The Long Run – The Park and the Bridge

I run for many reasons. To stay fit, to stay thin, to sleep at night, to have time to think, to work at the nearly impossible goal of becoming fast, and to explore.  Exploration can come in different forms. It can be exploring new trails and road, or seeing old roads in a new way.  This weekend’s long run included a bit of both new roads and time spent in familiar places.

Things began with two figure eight loops in Prospect Park.  The figure eight loop takes you down West Drive to Center Drive, across Center to East Drive, where you take a right, cruise past the lake, and up the West Drive hill, then a right back down Center Drive over the East Drive where you take a left and head up Zoo hill.  From my house and around the figure 8 is just over six miles, two of them is makes it just about ten.

The Grand Army Entrance on a perfect early spring day.

The Grand Army Entrance on a perfect early spring day.

I’ve run thousands and thousands of miles in this park — 2,858 actually, according to my running ahead log.  I’ve run through all conditions. I’ve run alone and with friends.  This weekend, it was a prefect early spring day and I did the first loop with my Saturday run buddy, Joe.  We talked about life, love, work and kids.  We talked about running, rock climbing and how fat and old we have become.  It was a great way to spend an hour.

After Joe left, I did another figure 8 alone listening to a mad decent podcast.  The roads were packed with Brooklynites running, walking and cycling.  Kids were pushing scooters; hipsters were riding long boards.  It was all “tres Brooklyn” as, allegedly, the French say.

Two loops equals ten miles.  Three more to go.  I headed down Union street through the heart of strollerfied Park Slope all the way  to the Union Street Bridge and the majestic Gowanus Canal.

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The Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn’s New York’s finest superfund site has been described by the Environmental Protection Agency thus:

The Gowanus Canal, in Brooklyn, New York, is bounded by several communities including Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Canal was once a major transportation route for the then separate cities of Brooklyn and New York City. Manufactured gas plants, mills, tanneries, and chemical plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal.

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You can’t really read it, but there’s a sign in this photo that warns you, among other dangers, not to smoke near the water.

 As a result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation’s most extensively contaminated water bodies. Contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics. The contamination poses a threat  to the nearby residents who use the canal for fishing and recreation.

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This gorgeous piece of waterway is crossed by five bridges. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to run them all.  In fact, inspired by Phil McCarthy’s excellent “Bridge of the Week series” I plan to spend a lot more time exploring the cities bridges. Some of theses bridges, like Union Street are old friends. Others will be new.  I’m looking forward to seeing them all.

After Union Street it was down Nevins to Dean. Its amazing how industrial Nevins still is in this area.  Seven years from now, the fabrication and demolition shops will be apartment buildings people by finance and advertising professionals, just you watch.  I’ll run the street again then, and it will be like exploring a new world.

 

Prospect Park Legends – Felipe Vergara and the Power of Work

I’ve seen Felipe Vergara hundreds of times, but until I read this great article, I didn’t know his name.  I didn’t know he was 49.  I didn’t know that he ran for the elite local club, West Side Runners.  I didn’t know that when I see him in the evenings, I’m seeing him clock his second work-out of the day — the book ends to a full time job as a plumber.  I didn’t know he supports four kids in Mexico, and I didn’t know he runs a 2:45 marathon.

See some great photos of Felipe, and other runners for WSX here.

All I knew was that if I was in the park around seven on a week night, I’d likely see Vergara and a group of other runners, blasting around the loop at a 6:30 or so pace, or stretching and chatting in Spanish near the Parade Ground entrance.  I’d exchange a nod, and that was that.  I didn’t know how hard he had worked that day, both on the roads and at his job, and I didn’t know how fast those hours on the roads had made him.   But I do now, and I’m inspired. 

I hope I get a chance to see him tonight and thank him.

2000 miles in Prospect Park

As I ease back into regular running, I’ve been trying to not obsess over the numbers.  Sure I record the time and distance of my runs, but I haven’t really been digging into the numbers like I do when I am running seriously.  So, today, when I was bored and checking my stats on runningahead I was surprised to discover that somewhere in the last month, I ran my 2,000th mile in the Prospect Park.

2,000 miles around a 3.3 mile loop.  Those aren’t Luis Rios numbers, but I’m still pretty happy with it.  After all those miles, the park is still by far my favorite place to run.  I love see the regulars, and people out for their first jog.  I love running by the drum circle near the Parkside entrance, the cricket games at the top of the hill, and the rasta soccer games off Center Drive.  The park represents all that remains wonderful about Brooklyn – the diversity, the excitement; the people crammed shoulder to shoulder enjoying the largest open space in the borough.  It is an urban wonder that I am lucky enough to live just a half dozen blocks away from.

I’ve run the park loop in the rain at ten o’clock at night, and in the dark of the early, early morning.  I’ve run it when it was over 100 degrees and when the city was battening down for a blizzard, and in all those runs I’ve never gone all 3.3 miles without seeing someone else.  That is what makes this city, and this park, so special to me.  It is alive in a way no other place is, and I cannot wait to see it all again on my next run.

Park Legends: Luis Rios

Park Legends: Luis Rios

Park Legends – An occasional series of posts on people I see often on my runs in Prospect Park.

Luis Rios getting in the miles.

The first time I saw Luis Rios in Prospect Park, I wasn’t sure if he was a runner.  Louis has a longish beard, and was, if memory serves, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and shuffling along at a modest clip.  He could have been someone out for a brisk stroll.  After that first day, about three years ago, as I ran more and more in the park, I saw Luis more and more.  On almost every weekend run, and often during the week, he’d be out there, getting in some miles.  The park in the winter can be a pretty empty place, but I’d always see Luis.  Sometimes he’d be running, sometime walking, almost always in the opposite direction of everyone else.  We never spoke, but he fascinated me.  How was it that I saw the same guy, no matter when I ran in the park?  Overtime, I learned more about Luis.  I learned that he had run numerous ultra marathons, including the legendary Sri Chimnoy six day run in Queens.  That he was a member of the same running club as me, Prospect Park Track Club, and that many runners knew him personally and spoke of his dedication admiringly.

And now the question of why I always see him in the park has been answered by a short New York Times profile.  So many of us see him in the park so often because he is so often there, running in endless circles, sometimes running forty miles in a single day, all of it in laps around the park.  The thought of forty miles of loops in the park fills my heart with dread, but hey, it seems to be working for Luis.

Some have said Luis is obsessed, and that his devotion to running is unhealthy.  Maybe it is.  I’m not one to judge.  All I know is when I see him rounding the bend in front of me, it makes me smile.  I’ve never spoken to Luis, but next time I see him, I think I’ll stop and chat for a while.  Its people like him that make Prospect Park such an amazing place to run.

Trail Running in Prospect Park

I’ve run well over a thousand miles in Prospect Park. Most of those have been on the outer loop. Lately, the loop has been getting a little dull, so yesterday I decided to switch it up. The idea for the run was to not run on the main loop at all, but keep entirely to the trails which crisscross the park. Turns out, this isn’t so easy, but still it was a fun exercise.

There are a large number of trails in the park. Some of them are paved, some of them are dirt, and some of them are paved turning into dirt. The smell of marijuana was thick in some places, and the looks of confused lovers as I barreled past were memorable. This run was scheduled to be 11 miles (I ended up with 10.5), and getting the miles in proved harder than I thought. When you take out the great lawn, the park just isn’t that big. I found myself running into chain link fences, or roundabouts, and having to double back. It proved all but impossible to not be on a main loop for at least part of the run.

 

Still, if was fun. I think I covered a lot of the dirt trails on this run, but not all of them, and I got lost a number of times. I climbed Look Out Hill a couple of times, which put the hurt on the quads. There are some good trails in the area between Flatbush ave and the loop and in the area around Look Out Hill. Not surprising the highest point in Prospect Park doesn’t have a monument or anything, just some overgrown bushes. I still have more to explore around there. I’m looking forward to knowing those interior trails as well as I know every bump of the outer loop.

Trail Running in Prospect Park

I’ve run well over a thousand miles in Prospect Park. Most of those have been on the outer loop. Lately, the loop has been getting a little dull, so yesterday I decided to switch it up. The idea for the run was to not run on the main loop at all, but keep entirely to the trails which crisscross the park. Turns out, this isn’t so easy, but still it was a fun exercise.

 

There are a large number of trails in the park. Some of them are paved, some of them are dirt, and some of them are paved turning into dirt. The smell of marijuana was thick in some places, and the looks of confused lovers as I barreled past were memorable. This run was scheduled to be 11 miles (I ended up with 10.5), and getting the miles in proved harder than I thought. When you take out the great lawn, the park just isn’t that big. I found myself running into chain link fences, or roundabouts, and having to double back. It proved all but impossible to not be on a main loop for at least part of the run.

 

Still, if was fun. I think I covered a lot of the dirt trails on this run, but not all of them, and I got lost a number of times. I climbed Look Out Hill a couple of times, which put the hurt on the quads. There are some good trails in the area between Flatbush ave and the loop and in the area around Look Out Hill. Not surprising the highest point in Prospect Park doesn’t have a monument or anything, just some overgrown bushes. I still have more to explore around there. I’m looking forward to knowing those interior trails as well as I know every bump of the outer loop.

1,000 Miles in Prospect Park

Last night, sometime right around the top of the hill, near the great lawn, I ran my 1,000th mile in Prospect Park. Ok, I have probably run more, in the early days of my running I didn’t keep very good track. When I started running in 2006, I put in my first miles in the park, entering from the Parkside entrance and heading up the hill. I couldn’t make it all the way around the park without stopping. I went to law school in D.C. and only visited the park on the rare occasions when I was back in Brooklyn.

Since returning to New York this past fall, I’ve put in a lot of time in the park. Doing the 3.3 loop, I enter at Grand Army plaza and take a right. Some small rollers as I pass the playground and the band shell, then the ball fields and  the down hill to the lake, around the lake past the drum circle, past the zoo and the botanical gardens, and then up the hill by the great lawn. It is the perfect loop. Some flat, some up, some down, always plenty to see.

I know many of the regulars now. The bearded guy* who, no matter when I get there on the weekend, is run-walking his way around the loop. The small pack of older fast dudes who I always see around seven on week nights; the group of Latino guys who meet by the lake and clock off their miles around a 6:30 pace. We nod to each other acknowledging that we are the ones out here, no matter the weather, getting in our miles, in the greatest urban park in the United States.

Tonight, I think I’ll make it 1008 miles in the park.

* I am dying to know the bearded guys story. I have seen him pictured in some articles about the NYC ultra community. I would approach him, but when I say hello he isn’t particularly friendly.