Sunday, December 29, 2013

Race Report: Brooklyn Marathon

This report is also a couple of months late, but at least it has a happier ending than my last.

Over the summer and fall I had been coaching a good friend from El Paso to run the new York Marathon, his first marathon, and through his experiences I felt a new excitement for the race, as if it were my first marathon again. (My first marathon was the New York Marathon in 1997.) He did very well in the race, I had a lot of friends who ran, either on their own or as pacers or Achilles guides, so I was inspired to sign up for the Brooklyn Marathon on Nov. 17. This would also be my first marathon since Boston 2011, which happens to be my PR at 2:50:55. I'd been wanting desperately to run another marathon but couldn't find on nearby on the calendar that I could run, until Brooklyn. I was also looking to re-qualify for Boston, but this would be too late to enter for 2014. Still, I was ready to go.

This relatively new race, put on by NYC Runs, was run entirely in Prospect Park. According to the web site the course was two loops around the lower end of the park (about two miles each), then 6 full loops (about 3.3 miles each), followed by another lower loop. It might have been confusing for some people, but the logic was there, and there were signs marking each mile, so it wasn't tough to follow. I was very familiar with Prospect Park, since I trained there a lot when I lived in Brooklyn years ago. I figured the big hill leading up to Long Meadow could be tough after a few repeats, but then again there was an equal downhill on the other side.

At the start it felt like a very fun, low-key race, almost old-fashioned, with not too many runners (about 400-500 in the end), no corrals, and in informal chat before the race with some of the expected leaders about staying in the designated lanes of the park road. The park was fully open to the public, but avoiding casual parkgoers was seldom a problem of any kind. The weather felt good, warm for mid-November and overcast, so it promised to be a good time.

I didn't have a firm goal, except to qualify for Boston, but I was hoping to get in under 3:00. I started out at a good pace for that goal, a little fast actually, but that first mile is mostly downhill. I chatted a little bit with a young guy, just graduated from college, who was running his first marathon, and hoping to get under 3:00 as well. We ran together basically for the two short loops and then some before he pulled away. I'm so accustomed to running ultras on loops even shorter than this that the multiple-loop format didn't bother me. There was water and Gatorade at either side of the park, so aid was good. I hit the half marathon mark in about 1:28, so I was still on track for a sub-three, but I'd have to keep pushing. Surprisingly, the big hill didn't seem to bother me as the race went along, in fact it felt like it got shorter, even if it did slow me down a little. My back did start to hurt me after about eight or nine miles, my feet started hurting after about 10, and that rain came down in the second half, but I kept pushing through. With about two miles to go, starting the final short loop, I spotted the young rookie who'd pulled away from me early in the race, and I was slowly catching up to him. So I had to motivating factors, catching him, and getting in under three hours. I was not quite able to catch the guy, but I did get in under three hours, with 2:59:03, good for 11th place, and first in the over-40 age group.

After my disaster at 24 The Hard Way, I needed a good race, so this felt very good. And I was reassured that I still have some speed left. And it was a fun race, a nice community atmosphere, well done by NYC Runs. They are trying to get permission to put the marathon on the streets of Brooklyn, but I really like the loop course in Prospect Park and the small field. This is one I might come back for in 2014.

Race Report: 24 The Hard Way

OK, so this post is two months overdue. It's tough to write about the races that don't go well. And this one didn't go well, despite the great hospitality by race director Chisholm Deupree, the incredible organization and staffing of the event.

The race took place on October 26 in Oklahoma City. I arrived the day before and Chisholm showed me the course. The loop was through a park, just short of a mile, and my early take on it looked like a good course to me. There were some little ups and downs, but nothing too strenuous. I also had the good fortune to meet lots of my good friends before race day, which is one of the real special aspects of the national championship 24-hour race.

Generally, I hadn't raced much over the summer or fall so I wasn't really sure what kind of shape I was in or what I might be capable of, so I didn't want to put to much pressure on myself to get a certain mileage. I would just try this one by feel. Looking at the registered entrants, Mike Morton definitely was someone who could beat me for the national championship, but he was still dealing with an injury and didn't come to Oklahoma. Brian Teason also looked like a possible contender, but it seemed like I had a good shot at a win and a third national championship, so I was optimistic.

Things started out well, I settled into what felt like a comfortable pace. After a few hours we had some rain, which never got very heavy, but it dissipated by early evening. There were some technical issues with the timing system that failed to record some runners' laps. I was keeping track of my laps, and the counter was always correct for me, but I wasn't sure about who was ahead of me. Brian always seemed to be just ahead of me, or just behind me, but never more than a lap. I was told there was another runner ahead of me, but no one seemed to tell me who it was or how far ahead. I admit that this uncertainty got on my mind a little too much.

Still, I hit 50 miles in about 7:30 - 7:40. I've definitely had faster 50-mile splits, even though this pretty much matched my split from the 2007 world championship in Drummondville, Quebec, which is still my PR. So I didn't worry too much. In that race, my 12-hour splits were about 80 and 74, so I made it my goal to try to get 80 miles again in 12 hours. That 4 - 4 1/2 hours I pushed pretty hard to hit 80 miles, and maybe pushed too hard, without eating enough, and without realizing it I was probably digging myself into a hole. I did hit the 80 mile split just after the 12 hour mark, and I let myself rest a little after that, by taking a couple of easier laps, incorporating more walking, and more eating. But for some reason, I just couldn't get running again. No matter what I tried to get my energy up, all I could do was walk. I still have no real explanation except that my head just didn't feel connected to my body, and I was in a mental place where I just couldn't get myself running again. I'd run for short stretches but that was it. I basically ended up walking most of the last 12 hours, and finishing with just 117.54 miles. The race was won by John Cash, who was leading pretty much the entire race, with 140.41 miles, 2nd was Nelson Armstrong (in sandals) with 138.48 and third was Dave Ploskonka with 134.3. I ended up 11th overall, 9th male, and 7th USATF male. Connie Gardner won the women's race with 132.71, Katalin Nagy 2nd (but not USATF member) with 124.06 and Cherie Yanek 3rd with 115.59.

It's extremely frustrating to me still because it's a race I could've won, and there was no real reason for me to struggle so much. All I can think is that I was just not ready to race. I just hope I can at some point find something to learn from it, other than that you can't force yourself to be motivated.

Friday, September 27, 2013

International Disposal Day

I am hereby declaring that today, Friday, September 27, is International Disposal Day (with apologies to my European friends for whom the day is half over, and my Japanese and Australian friends for whom it is already Saturday).

Today everyone must throw something away, particularly something you've been neglecting to throw away. It could be something minor an literal, like those tomatoes that have been in your fridge just a few months too long, or the stack of newspapers and magazines you need to tie up and take to recycling (recycling counts, too). It could be that box of souvenirs that really has no sentimental value, even after 20 years, or maybe that box of cassette tapes when you haven't had a working cassette player in 10 years.

Or it could be something else, like maybe canceling a subscription that's been a waste of time and money, or making this the first day to stop a bad habit. Or it could be even deeper, like ridding yourself of a negative influence, something (or even someone) that's been weighing you down.

My only two rules are: it can't be regular taking out the trash - it has to be something you've been meaning to get rid of for some time; it can't be too symbolic - you have to actually do something.

For me it will probably be a little of all of the above. But try it. You might be surprised at how good it feels!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Race Report: BUS Pajama Romp 6-Hour

The Pajama Romp 6-Hour race has quickly become a favorite in the New York ultrarunning scene. It's a 6-hour race on a loop of just over 1.25 mile in beautiful Astoria Park, Queens, right on the water with views of Wards Island, and underneath the Triboro Bridge and Hell gate Bridge. It took place in the evening, from 5:00-11:00 pm, away from the worst of the summer heat. The 2013 edition was on Saturday, July 27 with excellent weather conditions, unlike the stifling heat of 2011 and the rain of 2012.

I had come into the race undertrained but was hoping for a good showing nonetheless. As with all race reports that don't have a happy ending, this one begins with, "I started out way too fast." Tommy Pyon and Aaron Heath took off like a shot, and although I didn't try to keep up with them, they motivated me to run faster than I should have! But that wasn't where my main problem was. After a couple of hours, solidly in third place and on point for a good mileage, my back pain reared its ugly head and forced me to slow down, even walking large chunks of some laps. Striding out just aggravated my back, so the running I did wasn't at a good speed. The pain came and went, but my legs had stiffened up so much that it was hard to get anything going. But I kept on, enjoying the company of the other runners, enjoying the beautiful evening.

In the end, I finished in eighth place for the men with 38.34 miles. Aaron beat out Tommy for the win, and Sky Canaves won the women's race convincingly. It was a great occasion to get together with runner friends, and to make new friends. One nice thing that stood out here is the number of talented young ultrarunners in the NYC area. There were a lot of new faces here, and they showed a promising future to continue the great tradition of ultrarunning in New York!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Race Report: Queens 10K

The Queens 10K is part of NYRR's 5-borough race series, which used to be a 5-borough half marathon series. The Queens Half Marathon was held for many years on the streets of College Point, which is a very nice neighborhood, but I think the residents there were tired of having streets closed off for a few hours one day a year, and I know a lot of runners weren't crazy about the trip out there. I myself once had to jog the three miles from the Flushing subway station to the start because there wasn't enough time to wait for a shuttle bus or a public bus. Eventually they moved the course chiefly onto park roads in Flushing Meadows Corona Park along with a long out-and-back on College Point Blvd. So the current 10K course largely follows that course, minus the section on College Point Blvd.

The race was held on July 21, and the weather was warm and very nice. It was my first NYRR race since the team championships in August 2012. It felt good to get out and do a fast race again. It was over in no time, there's not a lot to report on the race itself. I didn't run quite as fast as I hoped I would, but I'm happy with my 38:13, which was good enough for 2nd in my new age group, men 45-49. And I passed a lot of runners in the second half of the race, so that's a good sign for my pacing.

So I left the park exhausted but content. And it was just the first of three race weekends in a row, so more to follow!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Race Report: The Great New York 100 Mile/100 KM Running Exposition

This post is better late than never! The second, some people are saying "annual," Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition, managed to come off on June 29, on a hot, sticky day. The race had the same small, low-key, under-the-radar atmosphere of the first, but it was just a little bit larger, higher-key and on-the-radar. And what was a scrappy first effort became a better organized second running.

The course was the same, except for some small deviations, most notably the loss of the Rockaway Beach boardwalk from hurricane Sandy last fall. It still started in Times Square at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, and featured most of the city's best running routes, including greenways, park pathways, forest trails, beaches and bridges, as well as city streets - residential, commercial and industrial, before finishing back in Times Square. It roughly skirts the outer boundaries of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. (Staten Island is not on the route only because there is no way to get there on foot without going through New Jersey.) The idea of the race is to showcase the great places in the city to run that the city's runners might not otherwise know about, and I hope that it has accomplished that goal.

The main differences between last year and this is that I increased the field size from about 30 to what became 60 registered runners, I gave an option for a 100 km finish, added aid stations so that they would be spaced about every five miles. Another huge difference was the help of Trishul Cherns, who did an amazing job recruiting and organizing the volunteers, who all performed like rock stars! It was largely this help that kept the race running as smoothly as it did, and brought the New York ultrarunning community together.

I also tried a different course marking system this year, using yellow flagging tape, similar to trail ultras, but tied to parking sign poles, street light poles, etc., with little yellow cards with arrows taped to poles at turns, all of which I thought would be more visible. Last year I spray-painted yellow arrows on the ground, but I don't like the idea of spray-painting the city, it feels like graffiti or vandalism to me. But many of the arrows were still visible to give the runners some extra help in finding the course. Both last year and this I heard numerous reports of runners going off course. To some degree that might be inevitable, but nevertheless there is still some work to do devising a better marking system.

The runners this year were again mostly from the New York metro area, but there were several from far away, including our first two international runners, Juergen Englerth from Germany and Thomas Alm from Sweden. Juergen was among the 100 mile finishers, and Thomas finished the 100 km.

Our intrepid journeyers gathered in the relatively quiet (except for the jackhammers of adjacent construction) Times Square at the TKTS booth at 47th and Broadway starting at about 4 a.m. Tshirts and wristbands were distributed, drop bags dropped off, and last-minute instructions given. At 5 am after a beautiful National Anthem sung by Anna Uzzell Harreveld, the runners were off.

Eliot Lee once again provided invaluable help as supply chief, driving me to each aid station to drop off water and Gatorade (we again had Gatorade donated by Dennis Ball). Nick Palazzo was again our sweep vehicle, picking up leftover water and Gatorade after the last runners passed through the aid stations. So Eliot and I kept ahead of the runners for most of the race, which was necessary, but unfortunate that we wouldn't get to see them during their struggles. I only received the notifications, as the afternoon grew increasingly hot and humid, of the runners who chose to stop early after 30, 40 or 50 miles. But I did get to meet the incredible volunteers who had shown up, in many cases bringing food, ice or supplies of their own for the runners, and creating nice little oases on a hot day.

One indication that the race was a little higher-key and on-the-radar was that we had attracted the attention of a journalist from the Wall Street Journal, who emailed me a few days before the race. I was nervous about drawing attention, and I had no time really to speak with her anyway, but from the web site, the facebook page, one email from me and conversations with previous runners Keila Merino and Chris Solarz, she put together an article for the weekend edition on Saturday that Eliot showed me on his phone as we drove from aid station to aid station. I have to say, I really liked how it came out, and figured that by coming out on Saturday it would be too late for any nosy city or parks official to cause any trouble.

As the day wore on I did, however, come to realize one really stupid mistake on my part that made the run tougher for some runners. In the printed directions that I handed out at the start, which was four pages long, I realized while supplying the World's Fair Marina aid station that pages two and four were missing! Trishul's wife Kaaren had alerted me to the missing p.4 and said that she would make copies to give out at the 100K aid station, but p.2 covered miles 28-58, and most of the runners were in that zone at that moment. Some runners had the full set of directions, but many did not, and the route was hard enough to follow just from the markings. I decided the best plan would be to find someplace to make copies of the missing page and distribute them at the aid stations between miles 28 and 58. So Eliot and I found a Staples near the Astoria aid station, made the copies and drove back to the Bronx at Sound View Park, gave some to Nick to drive to World's Fair Marina, and we then made our way to Little Bay Park to continue supplying. This put us a little behind the lead runner, Tommy Pyon, but we eventually made up time, and fortunately Ravi Misra at Little Bay Park had some water already to give him before we got there.

But on we went. Trishul and Kaaren had a nice area set up at the exit from Forest Park for the 100 km aid station, and finish line for 100 km runners. 100 mile entrants were also allowed to stop there for a 100 km finish, and a number of them took advantage. A few continued on for a few more miles but decided that a 100 km finish was good enough. 100 mile runners were given 16 hours to reach 100 km if they wanted to continue on, but all were allowed 18 hours to receive a 100 km finish place and certificate.

So eventually Eliot and I arrive at the finish line to await Tommy, who is still in the lead. A number of his supporters were there, as well as many Times Square tourists, this being just after midnight on a hot Saturday night. But to my surprise there was also a group of tourists from Ontario who read about the race in the Wall Street Journal and came to Times Square specifically to see the winner come through, which he did soon after, in 19:36:55. One of them even took a picture with Tommy holding his baby!

We had 21 finishers for the 100-mile run and another 22 in the 100 km. I'm very proud of all of them, including those who didn't get to 100K. The one thing that suprised me the most about being a race director is how personally I take their successes and their struggles.

So I don't have room here to name all the great volunteers who made the race a success, but I have to give special thanks to Trishul and Kaaren, Eliot and Nick, as well as Rich Innamorato for loaning me his storage unit in Long Island City, Dennis Ball for more Gatorade donations, Joe Del Conte, who took on I think three or four volunteer duties, and Annette Vega who with Joe helped the later runners through the night.

What happens next year is hard to say, but I certainly hope to put something great together!!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Race Report: Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 6-Day Race; or, How I Stopped Worrying About the Race and Learned to Love the Run, Part II

Numbers of all kinds were running through my head before the start of the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 6-Day Race, which started April 21, 2013 in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens. I had high hopes for big mileage totals, so those numbers were in my head, as well as my expected mileage per day, minutes per mile, hours I'd have to sleep, etc. But before the end of the race, none of those numbers really mattered at all, and the most important number was the huge number of friends who came out to crew for me, bring me food, or cheer me on.

So right off the bat I want to thank those people: Trishul and Kaaren Schilke-Cherns for their advice and for the use of their tent, Mike Arnstein for driving me to the start and crewing for me in the early hours, Otto Lam and Paul Kentor for helping crew at the beginning also, Shaun Leonardo for crewing overnight Monday night, Oz Pearlman for crewing Tuesday afternoon/evening and for the "inspirational" notes, Enrico and Sonam Curreri for their visit Tuesday, Deanna Culbreath for crewing Wednesday morning, Rick McNulty also Wednesday morning, Al Prawda for the afternoon, Cherie Yanek for later Wednesday, Richie Innamorato for coming by a couple of times, Susie Schmeltzer, Gerald and Donna Tabios, Mat and Lucinda Gerowitz, Shishaldin Hanlen, Glen Redpath with Pavel and Corinne, Keila Merino (twice) and Stephen England, Mike Mazzone, Otto again for the huge job of crewing for me Thursday night to the Saturday finish, and Elaine Acosta and Dennis Ball for coming to the finish and helping pack up my stuff, and John Garlepp and Barbara Saldick for the ride home. That doesn't even count the race directors, the race staff, especially the kitchen staff, Yuri and Arpan and Trishul and everyone in the medical tent, the musicians, the photographers, Utpal for the interviews, and the other runners who showed all kinds of love and support.
Phil and Sylvie Boisvert
I had a lot of reasons to feel good going into this race. Physically I felt good and well-trained and well-rested; this would by far be my longest race, my previous longest being a 48-hour race, but I seemed to do better the longer the race; this would be a reunion of sorts of the 2007 24-Hour world championship team at Drummondville, Canada, where I had my first real breakout race, with teammates Alex Swenson and John Geesler both running, as well as Canadian Sylvie Boisvert who won the open race in Drummondville, and even the race director in Drummondville, Michel Gouin.

With Mike Arnstein's help I got off to a good fast start, just as I was expecting, running 70 miles in the first 12 hours. But I realized that that pace was not sustainable, and my plans would have to be adjusted somewhat, even sleeping the first night, which I didn't plan to do. By nighttime I was on my own, and it was tough mentally, knowing how far I still had to go. It was then that I really questioned the wisdom of entering the race. But I got in about 45 minutes of sleep, from 1:45-2:30 a.m. and I managed to finish the first day with 120 miles. Monday afternoon, Mike and Oz came running by, literally, to give their encouragement and to check up on me, and to leave little notes among all my things, even in my tent.

Monday night Shaun came to crew for me, and although not a runner himself, he is a lifelong athlete, and was  an incredible handler, knowing just what I needed, even helping me into the medical tent for some early blister work, achilles work and massage. After just two hours sleep I was up again and on the road.
Me running on the last day
By Tuesday I was developing a routine of eating, drinking, sleeping, going to the bathroom, and chatting with the other runners, and worrying less about mileage. I seemed to run best from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. We were fed good full meals at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m., and I usually loaded up a tray and walked with it, and usually felt a burst of energy after the calorie intake. By darkness, I usually slowed down some, and would do a cool-down lap or two before going to sleep, which nights 3-5 was about 11:00 - 3:00. The one thing I was surprised at was that I had a very hard time getting to sleep after the first couple nights. But I'd lay there and get whatever rest I could.

I've already thanked those who came by to help out, but by Tuesday and Wednesday it really became quite overwhelming, in a good way. By Wednesday I think I was gaining a reputation of having a lot of groupies come by, at least that's what Alex said! It was pretty amazing, and I hardly knew how to wrap my mind around it. But that's how I had my revelation. Before the race I'd asked for advice from Trishul, Dave Luljak, as well as from Martin Fryer and John Geesler during the race, and the one thing they all said was to just keep moving forward and not worry about the mileage but just let yourself get into the "flow" of the race. I kind of knew what they meant, but I resisted the part about not worrying about mileage, and it wasn't until Thursday night that I really felt what they meant. I had a visit from one friend who is a very good friend, but my conversation with him kind of jolted me out of the world I was in and brought in some negative outside attitudes. Otto arrived about the same time, and his enthusiasm jolted me a little as well, since I was in a pretty calm and relaxed state by that time. I actually felt the need to calm him down, saying nothing is that urgent. Then I was talking with him, trying to make sure he was going to be ok with enough food and rest, and he kept saying, "Don't worry about me. Just focus." I told him, "Focus isn't the right word. I'm just here, and this is what I'm doing. And now I get it." And at about 8:00 p.m. Thursday night, I got it. Amid the repetitive routine of eating, drinking, sleeping, peeing, and having briefly been jolted out of it, I suddenly realized I'd found the "flow," or possibly, the "bliss," and I understood the joy of what I was doing. As darkness began to fall I passed people walking, and I realized it was the same joy whether you're running or walking, and all of us were sharing the same experience.

I had been in a conversation with Nirbhasa Magee, and Irish runner in the 10-day. He's a very sweet and enthusiastic young guy and he mentioned how everything around us - the Long Island Expressway, the lake, the kids, the motorcyclists popping wheelies, the seagulls pulling worms out of the ground at dawn - was our environment, our theater that we were moving through.

Pavel, Corinne and Glen
So Thursday night turned into Friday, and at Friday noon I felt a big rush of energy from four sources: 1. The sun (and the weather was really beautiful pretty much the whole time, no rain, only occasionally some strong winds); 2. My handler Otto; 3. Lunch; 4. The knowledge that I only had 24 hours to go. Now with my legs still relatively strong, my feet feeling trashed but mostly numb, and newfound energy I began a long surge that took me from 391 miles at noon to 400 miles shortly after 2:00 p.m. and beyond. I did the calculations, and determined that if I kept the same pace (a little better than 4.5 mph) I could just reach 109 for the last day and 500 for the race! It's not a fast pace, and it felt comfortable, but as time went on it felt more and more like a sprint. Otto crewed me like a champ, having everything I needed ready for me. But by a little after 7:00 p.m., the wind came up off the lake, and I realized the foolishness of the task, and I fell into a walk. I thought, I want to enjoy the last day rather than push myself for an arbitrary goal. All I had to do was keep moving and I would win the men's race with a good total, and I would get much more out of the experience.
Martin Fryer of Australia and Kaneenika Janakova of Slovakia, 10-day winners; me and Diplai Cunningham of Australia/U.S., 6-day winners
 The most magical moment of the race came early Saturday morning, about 3:00 a.m. There had been musicians playing during the race - electric guitar/drums, saxophone, acoustic guitar. Saturday morning an electric guitarist was playing eastern-style riffs on the plaza by the lake at the concession stand building, amid the still night sky under a bright full moon, accompanied by a low electric drone. The absolute peace of the moment was only broken by my own traveling around the course.

So after several more hours of traveling around the course, the race was coming to a close. In the end, I won the 6-day race with 462 miles, the great Dipali Cunningham won the women's 6-day race for the 16th straight year. Martin Fryer, my Australian friend, won the men's 10-day and Kaneenika Janakova of Slovakia won the women's 10-day. I was very proud to have finally met Dipali and had the chance to talk with her periodically during the race, and she very kindly gave me words of encouragement. My proudest moment came at the finish when she came over to congratulate me and told me how I helped pull her through the last day. She is truly one of the all-time greatest ultrarunners in the world, and yet one of the most gentle and humble. Early in the race John Geesler had told me that he hoped that he, Alex and I would finish 1, 2, 3, and we did, with Alex and John both finishing with 409 miles (Alex took the 2nd spot by reaching the distance first).

John and me
Alex, me and John
 Now, several days after the race, I am beginning to understand how it fits into my running career and into my life. Over the last year, after some bad races, I've begun to reevaluate my running and my motivations. I'm taking a more personal approach, a more philosophical approach, trying to understand how this fits into my own personal fulfillment, rather than how this fits into the local or national or world scene, or trying to prove to people what I can do. I realize that I have a lot of supporters who want me to do well, but I think I can be a better positive influence by taking this approach. This really only touches the surface of the events and thoughts on the race, and the lessons I learned and the people I met. Some things will have to remain my own personal experience. The "Part II" in the title refers to the Febapple 50 Mile race in February, which was Part I. There I finished a tough race much slower than expected but with as much satisfaction as if I'd won, and maybe more, because it was a victory in its own way. The Self-Transcendence 6-Day Race was a victory as well because I rediscovered the joy of running, of dissipating stress, of coexistence, of relaxation, of smiling and laughing, of showing a positive image, of learning gratitude.
Me and Dipali after the race
Otto, me and Elaine after the race

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Race Preview: Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendance 6-Day Race

"Why am I so nervous? Please explain to me why I can't sleep." - "Nervous" by the Moody Blues (John Lodge)
The Unisphere
Getting ready for the big race, which starts tomorrow, April 21, I don't have time to write all I'd like to about my preparations, physical and mental, for this race. I've told people this race scares me a little, that this race makes me nervous. It is by far the longest race I'll have run, my previous longest being 48 hours. What makes me nervous is that I've never before gone into a race having no idea what might happen. I've certainly sometimes done much better than expected, or much worse than expected, but here I really don't know what to expect. But I am running this race to achieve a high performance, not just for the experience. So I am expecting to put myself through a level of pain, physical and mental, that I've never experienced before. I'll have to answer all kinds of questions for myself about sleep deprivation, nutrition, possible risk of injury, and I won't always be in a good frame of mind to answer wisely. And I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform, in a very unknown situation. But this is exactly the kind of adventure that I seek, that I need to shake things up as I near my 45th birthday. I even have reporters interested in my food and drink intake.
The Dugout
 So if you're in New York, come on by and say hi!
Handler's Kitchen
 I've got some good friends helping to crew for me at various times, but friendly faces and a helping hand or two are always welcome.
Runners' Kitchen
 Advance thanks to Trishul Cherns, for his advice, and for the use of his tent. Dave Luljak has also given his wise advice. Mike Arnstein, Shaun Leonardo, Oz Pearlman, and the great Otto Lam have all agreed to help crew for me, and others offering to come by as well. I'm looking forward to running with Martin Fryer from Australia, who's already out there running the 10-day, and with former 24-hour national champions Alex Swenson, and John Geesler, about whom enough can't be said. Stay tuned, here we go.
My (Trishul's) Tent
 "It seems to me I've been a long time on this road and I wonder why.
Has there been a sign that points another way and I've passed it by?
I don't know what it is that drives me on.
Gotta keep a-movin,
Gotta keep a-movin on, and on, and on..."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Race Report: BUS 6-Hour Race

April 6 saw the 2013 edition of the BUS 6-Hour Race, held in conjunction with the New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix awards brunch. This year we moved back to Hendrickson Park in Valley Stream, Long Island, and the beautiful 1.4+ mile course around the lake.
Start of the 6-hour
 The weather was a little cool, but a beautiful sunny day. With the 6-day race just two weeks ahead of me, I didn't want to push this race. I just wanted to run comfortably, run well, and maintain good technique and enjoy the day. After the start, Tommy Pyon quickly took the lead en route to a 49+ mile win. I was running a couple laps with Brian Teason before he took off, then I ran another few laps with Andy Costa before he took off, but I enjoyed chatting with both of them and hearing about their plans for upcoming races.
Me and Andy Costa
 Having missed the 6-Hour Birthday Run in October and Caumsett 50K in March, this was the first time in a while I'd had the opportunity to see some of the regulars on the New York/Long Island ultra scene. It was almost like a family reunion with people like Admas Belilgne, Andrei Aroneanu, Frank DeLeo, Grant McKeown, Al Prawda, Ruth Liebowitz, Lydia Redding, Helma Clavin, Charles Bifulco, Nick Palazzo, and on and on and on.
Mike and Marybeth Costello
 I am thankful to Mike and Marybeth Costello for giving me a ride, and for leaving me with the coolers that I bought for the 2009 Badwater race and left in Mike's mother's house in Henderson, NV, never expecting them to make their way back to me in NY!
Shannon McGinn pre-race
 In the end, I finished with 43.7 miles, as much as I would have wanted to run, which put me in 4th place behind Tommy, Brian and Andy. The women's winner was Shannon McGinn, who has really been doing some excellent running lately! But it was a close race with Amanda Toro and Jodi Kartes-Heino not far behind. For the 2012 New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix, the 2012 winners were first-time winner Aaron Heath and recurring winner Jodi Kartes-Heino. Congratulations to them! Overall, a great way to spend a Saturday!

Note: Thanks to Donna Sajulga-Tabios for pics #1, 2, and 5!

The lake behind me

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Run Report: Third Occasional Manhattan Bridge Run

Starting on the George Washington Bridge
The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm on March 30 for the Third Occasional Manhattan Bridge Run. This is an informal 33-mile group fun run that I first put together two years ago after doing it once on my own and thinking, this would be more fun with friends along. The idea is to run across every bridge on Manhattan Island, starting with the George Washington Bridge and zig-zagging clockwise across every bridge on the Hudson, Harlem and East Rivers (that can be run across), finishing up by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Plaza. (I call it "occasional" because even though it's been annual so far, I might do it again in the fall, I might not do it one year, who knows.) I'd only decided to lead this group again and posted the date on Meetup less than a week before, but I got the biggest response yet! More than 20 signed up for some part of the run, we had 16 at the start (if my count was right) and 13 at the finish, with some runners joining us along the way or pulling out along the way.

Elizabeth and Chris near Yankee Stadium, after crossing Macombs Dam Bridge
 There were a few old friends and Bridge Run veterans, like Glen Redpath, who I haven't run with in quite a while, Bill Sycalik, and Tiger Ellen. But most of those who came were new friends for me, and what a pleasure it was to meet everyone! And everyone was running very strong and had such great spirit and energy.

Descending the stairs near High Bridge in Highbridge Park
I enjoy the run very much, and I especially like showing off northern Manhattan to those who aren't familiar with it. And a lot of the race takes place in northern Manhattan, in fact after 10 miles you're only a few blocks from where you start, and a full 17 miles takes place north of the Triborough Bridge.
Tiger Ellen and Phil at the finish
 I was a little nervous about leading such a big group, keeping everyone safe crossing the streets, making sure we didn't leave anyone behind at pit stops. But with everyone's cooperation it all worked out very well. The time seemed to fly by in such great company, and after almost six hours elapsed time we were crossing the crowded Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan for our last crossing and to the finish. Thanks to everyone for a great Saturday long run! I hope to see you all again soon!
The group at the finish

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Race Report: Febapple Frozen 50, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About The Race and Start Loving the Run

I think I'm learning, or rather, re-learning. After a couple of bad 24-hour races in the fall, I was wondering if I was still able to push the pain and other distractions aside to do what needed to be done to finish a race the right way. So the Febapple Frozen 50 was going to be my test. It looked like a very fun race that I've been wanting to do. It's also a real trail race, so it's a chance for me to step out of my element and see how I could handle some rough terrain.


I got to the race in the company of Joe Del Conte and Michael Samuels - great to spend some time with them. I was picking Michael's brain for info on the course, which I'd never run on before. Rick McNulty, the Race Director, had posted that conditions were very icy on the trail. That didn't sound good to me. The weather forecast called for light rain/wintery mix with a high near 40. That, I felt, I could deal with. When I left the house at 5 a.m., the temp was 37, which I don't think it veered from all day more than a degree or two.
The trail at 7:00 am

As we drove to the South Mountain Reserve in Maplewood, NJ, the mist/drizzle remained constant and the fog got heavier. The light came up enough to see just in time for the 7 a.m. start. The start/finish area was covered with wet ice and I almost fell a couple times before the race started. I though, this was going to be a long day. I run very few 50-mile races, but with a 6:17 road pr and a 6:44 JFK time recently (JFK being a pretty easy trail race mostly) I was shooting for somewhere around 7:30-8:00 for a finish. Looking at past results for this race, that seemed reasonable. Seeing the ice, I was prepared to add some time to that. So at 7:00 we were off.

The first mile was on road, which I liked a lot. I kept in a lead pack, and there were some pretty rough, steep descents early on, which is tough to do in a crowd. I counted myself in 6th place as the field strung out a little. A few of the leaders missed a turn, and the runner in front of my tried to call them back but they all couldn't hear. So now I was in 2nd place. Once we started hitting some icy sections, things did get tricky. That's when you remember all those other muscles you don't use very often, and when you decide to run headlong downhill and hope you don't hit your head on a rock or a tree.

The course was a 10-mile loop in two sections: a four-mile loop back to the start/finish, and a 6-mile loop with another aid station halfway around. A couple miles after leaving the back aid station, my heart sank when I found I looped back around to the aid station instead of the start/finish. I backtracked, picked up a few runners who did the same thing, and we found our wrong turn. So I added a couple miles and about 20 minutes, but it spared me the anxiety of worrying about what place I was in, and I could just run my best and enjoy the race. But I was determined to finish it out, even if it took nine hours! The first lap took me two hours, so subtracting some time for the detour, nine hours or more was looking more and more likely.

It's interesting to notice in a race like this how, one by one, certain parts of your body go numb. First your feet don't feel the wet or the cold or the pounding from the ragged rocks or stubbing your toes. Then the back and side muscle soreness dissipate. Eventually you don't even notice it when your feet slide out from under you. There was a constant drizzle/mist during the race - I could never feel it hit on my skin, I just know I was never getting any drier or warmer. I was soaked to the skin literally from my head to my toes, and at certain spots on the course where the temperature was a couple degrees cooler, I became worried about hypothermia, which is something that you can't put out of your head once it sets in. Halfway through the third lap this became a real concern, and I gave serious thought to stopping after three laps, and getting credit for a 50K. I was torn because this was a test for me, I didn't want this to be another drop out/drop down. On the other hand an extra 3 1/2 hours could be really bad. I was thinking, "OK, running in the ice and on the rocks and the mud might be fun for a 50K, but 50 miles? Who wants that? Am I miserable or am I happy?" (Actually, I really did love running in the mud.) Like I said to one runner I was chatting with about this time, what I want and what I want are two different things. But in the end the cold never really got any worse and as much as I tried, I couldn't find a legitimate excuse to stop at 50K. Plus, I got a boost of energy near the end of the lap, so I went on through.

By now I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I enjoyed meeting up with some 50K runners on their last loop (they started at 8:00 a.m.), including Rebecca Schaffer, who ran my 100-mile race last year, and Mike Costello, who crewed me at my first Badwater, and who I haven't seen in quite a while. And it was easier to count down the miles, and thinking, "I only have to do this section one more time," as I passed it. I was also alone more of the time, which felt good to me, more of a chance to get into my own mind. Of course, on each lap I was grunting more and more, cursing more and more at the rocks and the ice, a good way to let out frustration.
Happy to be finished
With Michael Samuels and Elaine Acosta
With Otto Lam

So then I managed to finish in 9:27:30, 7th place. Didn't set any records by any means, and not as high a place as I'd hoped, but I claim it as a victory, since I overcame the urge to quit, toughed it out in tough conditions and finished the damn thing. Very nice of course, as always, to spend some time after the race with good friends. So let's see if I can learn and remember, I never regret sticking it out.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bridge of the Week Summary

George Washington Bridge, Manhattan - New Jersey
Now that I've completed my Bridge of the Week series, I wanted to give a rundown, a summary, a few thoughts, statistics and explanations.

I started this series here with the intention of writing a report about each bridge in New York City that a runner can run across, giving some interesting statistics, historical facts, information about the neighborhood, and what makes me love to run across the bridge, or not. I decided at the beginning to only write about bridges that cross natural waterways, not viaducts over railroad tracks, roadway overpasses, park bridges over man-made lakes and ponds (notably Bow Bridge in Central Park). I originally thought I'd cover only about 30-35 of the larger bridges, thinking that the smaller bridges weren't worth the time, but I'm so glad I changed my mind! I did, however, draw the line by not covering bridges that were more culverts than bridges, i.e., if there was mostly earth and greenery with a corrugated pipe or something similar for the waterway I didn't bother. And I also chose not to cover bridges with restricted access or pay-only access, such as a few bridges I was interested in on Staten Island in the Fresh Kills area that are off-limits to civilians, and a couple of bridges that are apparently in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, since I've never been there (I know, so sue me) and I didn't feel the need to pay for the sake of this blog, especially since those who enter are probably not running inside the garden anyway. There are some exceptions to this rule, however, as you will see below. To the best of my knowledge, then, I have covered every such defined bridge in the five boroughs. And when I say covered, I don't just mean writing about it, I actually ran over each and every bridge before writing about it. That explains why it was sometimes more than a week between posts, sometimes much more than a week! And while I did pull a few pics off the internet, especially early on (some historical photos, some aerial shots), most of the pics are mine, including at least one of every bridge, and all of the pics in this post.

So without further ado, here's my summary and overview:
Meadowmere Park Footbridge, Queens
First post: Jan. 30, 2010, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Staten Island - Brooklyn
Last post: December 30, 2012, Manhattan Bridge, Manhattan - Brooklyn
Total number of bridges: 91
Number of bridges by borough (many bridges in two or more boroughs):
     Bronx - 33
     Queens - 28
     Brooklyn - 23
     Manhattan - 21
     Staten Island - 7
Waterways with the most bridges:
     Bronx River - 17
     Harlem River - 10 (including the Harlem River Ship Canal and Spuyten Duyvil Creek)
     Hook Creek - 8
Carroll St. Bridge, Brooklyn
Number of drawbridges: 26 (including non-active drawbridges)
Number of footbridges: 13
Bridges not currently open to pedestrians: 4
     Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (only runnable during the ING New York City Marathon)
     High Bridge (being refurbished for reopening, hopefully next year)
     Goethals Bridge (walkway closed)
     Bronx Shore Footbridge (still under construction)
Town Bridge, Staten Island
Longest bridge*: George Washington Bridge - 3,500 feet main span, 4,760 total length
     *not counting the multi-span Robert F. Kennedy Bridge or the unrunnable Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Shortest bridge: Town Bridge, Staten Island, roughly ten feet.
Oldest bridge: Town Bridge, 1845, not the High Bridge as usually noted, opened 1848
Newest bridge (completed): Willis Avenue Bridge, October 2, 2010
Bayonne Bridge, Staten Island - New Jersey
Favorite bridge (big): George Washington Bridge
     Just a big, beautiful bridge with a rich history, has become a symbol for my neighborhood of Washington Heights, and is a link to some amazing running on the Palisades in New Jersey.
Favorite bridge (small): Carroll St. Bridge
     One of two retractile bridges in the city (along with the Borden Ave. Bridge in Queens) and one of only four in the country. Beautiful and charming.
High Bridge, Manhattan - Bronx
Favorite bridge name: Ramblersville-Hawtree Memorial Bridge, Queens
     Retaining the old neighborhood name in what is now Howard Beach and the Hawtree Creek/Basin and additional honor to those killed in World War II.
Least Favorite bridge name: Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough Bridge)
     Enough with the Kennedys already.
Most underappreciated bridge: Bayonne Bridge
     A real gem, a beautiful bridge.
Nereid Ave. Bridge, Bronx
Scariest bridge: Robert F. Kennedy Bridge - Queens leg
     At least now that reconstruction of the walkway is complete you don't need to risk your life on a shaky temporary overhang, but acrophobes will still get butterflies in their stomach when the chain link fence section ends.
Best view: Brooklyn Bridge - a classic, still the best
Wish list: Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
     I think most runners and especially cyclists would agree, and the bridge was built for the possibility of adding a bike/pedestrian path. I believe years ago Mayor Bloomberg voiced his support, in theory, but he certainly didn't put it on his priority list. As it is, the only way to get to Staten Island under your own power is via New Jersey and the Bayonne Bridge, or by kayak I suppose.

Williamsburg Bridge, Manhattan - Brooklyn
Posts with the most views (as of now):
     Williamsburg Bridge - 4,388
     Eastern Boulevard Bridge - 769 (two most-viewed posts on my blog overall)
     Bayonne Bridge - 297
     Pulaski Bridge - 294
I can't explain the reasons for this, it seems random to me, I guess somehow I got near the top of search lists.
Manhattan Bridge, Manhattan - Brooklyn
Main sources of information:
     New York City Department of Transportation:
     Forgotten New York:, a highly addictive site, you can easily spend hours here reading about old bridges, roads, buildings, signs, remnants of trolley tracks, you name it.
     Transportation Alternatives:, has information about bike access over bridges, which can be useful information for runners as well.
Sheepshead Bay Footbridge, Brooklyn
So that's it. Thank all of you for reading, thanks to those of you who posted comments and who told me in person how you like this series. It's been a lot of fun exploring these bridges, and it's gotten me to explore many areas of the city that I wouldn't otherwise have visited. It's a big, beautiful city (in it;s own way) and I hope this inspires you to do some exploring of your own, whether running, walking, cycling, blading, unicycling, kayaking, or whatever. Cheers!