Tuesday, June 25, 2019

TGNY 100




It is…  12:30 in the morning or so, and I am on the boardwalk at Coney Island.  The lights of the rides are behind me and there is music and life everywhere.  Drunken revelers, people speaking all languages, pounding surf to my left, a woman in a bikini drinking a cocktail and yelling excitedly into her phone to my right.  I have travelled here by foot, 84 or so miles from Times Square, where I started almost 20 hours earlier at 5am just as dawn was breaking.  I am in another world and I am tired, a little bit sore, and a little bit disoriented.  I am…. Perfectly happy.  I am as happy as it is possible to be.  I am sweaty and sticky and my clothing and gear has been rubbing various parts of my body until they sting like a mother, and I don’t want to be anyplace else in the world right now.
I am so very, very grateful for this moment.
Some races are linear – they have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  This one to me is a series of vignettes:  images, experiences, moments, feelings, sensations. 



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Arriving at Times Square for the race start at 4:15am.  I have worked and lived in this city:  I am not naive.  Yet… after living in the country for 20 years and in respectable northern Virginia for 2, perhaps I have become so.  The lights…  the enormous flashing billboards straight out of Bladerunner, turning night into day…  the woman wearing only mesh and a thong so her full breasts are completely visible… the food trucks on every corner, the fact that it is 4am and unlike me pretty much everyone here has been up all night; garbage piled in alleys, the smell competing with the smell of smoky hot pretzels, hot dogs, steam from the subway, weed.  Perhaps most astoundingly, mixed in among the natives and the tourists and the exhibitionists there is a tiny tribe of ultra runners, all of whom, it seemed, know at least several others here – gathering together in our little band of hydration vests and Hokas, sharing McDonald’s receipts so we can sneak in and use the bathroom one last time before this thing starts.
The 45 minutes before the race start is a blur.  So many, so many friends here.  Different than most races where I only know one or 2 people.  The group photo is a reunion and the start of a grand adventure.  This part goes way, way, too fast.  The pre-race anxiety is more focused on making sure that I say hello to everyone I know is going to be there rather than worrying about the race.  For I already know I am not racing but rather embarking upon a grand adventure.  There is no time goal at all and that is… glorious.
Meeting Kellie, with whom I committed to run, so neither of us would get lost.  Her last name is Maurer… mine is Mower.  They have the same German origin.  I tell her husband Erik that I think we are likely related. 


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We gather together for the pre-race photo, and line up at the start. Kellie and I start running with Larry Huffman – a recently training partner who now is part of my Sunday Great Falls joy runs.  Larry has run this before so I know that not only does he run at a pace that is perfect for me, but (more importantly) he knows where we are going.   He is also… a great guy.  We commit to sticking with Larry.


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Slow easy taking off through the streets of NYC, the sun is coming up, and people are starting their day.  Because it is Saturday, there is less hustle and bustle than there would be on a weekday.  It is strange, running on uneven concrete, and our first street crossing is an interesting revelation of the forced breaks that will be built into the race.  There is more to see than I can possibly take in, and sooner than I would have imagined, we are in Central Park.  And then… a few miles later, we are out of it, and the adventure really starts, because we start to go through parts of the city I have never walked before.


There is a huge cathedral on our left – I think it is St. Johns.  We go up, up up… I had no idea, how hilly this could be.  We reach the top of one hill and the sun is a glowing orange ball coming up over water.  Several of us stop at a monument to take pictures of this glorious sunrise and I know that I am already in love with this race.  At 122nd street we head west and down toward the water…  turn right, run under an overpass.  This part of the city is gritty and real… fast food stores, construction, ethnic food vendors.  We turn north, get closer to the water.  It is more park like… less like a city.  There is a bike path and restrooms… this is more like running on the W&OD in the morning.

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Phil McCarthy, the race director, has marked the course with small yellow arrows.  They can be easy to miss if you are not careful.  Somehow in one of the parks, near the Cloisters, we get lost for the first time.  We follow what we think are arrows to a lovely overlook – but the arrows lead nowhere after that.  We find our way back down to the course but have picked up at least an extra mile. 
We cross the first of what will be many bridges and are in the Bronx… soon enough at the gates of Van Cortlandt Park.  Although I grew up in the suburbs of New York I have never been here and it is a revelation. We run on a shaded soft dirt trail that is less populated than the trails of Great Falls Park in Virginia.  It is impossible to believe we are in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.  Larry is in his element on these trails and starts picking up his step.  I am delighted, like a small child, just at the notion that I am on a wooded trail in the middle of New York City.


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Out of the park and the sun is beating down strong now.  Some runners have complained about the heat but to me the sun is glorious because the day itself is only about 80, with a cool breeze and almost no humidity compared to DC.  I can feel the sun sizzling my skin as we emerge from the park and we enter a part of the Bronx that is probably more what people think of when they think of running through New York.  We are running on a bridge with another road over us, chain link barrier to our side, an occasional small dead animal on the ground next to litter people have tossed from their cars, an occasional beer can, and cars driving by, fast fast to our left.  This is not pretty and it is not nice… but it is absolutely real. 
I love this bridge.  I love this day.
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Hitting the low 20 mile mark at this point… we cross into Pelham Bay Park for a scenic out and back with a photo opportunity at the beach…  We stop and wash up at the old bathhouses and I am delighted by this early Saturday morning at the beach.  Because although we have been running for hours, it still only mid morning and the beachgoers are few and far between.  Some older Italian men give us wondering glances as they gossip on a bench, one spraying himself with cold water.  The water spray makes me thirsty and for a moment I feel hot.
We get lost again and add a little bit more mileage to our total.  Turn around… find the right path.


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There is a blur of city miles and at some point we are at Randall’s Island.  This is memorable because of the entrance with the smooth path underneath and arches overhead.  There are ball fields on the island and it feels parklike.  And we are out of the park and…


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we are climbing a ramp and cross what was formerly the Triboro bridge (now the Robert F Kennedy)… on foot. 
We stop at the highest part of the bridge to take pictures and take it all in. 



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We go down, down down the bridge and all of a sudden we are in Queens, where we will spend the next 40 miles.  Kellie, by this point, is not feeling so great.  Her stomach is acting up mightily.  I feel guilty for feeling so wonderful. 
We run essentially through LaGuardia airport – the car rental shops to our right, planes taking off low, over our heads. 
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In the high 40’s, Kellie starts talking about our going on without her.  She asks us to promise we will let her go when we hit 100K – she has a friend who will join her.  This does not feel good and we don’t want to do it and at first we say no.
We are at 51 miles now and Kellie is insisting.   She feels she is slowing us down, and assures us she can get to 100K and will have company.  We reluctantly say goodbye and head on now a duo instead of a trio.  The rhythm changes.  We miss Kellie’s company, but are hoping we made the right call because she is feeling so crappy that we know she doesn’t want to run right now as much as we are running.  It’s hard feeling pressure to run with someone who is, at the moment, feeling better or faster than you are.  I’ve been there many times and almost always I will choose to run alone at my own pace rather than stay and be forced to a pace that is out of my comfort zone.  We hope we are truly honoring what Kellie wants.  And… regardless… the decision is made.
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Flushing Meadows Corona Park…  a mass of humanity just out to enjoy the beautiful day…  picnickers, rollerbladers, families and couples… the smell of roasting meats, barbeques – I eye the tables as I’d eye an aid station except this food is not for me…  We stop in front of the Fountain of the Planets to take a picture and we run like children through the spray, cooling our sun baked skin.  We run past the fountain down a straightaway, soccer games to our left and a sea of people on the right, shadows of leaves, a cooling breeze.  I see an ice cream vendor and strongly consider a fruit pop.  I pass, and moments later we pick up Jim Treece who isn’t having the race he hoped for and is now focused on just recovering from his bad spell and enjoying the journey.  He chose the fruit pop.  I am jealous.  We run together on and off to 100K.


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100K is magical.  They had advertised eggplant sandwiches which I have been looking forward to for 30 miles.  Paul Kentor is there and takes great car of me.  I leave the aid station a little overly full, but the mile required for digestion is well worth it for the well of energy I now have.
A half mile out of the aid station I see a Carvel and decide I need dessert on top of the eggplant sandwich.  I have a choco-vanilla soft serve cone.  Larry has a slushie.  He says “This will either be the best or the worst thing I’ve done all day”.  The cone is delicious but I find myself wishing I had chosen the lighter cooler slushie.  Larry generously offers me a few sips.
It turns out that the slushie is not the best thing that Larry has done all day.  While my cone is (to Larry’s amazement) sitting just fine, his slushie is not so much.  I am very impressed by Larry’s ability to systematically lose bits of the slushie here and there out of his unhappy gut and not slow down his running pace by even a hair. 
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It is… sometime between 9 and 10.  Probably closer to 9 because it has only just gotten dark.  We arrive at the beach.  This makes me profoundly happy.  It is actually our second beach arrival today and there is a big sign, “Rockawy Beach – B94th” greeting us as we head to toward the shore.  We turn right and run along a largely dark asphalt walkway – it is wide, with a railing separating the walkway and the beach proper.  I can hear surf far away.  There are benches here and there, and some (but not many) people walking along.  A ways down the walkway we hear and see several helicopters overhead – they are flying low over the water, green tail lights flashing.  There are at least 3 of them.  They are there, buzzing back and forth, for most of our time on the walkway.  We reach the end of that section and run down into a Queens neighborhood.  A man is walking a dog and he comments on the copters.  “That ain’t good… that usually means someone’s in the water. “  Sure enough, as we travel a few more blocks through the neighborhood we see a cluster of emergency vehicles at the end of one street.  At the same time that we are sobered by the sight of accidental death so nearby, it hits home that this is just one more part of this experience – which is really just us, moving at a running, jogging, and walking pace, through a day in the life of NYC. 







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Coney Island.  I am as happy as it is possible to be.  A band is playing open air at a bar and I start to dance.  I see the lights of the Cyclone…  a Nathan’s hot dog stand.  I love (love love) the feel of the boardwalk under my feet, the surf to my left, the night life to my right. 



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We are in Queens for about 40 miles.  That’s a lot.
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Brooklyn.  I lived here once.  I was young, and very, very different.  I was a drinker and a smoker then.  I was not even a little bit athletic and I was so very not who I am today.  But… it was the start of my love affair with this tremendous city, and the beginning of my growing up and learning to love the person I was.  I had once lived on Dean Street, and gone out with a guy (he was a jerk) who lived on Atlantic Avenue.  He had (generously) offered me one drawer of his dresser after we had gone out for a while to keep my stuff in.  (Did I mention he was a jerk?).  The bar where he went to see the girl he was really in love with while he dated me for convenience was also further down on Atlantic Avenue.  But I digress.  Which is sometimes what you do when you run down the streets of your past. 
Other ghosts… when I lived on Dean street (which was the wrong side of Court street, back then, when there WAS a wrong side of Court street – it looks more gentrified now…), I lived in a second story apartment where, one summer night with soft breezes blowing, I heard a man scream, and then heard a really (really) loud pop.  When I went out to see what had happened, there was a crowd around a body and more blood than I could imagine coming from what had been this man’s neck. 
Ghosts.
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In Brooklyn we are running a block and walking a block.  It is working well and keeping us steady.  Soon we reach the 95th street aid station.  Francis Kwok is there, and Adrienne.  The smell of the barn is oh so strong, as is the lure of the Brooklyn Bridge, towering over us – a monument to the city’s past.  It is… indescribable…  crossing this bridge on foot back into the city where only single digit miles remain.  It is almost morning and the view of the city brings tears to my eyes.


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Manhattan again.  The sun is rising and we are back on the sidewalks and heading to Times Square.  I want to be at the finish and at the same time I want this never to end.  Larry gets it in his head there there is a possibility we can bring it in under 24 hours (we cannot), and starts running miles in the 9’s.  To my amazement I keep up.  Until Jim and I convince him that there is no possibility of a sub 24 and we are killing ourselves for nothing.  Still… I kept up.  First time I’ve ever done miles in the 9’s after I’ve already hit 100.  (Did I mention we got lost?)
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I see BJ as we close in to the finish and wave madly.  Larry, Jim and I step ceremoniously at the same time onto the finish line marked in chalk.  I love that we are able to do this.


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