A lot of marathoners complain about the LSR — the long, slow run — but those runs are what I live for, the runs that make me not just like running but have me addicted to the sport. Of course, that might be the difference between someone who finishes a marathon and thinks, “I wonder if I can do that faster?” and someone like me who thinks, “I wonder if I can go even farther?”
While I love all my long runs, the runs I revel in are the ones that take me somewhere new: when running goes past exercise or even moving meditation and becomes exploration. I love turning down a street and staring down the length of an avenue I’ve never seen, passing through the shadows of foreign churches and housing projects, watching the skin tones and languages and food and the clothing and style of housing change from one neighborhood to the next.
This Sunday was one of those long runs, and its been a while. Most of my long runs during my ultra training have been local and meandering, many of them involving circling Prospect Park again and again. Since the Marathon on the 23rd, I hadn’t had a good long run at all. I spent the week after the race mending my knee, then the long weekend of Thanksgiving was a lot of time with my partner and kids and taking it easy. Last weekend I just fit in 10 miles, so I was really anticipating my scheduled 20 miles Sunday. When I started running, it helped me kick the tail-end of my addiction to cigarettes, but there’s no denying the shift involved trading one compulsion for another: 14 days after running a marathon, I felt twitchy from not having run any long distances “recently.” I also was starting to feel a bit anxious in terms of my training, since January 7th is fast approaching .
When thinking about my run beforehand, I wanted something the opposite of the Brooklyn Marathon — instead of looping the same area, I wanted to go as far as possible. Before my run I went on line, and looked at points about 10 miles from our apartment. One option was the Western Tip of the Rockaways, somewhere I’d never been before. I had a destination — I threw my camera and some gels in my Camelback and headed off.
It was a perfect winter day for a run: clear and crisp. For the first twenty minutes or so I a ran through familiar ground, west three blocks to Nostrand, then south along Nostrand towards Eastern Parkway. I crossed the Parkway, and a few blocks further came to Empire State Boulevard. Here I turn East to head to my school, or West to head to Prospect Park. I’d never continued South before, so from here on everything was new.
My route was simple: head south on Nostrand to Flatbush, turn right, and continue south-east on Flatbush until it ended. I ran through Crown Heights, then at the edge of Ditmas Park, turned on Flatbush at the Triangle Shopping Center. From there Ditmas faded into Flatlands; the surrounding buildings grew shorter and the number of restaurants with parking-lots and drive-thrus increased as New York’s public-transportation thinned towards the further reaches of the borough.
When I passed the King Plaza Mall, the city came to an abrupt halt. Avenue U marked the end of apartments and corner stores, and beyond it was water and trees, empty fields and water. I had no idea where I was at the time, but later found out Marine Park was to my right, Mill Basin to my left. Eventually the sidewalk became unkempt, more shattered concrete than actual path, and I had to cross the on-ramps to the Belt Parkway.
Flatbush continued on the other side of the Parkway, and my broken sidewalk met up with the Jamaica Bay Bike path as it passed Floyd Bennett Field, which seemed to be a jumble of wilderness preserve, dilapidated and graffiti covered warehouses, and abandoned airstrips that had been repurposed for amateur drag-racing. Past Floyd Bennett Field, Flatbush finally ended in the Gil Hodges Bridge. The bridge spanned the mouth of Jamaica, and as I ran across it I had a fabulous panorama of the Brooklyn shore and the borough’s skylines in the distance: the Citi Bank tower north in Queens, the Williamsburg Bank tower in downtown Brooklyn, and behind it all the towers of Manhattan, clearly identifiable even at this distance. Nearer, Coney Island was visible on the other side of the bay.
On the far side of the bridge was the narrow peninsula of the Rockaways. At the point I was headed for the land was less than half-a-mile wide, so I could see the beach on this side of the bay and, on the other side of the thin strip of streets and houses, the Atlantic Ocean. I ran off the bridge by Jacob Riis Park, and the area felt very un-New York: deserted and dilapidated in a way that felt more mid-Western than East Coast. I walked along the shore for a few minutes, finished the last of my HEED, then turned around and headed back home.
Because my route was out and back, my return was obviously identical to the way out, only with the light and shadows shifting with the advance of the sun. I had used up all my gels and drink getting there, so when I got back to Avenue U, I stopped into a store to pick up some coconut water and a power bar. A few miles later I was still starving, and craving real food, so I decided if I was training for an ultramarathon, I might as well try fueling like a crazy ultra-runner (ultra-runners tend to eat really weird things on their runs). So somewhere around 3 hours into my run I stopped into a pizza shop, grabbed a slice, and ate it as I continued to run. It turns out that it is not, in fact, that hard to eat a slice of pizza while running — and sure beat downing any more sticky sweet gels.
As I ran and ate, I started thinking about Jesse Scott’s insistence that he ran better when fueling on crap like Twizzlers and Slushies, and suddenly had an intense craving for a Slushie. I knew there was a gas-station mini-mart at Atlantic Avenue, and for the next two miles I couldn’t think of anything other than an ice-cold Cherry Coke Slushie. Slushie in hand I continued home, and discovered a new danger on long-runs: brain-freeze.
I had a great time on this run, and succeeded in working in all my ultra-lessons that I learned during the Brooklyn Marathon. I kept up a slow but steady pace, and I every thirty minutes I stopped and walked for two minutes. I also stopped to take pictures every so often, or whenever I just wanted to look around. It took me around 4 hours to run 22 miles, which is close to my average pace during the marathon, but instead of doing the first half fast and the second half injured, I did the whole thing slow and ended feeling strong. And as much as I enjoy the social aspect of a race, I really love four hours being alone in my head and body.
I realize its been two and a half weeks since I’ve written any posts — heck, this run is a week old by now. Between school, kids, and some craziness that will either involve us finally closing on our house and moving before Christmas or else homeless for new years, I’ve had no time to keep people update on my ultra-training. My 50K is just under 4 weeks away, and my 22 miles last weekend left me feeling pretty strong and ready, as long as I remember to keep things slow and just enjoy myself. I hope to get a few more posts in before then, but I won’t promise anything.