Yesterday I *officially* completed my first ultra. The Warriors UltraRun was a 30 mile race from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, through Manhattan, and ending at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. We retraced the steps taken by the Warriors gang in the 1979 film by the same name.
The rules were simple: run from Van Cortlandt Park to Coney Island in whichever way you would like, with two stipulations:
/ You needed to pass through both the 96th Street and Union Square subway stations
/ No walking in subway stations
Otherwise, we were free to run however we would like. Being that the race was through Manhattan there were no aid stations, plenty of 24-hour bodegas along the way. Why 24-hour? Because the race began at 1 am.
Prepping for one long night
Backing up for a moment, let’s go back to the Wednesday before the race, September 18, 2019. I woke up that morning not even knowing the race existed and went to sleep having signed up to run an ultra on no training. My two plus decades of running give me a significant base for racing and I’ve been known to sign up for big races with little to no lead-up time, but this was a little much, even for me.
In the previous eight weeks, I had been resting and barely running in order to help heal a pulled hamstring. My weekly mileage was less than this race would be in a single push, but I couldn’t walk away from the chance to run such a historic NYC ultra (historic because of its roots in the movie, the race itself was inaugural). After connecting with the RD, confirming I would run, I switched into planning-mode.
Within the world of running, especially long distance running, planning is everything. I meticulously plan my kit, nutrition, pacing, everything. Granted it rarely goes according to plan, but it’s part of my anxiety coping. If I feel like I’m organized, I’m able to relax and stress less about the race. I picked up a few bits for the race, namely using it as an excuse to finally get some Goodr sunglass I’d been eyeing, and restocked my gels. Nutrition has always been the toughest part of races for me. My body does not like to eat on the run and the majority of gels, chews, etc end up making me very nauseous … or worse. I had some luck with GU energy chews so I went with those, crossing my fingers that they would be good to me. I also packed a few “normal” food bits, like an Uncrustable sandwich and Lara Bar.
Knowing that the race would last all night I tried to catch a few hours of sleep before the start, but it was ineffective. Collectively I napped about 45 minutes and then geared up and spent about two hours pacing around my apartment until it was time to leave. I’ve never been known for my patience, especially when I’m excited about something, and I was very psyched to get going.
One hour long subway ride later and I was arriving at Van Cortlandt Park. Very excited, very nervous.
True to the movie we started the race at 1 am in Van Cortlandt Park. Over loudspeakers RD Todd Aydelotte played the opening conclave scene, with the gunshot that (*spoiler*) kills Cyrus being our start gun. This was the part of the race that concerned me the most, the start and falling into pace groups. Being 5’2″ I was not enthused at the idea of spending 5+ hours running through New York City alone, overnight. This is where the camaraderie of this race really shined for me. By the end of the first mile, I had joined up with four other runners that would become my “gang” for the remainder of the night.
There was Peter (a fellow ultra-novice like myself who was prepping for a 50k), Anna (who chatted with me for over ten miles), Kumi (a veteran-ultra runner who introduced me to Spring, my GI salvation), and Ntino (who’s positive energy got me through my mile 22 bonk).
We left the park and started running down Broadway, the street I would give many miles to over the next few hours. After crossing the Harlem River we veered left and started following Tenth Ave toward Harlem River Dr. This made the first piece of the run absolutely beautiful. It was still pitch black out, with Highbridge Park on our right and the Harlem River and Bronx skyline on our left. While we were technically in Manhattan it didn’t feel like we truly were until we left the riverside.
We broke away from the river and started down Convent Ave, headed toward our first of two checkpoints: 96 Street station. After running eight miles through City College and Columbia University we arrived. Those first eight miles of the run flew by. I was happily and genuinely surprised when my watch buzzed at eight – it felt like we’d been running for two. I took it as a sign that maybe I would feel solid for the whole run (wishful thinking).
After leaving the station we linked back up with Broadway and followed it down to Columbia Circle. This whole time I was feeling great, and as a group we running incredibly steady, staying right around 10:30 to 11 min/mi pace. We crossed off several of the NYC tourist spots, running through a surprisingly busy Time Square…
Getting great views of a lit-up Empire State Building, passing Madison Square Park and its infamous Shake Shack, and running alongside the Flatiron Building. We ended our Broadway stretch at checkpoint number two: Union Square subway station…
After crossing off our two subway stations the rest of the run was completely up to us. After taking about 10 minutes to fuel up, rest, grab waters, and use the facilities we left Greenwich Village. At this point, we were about 13.5 miles and nearly 2:50 into the run.
We ran down Bowery, anticipating taking the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn. However, when we got there we all agreed that the opportunity to run an empty Brooklyn Bridge was too good to pass up and worth the extra mileage. Canal to Centre looped us around Chinatown and we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge around 4:30 am, pausing for a ceremonial gel-cheers and mini-dance break to the Beastie Boys’ No Sleep Till Brooklyn.
Brooklyn, aka Bonk-city. To be completely honest I had never bonked before in my life. I didn’t even know I was bonking, I thought I was dying. I was honestly thinking “Okay cool, I die in Brooklyn. This is it. The first fatality of the Warrior UltraRun.” Yeah, it was so rough I wasn’t just anticipating death, I had accepted it.
The first chunk of Brooklyn (miles 16-22ish) wasn’t bad. We ran Adams St to Deans St, past the Barclays Center, linked up with Fifth Ave for a little under three miles. I felt a little sluggish, but I kept trucking figuring it was just my body adjusting to the mileage, late night, and anticipating that once my latest gel kicked in that I would be right as rain.
I was giving my body everything it could need, everything I could think of. I gave it water, electrolytes, gels, salt tabs, and nothing. No response. Miles 22-28 were easily the roughest six miles I’ve ever run. Despite the protest from my body, I’m happy with my overall mental game. I did need to put my headphones in and “check out” for a little while, but I pushed through. To illustrate how “checked out” I was, there was a section where we had two options: run through Prospect Park or run along Green-Wood Cemetery. Post-run someone was asking me which we had gone with and straight-faced, completely serious I went “We ran through a park?” I guess 5-am-me wasn’t really ‘taking it in’ anymore. 😂
The last bit of the run was a bit of a blur, but my watch GPS tells me that we ran Bay Ridge Pkwy, bumped down to 85th St (via 20th Ave), and took that to Stillwell Ave. Ahh, that road is burned in my mind. Stillwell marked the last 2.5 miles of the run. Hands down the longest 2.5 miles I’ve ever run, but turning the corner and seeing Wonder Wheel made it worth it. Something about seeing that iconic wheel in the early, early, early morning light, made it worth it.
And then we were
Bonk-Molly really questioned the entire ultra running sport. Like why was I interested in this? Wasn’t the first race supposed to come with some beginner’s luck? Or some kind of “ah-ha”, heavenly moment? Whatever fee you need to pay to get that I must have missed because it didn’t happen for me. But what did happen is a lot of work, new friendships, and a
step leap outside of my comfort zone.
I went home exhausted, showered up, napped for an hour, woke up to my partner feeding me little pieces of grilled chicken, napped for another hour, got up and went out to lunch (thank you to Kev for treating me to arepas). By 2 pm I felt like myself again, a tired version of myself, but myself at least. Slapping pavement for 5:20:46 landed me on the couch icing my knees for the afternoon, but I was back to running the next day.
Crossing off goals always feels amazing, especially when it’s something that has been on your goals sheet for the past five years. The Warriors UltraRun was an incredibly fun new territory to dive into and I consider myself incredibly lucky that my first ultra was one based on camaraderie more than competition.