantione, my physical therapist, who helps keep me injury-free and well-aligned and tuned up. And also to the folks at Project Hospitality, a charity on Staten Island that helps the poor, the homeless, and those with HIV, and for whom I've been raising money. They do very, very good work under difficult circumstances. And of course, thanks to all those in the New York ultrarunning community, all my friends who wish me luck and give me their support. It really is great to be a part of such a wonderful community!
Dave Ploskonka and crew (Shannon, Chris, Dave, Jackie) in Lone Pine

3 Badwaters, 3 times on the wall of Jake's Saloon

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Race Report: The Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition

The runners at the start in Times Square

Elaine Acosta and pacer at the Unisphere

Keila Merino, me and Michael Samuels at the finish

Sorry about the delay in posting on my blog. But better late than never I guess. June 23 marked the running of The Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition. I came up with the idea for this over a year ago after getting sick of people thinking the only place to run in New York is Central Park. My own long runs have taken me to the most far-flung reaches of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and to some extent Staten Island, so I decided to put this race together to show off the great places to run in this city. Unfortunately, there is no pedestrian access to Staten Island (except via Bayonne, NJ), but I mapped out a course around the other four boroughs that used as many parks, greenways and beaches as possible, connecting them with city streets (some quiet residential streets, some gritty industrial areas) and bridges, going over seven major bridges (and under three others). With this being my first job as race director, I wanted to keep the field small and the race low-key, so I did no promotion, charged a small entry fee and promised to provide only minimal aid stations with fluids, requiring runners to carry food, purchase it along the way, and/or have it crewed for them. This was not meant to be a highly competitive race, and with open streets it would not be a fast race. But I wanted it to be fun and exciting, so I had to had to have it start and finish in Times Square, and cover as many scenic areas as possible.

During preparations, I really gained a new appreciation for the work that race directors do. I won't bore you with the details, but I was working frantically and was quite frazzled by the time I arrived in Times Square early Saturday morning. But once the runners began arriving, I was losing the stress and was getting caught up in the excitement myself. 32 runners signed up and 31 started (one unfortunately had an injury). It was a mix of veterans and newcomers, youth and experience, even a few legends with Ray Krolewicz, Dave Luljak and Trishul Cherns signed up. Most of the runners were New Yorkers, but there were a few from Philadelphia, the Boston area, and a few from farther down the east coast. Liz Bauer flew up from Georgia to run her 18th 100 mile race of the year in her attempt at a record-breaking 30 hundreds for 2012! Somehow I felt more pressure with people traveling to the race!

During the race itself, naturally my experiences were much different from the runners'. I had tried to estimate how fast the lead runners would reach the aid stations to get them set up and staffed in time. Eliot Lee had loaded his pickup with water and with Gatorade that was donated by runner Dennis Ball, and Eliot and I would get to each aid station before the first runners. I also had to do some last-minute race-day course marking in a few spots, which caused me to do some scrambling and running. I was covered in flour after marking the trails in Van Cortlandt Park! Since at most locations we had to set up and leave in the hands of volunteers, I didn't get to see too much of the runners, except the leaders

And I apologize to the runners for not getting enough volunteers to man all the aid stations I had planned. There are definitely lessons I learned about volunteer coordination. But the volunteers we had were awesome! Some of them spent many hours waiting for runners to come through and helping them on their way. Thank goodness the weather was good! But I have to give special thanks to Eliot, to Nick Palazzo, Tim Ryan, Lucimar Araujo, (who monitored the runners on her bike throughout the race), Fong Lui, Deanna Culbreath, Lydia Redding, Reiko Cyr, Rich Innamorato, Elizabeth Hamrick, Stephanie Camora, and Susie Schmelzer for their work on the course, and for Dave Obelkevich and Donald Ying for helping out at the finish.

Speaking of which, even though it was not meant to be a competitive event, it did have quite the competitive finish! After early leaders Mike Arnstein, Dennis Ball and Dante Simone dropped out, all by the Unisphere at mile 58, Keila Merino took the lead, with Michael Samuels and Jodi Kartes-Heino chasing about 15 minutes behind. Slowly, Michael closed the gap, but Jodi couldn't keep up. By the 95-mile aid station at Brooklyn's Borough Hall, Keila came through with Michael only about a minute behind! But Keila kept her lead and crossed the finish line first in 21:05:55, with Michael in 21:09:50. Apparently, Michael had to stop for traffic at least once near the end, which slowed him down. The unpredictability of an urban adventure race! One by one, the finishers came in:

1. Keila Merino, 21:05:55
2. Michael Samuels, 21:09:50
3. Jodi Kartes-Heino, 24:35:52
4. Liz Bauer, 24:44:12
5. Milko Mejia, 24:45:25
6. Otto Lam, 24:52:20
7. Marc Vengrove, 25:08:25
8. Chris Solarz, 26:29:13
9. Becky Tsai, 26:40:40
10. Weihao Xu, 26:51:24
11. Gerald Tabios, 26:55:25
12. Rebecca Schaefer, 26:59:43
13. Emmy Stocker, 27:16:15
14. Elaine Acosta, 27:32:02

Ray Krolewicz, true to form, despite arriving more than an hour late due to car trouble on the ride up from Georgia, kept on running, despite missing aid station closings and course cutoffs, resting as he felt like it, swimming in the ocean as he felt like it, and finished unofficially in 35:35:55. Congrats to all of them, and to all the other runners who toed the line: Mike Arnstein, Paul Arroyo, Dennis Ball, Carol Buonanno, Trishul Cherns, Marco Cheung, Frank Colella, Jesse Gellor, Mat Gerowitz, Dave Luljak, Shannon MacGregor, Michael McDuffie, Jess Movold, Michael Ryan, Dante Simone and Tatsunori Suzuki. Five runners recorded their first 100-mile finish, including the two winners, as well as Gerald, Becky and Rebecca, and many of the others recorded their longest runs ever!

Thanks to everyone for their support and good spirits! It really shows the great ultrarunning community we have here in New York!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Race Report: Sybil Ludington 50K

OK, so I'm a lazy blogger. But better late than never, especially with a race the caliber of the Sybil Ludington 50K. It was held on Saturday, April 21 on a single loop road course starting and finishing in Carmel, NY. The race pays tribute to Sybil Ludington, a 16-year-old girl who rode her horse through the area, roughly the race course, warning the area colonists of approaching British troops in 1777.

The race has a long history itself, with the 2012 edition being the 34th straight running. It was only my third running, however, with a 4th and a 3rd place finish behind me. The weather looked good at the start, and we were off. I ran the first dozen or so miles in a small front pack that included Tomasz Kochanowicz, a Polish native living in North Carolina, and Scott Delongchamps. After about 13 miles, just as Tomasz was pulling away from me, Aaron Heath comes flying by as if I were standing still. I wasn't going to try to catch him, as I was running under 7:00/mile pace, about as fast as I wanted to, knowing I'd have to have something left for the upcoming hills.

And up they came. From about mile 16-26 the course makes some tough climbs, and my pace slowed. But I was still able to keep Tomasz in sight, about 100 yards ahead. Aaron was too far ahead to see. And every time I thought I was pulling closer to Tomasz, he managed to pull back ahead to keep me at bay. I knew I'd be happy with a 3rd-place finish and hoping for a course PR, but I also glanced behind me to see if anyone was catching up, especially Byron Lane, who has a habit of doing that to me! But this time he wasn't to be seen.

So that's how the race finished, with Aaron winning with a time of 3:37:25, Tomasz second with 3:40:58, and me third in 3:41:32. I was, however, disappointed to realize that it wasn't a course PR - I ran 3:39 in the cold rain of 2006! Byron finished next with 3:56:20.

For the women, Taconic RR member Emmy Stocker won on her home course with 4:52:57, followed by Barbara Sorrell and Jennifer Tibangin.

As usual, the best part is chatting with the runners before and after the race at the Carmel VFW hall. Ultrarunners are such a great community! Big thanks to David Farquhar and Tony Galfano, RD's, for their amazing work! Also to Tony Trujillo for the post-race massage, and Rich Innamorato for the ride. Those in the NYC metropolitan area who haven't run it should give it a try next year.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Race Report: BUS 6-Hour Run

Better late than never, here's my report on the BUS 6-Hour Race, held on March 31 in Crocheron Park, Queens. The race was held in conjunction with the annual New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix awards brunch (or lunch), where top local runners of 2011 are recognized.

But before the awards, there was a 6-hour race to run. The weather was cold, considering the warm late winter and spring, low 40's, some spotty rain, and fairly breezy conditions, especially on the backstretch by the gazebos. Of all the races I've run in Crocheron Park, this is the first time the start/finish has been near the tennis courts. This was done because we were given permission to use the indoor space there, which was small but very welcome, being heated!

Oh yeah, the race. I came in hoping for a PR (currently about 47.6 miles), and hoping for an outside shot at 50 miles, and I started out aggressively on about a 50-mile pace. Tommy Pyon still ran ahead of me, but I fell into second place behind him. I ran a while even with Aaron Heath (who beat me at the 6-Hour Birthday Run last October), but I pulled ahead of him eventually. I was able to keep on the same fast pace for about the first half before slowing down. And as I slowed, Byron Lane eventually caught up with me, and we ran together for a couple of laps before he pulled ahead. Eventually Aaron passed me as well, and Tommy lapped me a couple of times. My energy was lapsing, but I still finished with a good total of 45+ miles and 4th place. Tommy, Aaron and Byron were 1st, 2nd and 3rd. For the women, Jodi Kartes-Heino won in a close race with Shannon McGinn, who was really pouring it on at the end.

But this was my first race of any distance this year, so it was good to be back out there, chatting with friends, and taking a stroll through my home away from home (away from home), Crocheron Park.

At the Grand Prix awards lunch, I also was blessed with the 2011 Grand Prix Championship, my third time winning the award. Jodi took home the women's honors.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bridge of the Week #81: Meadow Lake Bridge #2

This week's bridge is the second near Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, that spans the mighty Flushing River. This one is at the southern end of the lake, near Jewel Ave. It's a basic steel and concrete bridge like the other. It does have a sidewalk, but the roadway is so seldom used by motor vehicles (to which access may be restricted I think) that there's usually no problem just running in the roadway.

This bridge you would run across if running a loop around the lake, roughly 2 miles, or could be used if running into Flushing Meadows from the Kew Gardens area to the south and west. Many ultras have been staged near and around Meadow Lake, including the Sri Chinmoy 6- and 10-day races every April.

Meadow Lake, and Willow Lake across Jewel Ave. to the south, are both man-made lakes created for parkland in accordance with the 1939 World's Fair. Meadow Lake is actually the largest lake in New York City, at 93 acres. There are drainage issues, however, and the surrounding land does frequently flood, especially on the western edge.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bridge of the Week #80: Meadow Lake Bridge #1

This week's bridge is one of two in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens that cross the Flushing River in the area of Meadow Lake. This one is on the north side of the lake, where the water flows out towards Flushing Bay. I was originally not planning to include these bridges, as I generally am not interested in footbridges over park ponds, but decided to include these because they are accessible to motor vehicles (although I believe somewhat restricted), and the Flushing River is a genuine natural waterway, although it is routed underground through much of the park.

This bridge itself is a simple concrete and steel bridge. It's not very long, as you can see from the picture above. It has a wide sidewalk that is separated from the vehicular traffic by a concrete barrier. There are picnic areas and nice park facilities in the area, the Amphitheater, built for the 1964 World's Fair, is just to the west. It's a nice place to run, and can be included in a loop around Meadow Lake.