Monday, February 14, 2022

20 Years of Ultrarunning


February 17, 2002 is a special date, it was the date of my very first ultramarathon. It was the Kurt Steiner 50K, held by the New York Road Runners Club on the central 4-mile loop in Central Park, held in conjunction with the Metropolitan 50 Mile. Just a few words about this particular race. I'd run a few marathons since my first (New York Marathon, November 1997), and I didn't think I'd get much faster, but I could always go farther. Around that time I was a print subscriber to Outside magazine, and I think that's how I first heard of ultramarathons. So I saw this race on the NYRRC calendar and signed up. I didn't do anything spectacular, but I had a lot of fun, it was a relaxed environment, I remember thinking how cool it was to eat cookies during a race, and it was the first time I met Richie Innamorato, who was race directing on behalf of NYRRC. It should be noted that the Metropolitan 50 Mile race had a long history, going back to 1971. It was the 50 mile national championship for some of those years, and many of the greatest ultrarunners in the early days had taken part, including Ted Corbitt, Park Barner, and John Garlepp.

So began my adventure. In the ensuing 20 years, it's not possible to say in this space how much the sport has affected my life. I've certainly had my successes, and I have to allow myself a moment to list some of my proudest moments, as far as tangible results, only because it all came as a surprise to no one more than me. I have won two 24-hour national championships (2009, 2011), I was the first American man to finish in the top 10 at the 24-hour world championships (2007, 4th place), I set an American record for 48 hours in 2011 with 257.34 miles, which stood for six years, I'm 3 for 3 at Badwater for top 10 finishes (8th, 8th and 6th, 2009, 2010, 2012), and have two Spartathlon finishes in 2016 and 2017 when I was the first American. I'm equally proud of my local success, winning the New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix in 2007, 2010 and 2011, and my three wins of what I consider the toughest race I've ever run, the Pioneer Trek 100-mile three-day stage race, in 2007, 2009, and 2011 (just two weeks after my record-setting 48-hour). Coming full circle, in 2007 I won the final Metropolitan 50-mile race ever held (NYRR removed it from their calendar).

In 2018, at age 50, I decided the time was right to fulfill my long-held dream of running across the USA and attempting a world record. I didn't get the record, but I finished in one of the fastest times ever, in 49 days, 7 hours, 55 minutes, which is still the fastest time of anyone over the age of 40, or 50. It was the adventure of a lifetime.

Like I said, all the success has been a surprise to no one more than me. I was never an athletic person growing up. And all of a sudden I'm semi-famous (in a niche circle) for something athletic, something totally unexpected. It's given me an opportunity to travel around the country and around the world in ways that are much more fulfilling I believe than simply visiting on my own as a tourist.

But what means more to me than the successes in the results is the relationships I've made, the friendships, the people I've met. Music has been and always will be my primary passion in life, but the ultrarunning community in the New York City area, across the U.S. and across the world is the greatest, most supportive group of people I've ever met. My best friends are ultrarunners. We all are intentionally putting ourselves into a great amount of pain for an abstract, unnecessary goal. But we all have a reason for doing it. Some of us are exorcizing demons, some of us are trying to prove something. My own reasons will remain private, at least for now. But we all support each other, we all encourage each other, and we all inspire each other. The result of all this is that I have gained a personal confidence I never had before in my life, helping me to overcome my insecurities and self-consciousness. The sport has very literally in many ways changed my life, for the better.

I've had the opportunity to work as creator and race director for The Great New York 100 Mile/100 KM Running Exposition, which I'm thrilled to see has attracted quite a following, and I'm eternally grateful for all who take part, as a runner or a volunteer.

After my transcon in 2018, I've had difficulty training, unable to retrieve the speed or intensity of my previous running. I knew this would be a likelihood, so I'm ok with it, although it is still difficult to work through and accept.

So for the 20th anniversary I wanted to do something special. I decided to sign up for the Jackpot Ultra Festival in Las Vegas, and to run the USATF 100-mile national championship on Friday, Feb. 18. I was torn between that and the 24-hour race, since 24-hour running is how I made a name for myself, but in the end I decided for the 100 mile. It is a national championship after all, not that I'll be running particularly fast or competitively. But it's great to be a part of the event. I look forward to seeing long-time friends there, and making new friends as always.

A huge thanks to every one of you who has been a part of the first 20 years! I might be slowing down for the next 20, but I look forward to more adventures, whether as a runner, coach, race director, writer, or crew person, and I look forward to making more friends!

Friday, September 3, 2021


Photo by Chip Tilden

Phil McCarthy - Voyager

My first album is finally out! Voyager is now available in all digital formats, follow the link above, hopefully with CDs to follow soon! Of course I've been planning this a long time, but with more home alone time during Covid, I was able to negotiate my way through Pro Tools enough to get this one out to y'all. All of the songs are my own. Some of them have been rattling around my head for years, some were recently written, as recently as a few weeks ago. But they each have a story, so here are the stories.

First, a few notes about the album itself. The title is a homage to my favorite album of all time - Long Distance Voyager by The Moody Blues, which obviously also gives this blog its title. It also references my own long-distance running (ultrarunning) adventures, and the places around the world they have led me to. The photograph is by my good friend, Chip Tilden, who took it a few years ago, but I figured I still look enough like this to justify using a pic a few years old.

1. Mexican Mary. Many years ago, I was back in Nebraska for Christmas, and I attended Midnight Mass. This was always a big thing, lots of ceremony, incense, the Knights of Columbus in full dress uniform, complete with swords, dramatic lighting, and a packed church. The choir sang for an hour before Mass to give the people beautiful music to listen to, and to encourage people to arrive early. During part of this hour, a group of Mexican musicians got up with guitar and sang a few Christmas songs in Spanish. It was very nice, especially for the growing Mexican immigrant community in town. A day or two later, I was talking with someone who I have a great deal of love and respect for, who complained about the Mexican singers. "If they want to sing, they can sing with the 'regular' choir." Me, "It's nice that they show their own heritage and culture." "They sounded terrible. And they weren't dressed well, they were wearing jeans." Me, "Maybe those were the nicest clothes they have." "And why do they always have to put up pictures of Mexican Mary?" [referring to the sacred image of Our Lady of Guadalupe]. How do you respond to that? I respond by writing this song, in my mind all this time, but only recently fully written out. So the song isn't about a prostitute or a drug dealer, it's about the Virgin Mary.

2. Gimme Just a Little Bit of Time. I recently came up with the chorus of this song in a dream, but in my dream it was sung by Culture Club. When I woke up, I remembered the song, shockingly, and I looked to see if it really was a Culture Club song, and it wasn't. So I wrote it out in totally 80s style.

3. Come Rest with Me. Originally written as a duet as part of an unfinished (actually barely started) stage musical, along with "Krakatoa" and "Smile Again," but reimagined as a solo, due to me just having to do everything myself. It reminds us that despite whatever troubles there are going on, sometimes we just need to stop and rest and appreciate each other.

4. Charlene. There was a real "Charlene" (I changed the name to one that fit the music better) years ago, and I wrote this song about her. The song is a little obsessive, a bit exaggerated from real life. We actually did go out for a while, and it didn't work out, with quite a lack of drama.

5. Krakatoa. This was inspired by a documentary on Krakatoa I saw years ago. I decided to add a mythological, anthropomorphic aspect, as if the volcano were alive and had finally achieved independence. Metaphorically, it could be about just about anything - how one person's tragedy is another person's revolution, or it could be about a volcano. I wrote it as being simply about life-changing cataclysm, how the things you expect to always be there and unchanging, the very earth beneath your feet, betray you.

6. Summer Passed Quickly. This could also be about just about anything you want. For me, it's simply about the passing of time, getting older.

7. Nebraska Sky. This was written as I ran across the USA in 2018, as I was passing through Wyoming, getting closer to my home state of Nebraska. After crossing the Continental Divide and seeing the landscape slowly turn from high desert plateau to plains and grasslands, and the sky turn from a dry uninterrupted blue to one with a few wispy clouds, I thought, it's starting to look like a Nebraska sky. I wrote the chorus on the road, and I knew it was cheesy and sentimental, but it was genuine, and it brought tears to my eyes when I sang it out loud. I wrote the verses recently to be a little more like a melancholy road song. I do love a good melancholy road song.

8. The Ghosts of Tennessee. This is the newest addition, only a few weeks old. The ghosts are those who live in the past and refuse to move forward, not only those who perpetuate racism in this country, but also those who deny its pervasiveness. It's not just about one man or one state, it's an ideology that eats at humanity, and it's everywhere.

9. Smile Again. This is a reminder that despite whatever troubles befall us, and despite events not turning out as we would hope, we will smile again, and shine again, and laugh again.

10. En El Camino Negro. Free coaching advice - this song will help you run up any hill. I wrote it on the blacktop-covered roads over the hills of northeast Nebraska (yes, there are hills in Nebraska) as a way to remind myself of my hill-running strategy of 32 steps running, 16 steps walking. And it helped me entertain myself as well. It's built on the two pitches I heard from my own exhalations, and I came up with a very simple melody, and eventually more complex countermelodies for the background. The verses are about things that I saw or felt or thought while running across the country. It was meant to be somewhat nonsensical, and I wrote it in my terrible broken Spanish to emphasize the nonsensical and whimsical attitude.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Bridge of the Week #90-91, Starlight Park Bridges

Northern Bridge

Central bridge

I'm such a bridge nerd, it's always exciting to see a new bridge where there wasn't one before. And now in Starlight Park, in the West Farms area of the Bronx, there are three! Two of them are open, the third not yet, so this post is for the northern bridge (#90) and central bridge (#91).

These bridges are especially nice because Starlight Park is part of a string of parks along the Bronx River intending to clean up the river and to revitalize recreation on and around the river, from Sound View Park up to Westchester County. Starlight Park currently runs from E. 177th St. and Devoe Ave., on the eastern side of the river, to Edgewater Rd. at E. 172 St., on the west side of the river, and on the east side of Sheridan Blvd. (Expressway).

I don't have conclusive stats for the bridges, but they are both pedestrian/bike only, both steel arch bridges, with the arches painted a nice blue. The northern bridge is about 100 feet long, and the central bridge about 150-160 feet. The two bridges seem to have been part of a park reconstruction project completed in 2013, which includes some nice park facilites, ballfields, playgrounds, and a canoe/kayak launch, as well as the recreation path through the park that utilizes the bridges. I had been there years before, when the only access was from a ramp at 174 St., and it could barely be called a park, as I remember it. It was quite grungy indeed. Now it is very nice!

The author on the central bridge
I have discovered that the park also has an interesting history. It once contained the estate of William Waldorf Astor. In 1914 it was leased as Exposition Park, and was the site of the Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts, and Industries in 1918. Apparently, the exposition was a flop, but the land was converted into an amusement park in 1920 called Starlight Park. (It's amazing how many amusement parks there used to be in New York City, possibly a topic for a future post.) By 1933 the rides had closed or burned down and the park was used for bathing and recreation, as well as for the Coliseum, which held concerts and political rallies. By the mid-1940s the park was condemned, except for the Coliseum, which was taken over by the U.S. Army, and currently still stands as the West Farms Bus Depot on 177 St., run by the MTA. The site became a city park in the late 1950s and as I mentioned recently underwent a major upgrading.

There is a portion of the park still under construction, which includes the southern bridge and an overpass over the Amtrak rail tracks, and the final extension of the greenway that will run to Westchester Ave. Currently, there is a fence on the south end of the central bridge, not allowing you to continue, so for the time being, it is a bridge to nowhere. The southern bridge will be covered in a future post when it is open.

As I said, Starlight Park is part of a string of parks along the Bronx River. Directly to the south across Westchester Ave. is another new park, Concrete Plant Park (site of a former concrete plant), and below that is Sound View Park, where the river meets the East River (or what could be considered the western portion of Long Island Sound). To the north, there is some river access on the western bak between E. Tremont Ave. and 180 St., and a small park on the north side of 180 St., adjacent to the Bronx Zoo. North of the zoo is the New York Botanic Garden, then Bronx Park, Shoelace Park, which contain some bridges I've covered here in previous posts, then on north into Westchester County. Connecting all the parks on foot or bike does require some street sections, but what the city has done to make the river and the area hospitable for neighborhood residents, as well as recreation enthusiasts, is truly remarkable!

Park entrance at Westchester Ave, almost ready

Pathway under construction south of the central bridge

Southern bridge awaiting opening

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Bridge of the Week #45a - Update - Bayonne Bridge

Resuming my blog after a long absence with a much-needed update to my Bridge of the Week series. This is an update to the Bayonne Bridge post, due to the raising of the bridge deck and construction of a new pedestrian/bike pathway.

This is probably the only bridge post I will do that is affected by the Panama Canal. The expansion of the canal allowed larger container ships through, but the bridge roadway had to be raised to 215 feet in order to accommodate the larger ships and to allow them access to the New Jersey shipyards.

Grand opening on Staten Island, May 24, 2019
The old pedestrian pathway on the west side of the bridge was closed in 2013. For six years while reconstruction was underway, there was no pedestrian access to Staten Island. After raising of the roadway and construction of the new pathway on the east side, the new pathway was finally opened to the public with a modest ceremony on the Staten Island side on May 24, 2019, which this blogger attended.

There were about a couple dozen cyclists and runners who crossed the bridge to Bayonne, NJ and back that morning. There are several advantages of the new pathway to the older one. First of all, it's new, with a nice new surface. Second, it's much wider, 12 feet wide. Third, it's on the east side, rather than the west, which allows for a better unobstructed view of New York Harbor, as well as Staten Island, Bayonne, and beyond. The view is really spectacular. The one negative thing I noticed is that it seemed to be a fairly steep incline. But it's not that bad, it still meets ADA requirements.

I couldn't find additional stats on the new pathway, but according to my watch, it's just over a mile and a half long from entrance to exit.

Being a Port Authority bridge, it is closed from midnight - 6 a.m. The Staten Island entrance is now located at Trantor Pl., just north of Hooker Pl. The Bayonne entrance is at John F. Kennedy Blvd. between W 6th and W 7th St.

View of New York Harbor
Bayonne, NJ entrance

Monday, August 21, 2017

East Bound and Down

  "East bound and down, loaded up and truckin'
   We're gonna do what they say can't be done
   We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there
   I'm east bound, just watch ol' Bandit run"

For many years, one of my running goals has been to cross the USA on foot. At some point, I don't remember when, I thought I'd like to try to break the world record (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) for fastest crossing of the country on foot, held since 1980 by Frank Giannino in a time of 46 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes. I thought the time to try would be in 2018, the year I turn 50.

So along comes Pete Kostelnick, a young 30-year-old, who breaks Frank's record last year by four days, in an astonishing time of 42 days, 6 hours and 30 minutes! I was fortunate enough to meet Pete and run with him on his last day through the streets of New York City. He's a super guy, very cool, very nice, a fellow (former) Nebraskan, and he didn't seem too beat up at all for having run roughly 3000 miles.

But then what am I supposed to do, give up on the record just because it's tougher and seemingly unbreakable? I don't think so. Even though I'll be 50 years old, 20 years older than Pete, I plan to make my world-record attempt at crossing the USA, from San Francisco to New York, starting Tuesday, August 21, 2018, one year from today at 5:00 a.m. PDT. I will then have to finish before 2:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, October 2. That will require running 70+ miles per day, depending on the route and actual mileage. This is something I am confident that I am capable of doing, keeping in mind that it will take nearly everything to go right for it to happen.

It will also take a lot of support both from crew and from sponsors, as it won't come cheap. I will have to do heavy sponsor searching and fundraising, so anyone reading who would like to help, please feel free to contact me.

It's a lot of work ahead, both in physical training and in planning and coordinating. I've told a number of people of my plan, but now I'm making it public, and it scares the hell out of me in a way, but it is the Year of Courage after all, and the excitement is already taking hold. I'd like to thank Pete for encouraging me in my attempt (I think you encouraged me, didn't you?) as well as another man I'm proud to call my friend, Marshall Ulrich, who made his own cross-country run in 2008. I plan to study both of their runs closely to determine the best approach for me.

So there you have it, step one! I will set up a facebook page and a web site for this soon, so I hope you will all follow along. Till then, I've got other races to run, I'll see you all out there somewhere I hope!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

King of Fear/Year of Courage

I consider myself the King of Fear. At one time or another in my life, I’ve been afraid of just about everything. When I was four, I was afraid of thunder and lightning. Now I love a good thunderstorm. At five I was terrified of street cleaners. If I saw one, I’d immediately run screaming and crying home before I got run over and chopped into a million pieces. I’m happy to say that I’ve overcome those fears, and many others. I’m still not too crazy about being in the water, and high places manage to give me the heebie-jeebies, although I did successfully jump 14,000 feet out of a plane last year. So, at the beginning of this year, I declared 2017, for myself at least, to be the year of courage. It will be the year to push myself out of my comfort zone to discard as many of my fears as possible.

Honestly, having always been a very shy person, my greatest fears have always been certain types of personal interaction, especially if they required me to initiate the interaction, or if it involved any sort of confrontation. And there have been what I call milestones of fear that I've had to face that really just made me shake. There was the terrifying moment the first time I asked a girl out on a date (and got shot down - you know who you are!). Then years later there was the exponentially more terrifying moment the first time I asked a guy out on a date (shot down again!). There were the times I had to be harsh with people when required. But certainly living in New York City for over 22 years has been very beneficial, absolutely requiring so many types of interaction on a daily basis, forcing me to overcome many of my fears.

One type of confrontation I've always been afraid to engage in is political arguments. Over the course of 30 years as an adult voter, I've seen and heard a lot of things that I haven't liked or agreed with, some things even that were downright indefensible. But I held my tongue to avoid confrontation. It's so much easier to get along that way. In that time, many of my views, political and social, have changed, many have not, and society's norms have changed as well. I've usually been able to roll with it all.

But what will happen in just a couple days puts another fear in me that will require me to stop holding my tongue, to speak honestly for the months and years ahead. I don't fear for myself, really. I'm an American-born, white Christian male with a job, good health, and health insurance. I'll be fine. I worry for those who are not white, Christian, employed, healthy, insured men, because everyone outside of that bubble is in danger of losing their opportunity, their money, their voice, their freedom, or potentially more. What I see from this individual we have elected to lead our nation is nothing good, but only judgement and immature insults and condemnation, and the appeal not to our courage, but to our fears. I also see way too much of it from our other government leaders. I also see it from those who support this man. I also see it from those who oppose this man. So stop it. Stop the stupid fear.

Remember, I'm the king of fear, I've been there, I've experienced it, I've lived it. I know what it looks like, I know what it sounds like, I know what it smells like. You have it. I have it. Recognize when it is unwarranted. If you are claustrophobic, don't start ripping the walls apart, because they are not actually closing in on you. There are definitely some situations and actions and words that must be condemned, that are indefensible. But the larger the group of people you condemn, the less likely they are to deserve it. Solving the problems in our world requires the abandonment of this fear, it requires that we not fear and condemn, for example, undocumented workers, or Muslims, or those who live in violent neighborhoods, but rather look at the complex economic, political, social and historical issues that bring about problems in the areas where the problems exist. It's the same way in which solving the problems in our own personal lives requires that we lose our personal fears as well.

So I will call on everyone to make this their year of courage, to overcome your fears to find solutions to problems. This is required of all of us as citizens, and it takes a conscious effort. This doesn't mean the courage to shout louder than anyone else, that requires no courage at all. Have the courage to learn (that damn "L" word again!) - this means everyone! Have the courage to own and admit your mistakes. Have the courage to step outside your bubble. Have the courage to listen, respectfully. Have the courage to speak and express, respectfully and responsibly. Have the courage to write your own words, perhaps even in the form of complete sentences and paragraphs, instead of reposting a meme, even at the risk of public criticism, which might even be deserved. At the risk of failure, try. Be better than our leaders, because you are. Aim higher. But stay away from street cleaners. Happy 2017!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Race Report: Skydive Ultra

Trying to get back to my blog, what better opportunity than a race report on one of the most unique and inspiring races in ultrarunning, the Skydive Ultra, which was held this year on Jan. 30 in Clewiston, FL at the Skydive Spaceland. I have always had a fear of heights, and to combat that, skydiving is something that I've been wanting to do as long as I can remember, at least my entire adult life. So the chance to combine a skydive with a 100-mile race, especially when hosted by Eric Friedman, one of the great adventurers and philosophers in ultrarunning, was too much to pass up.

This was my very first trip to Florida as well. I flew into Ft. Lauderdale, picked up my rental car and took a quick trip to the beach before heading to Clewiston Friday afternoon. I forgot how blue the water can be down this far south.

The Race

I'll talk about the race first, although it took place after the jump. The course is a 7.25-mile loop that I would repeat 14 times for 101.5 miles. The start/finish was on the road right in front of the skydiving facility where they had a well-stocked aid station, portapotty, and plenty of parking along the road to self-crew from my car. The course was flat, mostly sand and grass doubletrack service roads through the surrounding sugar cane fields and alongside irrigation canals. Most of the fields were empty but there was some tall sugar cane in a couple of the fields we passed, which made me wonder, do they need to detassle sugar cane? There had been quite a bit of rain in the area recently, which made the sand hard-packed and an excellent running surface, but left some muddy areas in the grass, including one sizeable and unavoidable mud puddle, which maybe added a pound to each shoe by the end of the race. There was also a second aid station about three miles into the loop with fluids, fruit, broth and some very friendly volunteers.

The event encompassed a wide range of possible distance options: 10K, half marathon, marathon, 50K, 50 miles, 100 miles and 150 miles. Just to not go too crazy I decided to sign up for the 100 miles, although if I go back, I might have to do 150 to get that big-ass buckle! Any of the runners have the option to skydive or not. Due to the nature of the event and the uncertainty of the time required to do the jump (the jump is not timed and not technically part of the race), all runners don't start at the same time, but are chip-timed from whenever they cross the starting line. I started at about 9:20 a.m. Saturday with one other runner, Cortland Wheeler, who jumped from the same plane as me.

Early on, I was trying to get over the effects of the jump, get my legs and my head back down to earth. But I was moving well and enjoying the beautiful day. The course was not especially scenic, but I was enjoying the tall sugar cane, the company of other runners and race staff, and the recurring sight of other jumpers falling from the sky. Going in, I didn't feel well-trained for a really fast 100, and my legs were feeling it after a few loops, especially with the muddy feet. The grassy sections had "sweet spots" that were smoother and easier to run, but stray from those and the ground was more uneven and harder on the wet feet, accelerating the blistering process.

All through the race I had no idea if there were any runners ahead of me, but I didn't worry about it too much, as I didn't go down there with competition as my main goal. I don't recall any other runners passing me (except one, but he was pretty darn fast, so I figured he was running a shorter distance), but it was also a pretty big loop so there could be other runners at roughly the same pace. The course record was over 20 hours, and I was planning to get under 20, so that was what I was aiming for, especially after the halfway point when darkness came and I slowed down more. I realized I really am a trail wuss - I like smooth road surfaces and I hate wearing a headlamp!

Throughout the second half of the race I could feel more and more blisters forming, and it became quite painful. Any slight misstep onto a rock or the wrong part of a tire rut would bring an "ow" from my mouth. And I was losing energy, but the key is to keep for and technique. So I would lift my head, keep my back more straight, get good breaths, keep my feet aligned straight and I would get back to a decent running pace. All the while I kept counting down the laps, thinking how many more times I had to make that awkward turn, or run that long section along the highway, or of course run through that mud puddle.

So finally after 13 laps and just one to go, Eric says it'll be close with Michael Peragine, who apparently had started before me and who had already finished, but who I don't think I saw at all during the whole race. There's always reason to finish strong, but I also don't particularly enjoy the stress of knowing it will be a close finish with someone who'd already finished, especially since I didn't know if he had the advantage or if I did, and how close. I could handle losing by five or 10 minutes, but I don't think I could handle losing by 5 or 10 seconds. In the end, I crossed the finish line in 19:55:42, all things considered happy to get under 20 hours and under the old course record. But I didn't get under the new course record as Michael finished over an hour faster, it wasn't that close after all. It's all good, I was actually glad that it wasn't that close. And even if I'd known, I wouldn't have been able to beat him on that day, so I was happy with my second place and an unforgettable adventure.

The Skydive

So with 47 years of anticipation of my first skydive, once I committed to it, I tried not to think about it, lest I freak myself out. Prior to arrival at the race/skydive venue, I was required to watch a video about tandem skydiving and fill out several pages of forms, all of which seemed to mention repeatedly that this could result in my death. Honestly, that didn't bother me. It started to feel real Saturday morning when I got to the hangar and watch the other runners/divers putting on jump suits ahead of me and the little plane with a big hole in the side prepare for boarding. I met my instructor, Jeremy, who was very enthusiastic as he got me suited up and gave me instructions. He was also very good at telling me what to expect and how it was going to go down. So before I knew it, I was in a jump suit and strapped into a harness with an altimeter on my wrist and goggles around my neck. Jeremy was gamely trying to get me psyched up, but I was never one for the adreno-testosterone rock 'n roll hype. (Sort of like dirty talk, I can go along with it even if I'm not really feeling it.) I'd opted not to buy the video/photo package for $99, partly because I was on a tight budget, and partly because the only thing I'd really use it for is a facebook cover photo. But Jeremy had the camera in case I changed my mind after, so he was trying to get me to play to the camera, but I really wasn't feeling it. I was nervous definitely but actually kind of relaxed and zen about it.

It wasn't long after we saw the first group coming down from the sky that the plane pulled in front of the hangar for us to board. From then on it was all business with no time to really think about what I was about to do (although Jeremy was still occasionally trying to get me to get psyched for the camera). There were five pairs of us on the plane, sitting on long cushioned rails as we took off and gradually ascended. I was watching the altimeter rise, and it seemed to take a long time to get to 14,000 feet. On the way up, Jeremy pointed out nearby Lake Okeechobee, and when we could see the Gulf coast and the Atlantic coast at the same time, as well as Miami off in the distance. He'd gotten us strapped together, my goggles were on and we were ready when the red light came on, indicating time to jump! Now it was starting to feel real, as the first instructor opened the side door and out he went with his client. We had to scooch up the rail as the next pair went, and the next. Then it was our turn, and exactly as he described it, with no hesitation, out we went.

It's funny how our brains know things, but at the same time the brain ignores these facts. In skydiving pictures, you see people smiling, giving thumbs up, doing maneuvers and choreography and just apparently happily floating in mid-air. I suppose I was unprepared for the force of air that greeted me upon exiting the plane; it was quite overwhelming. And at times I forgot the instruction to breathe through the nose rather than the mouth, so I would sometimes get a force full of wind down my throat. I did remember the instruction to arch my back and keep my feet back up towards my butt, or my instructor's butt, so we had a proper freefall. But I was tense and my back started getting sore and my breathing felt uneasy and my head felt light. The fields were lying a safe distance below us, and Jeremy still had me do the rock 'n roll thing to the camera sometimes, but I was definitely not in a rock 'n roll mood at that point. Once we left the plane I honestly wasn't scared, but I regret to say that I didn't really take the opportunity to relax and enjoy it, I was more tense and uncomfortable. When the altimeter read 5000 feet I pulled the golf ball handle to release the parachute and it opened perfectly, but certainly with a jolt. Now, gently falling, I could take off the goggles and enjoy, at least if I weren't lightheaded and worried about becoming nauseous. Jeremy started taking us on a few spins, but I had to let him know that wasn't the best idea for me at that point. I did take the toggles to control the chute for a while, which was very cool. But for the most part I just wanted to be on the ground. Soon enough, we were approaching the landing on the field next to the hangar, and I was surprised how on-target we were and how close we were able to get. Apparently due to the lack of wind to slow our approach, we would be sliding in on our butts, which we did on the wet grass. But it was very smooth and the ride was over!

I've had people say I'd feel like Superman when I landed, I'd be on an adrenaline rush that would carry over to the early part of the race. But I was still a little lightheaded for a little while, my heart was beating hard, and it took me some time to process the whole experience. As I ran the race, I was able to put the feeling, the discomfort, into terms that I could relate to past experience and perhaps some of you (especially you New Yorkers) could relate to as well. It felt like I'd been out getting totally wasted and I was trying to get home on the subway, and I just wanted to get home before I threw up or passed out. I immediately came to the conclusion that while I had a great experience and I was definitely glad I did it, skydiving is not for me, and it was certainly a one-time thing. With a week and a half to reflect, I'm now not so sure it was a one-time thing. I want to try again, and hopefully I'll be able to relax and enjoy it more for the incredible experience that it is.

And an incredible experience it was all around. Jeremy and the folks at the Skydive Spaceland managed everything an a very fun, safe and professional manner. Eric Friedman and his volunteers put on a wonderful race, and I made a whole new set of friends in south Florida. Thank to everyone, and you just might see me down there again!