Tag Archive for Central Park

The First Ultramarathon, Part 1: Getting to 60K

I found a spot against the wall, and settled among the other runners- fixing their bibs, attaching timing tags, finalizing their layers, and doing just about anything to delay their inevitable dip into the blustery fall morning. I would probably be outside for 7 to 8 hours, at least, that’s how long I guessed it would take me to finish the NYC60K. Seeing as how it would be my first ultra, and I have never ran more than 26.2 miles, guessing was all I could do.

Then, a thought popped into my mind, so obvious that to have missed it I suddenly felt like I had sleepwalked my way into that crowd of ultra runners.

“What am I DOING?”

The bib pickup was tiny by comparison of a typical NYRR race, but then again, this was no typical race.

For many, the NYC60k, formerly the Knickerbocker, slips by quietly since it falls about two weeks after the New York City Marathon. It consists of -a dazzling and mind warping- 9 laps around Central Park (1 five mile loop, followed by 8 four mile loops). In many ways, it is the antithesis to it’s five borough predecessor. Where the Marathon features a flashy course, unbroken miles of spectators,and nearly 50,000 finishers, the NYC60K sets you loose in Central Park until your heart is content (and then some), most of the spectators are actually also the course Marshalls, and less than 400 runners even begin the race, let alone finish it.

My first foray into ultra running came a little over 2 years ago when Charlie, aka Runner Brother, signed up for his first 50 miler- the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain.

I have no idea why he did it, but he did and it was brutal. B-ru-tal. Yet aside from the excruciating pain I witnessed, I will never forget my first glance at the ultra runners through the darkness that swathed their 5 am start. Their faces were mothers and daughters, brothers and grandfathers, but every calf looked like a tree trunk. To the uninitiated, such as myself, they looked like figures out of mythology, athletes beyond reason.

Two and a half years later, after crewing half a dozen ultra’s for my brother and completing three marathons of my own, I was ready to run my own ultra.

As I picked up my bib, I wandered back out into the hall, anxious to find a place to take advantage of the heat and get everything into place for the race.
I looked at the bib they had given us: some sort of thick plastic strip was stuck to the front with instructions on how to remove and secure the old timing tech. To me, it looked as intimidating as if I had just been handed launch codes. I looked at the runners around me. We resembled each other in neither age nor sex, and they all seemed to have attached their alien timing strips.

I paused, The Thought had struck me- “What am I doing?”

So simple. I had the race on my mind for months, and this was the first time doubt had crept into my mind. Doubt so rational that the fact it had never crossed my mind before that moment almost struck me to the ground.

Did I think this through? Am I sure I am supposed to be an ultra runner? Do I belong here?

And then, slowly, I recalled week by week each run- each footfall- that had brought me there.

trails ultra running cat's tail marathon

Catskills this summer. (two charlie’s pictured) Photo via Cat’s Tail Marathon

I remembered the night I ran home along the west side highway, trailing gently behind a duo of runners for security in the darkness while trying to beat the impending humid, summer rain.

I remembered the trail run where I joined a seasoned group of ultra runners to run once last trail check along a portion of (and for) the Cat’s Tail Marathon-my old cross country fears and (let’s face it) reality of always being near last seized me all morning, but I left the trail feeling free and empowered.

I remembered every early morning. I remembered every long run I could have stopped short, but instead chose another loop, another out and back, another couple miles.

Was I actually worried I might not complete the distance? I thought, no, not for a second. The trick now was to simply relax and not crash and burn out anywhere before mile 30. I could so that.

Never-mind “what was I doing here”- I belonged here.

 

Part 2: Going 60K

The NYRR 18 Mile Tune Up!

We’re deep in the throes of marathon training now!

18 mile tune up bib

Last Sunday I joined over 4,000 runners as we attempted to tackle the full three loops it would take to hit the 18 mile mark.

I was a bit worried because my mileage has not been as high as I would have liked it to have been at this point, but that is partly why I committed to The Tune Up a few weeks back. I decided I would be content to hit 15 miles, since I figured I could at least go that far without risking an injury by over doing it. But in the back of my mind I knew, if I made it as far as 15, I would be too stubborn to throw in the towel only three miles from the finish (even if I had to walk turtle pace through the last stretch).

I knew as soon as this race started that it was going to be my kind of day. The slow and steady long run pace always seems to suit me and I was finally surrounded by other runners taking the same approach.

The toughest part of a truly long run, for me, is the mental aspect. One lap at a time, I told myself. And so it went. As we came through the first four miles or so we passed a table with Powergels of every flavor imaginable. I had a pocketful of shot-blocks, but after some stomach troubles from the Bear Mountain Marathon, I knew I have to continue to try different fueling solutions. Two months out from the marathon, it’s now or never eh?

Strawberry-bananna- with caffeine!- good enough for government. I took it with water, and continued back up cat scratch hill, with some good conversation in the form of a Judge John Hodgman Podcast to help keep my mind occupied.

nyrr 18 mile tune up map

The first 6 miles went great- I was feeling good, and ready to really dig into things. Around mile 10, back on the west side near the 72nd transverse, the fuel boxes were starting to really look like a hot commodity.

Runners were grabbing gels by the handful and I grabbed an extra on the off chance that they would run out (spoiler alert, they would). Another strawberry-bannana carried me swiftly back up through the second lap.

My pace for the first 12 miles was just about 2 hours- right on my nice and easy goal pace. I hope I have the time to work on a little speed in the next few weeks, but my #1 mantra is “Pacing, pacing, pacing; Don’t burn out.” You’re doing great, I tell myself- someone’s gotta keep the mind in a happy place.

And then it began. Around mile 13, I felt like I had a pot of coffee sloshing around in my stomach. I ate a pretzel or two, I sucked the salt off another one because my mouth felt too dry to choke down one more. Maybe it was the Gaterade? I thought, mental note, hold off on the Gaterade and take the water intake down a notch.

By mile 16 I was in a bad way and had to make a serious stop at to hop into the boathouse restrooms. Such timing! I was grateful for that at least.

Back on the course my stomach was churning, like heartburn and a million other stomach grievances. At least I wasn’t focusing on my potentially tired legs. Up Cat Scratch one more time- and then the crowds- and the final chute to the finish.

It was wonderful. And I got bleary eyed thinking of everything that had taken me here, in the past three hours, the past nine months, the past two years. And just less than two months I will finally be running through Central Park with tens of thousands of others runners, each with their own story, each finding their own meaning in that finish line.

The Coldest Mile….er, The Coldest FOUR Miles: Race to Deliver 4M

Cold Runners

Cold Runners and I, in my subtle neon orange hat- courtesy of the mister.

Sunday before Thanksgiving, 4,689 poor souls gathered in  Central Park to be tortured to run 4 miles. I, for better or worse, was one of them. All week I had my eye on the weather and all week I knew it was going to be a cold one.

Wind Chill Factor: feels like 11 degrees.

Wind Chill Factor: feels like 11 degrees.

23 degrees cold. As we stood in the corral, the announcer then added: with the wind chill, it really felt more like 11 degrees. 11 degrees. And I was still sick.

The race began, and from the first step to the last my calves were so cold I felt like from the knee down I was running on glass vases. It was so cold, that at the first water station, the runner immediately in front of me picked up a cup, only to throw it away in disgust. As I discovered a moment later, there was about a half inch of ice on the cup, sealing the water beneath it. Nothing a good crack couldn’t clear up, but still! Come ‘on!

The finish line, in fact, featured a volunteer proclaiming like a circus barker: “Ice cold, hot water up ahead! Get your ice cold, hot water up ahead.”

The finish line also featured a cheer squad! And they were awesome, cheering for every single runner as we came across the finish line. And as brutal as this race was, it was a for a great charity called God’s Love We Deliver which provides and delivers meals to New Yorkers living wither serious illness.

I finished in 00:32:25. Not a race for the record books, but an interesting experience nonetheless. Even last winter when I was running outside, I always curtailed my outdoor running in sub 30 degree weather.

This past year I’ve run on Mountains, all over my hometown, in torrential downpours, in 98 degree heat, in 80% humidity, at the first hint of daybreak, and in the dying glow of twilight… And now I can add “in eskimo weather” to that list. And even though these were-by far– the most painful 4 miles I’ve run all year, it’s fun to face new environmental challenges and figure out how to adapt accordingly.

Worst Case Scenario: Join the Voices 5M

The past two weeks I been wrestling with an annoying cough that creeps up at inopportune times and sends me into a fit of hacks and wheezes. Usually, a solid day or two off gives my body a chance to catch up and get better. Unfortunately a particularly crazy work week not only made that impossible, but left me more burnt out on top of everything else. After a careful examination of the nuances of my malady, I decided this isn’t something I should run through as I was already feeling exhausted (and not “long day” exhausted, but sore body, frail exhausted). So I waited. And waited. And waited… No change.

The next thing I know is it is Sunday morning and I am laying in bed knowing that there was a good chance this would happen- that I would have to run one of my qualifying races feeling like, well, shit. It could have been sleep deprivation from work,  it could have been my knee flaring up, or any number of slight injuries. It happened to be this weird cough situation I haven’t been able to shake.

It’s not until I am bib-ed up and sitting on the train next to my Mister that I realize I forgot my watch. I have never forgotten my watch for running, not for short jogs, not for long runs, not for any race.

When I found my corral, I found myself up a closer corral than usual.

So just to summarize the weirdness:

Sick.
Forgot watch for the first time ever.
Closest corral yet. Why not.

This photo just about sums up my feelings:

This photo just about sums up my feelings:

 

My miles broke down like this:

Mile 1: I felt like pretty stilted. Like I was lumbering back and forth. Like a polar bear.

Miles 2, and 3: Felt amazing- in my groove, stoked to be running again. So distracted, I missed the MET (one of my usual mental markers during Central Park runs). Visually, mentally, did not register it at all.

Mile 4Hurting. So much that I saw a random volunteer and my first thought was “Where does this thing end?” Note: I knew exactly where the end was. Perhaps I meant “Make this thing end.”

Mile 5: I can hear the crowds! I can count the blocks (via lampposts) on one hand! This thing is going to end and I am going to be alive when it does!

When I finish I have no idea what time it is and when I do find out my results I’m shocked:

0:41:03

wait, what? No PR of course, but only 20 seconds slower than my race three weeks ago? Awesome time for feeling sick and under-trained, but the obvious questions becomes “What the @*#& was I doing three weeks ago?’

In my head, the day had begun as a perfect storm of Worst Case Scenarios, but sick, healthy, PR, no PR, at least I’m certainly consistent. And I realized it could always be worse. I mean, at least it wasn’t raining.