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Pandora’s box. Imagine a giant hand flipping the city upside down and shaking hard. These are the strange images that might fall off at random.
Pandora’s box. Imagine a giant hand flipping the city upside down and shaking hard. These are the strange images that might fall off at random.
After writing with much pleasure about my recent run, I was left with a sense of dryness. Being so used to have pictures to illustrate my posts, I’d just written a full-blown story without any real images and felt like I had cheated everyone out of expected pixels.
So I gathered the rather random pictures of three separate New York expeditions and turned them into this post. While these were shot in New Jersey, Red Hook and in Central Park, both from land and water, they represent a decent average of what one can expect to see when out on a run around the Big Apple. Lots of boats and shoreline, urban tightness, decay, glass, music, extremes mixing into an organic dish for the keen eye only.
I give you NYC, some days.
[This is Part 2 of 2]
Moving along the Hudson, I kept drinking Gatorade as my thirst dictated, dutifully sucking gels every 30 to 45 minutes and stretching very briefly as often as possible. Anybody on a collision course with me would have had a rather stiff surprise. I was moving with the subtlety of a Sherman tank.
Running down almost the entire length of the Manhattan island always proves a sobering experience for me. On the one hand, I am going past 1.6 million people tightly packed in what is possibly the center of the known universe. On the other, Manhattan is only 2 miles or so longer than – and about the same width as – my beloved Little Cayman island, population 150 souls.
In Little Cayman, I had been walking barefoot for so long that running shoes had become a nuisance and real shoes, unbearable. I had personally known almost everyone. I had played a role equal to 1/150th of the local life, and probably much more on silly party nights or micro-events such as search and rescue operations. I belonged. I fitted in.
This thought kept me distracted well into the Upper West Side. Upon reaching the first of the great piers around 59th St, bottom of Central Park, the pain came back with a vengeance. I swore aloud and called myself names in French, comparing the length of my stamina to that of an amoeba. I also borrowed a few colorful expletives from le Capitaine Haddock and mixed them together for greater punch and relief.
I passed the Air, Sea and Space Intrepid Museum and its new Space Shuttle exhibit at around 35 km (22 mi), with 7 km to go. At that point, there was no doubt in my mind I would finish since the infamous wall was nowhere in sight, but I also knew that speed was not an option. I was going to make it, but it wouldn’t look pretty on the watch.
I was careful not to pick up the pace as I normally would towards the end of a run. Joints were complaining loudly and every walking break was cheated into by a few seconds. I ran passed Hell’s Kitchen, the Meatpacking District, the West Village was left behind and eventually, I turned into Lower Manhattan and dragged myself towards the Brooklyn Bridge. I came to a halt, gasped. I had made it.
The chrono was stopped at the City Hall with 42.03 km, 5:01 hours and mixed feelings. The men’s marathon world record is just above 2 hours. My results would not even have qualified me for a spectator seat in the Olympics.
There was no energy available to keep running for a while as one should, so I walked and panted. Drank another bottle of water, pacing back and forth on a side-walk as I had reached my 4-5 Brooklyn Bridge subway station to Brooklyn and did not want to stray away.
When I had regained control over my breathing and muscles, I ventured into the subway, anxious to be home and done. I was very happy to have finished my first marathon distance even though I had succeeded by a marathin margin, but was way too tired to feel any kind of pride.
I got on the train that was waiting on the station platform. The doors stayed open. It was hot. Very hot, as is usually the case on the MTA network in summer. The car was already packed. A ghostly voice came on the loudspeaker for one of those unintelligible announcements, seemingly stating that we were delayed but failing to enunciate loud enough why or how long for.
I had just had it. I was exhausted. The car was tropic-warm. I could barely fit in as people had been piling aboard while the doors stayed open. Things were not looking good. Covered in sweat and probably quite smelly, I stuck to a corner, crossed my arms and turned my back away from faces, desperately seeking a last hint of energy to get me home.
We finally got under way but there were three stations to go. I started feeling nauseous, then dizzy, standing still in the heat of the overcrowded car with my eyes closed, taking deep breaths and recognizing with great animosity the wall I was about to hit, having met it in at least one memorable occasion before.
I was almost there, though. I think I remember the last station before mine, doors opening and closing on an empty platform. Then we went into the tunnel below the East River. Man, I really felt like crap.
[record scratching sound]
The next feeling I remember was one of waking up in a comfortable bed after a good night’s sleep. I heard voices, some shouting, but they did not worry me. I was comfortable, not to say cozy. I opened my eyes and for a moment wondered why everyone around was standing horizontal on the wall, defying gravity. Then I figured they were not defying anything but gravity had instead gotten a hold of me.
I was lying on the subway car floor among passengers who were freaking out. I bolted upright, putting my dislodged hat back on my head and distractedly noticing how wonderful I suddenly felt, as if having just taken a much needed rest. Someone was screaming “Call the conductor!” Most people were moving away from me as if I had the plague, a few were closing in hesitantly.
I realized I had just passed out. In my stinky clothes and running outfit, on a packed subway, in New York. I had actually managed to get a reaction out of a normally oblivious crowd.
Speaking up as calmly as I could, I said something like “I’m very sorry folks, I just came back from a long run and I must have hit the wall. Sorry to have worried you. I’m feeling fine now.” I might as well have told them I was a Martian. Prove it, they thought. To their credit, most insisted, offered me a seat, said I should see a doctor. A girl next to me nodded with a reassuring smile. “Yeah, don’t worry, I’ve done it too,” she said. Another told me I must have had a seizure and was out for a while, and I had banged my head quite hard. Her eyes clearly meant “I think you will be in tomorrow’s paper, I can’t wait to read it.” Sensationalism prevails.
I apologized again, thanked around and got off at Borough Hall where I sat down for a minute, mostly to tranquilize the few passengers whose stop it also was. The girl from earlier offered to get me water, I showed her my bottle and the gel I was still clutching, and said I would be fine, really. And I was. I was still amazed at how good I felt after having been out for a few seconds.
The bump on my head would show up a day later, as well as a slight bruise on the left elbow.
Strangely enough, I have only passed out twice in my entire life, and both times were on board a subway. The first was many years ago in Singapore, and was due to a dash to catch a train and the subsequent surprise to realize – albeit late – that Asian doors are often lower than we expect them to be. But that is another story.
This story’s moral would sound something like this: When they said “Do not stop running abruptly and rather keep walking for a while”, they were not kidding. It’s called vasovagal syncope, a sudden drop in blood pressure after overexertion, decreased blood flow to the head and pfffff, down you go.
I took an ice bath for my legs once home and then a short pleasant nap, and felt barely any soreness the next day. But really, it was my snooze on the subway that refreshed me the most.
Now I can consider one day doing a completely under-prepared, out-of-my-league ultra-marathon. Good times.
A few weeks ago, I did a 30K run down the entire length of Manhattan, almost a duplicate of a run I had done last year. It went decently well, if one gauges success by the lack of absolute misery and a fairly quick recovery.
So this Saturday, after months of risk versus benefit analysis, I decided to raise the stakes and go for a really long run. Now me, I don’t like crowds, so the idea of rushing off an organized event’s start line along with 20,000 other friendly runners just doesn’t appeal. However I admit that official races have two great advantages: they feature a solid infrastructure (we’re talking hydration stations, first aid, signage, toilets, a car-free route and much more) and intense crowd cheering, which I have found – against all odds – to be quite an amazing boost that in turn pinches pride, ego and anger when they need it most.
But my plan was for a solo run. No cheering, some honking, unavoidable traffic. Bathrooms, random at best. Hydration would have to be purchased along the way, energy being carried in. I would lug one bottle at a time in a belt, enough gels for the whole run, money, ID, a subway card, and my cell phone.
I did not sleep so well the night before, nor so badly. I had planned my run down to the last sidewalk but decided to leave the final go/no-go decision to last minute, based on weather, shape, mental and gut status. By noon Saturday, however, everything was peachy and I gave myself a green light. I dressed up – or rather down – buckled my belt, said goodbyes and don’tworries, and headed for the subway.
My plan was simple. F train from Brooklyn to the Delancey St station on the Lower East Side. Walk briskly back to the East River some 5 minutes to warm up. Cross the FDR Highway, get on the bike path, start the GPS and run, baby run. Up the East River pretty much to the top of Manhattan, then across the island, down the Hudson all the way back to Battery Park, and catch a subway home. 26 miles, 42 km. A marathon. My first.
I’d given myself two goals: one, finish. Two, finish. Having not trained specifically for such a long run, I had also calculated multiple exit vectors should the warrior’s muscles not follow his mind. My route had a few strengths, and as many weaknesses. Water and Gatorade would be easy to buy along the way, and facilities were rather evenly spaced out, in case of strategic need. Most of the run would be pleasantly free of cars and on a waterfront path. But there would be a few incursions into the city-proper and I knew from experience that these are always very energy-costly to me.
I started very slowly, with the serious intent of keeping it slow all the way. I had opted for a run/walk strategy that is said to be an idiot’s best approach to marathons. The entire course was plotted on my Forerunner 310XT which would vibrate every time a pace change was needed.
I began the run just above the Williamsburg Bridge in the Lower East Side. I had previously run up to that point from the bottom of Manhattan on my way back to Brooklyn but never past it, so the first part of the run was in pleasantly virgin territory. The East River path was nice and the weather gorgeous if maybe a touch hotter than I had hoped for. There were runners everywhere. It takes great zen and self-control to be passed by comets in fluo tights who are running at warp speed – albeit probably around the block. But I stayed focused. Stick to the plan, stick to the hydration and carb intake rhythm.
Around 33rd Street in Midtown, I had to leave my riverside a first time to dodge the massive United Nations. It is well known that world politics often interfere with people’s freedom rather than help it. I had anticipated it however and I ran on sidewalks a few blocks from the river, passing hordes of Asian tourists, pondering the fact that Chief Inspector Dreyfus’ laser did not after all erase the landmark, until somewhere around 67th St I dropped back down to the river and the path resumed. From there, it was smooth sailing, under the Queensboro Bridge and passed Roosevelt Island, further and further north into the Upper East Side.
There was a strong bend in the river, the Ward’s Island Bridge to Randalls Island appeared on the right, projects stood on the left, and I was in East Harlem. At 110th St, I knew I had topped the full height of Central Park. Ten blocks later, I climbed over the FDR highway again and headed into Harlem, the East River path vanishing suddenly to turn into a no-man’s shore.
I ran two thirds of Manhattan’s width west and north to St Nicholas Park digging deeper into Harlem. That part wasn’t fun. Traffic lights, uneven surfaces, busy sidewalks, hilly streets, no way to keep an even tempo. Eventually though, I reached the ramp down to the Harlem River Drive and my commute was temporarily over. I was now in known territory. I joined the river path once again and focused on re-establishing a routine. I was for all practical purposes alone.
Each one-minute walk would be used for a specific purpose, in succession: drink, drink and gel, stretch. This meant a gel every 30 minutes or so. The stretching was recommended by ultra-marathon runners and even though it might not have been necessary on such a such a short run, it seemed to make a nice difference. I have very bad knees and am forced to wear braces. My stride probably isn’t as relaxed as it could be for that reason. Stretching my quads and calves along the way singularly helps with the prevention of hip stress and lower-leg cramps and soreness.
I followed the Drive to Dickman Street where I cut in towards the Hudson. This would be my last street running for the day and having already done that section, I knew exactly what to expect. That can be so helpful, psychologically.
The Hudson, however, stays out of reach for a while and one has to ride up high on its banks, above the Henry-Hudson Parkway. It’s a short and steep climb but surprisingly, at the mid-run mark, hills are getting easier to negotiate. I texted Marie to report on my progress. The lungs were fine since I was taking it easy, but with 20 km (or 12.5 mi) to go, I was a little worried as my joints were already becoming moody.
From there, I ran along the mostly invisible highway, leaving Inwood Park behind me and passing by the Cloisters. At the George Washington Bridge, tenth bridge marker of the run and which leaps over the Hudson to New Jersey, I crossed the highway, dropped to water level and settled on the path that would lead me to my goal. I was now some 25 km or 15.6 mi into the run and was getting definite tension and pain signals from ankles, calves, knees, hips and neck. They would stay with me till the end, only worsening. I guess that’s unavoidable.
The Washington Bridge is the last surface link to the neighboring NJ state. South of it, all connections are either maritime or underground until Staten Island. The very soul-shaking element when reaching this bridge on a long run down to the bottom of Manhattan is that the eye suddenly gets to peak towards the southern horizon and looking down south, the last buildings visible are those of Jersey City. While they were sitting across the river about flush with my own goal in Manhattan, they appeared so far away that I briefly considered a cardiac arrest as a better solution.
From then on, it was all about discipline, mind over matter. The mind was mine and the matter too, unfortunately. Pain would accompany me to the nondescript finish line. The fluos were back with a vengeance. I ignored them. Grand-mothers would dash passed me, I ignored them too. I would manage to overtake walkers only to have them pass me again during my brief walking intervals. I had tumbled to the very bottom of the running pit.
To be continued …
I periodically update the main photo galleries at VMP.com. Here is the latest in New York Parks. It will go full screen if you press the full screen icon in the lower right hovering above the image. Exit full screen by pressing ESC.