Friday, January 8, 2016

The Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition

Hey there friends, acquaintances, and random internet people. I thought I'd start this little blog to keep everyone updated on my running activities.

To start things off right, I figured I'd repost a race report from my first (and so far only) 100 miler. Stay tuned for further race reports, training logs, and whatever else pops into my head.


TGNY Starting Line (look at how young and naive we all are!)

This past weekend 6/20-6/21, I fortunate enough to participate in the 4th running of The Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition. This was my first 100 miler, and the long rambling post below is an attempt to organize my thoughts about the experience. Most photos were (shamelessly) stolen from Henning Lauridsen's race report which can be found here. Enjoy!

For the first few months of 2015, I loosely followed Pfitzinger's 18/70 plan to prepare for the NJ Marathon in April. After that race, I stopped doing speed workouts and ran a few tune-up races, including The North Face Bear Mountain 50 on 5/2 and the Mayapple 100K on 5/30. This was an ambitious training plan, but (a) I like racing ultras and (b) I tend to recover pretty well after races.

The Course:
Urban ultras tend to consist of multiple loops around well-controlled areas. But race directors Phil Mcarthya and Trishul Chernsb had other ideas. The course for TGNY100 is a massive single loop, covering 4 of the 5 NYC boroughs and following sidewalks, bike paths, trails, and bridges throughout the city. The course was marked with yellow arrows spray painted on the ground, and runners were given turn-by-turn directions to follow from the start. The course was not blocked off from traffic, so we were encouraged to place our safety before our time. Getting lost would be part of the adventure, or so the race directors told us.
TGNY Course (clockwise along red route)

My Plan:
As I mentioned, this was my first 100 miler, so I was reluctant to have a goal time other than the 30 hour cutoff. However, I wanted to have a loose schedule for my pacers and support crew to follow. I settled on a plan to run positive splits, which is typical in 100+ mile races. The idea is that 12 hours of running is tiring regardless of your pace, so you should get the miles in while your legs are fresh. This meant that I would run an 11-12min/mi pace for the first 50mi, and then slow to 13-15min/mi for the second 50mi. This gave me a projected finish time of 20-24 hours. I would pick up pacers after the 100K mark, which I hoped would help with my motivation and navigation. Since few of my pacers had experience with long distance running they split the final 40-ish miles into 5 mile sections between aid stations, and they each ran one or more section with me.

Miles 0-26:
The weather in the week before the race was hot and humid, hovering around 85o F or more. On the day of the race, the gods of ultra running would smile upon us and provide 68o - 72o F and cloudy weather from start to finish. Things were already looking promising.

We got to the starting line in Times Square around 4:30AM, which is a fascinating time of day to be in Times Square. There was a stark contrast between us racers, in our bright spandex gear and hydration packs, and the hundreds of still-drunk people milling around after their nights on the town. One guy in particular, standing in the bathroom line at McDonalds,c seemed especially amused with the water bottles on my race vest and apparently thought that I had worn it to a club ("Look at this dude! Now he's ready to go.").

At 5:05, after waiting for a backhoe to roll through our intersection (already a unique experience), we were off! The eventual race winner took off like a shot at an 8min/mi pace. A few people tagged along close behind him, caught up in the excitement. I held back as much as possible, but still ran a few sub-10min miles. Oh well. I settled into a more reasonable 11min/mi pace as the sun came up and the course worked its way north through Central Park, past Grant's Tomb,d and under the George Washington Bridge.

Somewhere early in the race when I was still happy
The course continued northward into the Bronx, meandering through a wonderfully soft trail in Van Cortland Park before heading back south on bike paths through Bronx Park and then eastward to Pelham Bay Park. Miles 22-26 were an out and back section to Orchard Beach where I had an opportunity to see the runners ahead of me and behind me. During this whole time, my support crew was hopping from one aid station to the next, filling my water bottles with Tailwind, pouring flat Coca Cola into dixie cups, and getting gingerbread cookies ready for me (seriously, if you guys haven't tried gingerbread during long runs, you're missing out).

Miles 26-62:
At mile 35, we crossed the RFK (formerly Triboro) Bridge from the Bronx to Randall's Island and ran under the approach to the Hell Gate Bridge, which looks like a giant cathedral from underneath. We then got back on the RFK and headed eastward into Astoria Queens. This bridge crossing, though acrophobia-inspiring, offered my favorite view of the day. To the right was the Manhattan skyline, shrouded in low hanging clouds. To the left were the Randall's Island sports fields and Astoria Park. Directly below was 140 feet of air and the ultramarine waters of the East River.

Crossing the RFK Bridge from Randall's Island into Queens
I was still plugging along at my 11min/mi pace and feeling good as we ran eastward through some uninspiring sections of Queens, past LaGuardia Airport, along Flushing Bay, and next to the Cross Island Parkway. Near mile 50, we went through Alley Pond Park, which was a welcome relief from the noise and traffic of the preceding 15 miles. I hit mile 50 at about 9h20m, (11:12/mi), still feeling good and well within the goal pace that I had set for myself.

I should mention that up until this point, I had not gotten off-course at all. I should also mention, that I always get off-course. As a matter of fact, my wife was so worried about my route finding abilities that she spent hours and hours making direction bracelets for me to wear while running (similar to pace bracelets, but with the turn by turn directions written on them). Now back to the race, where your narrator is smugly congratulating himself for not getting lost.

The course worked its way back west into Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, former home of the worlds fair.e I got off course for a few minutes in the wide, meandering pathway leading up to the Unisphere. Luckily for me, it's easy to spot a 140-foot-tall globe in the middle of a park, and I eventually got back on track. Unfortunately, there was a music festival in the park, and the resulting tents, stages, etc. covered up a bunch of the precious yellow arrows leading away from the Unisphere. Worse yet, the course went through a roped off area, and I was forced to find my way around. At this point, I ran into Bradford, who is a certified badass and has run Badwater 135, Brazil 135, and many 100 milers. He was having a bad day, having slipped from second place to ninth, and we chatted while we slowly figured out the course. After a few slow uphill miles, we reached the 100K aid station in Forest Park at 12h07m (11:43/mi), where we each met our pacers.
The Unisphere at Flushing Meadows Park

Miles 62-90:
As with every other aid station, I swapped out water bottles, chugged some Coca Cola, and munched on whatever looked appetizing (mostly just watermelon at this point). Unlike other aid stations, I got to bring a friend (my first pacer Julie, a marathon runner and my awesome mother-in-law) with me for the next section. And just in time, because my legs were starting to feel pretty tired. I was able to run for a few miles at a time, but walked every uphill section. I also began to redefine what I considered "uphill" (this bump in the sidewalk is a hill, right?). Julie and I trotted through 4 uneventful suburban miles heading south through Queens before I picked up my second pacer, Kate and crossed the Addabbo Bridge. In training, I had run across this bridge and wondered if the strong smell of fish would make me nauseous. As it turns out, my own stench was much stronger, and I believe my sense of smell shut down in protest. Lucky me. Poor everyone else. (Kate is a doctor, and would later tell me that my smell was comparable to a rotting corpse. Sorry Kate!)

At mile 70, I switched pacers again and finally got to run with my favorite pacer, my wife Alex! She was thankfully feeling much more cheery than I was. As we ran, she regaled me with stories from earlier in the day, updated me on the other runners, and informed me that I was miraculously in 9th place out of 67 starters! With renewed vigor, I decided I was going to shoot for sub-20 hours. That plan was short lived. At the next aid station (mile 75) I stood around for a little too long and my -everything- tightened up. Hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves, everything suddenly felt like hell. I stretched for a minute and then hobbled away to cross the Marine Parkway Bridge at a snail's pace. After a staggering through few 15+ minute miles with my new pacer Julie, I told her to call the support crew and tell them that we would be late to the next aid station and that 20 hours was off the table. We slowly made our way to the mile 80 aid station at Sheepshead Bay.

Coney Island at night. The slats in the boardwalk are deceivingly uneven.
My pacer for the next leg was my mom, who is legendary for her story telling abilities. Although I was in a lot of pain at this point, the miles seemed a little quicker with her talking to me. We were made our way down the Coney Island boardwalk, when she tripped in what seemed like slow motion and almost face-planted. From the ground, she laughed and said she was okay, and I trotted ahead while she got to her feet. She was right in the middle of describing her fall when whumph! she went down again. Again came an "I'm okay" as I trotted on. To onlookers, I was the worst son in the world, running ahead while my mom was lying on the ground. A young Hispanic guy came running over saying "Ay mami, are you okay?" We found this hilarious as we continued onward.

For miles 85-90, I ran with Derek, a college buddy who I knew I could depend on for tough encouragement (and since we were in Brooklyn, possibly for protection). We ran/walked on a dark bike path along the shore parkway and under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge while we talked about life and beer and whatever else popped into our minds. Derek had joked earlier that this was actually a 40 mile relay and I was the baton. We found this endlessly amusing in the dark. This would be the last leg of the course where I did any significant running.

Miles 90-101:
After picking up Julie for her third and final pacing leg, I decided to just power walk the rest of the course. My legs were shot, and my feet hurt from the constant pounding. I found that I could maintain a consistent 16-17min/mi pace just by walking. I set a new goal for sub-22 hours, and some quick race math showed this to be just barely within the realm of possibility. As we walked north along the bustling streets of Brooklyn, I was passed by two runners in race vests and a biker, who I assumed was their pacer. So long, top ten finish, I thought as we made our way to the Columbus Park aid station at mile 95. I asked Julie to run ahead and tell the support crew to get my water, food, etc. ready so I wouldn't have to stop. My legs had been tightening up whenever I stopped, and I wanted to avoid the usual aid station inertia anyway.

This plan worked well, as I picked up Alex again, and we made our way toward the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked up to the apex the bridge, and I managed to break into a feeble run going down the other side. My run ended when the bridge did, and we walked up Centre Street, slowly climbing northward back toward Times Square. Every 5 minutes, I asked Alex how much distance was left and what time it was, and then my tired brain tried to figure out what pace we needed to keep moving. Each time, I got more and more optimistic that I could break 22 hours. With 1.5 miles left, we turned onto Broadway with almost 30 minutes until the 22 hour mark. I'm sure we passed many famous landmarks, but they were all a blur as we surged (very slowly) ahead.

With less than a mile to go, the lights in Times Square came into view. Each passing city block became a new victory. With a few blocks left, I started to run again, clenching my fists so tightly that they hurt. My GPS shows that I was briefly under a 10min/mi pace, but it felt like a dead sprint. It might as well have been the final lap of a 1500m race. The finish line finally came into view and, in a spectacularly anticlimactic ending, I had to wait at a cross walk (did I mention the course was not blocked off from traffic at all?). I was champing at the bit, and when the last car finally passed, I sprinted like a madman toward the finish, smiling and crying and just generally looking like a mess.
Waiting at a crosswalk 200 feet from the finish line

I crossed the finish line at 21h53m in ninth placef and immediately began sobbing into my wife's shoulder while she celebrated for both of us. I sat at the finish line for 30 minutes watching the next few racers come in while I ate a glorious slice of pizza (my first real food in almost 24 hours) and iced my very swollen feet.

Relieved to be finished!
Two days after the race, I posted the following message to the TGNY Facebook page, which I think sums up my thoughts on the race.

TGNY100 was the hardest thing I have ever done. I have never felt that tired, sore, and emotionally drained in a race. I slept all day on Sunday, and I'm still having trouble walking and forming coherent sentences. I guess what I'm saying is this: when does registration open for next year's race?
[note: I am now signed up for TGNY 2016!]

Partial GPS logs of the race can be found here and here.

This race was made possible by my pacers and support crew, a small army of friends and family whose responsibilities I outlined thusly in their pre-race instructions:

  • Alex - crew chief (pacer for 10 miles) - has final say in all race decisions; occasionally kisses me
  • Kate - medic (5 miles) - in charge of keeping me not dead
  • Derek - senior morale officer (5 miles) - in charge of "boy encouragement" and music at aid stations
  • Mom - co-hydration/nutrition specialist (5 miles) - prepares food 'n shit; throws wet rags at me
  • Julie -  co-hydration/nutrition specialist (15 miles) - see above
  • Dave - crew transportation technician (drove the support vehicle) - oversees navigation and coordination of crew vehicles

Thanks guys! It takes a village to get a runner through 100 miles and you were all fantastically supportive, both physically and emotionally.

I would also like to thank Phil and Trishul for organizing this crazy-ass race, as well as Tommy Pyon (the 2013, 2014, and 2015 race winner) and Grant McKeown for leading our training runs.

  • Watch - Suunto Ambit2 S
  • Pack - Ultimate Direction SJ Vest with two 20oz. UD bottles
  • Nutrition - Tailwind Endurance Fuel (unflavored, 200cal/hour)
  • Shoes - Altra Paradigm 1.0
  • Socks - 4 pairs of Injinji synthetic toe socks


a Phil is the American record holder in the 48 hour timed run, covering 257 miles at the Three Days at the Fair running festival

b Trishul holds many top 10 all time performances at multi-day events, including 6-days, 1000 miles, and 3100 miles

c If you ever have the opportunity to use the McDonald's bathroom in Times Square at 4:30AM on a Saturday, don't. It's not pretty in there.

d Question: Who is buried at Grant's Tomb? Answer: No one, the tomb is above ground. Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

e Which inevitably reminds me of this scene.

f It turned out that, of the three people who had passed me earlier, two were pacers. The racer was a member of the German national 24-hour run team, i.e. a very good runner. 


  1. Very proud of you nephew!! Looking forward to your races this year and to hear more of the cool locations along the way. When do you do Antartica?? On a serious note, listen to your body - these look to be rough and tough adventures and I don't want to see your kneecaps fall off or something funky like that! Sending hydrating wishes! Love and admire you, Aunt Pam

  2. Ryan, just got new brakes and getting new tires on " Support Unit One". We should be good to go for the next race!