January 29, 2011
6:30. 5:18. 5:50.
These are all numbers associated with what was a long and extremely delightful run today around the island of Manhattan. For 6 hours and 30 minutes my new friend Paul Mladineo and I circumnavigated the greatest city on Earth. This included ‘stop time’ in 3 or 4 places along the way. Five hours and 18 minutes of that time was our actual time running, which comprised a modest distance (well, modest to an ultrarunner, anyway) of 31.8 miles. Five hours and 50 minutes was my overall running time, including my 10-minute-per-mile jog from 72nd and 1st over to Paul’s apartment in the morning, and then back again in the afternoon. Tacking those two runs onto our 31.8 brought my overall mileage for the day to an even 35. A couple of years ago these kinds of times and distances would have seemed unfathomable to me. But in what has become a new running mindset for me over the past six months or so, no distance seems beyond reach. It’s just a matter of setting your mind to it, and then building the base that’s necessary to achieve this different brand of running success.
Paul and I had originally been hoping to run with a group led by local running notable Dave Obelkevich. Dave organizes a run around the city each year around this time to honor his friend and running legend, the late Ted Corbitt. But Dave put word out this week that the run would be postponed, likely due to the heavy snowfall that had been dumped on the city a couple of days ago. But I had already committed to the run, and after talking to Paul about it via email, we decided to run it together anyway, even if not with the group. We’d heard from friends that the west side bike path (known also as the Hudson River Greenway) was covered with snow, and was impassable. So Paul and I resolved to just running the streets as much as necessary. No matter what, it would be a grand day out!
And it was with this plan that we set out from Paul’s apartment on West 74th St at a little after 8:00am. We figured we’d run over to Riverside Drive, head north along the eastern edge of Riverside Park up to the George Washington Bridge, and then veer northeast toward the upper reaches of Manhattan, a neighborhood known as Inwood. A few blocks north of Paul’s place, we met with Riverside Drive, and after a brief jaunt on it, Paul suggested checking out the status of the run path west of the park. His thinking was, if the path wasn’t clear and runnable, we could return back to the street about 10 blocks north. Well, good fortune sometimes falls upon those willing to take a risk, and as it turned out, the west side path was cleared of snow, so we were able to spend the next few miles running along the banks of the Hudson River, marveling at the splendor that this very harsh winter in New York had brought to it. It was a wondrous land of snow all around us, and a river full of large chunks of ice as we looked to our left. I have to confess that this was already one of the most enjoyable non-trail runs I’d done in a long time, and we were still only just beginning.
In fairly short time, we reached the bridge, guarded at its base by a tiny (and locally famous) red lighthouse. It was a beautiful spot, but this was also the place where we ran out of clear path to run on. So we climbed a steep hill from the bridge’s base up to Riverside Drive, hopped quickly onto Cabrini Blvd, and followed the intuitive path into Fort Tryon Park. The park was full of snow, but we managed to find a trampled down ped path, and meandered our way onto Broadway. Yes, this is the same Broadway that begins all the way downtown at The Battery. Reaching Broadway’s confluence with 10th Avenue, we made our first pit stop of the day, at Twin Donut Plus. This is the spot where Dave O.’s group usually takes its first rest stop, so it made sense for us to make use of this known quantity.
After a quick coffee and donut, we began the long trek south. These next several miles would take us through much of the diversity of northern Manhattan. Moving out of Inwood, we ran along St. Nicholas Avenue up Fort George Hill, then across 174th St to Amsterdam Avenue, south again to Edgecomb Ave, and re-merging with St Nicholas again when we reached 135th St. Along the way, we found the condition of many of the streets so poor (due to uncleared snow) that nobody was driving them. Consequently, Paul led us straight down the middle of the street several times, and we were able to run many blocks – on Edgecomb in particular – without having to move aside for automobiles. There were several notable sites during this section, including the colossal building complex that hosts the famous Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. I have to tell you that this is one of the largest buildings in the city that I have ever seen!
Turning east, and then south again, we followed the green traffic lights wherever they presented themselves to us, and we eventually came down Lenox Ave / Malcom X Boulevard and met with the northern end of Central Park at Cathedral Parkway. Fifth Avenue would be the majority of our route from here to the next rest stop, at Bagel Bob’s on York Avenue and 86th St. We trudged up the incline of Fifth Avenue, remembering this dreadful section from our respective experiences at the New York Marathon. Near Engineer’s Gate, with its statue of New York City running icon Fred Lebow, we turned left, and in no time we were situated indoors and in line for refreshments at the bagel shop.
We took 15 minutes or so to get warm, recharge the quads, and most definitely to refuel. Having been grossly undertrained for this run, I was up for taking a load off for a few, and so when Paul said he was planning to order a sandwich, I was quick to tell him to take his time eating it. Well, almost as quickly as we had sat down, it was time to get back up and head down the street. The next stop would be quick in coming, and a short one. My girlfriend Catherine lived just 14 blocks south of the bagel shop, and she had promised to come downstairs to her lobby and greet us briefly, bringing any supplies, dry clothes or food we might need to get us through the rest of the run. Except for a call from nature, Paul and I were pretty much good in terms of food and clothes, so after a short trip upstairs to use Catherine’s restroom (and a quick pose for a picture out front), we were on our way again.
The next segment of the run took us south down First Avenue for approximately two miles. With all the rioting that has been going on in Egypt this week, there was a protest rally planned at the United Nations building at 44th and First for 1:00pm. As we checked our watches, it looked as though we had plenty of time to make it through that neighborhood before anything exciting got going, but I wouldn’t say that it influenced our pace in any specific way. As we ran, it was with a paradoxical mix of anticipation and disinterest about the protest. Perhaps the growing fatigue was becoming a factor, but whatever the case, we didn’t talk much about the rioting in Egypt, and passed the U.N. with nary an issue. We saw a mere 50 or 60 police officers set to handle the thousands who were expected at the rally, but there was not a protester in sight.
Upon reaching 34th Street, I let Paul know that if we were going to check out the runnability of East River path, this would be the place to do it from. And so, we hung a left here and checked it out. To our delight, we found plenty of room to run! Passing the Water Club, and then a large apartment building just south of there, the pathway remained clear. So we kept moving, and the only place we would encounter any issue with the snow was about a mile south of 34th St, where we had to traipse through 5 or 6 inches of slush for about 150 yards. Aside from that, it was clear sailing. 🙂
Not far ahead, we passed beneath the Williamsburg Bridge, which – for those who may not know – is a hotbed of athletic and recreational activity. In my early 30s, I used to play basketball here with my friends on summer Saturdays. With all the snow, there was no basketball going on today, but we did see several games of flag football being played, and it was a delight to see others enjoying the outdoors in a similar (but slightly different) fashion as Paul and I were.
Next up was the Two Bridges section, comprising the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. By this point, our run path had taken us beneath the FDR Drive (New York City’s east side highway), and we would remain under its cover until we reached the Wall Street area. Paul and I were both looking forward to another stop, and it would be quick in coming, as the Staten Island Ferry terminal was now in visual range. Paul had also pointed out to me a couple of miles back that we had passed the 22 mile mark, meaning that we now had less than 10 miles left to go, a psychological barrier that we both appreciated as our legs became ever heavier.
I was a bit surprised by the all-new ferry terminal. The last time I had seen it had been in November 2008 on NYC Marathon day, and at 5:30 in the morning no less, and I didn’t remember it looking this way at all. But it was dark then, I was still half asleep, and I was thinking more about my race at that point than I was about marveling at the terminal. Anyway, we celebrated our last stop in a brief and understated way. I grabbed some quick protein in the form of chocolate-flavored Nestle’s Quik, Paul made a phone call to home letting his wife and kids know that we were almost done, and then we had a bystander take a picture of us before finally hitting the pavement for the final segment of the journey.
From here we ran over toward Battery Park City, and as expected, we found the run path properly cleared of snow. Paul verbally noted that according to his Timex Global Trainer, we had now passed the marathon distance, and had clocked a 4:20. Considering that for a moment, I decided that this was a pretty good pace for today’s run. We were right on 10-minute miles, and we would happily hold this pace (ok, maybe ‘happily’ is a relative term, as Paul was beginning to struggle) for the remaining 5 or 6 miles. The last part of the run was along the Hudson River again, and we saw lots more ice in the river as we traversed the west side. We passed my old work neighborhood in Soho, went through the meat market district, then Chelsea Piers, and before we knew it, Midtown was behind us, with only a mile or so left to go.
After a quick chat about it, Paul and I decided to stay on the greenway path all the way to Riverside Park, and then run up the hill out of the park back to his apartment. I can’t speak for Paul, but I found the hill to be a refreshing change after having run the last 20 miles on terrain that was pancake flat. So I barreled up the hill with weary legs but a smile on my face, awaited Paul’s arrival at the top, and then followed him as he led me right down the center of West 74th St back to his place. With very satisfied smiles on our faces, we exchanged a handshake and a knuckle bump, and I bid Paul my goodbye, reminding him what a great job he did, and expressing how much fun I had had running with him today. And as we had been discussing on and off all along the way, this would no doubt be the first of many such runs that he and I would do together.
As I reflect on this day, I take great pride in what I made of the experience that was at the core of it all. Life has a natural way of presenting new opportunities to us, and for those who are paying attention and not afraid to take advantage of them, these opportunities can make for one helluva ride, don’t you think? I hope you’ll all practice mindfulness, taking similar advantage of the experiences that life serves up to you, and that you revel in them when you are in their midst. Enjoy and be present, my friends. It’s what life is all about….