Saturday, August 27, 2011

Running through the Calm Before the Storm

This weekend was supposed to be a double header of races for New York City runners. Saturday was to be the Percy Sutton 5K, a short, scenic route that loops through the west side of Harlem. This race is one of my favorites and, despite its varying topography of inclines and declines, I was hoping to gain a new 5K personal record. This race would be followed by the Bronx Half Marathon on Sunday, the second to last race in the NYRR Half Marathon Series. As I've mentioned previously, one of my running goals for the year was to complete a race in the Bronx and the Bronx Half was going to provide such a beautiful and fulfilling check mark on my 2011 Running To-Do List. I was looking more forward to these back-to-back races than any other non-NYC Marathon race on my schedule this year.

Throughout the week, as it was becoming more clear that Hurricane Irene would, in fact, make her presence known on the series of little islands that compose NYC, local area runners kept their eyes to the Internet to see if New York Road Runners would tough out the storm and let the races go on. We thought, for sure, that Saturday's race would be a keeper, but it was really Sunday that had everyone on the edge of their seat. Would we really get to run a half marathon through a hurricane? I think most of us became giddier than the school nerd asked to prom by the quarterback when we envisioned the tales we'd be able to tell for years to come. The valiant battle wounds of blisters and chafe marks would be physical reminders of our arduous accomplishment. The terrible times scored as we raced against the wind and rain-- as we raced against the world, really-- would be accepted with grace and honor. That gleam of jealousy in the eyes' of other runners as they devoured each and every detail of our soggy, muddy, brutal quest to victory would swell our chests with pride. This is the kind of race you can't wait to tell your future children about. Yes, this was going to one for the history books.

Since I had heard no word regarding the cancellation of either of the races, I made my way to the NYRR headquarters on Thursday to pick up my bib numbers and shirts for the coming weekend's competitions. Everything was business as usual. When I received my numbers, I was presented with a placement in the 2000 corral for the Percy Sutton 5K (YAY!) and a 7000 assignment for the Bronx Half (WTF?). Being that corrals are awarded based on your fastest previous time, the lower the number you're given means the faster they expect you to finish. I had only ever dreamed of pinning a 2000 bib number on my shirt and sharing a starting line with the speed demons. Conversely, I never thought I'd be placed in the back of the pack with the 7000s. It was simultaneously the most exalting and depressing bib pick-up ever!

I arrived back home quite some time later, having other errands to run while I was in the city. By the time I thought to get online again, there were already several chains of emails from my running team, as well as a buzz on Twitter, confirming the information that we had all been dreading to hear: the Bronx Half was cancelled. In fact, all permits for Sunday events had been revoked and everything was cancelled. Imagine holding an open book in your hands and the words slowly disappearing one-by-one, drifting away into a grey sky while the pages flutter in the wind. Where black ink once marked a definitive record of history, there was now nothing. Our story was being unwritten and there was simply nothing we could do about it. We were all heartbroken and helpless. None of us would have that gruelingly bonding adventure to tell and we would forever have an unfulfilled gap in our running archives.

We thought that was the worst case scenario, but there was more bad news on the horizon. With New York City now evacuating residents and with the announcement that all public transportation would stop at Noon on Saturday, the seriousness of the storm set in and permits for all Saturday events were revoked, as well. First no Bronx Half Marathon and now no Percy Sutton 5K. It's as if Hurricane Irene has a personal vendetta against runners. The weekend of racing that I had been so looking forward to would be no more.

But even without racing, the run must go on! This morning I set out to greet the preceding elements of Irene before she made her grand entrance. I was wanting a mid-distance run that would take me to an optimal viewing location and back to my house. Total score that the Brooklyn Bridge Park is almost exactly five miles from my apartment and a 10 mile run is what I was really hoping for!

Thick white clouds layered the sky like ripples of icing on a cake. Not a single ray of sunshine broke through. I hoped this, combined with the sporadic rainfall, would cool the air, but the humidity drenched my skin before I could even close the front door behind me. The streets were still bustling with people, but instead of carrying on about their usual weekend activities, lines wrapped around the corners of grocery stores, old ladies pushed carts down the street filled with gallons of water and bread, younger groups carried cases of beer on their shoulders, inevitably for a hurricane party that was already taking place or just about to begin.

I was almost able to make it the whole way to BK Bridge Park and back with no rain, but just about 3/4 of a mile before I reached my HQ, the skies opened up and soaked me right through my rain jacket. But what's running in a hurricane without getting a little wet, right?

The Financial District, as seen from the Brooklyn Promenade.

Brooklyn Bridge, as seen from Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The East River is restless.

Dead end in Brooklyn Heights.

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