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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.
Friday, November 4, 2011 | A27
A Bridge Under Troubled Runners In a 26.2-Mile Trek Through the Five Boroughs, Marathoners Will Cross Five Bridges—Each Holding Its Own Significance BY SCOTT CACCIOLA The ING New York City Marathon has long been celebrated as a race through the five boroughs, but it also can be considered a test of the five bridges. When more than 45,000 participants stream across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge’s grand expense and into Brooklyn on Sunday morning, four more bridges will await them—each with its own significance within the broader context of the race. The Pulaski, which bridges Brooklyn and
Queens, marks the marathon’s halfway point, an accomplishment in its own right. The Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, which takes participants into Manhattan for the first time, presents one of the race’s first psychological tests—a slice of shadowy, spectator-free territory before marathoners emerge into daylight on First Avenue. (American star Deena Kastor said it’s the only part of the course where she can hear her own breathing.) And then there are the final two, in quick succession: the Willis Avenue and Madison Avenue
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Mile Mark: 0-1.3 Type: Double-decked suspension bridge Location: Connects the Staten Island Expressway with Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Belt Parkway Constructed: 1964, at a cost of $320 million Length: 6,690 feet
The Pulaski Bridge Mile Mark: 13.1-13.6 Type: Double-leaf, trunnion-type bascule bridge Location: Connects McGuinness Boulevard in Brooklyn with 11th Street in Queens Constructed: 1954 Renovated: 1994, at a cost of $40 million Length: 2,810 feet
The Queensboro Bridge Mile Mark: 15.2-15.6 Type: Five-span cantilever truss Location: Connects Long Island City with Manhattan, crossing Roosevelt Island Constructed: 1909, at a cost of $18 million Length: 3,725 feet, 7,449 feet with the approaches
The Willis Avenue Bridge Mile Mark: 19.4-19.9 Type: Swing bridge Location: Connects First Avenue/East 124th Street in Manhattan with Willis Avenue/East 134th Street in the Bronx Constructed: 1901, at a cost of $2,444,511 Renovated: 2010, as part of a $612-million project Length: 3,212 feet
The Madison Avenue Bridge Mile Mark: 20.8-21.1 Type: Four-lane, four-span swing bridge Location: Connects Madison/Fifth avenues and East 138th Street in Manhattan with East 138th/Grand Concourse in the Bronx Constructed: 1884, at a cost of $509,106 Renovated: 1910, at a cost of $1,155,987 Length: 1,829 feet
bridges, which many participants are simply trying to survive before they reach Fifth Avenue en route to the finish in Central Park. Adding to the challenge: Each bridge is a hill. “They are steep and long,” said Kim Smith, who finished fifth in the women’s marathon last year. Dathan Ritzenhein, an American with a pair of top-12 finishes, said he mentally chops the race into segments using the bridges. “Those are parts of the race that you use as benchmarks,” he said. Like Ritzenhein, Smith and Kastor, Meb Ke-
flezighi, an American who won the men’s race in 2009, has vivid recollections of his experiences with the bridges and shared them with The Wall Street Journal. Amby Burfoot, an editor-at-large at Runners’ World magazine, and Mary Wittenberg, the president and chief executive of New York Road Runners, which organizes the marathon, also offered their thoughts. “As much as people think of the city’s neighborhoods defining this race, the bridges do, too,” Wittenberg said.
I don’t think there’s any marathon in the history of marathons that has a more exciting starting line—the electricity of the 40,000-plus people that are there, all anxiously waiting for the cannon to go off. I’ll look behind me to look at that sea of very fit, healthy people. It’s just an awesome sight. —Deena Kastor When I’m on that bridge, I always try to remember that marathons are all about patience. I’m not nervous. I’m not thinking, ‘I have to conquer this bridge’ or anything like that. It’s all about patience. And you don’t have to run fast on this bridge—that’s the beauty of the Verrazano. Because there’s an incline, it allows you to kind of get into it slowly, and that’s the way a marathon should be. Just stay within yourself, especially when you have people who are very excited running next to you. It’s also amazing how many people there are and how beautiful it is. —Meb Keflezighi It can be windy and cold up there depending on the day, and it goes straight up. But last year, we started the race running so slowly that I didn’t even notice the incline. —Kim Smith
At this point, I’m looking at the clock, to be honest with you. I want to see where I am. I remember the first time I did New York, I went out in 1:03:45—somewhere in that range—and I knew that was going to be a good day. It’s also a benchmark to evaluate what I have in me and what competitors are around me. It’s an opportunity to gauge where things stand. You know when that bridge comes that you’re halfway. —Meb Keflezighi You’re assessing how your body is feeling. And that’s my moment of reflecting and seeing who’s around you. It’s interesting how sometimes in a marathon, you’ll say to yourself, ‘Oh, wow! I’m already halfway there!’ And then at other times, it’s, ‘Oh, no! I’m only halfway there!’ It’s funny how it depends on the day. —Deena Kastor The Pulaski is wide open, and it can get bright. On a sunny day, if you don’t’ have sunglasses and a hat on, you might be hurting. It’s also your first real hill since the Verrazano. —Mary Wittenberg
That’s a pretty tough one going uphill. And the downhill is pretty significant, as well. It’s the one that sticks out the most in my mind. I don’t even really think about the Verrazano because it’s the first mile. But on the Queensboro, it’s very quiet. There are no spectators. It’s kind of an eerie part of the course. This is embarrassing, but it’s so dark and quiet there that I actually stopped last year to use the bathroom! But then, as soon as you leave the bridge and go down First Avenue, it’s incredibly loud. The contrast between the two is quite significant. —Kim Smith For me last year, coming off the Queensboro Bridge was where the race really opened up. It was packed until then. And that was where I got gapped and went back into no-man’s land. I wouldn’t say that was the end of the race for me, but that was definitely the end of my chances of being on the podium. It was a pivotal moment. —Dathan Ritzenhein It’s so dark that if you’re wearing sunglasses, you might have to pull them off. —Meb Keflezighi
This is where you’re using all the tools you have just to get to the finish line. You’re usually suffering a bit more, and the hills have a greater significance because you’re so tired. So you’re trying to find that song or that tune in your head that gets you going, or something your coach said to keep you motivated. It’s like you’re grabbing at any source of inspiration to keep running, because that’s really when the tough get going. —Deena Kastor Before they replaced the bridge last year, it could really slick because it had these big metal grates. They’d put down a narrow lane of carpeting, and that last in the race, you’d think it would be enough for everyone. But it wouldn’t be, especially if you were trying to catch someone. The footing could be very poor. —Amby Burfoot There’s a little incline here, and I know I can use my mechanics to try to catch people here. In 2004, I remember there was a big lead that day for Timothy Cherigat and Hendrik Ramaala, and I tried to engage and pace myself. —Meb Keflezighi (who finished second behind Ramaala that year)
You’re 21 miles in. When I ran here in 2006, that’s the point where I started to hit the wall. Last year, I got to that point and was doing better than I did the first time around, but I still didn’t feel good. I just knew how long those last five miles were going to be, all that climbing to Central Park. The hill on the bridge itself might not seem too bad to the average person, but when you’re 21 miles into a marathon? It’s the start of the hardest part of the race. —Dathan Ritzenhein So many moves have already happened by the time you’ve reached this bridge, especially on First Avenue with people making crazy surges and going completely out of their minds. —Amby Burfoot I can’t even remember this bridge. It’s so late in the race, I think you’re just trying to hold on at this point. —Amy Smith You’re focusing less on your surroundings and reflecting more on how to get through this. —Deena Kastor For me, this is a bridge when I want to use that little downhill at the end to engage and pass people. I often want to just make a decisive move and get away from people. Also, you’re getting excited to get into Manhattan again. —Meb Keflezighi
Note: Bridges not to scale. Illustration: Robert Pizzo. Sources for bridge data: New York City Department of Transportation; Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
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