Streets, Trails, Bridges, and Leg Cramps, Oh My: My DNF at TGNY 100K and Why I Love This Ultra
In wave 6 at the 5:10 am start in Times Square.
Cancelled in 2020 due to Covid, I was was excited to line up on Saturday, June 19, 2021 in Times Square to take on the TGNY 100K, my 29th ultra. The day before my husband Jon and I arrived in Brooklyn Heights to stay with aunt Joan. She drove us to pick up my swag shirt and race bracelet (there is no TGNY race bib or chip) at 16 Handles Frozen Yogurt shop on 7th Avenue between
48 - 49th St. Times Square was hot, noisy, and swarming with vendors, people, tourists, and irritated drivers.
On race day Saturday morning, I immediately made new friends. Jeannette was running her first 100-miler and Jenna was running her first 100K. I also ran into Thomas, whom I had met at swag pick up. He was helpful and emailed me an Excel sheet with places for Jon to park at the aid stations.
At 5:10 am I took off with five other runners. I made a quick detour to the bathroom at the yogurt store about a block and half away. Relieved, I headed back on the course and headed north on Broadway to Central Park. It was very quiet, cloudy, and 70 degrees. There are no porta-potties at TGNY 100 but, thankfully with Covid restrictions lifted, the public parks bathrooms were open.
I felt great. I was running well. The leg in Central Park was 2.82 miles. There were runners ahead of me and runners behind me, and locals going for their early morning runs, and walks with their canines.
As I've gotten older, I've gotten slower but I was happy that I was running a 10:17 - 11:34 pace in Central Park with the course directions attached to my Nathan hydration vest.
Once out of Central Park, we ran on streets and under a viaduct and made it to the first aid station in Manhattanville at mile 5.1. I ran with another new friend.
He and another runner would come to my rescue at about mile 9.8. Stay tuned. After the Manhattanville aid station, we headed to Fort Tyron Park for about a mile and a view of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and more. It was 6:36 am.
Then, I crossed over the Henry Hudson Parkway.
I was back on the streets again heading to the Cloisters. Jon kept me on track as he "paced" me from my car. I took a picture of him as he drove by. It was 6:51 am. I was at about mile 9.37.
Heading to the Cloisters, we run into road construction and uphills.
I was feeling good but I was starting to slow down. I entered Inwood Hill Park and trail terrain with some up and down elevation. There were runners ahead of me, and thank God, runners behind me.
As I approached getting to the dirt and wood steps going downhill, my left leg suddenly seized. I was in excruciating pain and couldn't go another step.
I sat my butt on the edge of the wood step with my left leg extended and locked in excruciating muscle cramps from my foot to hip. I was groaning in agony. The nice runner in the picture above (I can't remember his name) who crossed the first aid station with me, a female runner, and a female cyclist who was pacing a friend but who had gotten lost in the park, and whom I had met earlier on the trail, stopped to ask if I was OK.
I told them I wasn't OK. I was in agony. The cyclist offered me a salt tablet. I told her I had salted pumpkin seeds. I asked the two runners to help pull me up. I didn't have the strength to stand up. on my own. I did not have the strength to put weight on my legs to get me up. My left leg would seize when I tried to move it.
They each took one of my arms and gently pulled me up. I asked them to help me walk down the steps. I couldn't do it alone. I had no strength and my gait was off. They wrapped their hands around my forearms gently with great care and compassion.
We talked about what may have caused the leg cramp. I told them in all my years of running, I had never experienced any cramps. I was well-hydrated with Nuun electrolytes. I told them that I'm on B12 shots for life. Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with myelopathy of the spinal cord due to severe B12 deficiency. My body does not produce enough natural B12 to create myelin sheath around my spinal cord. I told them about the symptoms of B12 deficiency - painful tingling, numbness, and twitching in the legs, arm, hands, and fingers, and inability to walk and to run normally.
I held on to them as they carefully helped me to put one foot in front of the other for about 8 or so steps. I told them I didn't want to hold them back and that they can go on. The nice runner said there were more steps coming, this time going up. They stayed with me. I was so grateful. After the steps, we walked the uphills slowly until we got to the flat path taking us to the Henry Hudson Bridge.
Feeling better from my wicked left leg cramps that temporarily incapacitated me, I told them to please go on, and they both took off. I don't know what would have happened to me if these two angels had not found me. No doubt, taking time to help me affected their pace. But they were willing to sacrifice their pace and time to help a fellow runner in distress. I would have done the same.
They ran the Henry Hudson Bridge. As I walked behind in a slow shuffle, I lost sight of my angels. It was 7:31 am. I was smiling again and happy to be moving, and on the bridge heading into the Bronx after enduring an unanticipated setback back at about mile 9.8.
I made it to mile 11.36 and the second aid station at Riverdale. My pace had slowed down quite a bit from a 10:17 first mile to a 14:49 mile 11. The best part about this aid station was the woods. Prepared with tissue and wipes I carried in the side pockets of my skort, and hand sanitizer hanging from my hydration vest, I...well, I shall say no more. You get the picture.
I then ran into Jeannette, whom I'd met at the start, at the aid station. She was looking good and feeling good. We embarked on the next leg of our journey starting in Riverdale Park trail which would eventually take us to trails in Van Cortlandt Park and the John Muir Trail. The directions we carried with us were not so clear, and the blue medallions we were suppose to follow weren't always there.
Now, my pace was slowing more. Two more runners joined us - Joe and his pacer Barbara. Together we came across a few yellow ribbons tied to trees, and we figured out how to get out of Riverdale Park trail. It was after 8:30 am.
We headed to more trails in Van Cortlandt Park and the John Muir trail. Jeannette took off. I wouldn't see Jeannette until much later. Stay tuned. Barbara and Joe moved faster than me. I stayed behind slow and steady wondering when the heck this trail would end. Jon and I have hiked in 24 national parks but never running, shuffling, or climbing 11 plus miles into a 100K ultra. I sipped on my hydration bottle, crunched on a few salted tortilla chips, and took a picture of this foot bridge on this John Muir trail. Jon and I have hiked part of the John Muir Trail in Yosemite.
It seemed like the trail was never going to end. I called Jon thinking maybe I was lost. And just then I saw Joe's white shirt not far ahead. He was my beacon of light, the bright light that I followed. We made it to the third aid station at Van Cortlandt Park and to mile 16.81 at 9:32 am.
No more trails! We were back on the streets, city traffic, highway noise, fast moving cars, and mild confusion due to street construction and road changes not indicated on the course directions we carried. And the sun was shining bright and the temperature was rising.
We headed to the next aid station in Pelham Parkway and mile 22 or so. The miles on the course directions didn't always jive with the miles on our watches and the different apps we had. We followed directions to a park pathway alongside the highway and then along the river.
We arrived at the Pelham Parkway aid station parked on the sidewalk under the scorching sun and no shade, and mile 22. I was glad to see Jon waiting for me with watermelon pieces. I sat on a park bench and rested for about 10 minutes. I chugged an ice-cold can of seltzer. Jon helped to connect my Garmin and iPhone to my portable charger tucked in the back pocket of my hydration vest.
Barbara and Joe took off. After my rest was over, I headed out with a small Pepsi can to the next aid station at Zerega Ave and mile 26.87 while charging my devices. It was 11:10 am.
Up until now I had been with fellow runners. Now I was alone but not for long. At Stillwell Ave., I was joined by Nattalyee. She was so happy to see me and I was so happy to see her. We walked, jogged, and talked about a lot of things in Pelham Bay Park. The park was alive with the sound of music, children playing and laughing, and families getting ready to picnic and barbecue on this beautiful hot and humid Saturday.
Nattalyee and I discovered we have a few things in common, including running for great causes. She was running 100 miles to raise awareness about police brutality and her forthcoming documentary. I was running to raise money for Ultra Care for Cancer Caregivers. I'm a caregiver; Jon is in remission from stage IV.
Nattalyee and I continued on an overpass to cross over Bruckner Blvd and came onto Middleton Rd, a busy residential and business street filled with stores and restaurants. Nattalyee stopped in a convenience store to buy water.
We continued on Middletown Rd to get to a dangerous and confusing intersection to cross over Hutchinson Pkwy West. As Nattalyee and I crossed the street, I heard a voice behind me. It was Jeannette in tears. She told us she had been lost for 45 minutes and waiting at the corner in front of 7-11 for someone to come by. Her GPS wasn't working. Nattalyee and I hugged her and told her she was safe and OK now.
After walking a few minutes with me and Nattalyee and regrouping, she ran ahead. She needed to make up the lost time. And out of nowhere, I see Barbara and Joe. We were reunited again. Then Barbara, Joe, and Jeanette took off.
Nattalyee and I followed behind and carefully navigated our way onto a dangerous 4-way intersection covered in bumper to bumper traffic, and street and bridge construction. We carefully navigated our way to another bridge crossing.
This bridge would take us to the Zerega Ave aid station. It was 12:27 pm.
Before we got to the aid station, Jon met us on at the start of Zerega Ave. I got an ice cold seltzer from the cooler in the car, and Nattalyee got some ice. Nattalyee's pacers were waiting for her. To my pleasant surprise one of her pacers was Nova. We follow each other on Instagram.
We got to mile 26.87 at Zerega at 12:40 pm. My pace had fallen a lot. I was moving at a 16:00 min pace. Nattaylee stayed behind and I continued on my own to the next station at Soundview Park and the 50K mark. Jon drove alongside me until I got to the entrance of Castle Hill Park.
I mostly walked through Castle Hill Park and Pugsley Creek Park. Jon tracked me from the car. It was hot but I was feeling good until I got lost on Soundview Ave. I kept going down Soundview Ave on the street because the very narrow sidewalk was packed with pedestrians. I saw a group of men sitting on chairs and talking. I kept going down Soundview Ave. I was lost in broad daylight.
I called Jon. He was able to direct me in the right direction from his phone. He told me to turn around. Jon found me and yelled from the car to make a right at the entrance where the men were sitting. A woman coming in my direction said, "The path is over there by the people sitting down. I tried to tell you. I was yelling but you didn't hear me." "Aww, thanks so much, " I said. How wonderful that a perfect stranger was looking out for me.
I added almost a mile and lost time. After finally getting to where I needed to be, I became more confused when the street signs in the residential neighborhood and the yellow arrows did not match the course directions.
I came across a pair of runners in the 100K event. We walked alongside the water on U St. which became North St. in a nice neighborhood. Neither she nor he was happy with the directions. Tired, I think they eventually dropped.
While trying to figure out where Leland Ave was and asking a neighbor for help, I came across Nattaylee, and her pacers Nova and Danny. We were happy to see each other and shared confusing directions and getting lost stories. The half mile from Leland to the aid station took us forever, but we had a good time chatting about what else - ultrarunning!
We got to the Soundview aid station at 2:32 pm. I went to use the public bathroom. Then, I had some Ritz crackers, filled my hydration bottle with Nuun and ice, and chugged another can of Pepsi. Nattaylee and her pacers stayed behind. Barbara and Joe had arrived earlier and dropped.
I began my journey into more heat and bright sunshine, and finding Bruckner Blvd. But first I endured more noise, moving vehicles, traffic lights, and another freakin' bridge construction. It was now about 3 pm. I was at about mile 32 in search of Southern Blvd. A really nice police officer directing traffic at a light walked toward me as I crossed afraid to get hit by a car. He signaled to motorists to slow down and with his gentle, accented voice, and compassion, said, "Is OK. Take your time. Is OK." I thanked him. Jon was waiting to direct me from the car as cars flew by.
I got to Southern Blvd. It was bustling with life, music, shops, restaurants, traffic, men playing dominoes, mechanics working on cars, car washes, and a fruit and vegetable stand. I felt like I was in Puerto Rico. It felt so good.
I tried to walk as briskly as I could, and wogged a few tenths. I spotted a Mr. Softee ice cream truck in a parking lot. Hoping to pick up the pace with a bit more energy now at a 15: 47 mile pace, I pulled out three singles from my running pouch, and enjoyed a small vanilla cone while trying to move faster.
Jon continued to ride alongside me up until the entrance to Randall's Island connector under the railroad bridge. Not long after I entered the path, I really slowed down. I was moving at about a 20-minute pace.
It was getting cloudy and just a degree or two cooler. And while I was alone and tired, I was surrounded by people enjoying each other and their families. There were baseball games, barbecues, and two gender reveal parties that had ended or were getting ready to start.
Once I exited the path, I needed to get to Queens Bridge on my way to the Astoria-Queens aid station at mile 35.6. I couldn't find the yellow arrows when I needed to. I asked two cyclists if I was going in the right direction to the entrance to Queen's Bridge. They said yes, and then I saw the yellow arrows. I was 1.43 miles from the aid station.
It was 4:05 pm when I stepped foot in the entrance to the bridge. I had approximately 7 hours and 5 minutes to finish the last 26.89 miles. I was cutting it close but it was doable.
Suddenly, I found myself unable to walk normally. My left leg and left foot seized. Another excruciating muscle cramp. I could not lift my left foot. It felt like I was experiencing drop foot. I dragged my left foot, shuffled my legs, and and kept myself balanced while holding on to the concrete wall. There was a teen boy on his bike on the path talking on his phone.
Once I entered the bridge I had a new challenge. Steps.I could not walk up the first step facing forward. Both legs were cramping. I went up the two sets of stairs sideways, holding on to the handrail and facing the concrete wall.
Once on the bridge, for the length of a half mile, I was surrounded by a view of the Railroad Bridge to my left, a view of the Manhattan skyline to my right, and the deafening sound of fast moving cars in the highway underneath, and under a cloud-covered sky. It was about 4:20 pm.
Once I got to the down steps to get out of the bridge, I stepped slowly down the steps sideways holding on to the handrail. I called Jon to tell him I was out of the bridge and he told me the Astoria-Queens aid station on Hoyt St. was closed, and to backtrack to 28th St. where he was waiting for me with my pink camp chair. I sat, had a peach, some potato chips that didn't taste like potato chips, and some Pepsi. I rested for about 10 minutes. Jon filled my hydration bottle with Nuun.
Jon was hoping I'd call it a day. But after a 10-minute rest, I felt revived. I looked at my Garmin. It had recorded a little over 38 miles. It was about 4:50 pm when I started my journey to the next aid station at the World's Fair Marina and to mile 40.3. I had approximately 6 hours and 20 minutes to log 24 miles and to meet the 18-hour time limit. I would need to move at greater than 4 miles per hour. I was determined to make it to the finish.
I got up from my pink chair and proceeded to walk on the sidewalk along Astoria Blvd North. It's a lively business and residential street with a lot of moving vehicles. Rain drops began to sprinkle and the wind began to blow gently. I also felt a pebble in my left shoe. It was annoying me. I was starting to limp.
I found a low brick wall with a wrought iron fence in front of a house. I sat my butt at the edge of the wall to unlace my left shoe and remove the pebble. As I reached to unlace my shoe, my left leg began to seize again. I decided not to unlace the shoe and to just keep walking. But as I tried to stand from my low sitting position, my left leg seized more painfully from my foot to my hip. I could not get up so, in agony, I slid my butt onto the sidewalk.
I had made it 20 blocks from 28th St. I called Jon and told him I was on the sidewalk, cramping, unable to get myself up, and to come pick me up in front of a house between 48th & 49th St. He arrived in about 10 minutes. He was unable to pull me up.
A nice man who lives in the house asked what was wrong and how he could help. He and Jon tried to pull me up with no success because as they pulled me, both legs cramped in excruciating pain.
Jon suggested I get on all fours. He got a beach blanket from the car trunk and placed it on he sidewalk. I was able to pivot my body on all fours. Jon pulled me up by my left arm, and the nice man pulled me up by my right arm.
I was so happy to be standing erect. But by now I did not have enough time on the clock to to beat the 18-hour time limit. It was almost 5:30 pm. I asked the nice man his name. I thank Jesse profusely. Jon took a picture of this wonderful memory and the highlight of my TGNY 100K DNF.
I had less than 5 hours and 40 minutes to collect 22 miles to the finish in my condition. I didn't want to risk more incapacitating cramps or worse in the dark and alone. Jon helped me get in the car. My legs, toes, and right side cramped in the car. I experienced dry mouth for the first time in my life. My lips got stuck. I took a swig of my hydration bottle. Apparently, it went down the wrong pipe. A drop obstructed my esophagus (I have an abnormal esophagus). I started to aspirate in a moving car in fast moving bumper to bumper traffic, then burped and puked on my skort and phone. That night in bed both legs and sets of toes cramped. But I went to bed with no blisters and no chafing. That's a first so, a win!
TGNY 100K was my 29th ultra and my 6th DNF. I know if I had not had that first excruciating leg cramp at about mile 9.8, then again approaching Queens Bridge, and finally collapsing in front of Jesse's house, I would have finished.
Going into the race, I was worried it would rain and I'd suffer blisters and fallen toenails. I don't like to run in rain. But it didn't rain. The weather was my kind of weather in an ultra - cloudy in the beginning, hot and sunny most of the day, and cloudy and cooler as the day went on and I collected more miles.
I have run a half-marathon and a marathon in Central Park. Familiar with Manhattan and Brooklyn, but not with Queens and the Bronx, three weeks before race day, Jon and I traced the course route in my car as best as we could to have some familiarity with the landscape and terrain.
I was excited to run an ultra like no other. I have run horseshoe, point-to-point, out-and-back, all kinds of loops, including a one-mile loop in a parking lot under the scorching Tennessee sun, and laps on an outdoor track. I have run on roads, around lakes, around a canal, and on easy dirt trails, and rocky and treacherous rock and root-infested trails, and have crawled my way up falling rocks and boulders. I have completed 50-mile to multi-day ultras.
TGNY 100K is my 6th DNF. but my top 5 ultra! I loved everything about this event - the landscape, the terrain, the challenge, the adventure, the fellow runners, the locals, the parks, the cultures, the communities, the neighborhoods, the bustling life through out, and the community that is the world of ultrarunning.
Not living in NYC and unfamiliar with the streets and bridges, I was at a disadvantage. It was an urban adventure ultra, and a bit like The Amazing Race. It was a challenge at times with the directions and the road construction so typical of urban cities. Both slowed me down.
And of course unanticipated killer leg and foot cramps from hell certainly didn't help, and definitely set me back.
The crazy world that is ultrarunning, where there is joy in discomfort, pain, and suffering, and even in a DNF, is filled with so many awesome people. We all ran TGNY 100 for different reasons, and not all of us made it to the finish line. Jeannette messaged me to thank me for saving her when she got lost and for comforting her. She got to mile 44 of her first 100 miler. Nattalyee's first 100 miler came to an end at close to 100K.
But not finishing did not diminish the experience for me. In fact, not finishing has motivated me to come back next year. I'm not disheartened; I'm fill with the joy of new possibility. I hope to see Jeannette and Nattalyee next year.
In running TGNY, you will also find caring perfect strangers, like the woman on Soundview Ave. who tried to tell me I was going the wrong way, the man on Leland Ave who told me I was going in the right direction when I doubted myself, the police officer who relieved my anxiety crossing the street on the way to Southern Blvd., and Jesse who helped Jon gently scrape me from his sidewalk with a smile.
My TGNK 100K DNF will not discourage me from returning next year. I'll be 63. But I think I need to make the lottery. Thank you Phil McCarthy and all the volunteers. And of course, I could not have gone as far as I did without Jon. The next day on Father's Day we went for a 7 mile recovery walk. Here's to many more ultras, recovery walks, and to no more killer leg cramps from hell!
The most important in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not have conquered but to have fought well. ~ Pierre de Courbertin
All photos by Miriam and Jon.
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