Fred’s Team & the Run to Coney Island

Fred’s Team & the Run to Coney Island

I haven’t been writing much about individual runs these days. There seem to be so many of them. However, I will make an exception when it is a truly memorable run. Many of you know that I’m running the NYC Marathon this fall (if you didn’t, welcome to what is apparently your first visit to my blog) and that I’m running it with Fred’s Team. Before I get into my run, here’s a little about Fred’s Team.

Fred Lebow (pronounced le-BOH) was a Romanian-born runner, president of the New York Road Runners for 20 years, and founder of the NYC Marathon. The marathon in its first year, 1970, consisted of 55 runners making 4+ loops around Central Park. Lebow used his own money to purchase prizes for the top 10 finishers. He also ran it himself, coming in 45th. He wasn’t the fastest runner, but his passion for the sport was undeniable, eventually transforming the marathon into a race that would cover NYC’s five boroughs and include over 50,000 runners. In 1990, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and, during a brief period of remission, ran his final NYC marathon in 1992. Nine-time champ Grete Waitz ran alongside him. She later called it her most emotional race. Lebow died in 1994. (Years later, Waitz was diagnosed with cancer herself and passed away in 2011.)

Lebow was such an iconic New Yorker that there’s a statue of him in Central Park. It’s on the east side, but each year for the marathon they move it to the finish line on the west.

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Lebow established Fred’s Friends in 1991 to raise money for cancer research, making it the first official charity of the NYC Marathon. In 1995, a year after his death, Fred’s Team was founded. The organization works not only with the NYC marathon, but events all over the world. So far, it has raised more than $52 million.

After my mom passed away from cancer last November, I decided two things: 2018 would be the year I ran my first marathon, and I would do it while raising money for cancer research. So I joined Fred’s Team in honor of my mom, Joan. My mom was always supportive of my running and seemed proud whenever I hit a milestone (Second place age group! Ran 10 miles! Got up James Street without stopping!). She was never a runner herself, but very much into fitness and health. She is one of two people I spent my entire life trying to make proud (the other being my dad), and I think I’m still trying. I probably won’t ever stop.

Anywhoodles, this takes me to Fred’s Team training. One of the perks of raising money for Fred’s Team – and there are many, including a private bus to the marathon start and a heated tent at the finish – are thrice-weekly training runs, all of which are optional, and three of which I’ve done. I can’t do the Tuesday and Thursday evening workouts due to my work schedule, but I have joined them for three Saturday long runs. Although I prefer long runs on Sunday, I’ve made it a point to switch around my schedule a few times to run with them.

A few weeks ago, we did a really nice long run through Manhattan’s “Summer Streets,” which is just a fancy way of saying “closed-to-traffic Park Avenue.” We started at 72nd and 5th Avenue, ran down to and over the Brooklyn Bridge, looped around a small park in Brooklyn, then back along the bridge and up the closed streets to the starting point. I then ran another couple miles through Central Park to make it a solid 15 miles, my scheduled mileage for the day.

That was a great long run, and a nice change of pace (not literally) to run through a new course that included the wooden-planked Brooklyn Bridge. But I was excited for their September Coney Island run. First, it seemed to be the most popular of their long runs. Second, I really wanted to go to Coney Island so I could have a Nathan’s hot dog. I decided this would be a weekend I rearranged my long run in order to make this happen.

The plan was to start at Riverside and 97th and run down along Manhattan’s west side until Chambers Street, cross over to the Brooklyn Bridge, run to Prospect Park, then down Ocean Parkway all the way to Coney Island. This was a 20-mile course. The only problem was, my plan only had me scheduled for 14.

In the past, I would have just done the 20, assuming I’d be fine. But I’ve been very dedicated to my plan. I do not want to screw with long runs. I just got over a calf strain that took me a month to get rid of, and the last thing I want to do is jeopardize my chances of a successful first marathon by pushing myself too hard. Also, I asked the NYRR coaches if I could run 20 and they were like, “No.”

So at 7am, I met the group at Riverside and 97th – a mere 15-minute walk from my apartment – checked a small bag with a hoodie and a book for the subway ride back, listened to the general announcements, and milled around for a bit. My plan was to check in with the team, then take the subway 6 miles south and meet up with the runners around Canal Street.

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We took a group pic (credit: John Fiore).

Fred's Team Coney Island

I headed out for the subway while everyone else went in the opposite direction to start their journey down the Hudson River Path. I’ll be honest, I felt kind of like a loser not running the full route with everyone. How could all of those people be ready for 20 and I wasn’t? Why was I SUCH A DORK?! Then I thought… maybe not all of them were ready. This is probably not true, but thinking it made me feel better. Maybe playing it safe didn’t make me any less of a runner. I knew I was doing the right thing.

So I got on the downtown 1 and after about 20 minutes of trying not to lean my body too hard against the door behind me so as not to crush the Honey Stinger waffle in my back pocket, I got off at Canal Street. I headed over to the running path where Marci, a Fred’s Team organizer riding her bike the whole way, spotted me and offered me a large water bottle. I was reluctant to hold a 23 oz. bottle in my hand the whole way but I relented, figuring it would get lighter the more I drank. While I hate carrying stuff while I run, I also didn’t want to run over a half marathon distance without water. Ocean Parkway, despite its name, does not have sources of water lining its path.

The weather was perfect, by the way. It had been disgustingly humid earlier in the week. On this morning, we were #blessed with temps in the upper 60s, an overcast sky, and the occasional light drizzle.

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After some warm ups (including trying my best to mimic ones Gwen Jorgensen had just posted), I saw the first orange shirts pass me by. I knew I probably couldn’t keep up with the lead pack of dudes, so I waited for a few more Fred’s Teamers and fell in line with them. After a quick bathroom stop by myself, I was worried I had lost them all. I just kept running on my own until I saw a few of them waiting to cross Chambers Street, so I followed. I hadn’t brought headphones and was prepared to run the entire route by myself. I’m used to running alone and I don’t mind it.

Running across Manhattan was tricky because of all the intersections and people walking on the sidewalks (the nerve!). But I reached the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge before I knew it, where some Fred’s Team organizers were handing out water and Powerade. I still had about 22.5 oz. of water, so I kept going.

Once on the bridge, I fell behind a couple of young women – Fred’s Team members I didn’t know – who were running at a pace I was comfortable with, so I stayed right behind them. By the time we were into Brooklyn, we had caught up to the lead pack of women, all in their 20s. They were all in great shape – like, track team shape. I have to admit, I was feeling pretty good being able to keep up with the youngins, and I also wondered if anyone who saw us might think I was their coach, or perhaps an overprotective mom who wasn’t comfortable with letting her baby out of sight on the scary trip down to Coney Island.

I soon struck up a conversation with another runner – a woman closer to my age, I noted – and even heading up the steep hill into Prospect Park (probably the steepest hill of the course), I found it relatively easy to talk. Still right behind the track team pack, we were all going about a 9:15-9:45 pace, right in my comfort zone. My new pal and I talked most of the rest of the way to Coney. I found out she had run a few marathons in her 20s, including Boston, so although she was coming back after a period of time off, she was still in very good shape. I hardly ever run with anyone, so it was a nice change of pace (again, not literally).

After a brief stop in Prospect Park where the organizers were once again waiting with water, Powerade, and snacks, we continued on our way to Ocean Parkway for the 6-mile stretch south. Initially, there was a bit of confusion finding our way onto the running path, but we eventually met up with other runners who knew what they were doing and found the correct route. This was a long, straight, flat section and the only real drawback was that was had to keep stopping at intersections if cars were coming. It’s the same road we ran down in the Brooklyn Half – only this time, it wasn’t closed to traffic.

Our pace actually picked up here on this flat stretch. My Garmin says we were going between 9:08 and 9:15 for a few miles. Still conversational pace. We reached Avenue Z before I knew it, which apparently, and logically, is very close to the end of Brooklyn. There was the boardwalk! We did it. Almost: we still had to run along the boardwalk for about a half mile to get to the meeting point.

I took my last swig of water before we reached the boardwalk, happy I’d had it. The bottle had been a pain to carry at first but I got used to it, and was glad I stayed hydrated. I didn’t even have to pee, so I guess I needed it.

My legs were sore at this point. Usually it’s my calves that bear the brunt, but this time my ankles were on fire. My legs wanted to stop, but I knew we only had a short way to go. I was very, very relieved I hadn’t done the full 20. Guess the coaches were right! I’m still a dork, though.

Running on the boardwalk made me dizzy because of the way the wooden slabs are laid out, but it wasn’t long before we saw the small group of finishers up ahead in front of Nathan’s. I came up just a bit short from my intended 14 miles and ended the run at 13.3, which was fine. My legs were toast. Speaking of toast, I needed a snack.

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Just a light mid-morning snack: two hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard – the only way to eat hot dogs as far as I’m concerned.

I made sure to stretch, too.

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Even one of the coaches’ dogs had a snack. I don’t think he ran the entire way, but he deserved french fries just like anyone else.

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My new friend and I posed for a pic. Hope to run with her again.

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I hung around for a bit watching some of the other runners finish. I considered a third hot dog, but managed to talk myself out of it.

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At 11:10am, I decided to head home. It was a long way to the upper west side and I had a dog who probably had to pee at some point.

I’m really glad I’m running with Fred’s Team. This was a fun morning. I will truly do anything for a Nathan’s hot dog.

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If you can and haven’t already, please donate any amount you’d like to my Fred’s Team page. Thank you!

4 thoughts on “Fred’s Team & the Run to Coney Island

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