If you have ever wondered what it would be like to trek through New York City, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and return back to New York City in 30 hours or under, following a scenic route that visits tons of key sites with check-ins at volunteer-run aid stations to replenish on food and water, The Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition offers it all – for the bargain price of $90!
100 miles? On foot?
In the world of ultra-running, there is such a thing as a 100-mile race, not to be confused with a marathon, which consists of 26.2 miles. And yes, it’s mostly running, and some walking, depending on the athlete, and it typically occurs within a span of 30-32 hours. A 100-mile race consists of approximately four consecutive marathons, especially if you factor in the extra miles you typically run when you lose your way and go off course. The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run is noted as the world’s oldest 100-mile race, with its inception in 1974. At the onset, Western States, or the Tevis Cup “100 Miles-One Day” ride as it was known, was an event created to prove that horses could still cover 100 miles in one day. In 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh attempted the mountainous course on foot, and the rest is history. Some twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes later, he crossed the finish line, proving that horses were not the only ones cut out for long-distance endeavors! To this day, the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, held each June, holds a special allure in the world of endurance sports.
What does it feel like the night before a 100-mile attempt? Like you are possibly going to die. Like it was the worst idea in the world to sign up for the race. That you’re not ready. Then there’s that old injury that suddenly seems to creep back up. Just when you feel all set, there’s the compulsion to check your gear and outfit all neatly laid out five more times, and then another five times to be sure you are not forgetting anything: tops, bottoms, socks, running shoes, GPS watch, water bottles/backpack, electrolyte replacements, cash, etc. Then comes the fear and anxiety that you may oversleep, so you set multiple alarms, even though you are up every twenty minutes or so throughout the night, checking the clock, to make sure you don’t oversleep.
And We’re Off!
By 4:30 a.m. on June 18th, the 100 or so of us that were set to run TGNY100 –some were running the 100K or 62.1 mile distance –were congregated at the Times Square pedestrian plaza at Broadway and 47th street, next to the TKTS booth. The lights and action surrounding us made it seem as if it was mid-day. Stores were receiving shipments, construction workers were out, not to mention herds of club and bar-goers hitting the streets for their ramble home. There was laughter, good cheer, and the search for a bathroom! NYC is a lot of things, but bathroom friendly at something o’clock, it is not. Finally, we begged a hotel clerk on 47th street to let us in!
Race Director Phil McCarthy, an accomplished ultra-marathoner himself, along with Trishul Cherns, co-director, and the super crew of volunteers, gave each runner a turn-by-turn direction sheet which consisted of a 4-page excel spreadsheet in 8-point font, safely tucked in a Ziploc bag to combat our sweat, as well as weather conditions. I tucked mine away in my backpack. I knew from completing the previous year’s race that running through NYC, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and back through NYC to the finish line at 42nd and Broadway meant lots of getting lost along the way. Suddenly, we were lining up near some construction barricades, and then at 5 a.m. sharp, we were off!
Navigating New York
How does one find their way during a 100-mile run through the boroughs? It’s all about the yellow arrows. You find them painted or chalked at intersections, in the street, on sidewalks, throughout parks; on John Muir Trail in Van Cortlandt Park, the arrows were created using flour. More often than not, if you pay attention, you will spot the arrows as you trot along; sometimes, though, as you navigate park after park, street light after street light, bridge after bridge, you miss an arrow, which results in backtracking, in which you may or may not get more lost. For me, TGNY100 is more of an adventure than a race, but when you consider that the winner—superstar runner Michael Wardian—finished it in 16:12:57, it’s clear that the clock is ticking.
It’s worth noting that at some intersections there are multiple arrows: remnants from past races and NYC Century rides. It takes careful attention to discern which arrows are meant for the 100-mile runners. So many routes, but only one is the right path.
There’s something pure and exhilarating about this race—an escapade of finding one’s way amidst city noise, traffic, smells, cars, bikes, crowds, barbecues, blasting music, families, sports events, and parties of all sorts and sizes in the parks! More than once during this journey, I thought of one of my first yoga mentors, Alan Finger, and his story of doing headstands in the middle of traffic as a young man growing up in South Africa. The ability to find peace, poise, and forward motion amidst chaos all around us is perhaps what we all seek in life.
Miles and Miles To Go
Running long distances, while fun and invigorating in its way, is also challenging physically, emotionally, and mentally. So why do so many of us choose to run 100 mile races? For me, it’s because I’ve often grown more during a 100-mile race than I have in the span of years. Demons and dragons all come out to get you, and how you work through them, with them, the stories you tell yourself, the love you find for the world around you, for your body, for the people who help you along the way, instigates acceptance, growth, and a blooming strength. There are moments you depend on yourself with a ferocity that is unfounded in daily life; the same holds true for the dependence you feel toward the people who crew or pace or help you at an aid station. I have never walked away from a 100-mile race without seeing the world within me and the world outside of me in a new light. Going the distance breeds a sense of gratitude, humility, and appreciation.
There’s that, and the freedom that running brings. Long-distance running provides time and space to let one’s mind wander. When I run, my imagination comes to life, and I hear my thoughts and ideas. I notice the nooks and crannies of life that I don’t see traveling in a car, or if I am staring at a computer screen. Some consider running an escape; I consider it an entry into my inner world, and a Metro-card to take in the landscapes. When I run, I get to be with myself and with the world simultaneously.
Oh the Places You’ll See!
TGNY100 is by far one of the best sightseeing tours around. The adventure starts at Broadway and 47th street and travels uptown through Central Park West, and then up onto Riverside Drive, before it leads to the Bronx and a stroll through Van Cortlandt Park. You pass through Pelham Bay Park to scenic Orchard Beach and eventually to Sound View Park and Randall’s Island, until you land in Queens. There’s a full tour of Astoria, before you hit the World’s Fair Marina promenade, with a front seat at LaGuardia Airport en route. There’s highway crossings, Joe Michaels Health Walk, more parks, greenways, dirt trails, bridges to cross, Kissena Park, a dart alongside Queens Botanical Garden to the 100K aid station at Forest Park. At that point the 100K runners are done, while the 100 mile runners proceed towards Cross Bay Blvd., and eventually across the Addabbo Bridge into Broad Channel, to Rockaway Beach, where you enter the great new boardwalk which leads to Jacob Riis Park. Once you cross the Marine Parkway Bridge, you enter Brooklyn. Onward to the Belt Parkway service lane, to Emmons Avenue and good old Sheepshead Bay. A quick jaunt through Manhattan Beach, to the world-famed Coney Island boardwalk to Bensonhurst, and eventually to the path along and under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Now you are headed towards Bay Ridge, into downtown Brooklyn, to the final aid station at Borough Hall, before you make your way across the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge towards Manhattan, and head midtown to the finish line at 42nd street and Broadway!
New York Moments
Having lived in New York for the majority of my life, I am all too familiar with the magical moments that sometimes occur living in proximity to so many people. I had one of those moments during the TGNY100, along the World’s Fair Marina Promenade. Four little girls, aged 3, 4, 5, and 6 followed me on their scooters for about a mile. They were silly and friendly, and seemed to enjoy riding alongside me. While they chitchatted excitedly with me, telling me about their Saturday, their names, their ages, I kept reminding them that they had to return to their mom. But they were insistent on tagging along. One of them huffed and puffed. “I’m tired. How far are we going?” I assured them that I was going a long way, but that they needed to turn back and return to their mom. At one point, we ventured into a conversation about talking to strangers. “You’re a nice stranger,” they said. I explained to them that most strangers were nice. But that some were not. And because of those few, they had to be careful and look after one another. “Why are some strangers not nice?” they asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “The important thing to remember is that there are a lot of great people in the world. And each one of you can be one of those great people.” With that, their father came running along to retrieve them, and they all wished me good luck.
The Final Stretch
When I arrived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn early Sunday morning, it was daylight. Ten miles more to go. In the city parks that I passed along 4th avenue, there were young and old folks congregated practicing Tai Chi, while others meditated and some walked or seemed to jog in place. This was a different version of New York. One of quiet and serenity. One of daily practice and ritual that comes with the dawning of a new day.
The last aid station was at Borough Hall, and knowing that there were only five miles left, that something in me which these races always bring out, appeared: a deep sense of gratitude, acknowledgment of the struggle, along with the knowledge that I had survived. I was almost there!
Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge amidst thousands of bikers, pedestrians, families, tourists, filled me with excitement and anticipation. My legs gathered their reserves to push me forward. With each downhill, I flew; with each climb, I pushed. The final descent on the bridge was one of the highlights of my running life—there was a satisfaction and joy that I was approaching Manhattan, where I had started out some twenty-something hours back. I made my way to Centre Street, to Spring Street, to Lafayette, passing by Astor Place, onward to 14th Street and Union Square. Every block in NYC seemed to hold a memory, a page in my past. The city was coming to life as I made my way to midtown. I felt the tears rising in me as I always do from these journeys, and then, as I was less than 10 blocks to the finish line, I started to walk. To gather myself, to take it all in, to find that something in me that is not about rushing or pushing but about being and digesting what I have just accomplished. Because these races scare me. They take me out of my comfort zone. They open me up to risk and failure and perseverance at a whole new level. A few deep breaths, and then I was off again, not without getting a bit off course one last time and going up to 45th street and Broadway, before I made my way to join the group of finishers and volunteers, who were hanging out on the corner of 42nd and Broadway, waiting to cheer each one of us in.