Wednesday, February 17, 2010

OCA Trail - Long Training Run

Several weeks ago while running at Rockies Tony Portera and I were discussing possibly running the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail as a long training run. The OCA a state park was created in 1968 and encompasses the northernmost 26 miles of the Aqueduct and its right-of-way, from Croton Gorge County Park to the Yonkers-New York City line. It lies wholly within Westchester County. Before I knew it the date was set, many people were invited, the route had been mapped and the run had been extended all the way to Bryant Park/NYC Public Library in Manhattan where the original aqueduct terminated for a total distance of approximately 40 miles. If you talk about doing a run with Tony you better mean it because you are in.

A brief history from Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct "The Aqueduct was built in response to the fires and epidemics that repeatedly devastated New York City, owing in part to its inadequate water supply and contaminated wells. Work began in 1837, carried out largely by Irish immigrant labor. For most of its length, the Aqueduct is a horseshoe-shaped brick tunnel 8.5 feet high by 7.5 feet wide, set on a stone foundation and protected with an earthen cover and stone facing at embankment walls. Designed on principles dating from Roman times, the gravity-fed tube, dropping gently 13 inches per mile, challenged its builders to maintain this steady gradient through a varied terrain. Croton water first entered the Aqueduct at 5 am on June 22, 1842 (followed by a dauntless crew in a small boat, the Croton Maid) and emerged at the Harlem River 22 hours later (It took us about 10 hours). The water eventually filled two above-ground reservoirs – on the present sites of the Great Lawn in Central Park and the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

We, a group of 14 met at the Croton-Harmon train station a little before 8 am Saturday morning, temperature in the mid 20s. It was the first time other than a race I ever got together with so many people from so many places just to go for a run (I was meeting the majority for the first time). I loved it. After a few introductions we got on our way heading north to the Croton Reservoir Dam where the OCA begins. By the way this starting point added another 4 miles to the already amended 40:) A quick note, our friend Steve decided to head directly south where we would catch up later. Below is our group photo at the base of the dam (minus Tony who took the picture).
Once we began heading south on the OCA it was "snow going". The entire trail with few exceptions was snow covered. While primarily packed single track it was uneven, icy, slushy etc, but rarely deep. Easily passable but substantially more challenging. Similar to running on wet sand at the beach.


As we made our way through Westchester the group began to separate. Rick, Brennan and Silke took off rather quickly and I never saw them again once we left the dam. I believe they ran to Yonkers before hopping a train, completing about 26 miles. David had peeled off after about 10 miles as planned when we hit Rockies and Wayne had back problems and was off by the Tappan Zee Bridge. Unfortunately by the time we got to Yonkers Shannon had to call it a day with a nasty blister (see you at Umstead Shannon). Kate and Susie decided to take it a little slower and told us all to keep going and not wait (They completed the 26 miles to Yonkers as well). Below, Shannon and Tony over the Hudson.

With 5 of us remaining (Pete, Susan, Herb, Tony and me) we continued our way along the OCA until we arrived at or near Van Cortland Park where we decide to switch to the South County Trail Way which runs parallel to the OCA. It was paved and mostly plowed (I never thought it could feel that good to run on pavement). We exited Van Cortland Park around 3 pm with about 32 miles complete and finally caught up with Steve. It was starting to get cold again and we were now running urban style. First stopping at C-Town for water refills and cantaloupe. We then made our way over to Broadway in the Bronx thanks to Steve's expert navaigating skills where we made our way under the elevated portion of the 1 subway line until we crossed over the Broadway Bridge into Manhattan. Shortly after this Steve jumped a train south to somewhere near Central Park. We would again meet up with him at the Library. Steve completed about 35 miles I think, awesome Steve!!

We continued through Inwood, then down the East River Drive and made our way into Harlem. Running through Harlem was interesting as the streets were filled with people on the Holiday and we were getting all kinds of funny looks and some occasionally funny banter as we ran down the sidewalks in full winter running gear (tights) hydration packs, bottles and maps.

At last we ran the final few miles through Central Park and then down a crowded Fifth Avenue past Rockefeller Center and finally at the Library. The crew below at the Library around 6pm, after 10 hours and 44 miles (photo by me).
Great day, great people, great experience! Peace

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