Friday, February 17, 2012

Run Report: 10 Years of Ultrarunning

Today, February 17, 2012 marks the 10th anniversary of my first ultra – the Kurt Steiner 50K, held in Central Park, NY, in conjunction with the famed Metropolitan 50-miler. So I thought it would be a good time to go back and think about my 10 years of ultrarunning. To say it’s taken me places and given me unforgettable experiences I never dreamed I’d have is the understatement of the year!

First, the numbers, since I’m a numbers junkie. I’ve run and completed 69 ultras, plus one DNF (Rocky Raccoon 2007). These include 18 50K’s, 12 24-hour runs and 11 6-hour runs. Most-completed races include 7 times at the Caumsett Park 50K, 7 times at the 6-Hour 60th Birthday Run, and 4 times each at the New York Pioneer Memorial 100 Mile Trek, Joe Kleinerman 12-Hour, the Knickerbocker 60K, and the IAU 24-Hour World Championships (held in four different locations). My most-visited race location, my home away from home, is Crocheron Park in Queens, where I’ve raced nine times on its 1,709-yard loop for a total of 474 miles. My busiest year was 2008 with 10 ultras. Total miles raced in ultras is 4,890. I’ve run ultras in 10 states and 5 foreign countries. I’ve managed to win 17 ultras, my first win coming at the Extreme Workout 50/50, a 50K and 50 Mile race held on the East River Esplanade on Feb. 19, 2005. In that low-key race, 6 runners signed up, 3 started, and I was the only finisher, at 7:28:20. My wins also include two 24-hour national championships (2009 and 2011) and a 48-hour American record.

It’s hard to remember much about my first ultra, the 2002 Kurt Steiner 50K. I’d run four marathons prior to that (New York Marathons in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001) and I figured that I probably wouldn’t get too much faster, but I could always go farther. So, seeing the Metropolitan 50-Mile/Kurt Steiner 50K on the NYRRC calendar, I thought I’d take the leap. I don’t remember too much from that race, except that it was pretty cold, it was a different experience running the 4-mile loop in Central Park eight times (almost), without the hype of the New York Marathon. I remember the novelty of eating cookies during a race! And of course, I remember how glad I was to be finished! Back then, the NYRRC let us into their building before and after the race, and after they had hot tomato soup and hot chocolate. I didn’t chat a lot with the other runners, except for an Italian runner living in New York who finished a little bit ahead of me. Of course, I remember Richie Innamorato getting us going at the start and giving out awards at the finish. I finished 16th male and 18th overall with a time of 4:30:31.

I had a good time, but it was tough for me, and I don’t remember getting “hooked” at that time, or even thinking I wanted to keep doing this. But I think even then I had Badwater in my mind, and I was hoping to work my way up to that some day. So basically I built my way up to longer distances and more races.

Looking at the big picture, it’s interesting that many of my best races, especially early on, happened when I was an unknown and flew in under the radar to surprise people. Notably, I’m thinking of the 2004 Joe Kleinerman 12-Hour, when I finished second and became competitive locally, the 2006 Ultracentric 24-Hour (national championship) when I finished third and became competitive nationally, and the 2007 IAU 24-Hour world championships when I finished fourth and became competitive on the world stage. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it’s getting harder for me to fly in under the radar, but in a strange way, it’s reassuring that it’s still possible for me to be overlooked sometimes.

Just about every race was exciting and memorable and had its own highlights, but overall, the best part of ultrarunning is the community. It’s the other runners, volunteers and other people who keep you going when running loops over and over again, when cold and wet, when battling extreme heat, exhaustion, blisters and sleep deprivation. Everybody’s going through the same pain, suffering and challenges, and everybody reaps the rewards when the race is done.

And I feel so proud especially to be a part of the New York ultrarunning tradition, home of the founders of modern road racing and ultrarunning, and to have gotten to know many of the people who had a part in building that history, and continue to do so.

I know that over the next ten years my times will get slower, but the runs will be no less exciting or less rewarding. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Run Report: Winter Group Long Runs

This is a week after the fact, but it's definitely worthy of mention. Last weekend I joined some friends for group long runs on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday I led a group on a 32-mile run across all of the bridges of Manhattan Island, and Sunday Dave Obelkevich led his annual 32-mile run around Manhattan in honor of Ted Corbitt.

My bridge run is a repeat of a run I organized last March, which is why I called it the "2nd Occasional", since it's just basically whenever I feel like leading it. I first ran it solo a number of years ago, and thought it would be fun to have a group doing this urban "trek run" as I call it.

Posting the run on and facebook, I got a good response with 17 runners joining us at least part way. 12 started at the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal: besides myself there were Dave, Deanna, Louis, Amy, Maria, Leslie, Bill, Denis and three Mikes - A, O and S. After an out-and-back on the GWB, we proceeded to the Henry Hudson Bridge to zigzag across the Harlem River bridges between Manhattan and the Bronx. At first, the bridges are spaced apart a bit, but by the time you get to Yankee Stadium they're pretty close together until you cross the Triborough Bridge (I'm still calling it that). We had some runners stop partway, and some join us along the way - Grant joined us at 207th St., Susie and Brittany at Yankee Stadium, and another Mike O. and Elizabeth after the Triborough. The East River bridges are bigger and farther apart, so it can be exhausting, especially the Queensboro Bridge for me! But that just makes it all the more special to cross the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan for the finish!

We had five runners go the whole distance - Denis, Deanna, Dave, Michael S. and myself. But the best part was just running with the very cool people, making new friends and chatting and getting to know these fine folks better. And it seemed like the other runners had a good time, so I might lead another "trek run" soon.

Same thing with Sunday's run around Manhattan. This was a different crowd, many runners who I already knew well, like Dave O. and Alicja. But Dave's been holding this for many years, starting at his apartment on West 97th St., and going clockwise, taking three breaks roughly every eight miles. It was schedule to coincide with Ted Corbitt's birthday on Jan. 31, and when Ted was still alive he would meet the runners at their first break at 218th and Broadway. Our second break was at the apartment of Dave's friend Susan on East 86th St, and Susan put out refreshments for us. It was the least I could do to play a little Bach for her, even with my cold, stiff fingers! Our final break was at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, then on up back to Dave's apartment.

I love these winter group runs, because it gives motivation to get out there and go long in the cold, dark days, and makes it fun. So a big thanks to the 30-odd runners (NOT 30 odd runners) who I ran with last weekend. Happy running to all!