Wednesday, September 1, 2010

All in a Morning's Run: Three New York City Bridges

Today: Paul writes about training for the United States Air Force Marathon in Dayton, Ohio, to be held later this month.

I'll be running my third marathon this year and have come to the conclusion that it never gets easier. You just know how hard it will be ahead of time and that in the end you'll be able to do it.

I've started running with my friend Syed and his chapter of Team in Training this year, and he had the idea to trace 17 miles of the New York City Marathon course one recent Saturday morning.

The path took us from Brooklyn to Queens to Manhattan and then back to Brooklyn.

We started in the neighborhood of Fort Greene and ran all the way to Williamsburg, but not the hipster part.  We just ran by a bunch of orthodox families who gave us somewhat puzzled looks, and then we made our way through Greenpoint and over to the Pulaski Bridge.

Few people walk over the Pulaski Bridge. It is anything but scenic, surrounded mostly by body shops and industrial businesses and crossing a body of water that connects to the Gowanus. I think that was around mile 8, and your legs really start to feel the elevation when you run over the bridge.

After that, we were in Long Island City for a while as we made our way to the Queensboro Bridge, which requires crossing the street multiple times as we had to go through a five-way intersection and dodge construction detours.

As we started running on that bridge, I came to understand why it's supposed to be the loneliest part of the New York City Marathon.  The race starts just over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island and then goes up some populated stretches of Brooklyn, including Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, Fort Greene, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, then into the young urban professional neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens.  The sides of the street are packed with supporters and fans the entire way, cheering your tired legs on and pushing you forward.

But spectators aren't allowed on the Queensboro Bridge, and you pass not one, but two mile markers on it. I've never run the New York City Marathon, but it's hard to imagine going from that volume and energy to silence as you're crossing the bridge.

The most rewarding part of crossing the long bridge came after about 10 minutes, when I could actually see the bridge descending and was satisfied that we had actually made it over the bridge faster than the cars due to a traffic jam. We then headed toward Park Avenue where the Summer Streets festival was in its final day.

During Summer Streets, Park Avenue is shut down to cars all the way from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park.  There's all kinds of bikers, rollerbladers and kids learning to ride on what is normally one of the most heavily trafficked streets in the country.

We ran through Grand Central and then made our way to the financial district and Chinatown. Then we headed back toward the river for our third and final bridge. It was kind of depressing having to go back to running on the side of the street with its traffic and stop lights when we'd just owned the last four miles or so of pavement, but that's life.

We hit the Manhattan Bridge to return to Brooklyn. This bridge in my opinion is underrated compared to its rival the Brooklyn Bridge. There's an eerie silence you have running over it except for the occasional roar of the subway passing by. We made it over and I noticed that there's a rooftop tennis court on one of the buildings by it. I'll never understand why the super rich want to live in a place where the subway rumbles right outside their window, but to each his own.

We then had to run through Brooklyn Heights and downtown Brooklyn. When I stopped, my legs started cramping up and were angry with me for making them cross three bridges.

Hard to believe that I'd have to add 9 miles to that run to make it through the New York City Marathon, but I have a better appreciation for why people love it so much. Only in New York could you get that much variety running through so many different city neighborhoods.

Paul blogs about our quest to read a biography on every president of the United States on Presidents By the Book.

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