New York State of Mind: The Ultimate in Urban Ultrarunning
by Don Allison
For most ultrarunners, New York City does not immediately come to mind when discussing venues for ultra distance running. Majestic mountain top views? Not here. Rugged, single track trails? Not many.
Peaceful communing with nature? Forget about it. Upon further examination however, New York does indeed have a long history of ultrarunning. Some of the most prolific ultrarunners have come from the
Big Apple, including the legendary Ted Corbitt, a man who has arguably has had more influence on the sport in America than anyone during past half century.
Of course, there have been and continue to be many ultras held in New York City. Central Park, a huge expanse of greenery, is the most logical place for long races in the city. Loop 50-km and 50-mile events
are held in the park each year, including the Metropolitan 50 Mile and Kurt Stiener 50 Km, held this past February. The park was also the site of the IAU 100 Km USA Championship, in 1993.
Running a race in the park, especially on a mild sunny day, is unlike almost any other ultra. Even with an early morning start, Central Park races share the road with a steady stream of cyclists, walkers, roller
bladers, and other runners. Ultras held in the park require runners to wear numbers on their backs as well as front. The reason for this becomes evident early on, when runners not in the race, some moving
along at a very fast clip, become mixed in with those who are. Depending upon your point of view, it can be comforting or disconcerting to know that the runner who just flew by you is just out for a training run.
Training is always a challenge for an ultrarunner living in New York City. The reality of millions of people living on a relatively small island presents obstacles that those living on or near remote trails just don't
face. Ellen McCurtin, a several time member of the USA national team, lives and trains in the heart of the metropolis known as New York City. She offers a glimpse of what it is like to be an ultrarunner in the city.
"There is a lot I could say about running in the city. I have been in New York for almost 14 years and I have been running about 100 miles (in the early 90s it was more like 120 or more at times) a week for about
12 of those years. There are both advantages and disadvantages to being an urban runner. On the minus side, there can be traffic (even when you have the right of way, drivers will just go for it to make one
more light), too many people doing too many different things (bikers, bladers, people pushing baby joggers, power walkers, and dogs), pollution (especially in the summer when it is hot and humid), and noise
(people lean on their horns before the light even turns green). All in all, just too much going on.
"Over the years, I have been jumped in Riverside Park (I got away), had 40-ounce beer bottles hurled at me (smashed at my feet, fortunately not my head), been chased by gangs of teenagers, seen naked guys
masturbating in the bushes, had kids on BMX bikes throw handfuls of gravel at me, had an M-80 explode in front of me (during July 4 festivities in Central Park) seen someone shot, and seen a person jump out
an apartment window. Sometimes, it can really drive me more than a little crazy.
"After that list, you might wonder what good things I could possible say about running in the city. I often wonder about it myself, but here goes. First, you can nearly always find a running partner, a nice thing, for
both social and safety reasons. I've even heard stories about a group of runners who are out in Central Park at around 2:00 a.m. I do nearly all my morning runs with my friend Barbara and most of evening runs
with other friends on different nights. This is fortunate or I would not have much of a social life. There is also a very active running club scene in New York for those who want that. There are several different clubs
right here in the city. This means that you don't have travel far to get to group workouts. Also, there is a race nearly every weekend right in the park. Although the park is nice, I still try to get away whenever I can.
Close by are the Palisades in New Jersey. There is a leafy and lovely unspoiled eight-mile long road that runs along the Hudson River. It's close enough to be convenient, but it feels nice and far from the city."
Dave Luljak, another of the USA's elite ultrarunners, has nothing but praise for the vistas offered up in city running. He talks of a few of his favorite runs: "One of my favorite races is the Joe Kleinerman 12 Hour
Run, which is held in Crocheron Park, Queens during the summer. The course is a nearly one-mile loop that provides a great deal of variety. There are wooded sections and open areas, baseball games and
tennis matches, and even a glimpse of the bay as you go by the scoring area. The only bad part is that in the afternoon when you're hot and tired an ice cream truck stops in a parking lot next to the course for
hours. Could Leadville's Hope Pass or the hot canyons of Western States provide any more of a challenge than having to run by that truck?"
He adds, "One of my most memorable training routes, although I only did it three times, was to run along Route 25A from my house in Huntington, on Long Island's north shore, to New York City, a distance of
about 35 miles. You'd start out on the rolling hills of Long Island's Gold Coast, passing horse farms and other trappings of the good life, then make your way through the congested suburbs of Nassau County, pass
Shea Stadium and the site of the 1964 World's Fair, run through various ethnic neighborhoods in Queens to the warehouses and light industry of Long Island City until you finally traversed the 59th Street Bridge
with its spectacular skyline view. One year I ran to Central Park in order to turn in my envelope for entry into the New York City Marathon, a classic example of ultrarunning chutzpah."
Not only are there ultrarunners in New York and places for them to run, there are also an array of ultras in the city for them to run. The driving force behind these events for the past two decades has been the
Broadway Ultra Society and Rich Innamorato. In addition to BUS, the Prospect Park Track Club also stages events, but perhaps the most prolific group of all is the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team.
Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual leader, came of New York in 1964. Viewing sports, especially running, as a vehicle for meditation and reaching one's highest potential, it was natural that the Sri Chinmoy
Marathon Team was formed. The group conducted its first ultra in 1978 and hundreds have followed since.
As most know, SCMT specializes in multi-day races on short closed loop courses. For many years, these multi-day races were held in Queens' Flushing Meadow Park, before the US tennis center took over
the area. Now the races are held in Jamaica Estates in Queens or on Ward's Island off of Manhattan. As this issue of UR is reaching our readers, the Sri Chinmoy 3,100 Mile is in progress, a nearly two-month
affair that defies description.
Trishul Cherns, a prolific multi-day runner on the Sri Chinmoy Team, says "Multi-day races are what we (SCMT) do best. We have the resources to manage events that last for days and weeks. With a closed
loop course, we can manage the event perfectly. Our standards are very high; we have never had one compliant about one of our races." He adds, "We put on races that people can come to alone and be
fully supported." Cherns has nothing but praise for BUS and Innamorato as well. "Without BUS there is no New York City ultrarunning. What he has done by himself is amazing. SCMT and BUS get along well
and run in each other's races. We are one big, happy family."
What does Cherns think about being an ultrarunner in the city? "It's a great place to run," he says. "The streets are very safe to run on, aside from a few bad areas, such as parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and
Harlem. We have nice measured courses in Queens to run on. It's a nice residential area. There are trails too, in the parks. You can do a 30-mile run in Forest Park or Van Cortland Park."
Given all of this, it becomes apparent that yes, ultrarunning is alive and thriving in America's biggest metropolis. While many ultrarunners aspire to international ultras, some of the big US 50-milers or the Western
States 100, an ultrarunner's resume is not totally complete without a trip to the to New York City for a true urban ultrarunning experience.