26.2 in the City

As fall races, including the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon have continued to be cancelled, and with the tasty summer air consistently heating up New York City beyond 30 Celsius, I figured it was time to attempt to cross-off one of my Covid checklist items and run 26.2 miles, the equivalent of a full marathon.

I've been running very consistently since quarantine as a way to clear my mind, get away from my work computer on weekdays, and explore the city without putting myself or others at risk. Recently, I've been running a half marathon distance once per weekend for most weekends, but I had only logged one 20+ miler in 2020 so I wasn't too clear on how my fitness would hold up.

I went into Saturday morning with every intention to take it easy, listen to my body, meet up with people along the way, and just enjoy the city. We are in the middle of a heat wave in New York, so with temperatures set to hit 35C, I started the run just before 6am in the East Village.

I threw on an audiobook Why We Sleep to ironically help wake me up and ensure I didn't go off like a jackrabbit. Spoiler alert: a book about sleep isn't as riveting as angry rap music. If you've got your New York City map out, I started by running from Manhattan, over to Brooklyn via the Williamsburg bridge. It was so nice being out early because the bridge was essentially empty from the usual crowds of pedestrians and cyclists, and the East River was smooth as glass before the ferries started for the day.

Looking back at the Williamsburg Bridge from Domino Park, Brooklyn

From Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I had plans to meet up with a buddy from work in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, so I decided to run towards Prospect Park - the largest park in the most populous borough. As I entered the park around 6:40, the famous Prospect Park farmers market was getting setup, which would have a lineup of people looking for kale and tomatoes by 7:30 as I exited. Much like Central Park in Manhattan, Prospect has a fantastic loop which is closed to cars, very wide for both runners and cyclists, and is mostly shaded by the vast trees overhanging - a welcome trait as the sun began to punish and the humidity rose. The loop is about 3.5 miles and I exited the park at 9 miles total, ready to meet up with Cecil just 1.3 miles away.

The entry to Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Cecil is coming off a foot surgery so we took it very easy, but props to him for battling through the rehab and running about 1.5 miles with me onto the Brooklyn Bridge. One of the most popular tourist attractions in New York, the bridge is known for it's wood boards, beautiful stone pillars, and unobstructed views of lower Manhattan. I rarely run this bridge because it's always so crowded, but at 8am on a Saturday in vicious heat in the time of Covid, we easily kept our distance from people, and ran to the bridge's midpoint. Cecil was headed back to Brooklyn, and I marched on, leaving him at a total of 11.8 miles for my day.

View of Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge
Old-school design of the Brooklyn Bridge

As I ran back onto the island of Manhattan, I was ready to crush my normal running route, south from the bridges towards Battery Park where you can see the Statue of Liberty from the southern tip of Manhattan, then up the Hudson River all the way to Central Park. Thank goodness there were water fountains along the way because there was zero wind and just sweltering heat in the city. I took a few more pictures and videos near the Statue, but then realized I had a tough 5 miles ahead of me from 16 through 21 . I put my head down, threw on a podcast, and just plodded along enjoying the view of the Hudson River and all of the early risers working out, sun tanning, or just strolling along the pathway.

Statue of Liberty from Battery Park

I turned East of the Hudson at 34th street to run through the city streets and catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building (also located on 34th) through the humid, musty air, and this was probably peak sweatiness - moving from the water to the city, surrounded by buildings, just traps the heat and significantly inflates the effect of the temperature. If you've ever visited NYC in the summer you know what I mean.

The Empire State Building shot from Ninth Ave. and W 34th St.

As usual in a marathon, I get absolutely starving by mile 18. Knowing this, I arranged for another friend to meet up for a couple miles uptown and bring along some fuel - thank you Lynn (you may recognize her from such blogs as the Brooklyn Food Tour). I ran up 8th avenue to meet her at Columbus Circle, and the banana and Gatorade at mile 21 was just what I needed. We ran two miles together along the west side through Riverside Park - a beautiful, waterfront park that is scarcely used but absolutely stunning with views of Jersey, and the George Washington Bridge in the distance. At mile 23, we peeled off and ran up the stairs from the water to 88th St. and Broadway.

Lynn headed back home, and I threw on my running playlist to crush the last 3.2 miles in Central Park with profanities being blasted through my earbuds. Central Park is the perfect spot to run tired miles because it's so beautiful that it's easy to get lost with views along the reservoir and to get inspired by the hundreds of people running the roads.

The view of midtown Manhattan from the north side of the Jacqueline Kennedy memorial reservoir

It was the best I've ever felt after 26.2 miles - I didn't even nap later, and even hung out with friends in the evening. Unofficially that will go down as my 8th marathon, and to prove you are never an expert at this distance, here are a few lessons I learned and beliefs I confirmed along the way:

  1. Respect the distance. Marathons only hurt you when you begin to doubt how tough 26.2 miles is to run. It's always tough no matter how fit you are, so start slow or you'll regret it in the end.

  2. More marathons should be on Saturdays. Traditionally races are always on Sundays so the organizers can hold expos on the Saturdays, allow people the day to travel to the destination, and it's easier to close roads on Sundays. However, from a runner's standpoint, I finished a full marathon before 10:30am and had the entire weekend ahead of me still, which is so much more fun!

  3. Run with friends. This week, I'll surpass 1000 miles on my Nike running app, and I bet at least 950 of those miles were run alone. However, the best parts of my journey on Saturday were meeting up with friends, sharing some miles, and having some solid chats.

  4. New York City is the greatest city to run through. I've said before that Boston is the best running city/community, but if your goal is to be distracted while miles fly by, NYC is the place to be. From landmarks to skyscrapers to famous parks to riverfront paths, there's never a dull moment on an NYC run and I'm so lucky to be able to enjoy this town on foot.

  5. Most things take up just fractions of time. This one is confusing, but hear me out. As I finished the run, I realized that running a marathon is a HUGE accomplishment for lots of people, myself included. When you tell people you ran a marathon, it usually produces a "wow" reaction. However, I was done the marathon by 10:30am and while it was painful at times, it really was just 3.5 hours of my day, and then it was over. That's less than 15% of an entire day to accomplish something that many people think they could never do. I'm not saying that more people should run marathons, or that it's easy, but often we build things up in our mind assuming they'll be way harder and more significant than they actually are. Boil things down to a percentage of a day, and you should be able to convince yourself that you can endure pain or frustration or complete a task you're not comfortable with, knowing it will be over fairly soon.

I hope everyone had as enjoyable a weekend as I did.

Cheers and thanks for reading,

Mike

The view of the Freedom Tower early on a Saturday morning looking North on West St.