Circling The Park (21.5 miles)

I think I’m going to shelve the video update idea after only one entry; I’m not really a “vlog” sort of person, as I’m much more given to the rumination and rambling parallelisms of prose than the perfunctory concision needed for video. That, and unless I wanted to record them all with a toddler crawling on my head shouting, “What you doing daddy?” I have to wait until the kids are asleep, and by that point I’m an exhausted, semi-coherent mess.


Right now I’m two and half weeks into my ultra training. Week two I made all my scheduled runs, if not quite all the miles. Ever since I started six years ago it I’ve found running addictive, but it always surprises me how the addiction only grows the more you feed it. A month or so ago I started feeling anxious if I missed a long run; two weeks into training, and I’m already at the point where I feel lazy by noon of one of my two rest days. I ran seven miles each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, woke up Friday and was disappointed that I was going to bike to work rather than run. If I hadn’t had a 24 mile run scheduled for Saturday, I probably would have . . . and that’s how over-training injuries happen.

As I said when I signed up for my 50K, my goal is to do most of the runs, knowing full well I’ll be fitting them around a life of two kids and teaching, so that my plan is to be flexible. I assumed I wouldn’t get in all 24 miles Saturday, but my goal was to do as many as I could squeeze in to the day. Nat had a play-date with is best friend at noon, so I ran the four miles there in the morning and hung out with Angelica, M, and the other family at a Fall Festival. After two hours of pumpkins and candy and running around the playground, M headed off with Angelica and I bundled Nat back in the stroller for a less-than-direct trip home.

I had no Garmin, so I decided to judge my run by time. M easy pace for long runs is a remarkably consistent 9:30-10 minute mile, so I headed towards Prospect Park to do a number of loops on the ring-road. One lap is 3.35 miles, so I thought I’d do three loops and see how things were going. Nat was out within half-an-hour, and so I settled into a steady pace and just kept going. In 2008, I did the 18 mile marathon tune-up run in Central Park, and the three loops about made me go insane. Since then, I’ve settled into loving long runs, and even to some extent loving the repetition of long laps. Prospect Park is beautiful in the fall, with trees overhanging the road decked out in autumnal oranges and yellows and browns. There is the long, steep climb towards the top of the park as the road rings the great lawn, and the reciprocal curving slope towards the pond at the southern end. I started my run at 2, and as the afternoon progressed I watched the late-October sun sink towards the West, the light growing paler as the shadows cast by the trees stretched longer and longer across the road. Even though it was only three laps, after the second I was already beginning to lose track of the count: was this still my second, or was I on my third? I had to use the light and memories of passing people who stood out to keep track: the first time I passed the Picnic House there was the guy with the jogging stroller, last time there were the two jack-ass executive-type cyclists: that means this must be lap three.

After three laps, one is not only more familiar with the route, but also one’s fellow runners as a few faces pass by again and again: the other long-distance fanatics, the runners getting in their last long run before tapering for next weeks marathon. They have that far-off stare in their eyes, an intensity in their limbs, and are usually the one’s still wearing small shorts and tank-tops in the chilly autumn air. Casual runners are starting to move towards sweat-pants and gloves already, though honestly a few miles of moderate effort render them quite superfluous anytime its above freezing. I try to catch the eyes of my fellow endurance freaks, to get that smile and nod of understanding, but by definition most intense long-distance runners don’t really tent do acknowledge anyone else’s presence. Which is too bad, since I like to smile and make contact while running, but there’s a reason the Run Smiley members tends to paint themselves as outside the mainstream, and it isn’t just lingering high-school angst (though I suspect there’s a but of that, too).

Three full laps put me back where we entered the park, at the edge of Park Slope, so it took another half a loop to exit at Empire Boulevard to the East. As I returned along Eastern Parkway, my watch told me I was going to be a bit shy of three hours, so went a few avenues past our regular turning point to Troy, then headed north towards Bed-Stuy. Nat woke up about a half-hour before we reached home, and so I ended the run chatting with him as he pointed out airplanes and doggies and graffiti murals (“Look daddy! Someone drew pictures on the wall! We don’t draw pictures on the wall!”) I slowed to a walk three blocks from home to cool down, which disappointed Nat who wanted to still “go fast.” I checked the distance when I got home, and I’d done 21.5 miles in 3.5 hours, which was almost exactly what I’d figured it would be.


21.5 miles ties the longest I’ve ever run, not counting my two marathons. I was particularly pleased that it hadn’t seemed that long or that hard, and there was no real recovery – it seems that jumping into week 12 of my training program will work fine. The last few times I’ve done 20 or more miles have all been towards the end of training for the marathon, so it feels good to be able to knock off 22 miles without 10 weeks of actual training behind me. I was supposed to do a 5 mile recovery run the next day, but settled for 3 in the interest of spending time together as a family, and my legs were tired but not sore, so I’m also recovering fast. In fact, I woke up Monday to bike to work, and had to fight the impulse to put on my shoes and run.


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.
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