As a youngster, I would get home from School, get changed and go out to play with my pals.
Now I'm older, I get home from work, get changed and go out to play with my pals, but now I call it training.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So good they named it twice

During these last 15 years or so of being a runner I have many great memories of places I've ran and individual runs I have completed;

  • My debut (and fastest ever) marathon in London 2004  
  • 2009 Boston marathon, 
  • the 2005 Derwentwater 10, 
  • my wins in Langdale Marathon 2007 and in the Lakeland 50mile Ultra 2012 
  • and of course more recently, my Bob Graham Round.

then last week one simple 8 miler sneaked its way onto the list.

I was enjoying a fabulous trip to New Yorks Manhattan island. It was a holiday first and foremost but as almost always, I like to run on holiday, if not quite train properly. 

Having been to the city twice previously, I had only ran there once - in the NYC Marathon, which, was a fantastic experience I will long remember. But it was a poor performance by me that day so doesn't rank so highly in my all time list.

Having grown up seeing the skyscrapers of New York on TV, when I first got there and saw the city skyline from the aeroplane window I was somewhat excited to see it for real. Then we took a cab from the airport and saw very little more until going out onto the balcony of the hotel, when 

BAM

Times Square was right there in front of me. Electronic billboards flashing, so many, so bright, they dazzled. And leading away into the distance was Broadway and 7th Ave, lined with high rises.  

I was so excited!

Later, when running the marathon through Brooklyn, I looked across to my left and noted the Manhattan skyline again - The mass of tall buildings  downtown then a bit of a lull as you looked North, until midtown where the Empire State Building stands proudly above all others. North of there  toward the Park and once again the towers are numerous, filling the sky. 

In Manhattan I am the absolute epitome of a tourist. Craning my neck as I gaze upward on every corner, camera clicking away endlessly at yellow taxi cabs and iconic buildings.

But one thing I hadn't done was set foot off the island of Manhattan. And although I had seen the famous bridges from a distance and had been driven below their massive on/off ramps on a bus tour, I knew that more than anything else this trip I wanted to run over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

Earlier in the holiday I'd been in Chinatown and noted the start of the long ramp up onto the Manhattan Bridge, so I knew exactly where I needed to go to leave Manhattan. And I presumed that once in Brooklyn I would easily locate the 'on' for the Brooklyn bridge to get me back again.

It ended up being the final full day of the holiday when I got to do the run. I had been for one run already, a superb 12 mile tour all the way around the Southern half which saw me finishing as it grew dark - the buildings of Manhattan becoming illuminated one by one to my right as I ran North, whilst to my left was the Hudson with the Jersey shore across the water.  A fantastic run itself, but nothing compared to my Two Bridges run.....

I set off at 0630 to allow better progress through what would be very busy streets if I had waited til later. It had been well below freezing overnight and was not due to raise above zero at all that day. I had a hat and gloves and also my lightweight waterproof but no tights. My legs were very red very quickly.

It was about 3 miles to Canal St in Chinatown. 40 odd streets to cross but luckily only about 2 where I had to wait for traffic before crossing. There were very few people around. The sun hadn't yet shown its face but it was light. This 3 miles was itself was a memorable route as I ran right past the front doors of the Empire State and the Flatiron buildings. New Yorkers were few and far between at this time on a Sunday, and apart from those couple of busy roads it felt a bit like the Will Smith movie where he is the only non zombie person living there. 

Despite being on the pedestrian walkway over Manhattan Bridge, it was an age before I was anywhere near the water it crossed. Looking down through the fence were 3 and 4 story buildings with windows facing the bridge, which if a person should look out of, all they would really see would be a mass of ironwork towering way above them, blocking out the sun. 

Getting onto the bridge proper coincided with my first glimpse of the sun that day. It was to my left through the iron girders of the bridge so was constantly dazzling me then disappearing as I ran on. It was to be a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and scarcely a cloud  - thus, the reflections in the building of downtown Wall St area were blinding as I looked out to my right across the water. 

Then a subway train came over the lower deck which was at the same level as my walkway. It seems almost ridiculous now to talk about it but even this was incredibly exciting at the time. I was awestruck (as well as quite cold) and in my excitement managed to 'video' the passing train without pressing 'record'. oops!

Then I began the second half of the bridge, downhill into Brooklyn. I was leaving Manhattan, on foot, but only briefly.

In Brooklyn it got much colder due to absolutely no sun managing to get between the buildings to light and warm me up. I stopped to check the satnav on my phone and quickly found the pedestrian start point onto the Brooklyn Bridge. 

It curves around gently left until you suddenly get your first glimpse of one of the stone towers that hold the whole thing up. There was a sense of anticipation within me. Would it be as good as I hoped? Would it be everything I expected? or would it be like the Manhattan bridge where you can only see properly in one direction and then only through the wire?

And then I was on it. I was running across the Brooklyn Bridge!

It was absolutely fantastic! Much better the Manhattan Bridge. The walkway was the highest deck with cars passing either side and below. The sides were about waist height, so apart from the suspension wires I had clear views in every direction. The deck was reminiscent of a pier, made of thick planks with some decent sized gaps between them. It felt very old fashioned compared to the utilitarian narrow concrete fenced in access across the Manhattan bridge. 

With still very few people around, perhaps about 4 on the bridge the whole time I was on it, I realised that by propping my phone up on a seat  I could then video myself running. I've no idea how busy it might be in the middle of a typical day, but I don't imagine it would be a wise idea to leave an iPhone in plain sight then run off into the distance.

It was almost a sadness to finally run off the bridge and back into the streets of Manhattan. But it had been incredibly cold, and continually taking off gloves to use the camera meant my hands were close to numb. So it was nice to get running properly again and be warmed a little.

The few miles retracing back to my hotel were still weirdly quiet with just the occasional shopowner setting up. Back in the hotel lobby I must have looked like a crazy Englishman with my bare red legs and short shorts when it was minus whatever outside. But hey, I didn't care, I had just completed a run of my life, had just fulfilled an ambition of the last few years and it had been everything I imagined and much much more.

It may come as a surprise to learn that a through and through Cumbrian fell-loving chap like me could bear to run at all in a city like New York. But much as I love Cumbria, I love running, anywhere. And to be able to do it in such an iconic place, a place I have spent my whole life seeing on TV, films and magazines was just the most amazing thing to be able to do.

Running frees you. Running opens up possibilities.  90mins of running exploring a new place shows you what might take 4-5 hours by walking. Running is so much more than a way to keep fit.

and New York is so much more than a big American City.



The Strava GPS for the run is here
http://app.strava.com/activities/96827110

and below is a la'al video I made from my running clips and some photos. (handily, Jay Z and Alicia Keys were sat picnicking on the Brooklyn Bridge when I was there so I asked them to sing that song. He was a bit off with me but she couldn't have been nicer and duly obliged).............

video