Sunrise Over the East River (12.5 Miles)

By the time the sun finally peeked over the sprawling expanse of Queens, I’d already run six miles, with a little more than six miles left to go until I reached my school.  I checked my watch: a little before six thirty.  I was right on schedule.


Ever since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve loved the idea of running to work, but it just didn’t seem workable — I already get up at 4:50 every morning just to get out the door by 6 so I can be at work around 7:30.  Back when we lived in Washington Heights, I did most of my running before work, but the prospect of setting my alarm for a few minutes before five has always been onerous enough without trying to squeeze any more time out of the pre-dawn hours.  I ran home from work a few times last semester, but I didn’t finish the 15 mile route until almost six, and the one time I did run to my school, it was on a professional day when I didn’t have to report until 9:30.

Since Angelica has come home, I’ve kept up my running, but now that I’ve returned to school, I’ve worried about I am going to fit long-runs in with working full time and hurrying home to relieve a somewhat overwhelmed partner from a day of full-tilt toddler and newborn.

It turns out that Angelica herself provided the solution all of these quandaries.  M and I have divided the night feedings between us, with M taking Angelica at 11 right before going to bed, and my getting her for her early-morning meal, which tends to be around 4 am.  For the last few nights, I’ve gotten up with Angelica at 4, fed her, had a cup of coffee while surfing the internet, then taken her with me while walking the dog.  By the time we’ve returned around 5 or 5:30, she’s out again, so I’ve set her back in the co-sleeper, had my breakfast while browsing online, then headed to work.

But I started thinking: I was already up at 4 and Angelica was back asleep by 5 or shortly after.  Since I didn’t have to leave for work until 6, I could fit in a run!  I’d never been able to force myself out of bed that early, but now I didn’t have a choice but to be up.  In the extra half hour or so I could easily run 3 or 4 miles.  Then I wondered– what time would I have to be out the door to make it my school on time?  When I’d run home before, I’d followed 1st Avenue in all the way down to the Manhattan Bridge then through Brooklyn, which I realized was longer than necessary.  I checked how long the route would be if I instead ran north to the Queensborough Bridge: a little over 12 miles, a distance I could easily cover in 2 hours.  If I left my house by 5:30, I could be at my school by 7:30, more than enough time to grab something to eat, change clothes, and be ready for town-hall at 8:05, provided I had everything set up for first period the night before.

All this thinking took place Wednesday, and I was so excited about the prospect of running to work that I could hardly wait until Friday.  It’s funny: all my co-workers have been sympathizing with me over the fact that Angelica was getting me up so early, and now I was looking forward to it, even setting my alarm for 3:55 in case she decided to sleep too much – if she woke up at 4:30, I’d still get no sleep but not have enough time to get in my run.  To most people, a 12 mile run at 5:30 sounds like torture; to me, it sounded like the best possible way to start the day.

I didn’t have enough time to waste any of it, so last night I prepared everything I could.  I laid out my clothes and packed the few things I’d need into my running bag.  I blended a smoothie to drink while I was feeding Angelica and stuck it in the refrigerator, then set up the coffee pot. The next morning everything went perfectly: Angelica and I both drank our breakfasts at the same time, then she fell asleep again while we were walking the dog.  By a few minutes before 5:30, I was on the sidewalk, running towards the Bronx.

For the first two or three miles, I ran in the dark, but by the time I reached the edge of Greenpoint the sky was already beginning to lighten in the East.  As always, dawn comes on faster than one expects, with the line between the dark azure that ends of night and the pale bleached tones that proceed the sun blurring with unconscious rapidity; one moment I was running in the dim pre-dawn shadows, the next I was descending the Pulaski bridge into Queens in the clean white light of morning.

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I followed Jackson Avenue through Long Island City, circling around the City Bank Tower and the growing number of early commuter on the sidewalk as I headed towards Jericho Turnpike and the pedestrian access to the Queensborough Bridge.  As I stopped to turn back and take in the view of Queens spreading out towards the horizon, the first fiery edge of the sun finally crested the tops of the endless expanse of rooftops.  Crossing the bridge to 59th Street in Manhattan was the half-way point, and despite a little less than five hours of sleep, I felt fantastic.  I’ve always been a morning person, and moving through the cool hours of dawn with a purpose isn’t exhausting, its exhilarating.

In Manhattan, I turned north onto 1st Avenue for nearly four miles, following 1st from 59th street all the way to 126th street.  Mid-town East faded into the Upper East Side, then Spanish Harlem, then Manhattan ended at the river and I had to follow the curve of the island west to 3rd Avenue where I crossed into the Bronx, my fourth borough of the morning.  The sun was pale and yellow and fully above the skyline as I crossed Bruckner Boulevard and onto Morris Avenue, my final thoroughfare before my destination.  The last mile or so sloped upwards from the river, then I turned onto 161st looking to make the run an even 12.5 miles, which ended me just at 161st and Sherman Avenue.  It was almost exactly 7:30, which meant I still had 35 minutes before town-hall, so I grabbed a Gatorade from a bodega and went to track down some breakfast.  For the last 90 minutes I’d been fantasizing about a steaming plate of mangu con huevos y queso, which in my mind is the perfect post-long-run meal.


At some point, about half-way through the run, I had a sudden realization: I can do this.  Not the run — I obviously knew I could do that– but training for an ultramarathon.  I’d never actually doubted it, but I’d never fully believed it either, and there is a substantial difference between lack of doubt and actual belief.  The distances I wasn’t worried about, but it was the practical aspect, finding out when and how to fit the multiple long runs into my life, that had been the real question, and I’d just found the answer.  “I can do this,” and the sudden flash of certainty gave me goose-bumps.  I still don’t know what race exactly I’m going to do, but today’s run gave me a similar boost of confidence to the one I’d had after the marathon: if I can finish a marathon, I can do anything.  If I can run 12.5 miles to work, I can do anything, its just a matter of wanting it enough to work hard enough to get it.  I walked through the cool morning air to get my breakfast brimming over with energy and expectation, and the glow lasted through most of the rest of the day.  I remembered how running my first half-marathon almost killed me; now, running the same distance left me invigorated. And even my second period class couldn’t take that away.

Distance: 12.5 miles          Time: 1:56:13

About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
This entry was posted in Bridges of NYC, Goals, Long Runs, Morning Runs, Practical Runs, Runs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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