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The Great Saunter a.k.a. My First Ultra-Distance Event a.k.a. Owwwww!

So, how was your weekend? Do anything fun? Have a good Mother’s Day?

Huh? What? No, I’m not just asking so I can tell you about my weekend. Geesh. I thought we were friends.

Oh, well, okay, if you insist.

I walked 32 miles on Saturday.

My Fitbit lies.

That’s how far it is, apparently, around the perimeter of Manhattan.

Even though I’d taken a break from running due to 30 extra pounds and a complete lack of natural running ability injury, I still fantasized about the Next Big Thing: ultra-distances (races greater than 26.2 miles, the length of a marathon).

Because I never really loved myself.
Because I never really loved myself.

Several months ago, someone mentioned to me that you could actually walk around the island of Manhattan. As in, there’s a continual path (more or less) that’s pedestrian-friendly (more or less) that circles the perimeter of New York City’s most famous borough. Upon Google searching, I found an event called The Great Saunter, hosted by the Shorewalkers club, where roughly 1,500 people gather annually to do just that.

Half sightseeing tour, half endurance test, the journey at Manhattan’s edge takes you into the shadows of 19 bridges, through as many parks and past art installations, city landmarks and 360 degrees of ever-changing views. – New York Times

If by “ever-changing views” you mean this, I totally agree.

The Great Saunter isn’t a race or a fundraiser, and is in fact meant to be a saunter at 3 miles per hour, but seemed like the perfect opportunity to test my limits. Besides, even if I changed my mind, the registration fee was only $20.

I knew it was unlikely I’d find anyone equally eager to walk 32 miles, so I mentally prepared to go alone.

By mile 15, I really WAS alone.
Good thing, too. By mile 15, I really WAS alone.

In the days leading up to the event, the forecast was doom and gloom. Most people assumed I would bail, but clearly they had forgotten about my pride and boastfulness commitment to greatness. On Friday night, I borrowed a proper windbreaker and put everything I thought I’d need in Ziploc bags: Band-Aids, ibuprofen, Band-Aids, vodka, Band-Aids.

Project Management Professional, at your service.

I was probably more nervous about driving from New Jersey into New York City than walking around it. It was drizzling slightly, but stopped by the time I arrived. I found a nearby parking garage and headed to the starting point, a pub near Battery Park at the southernmost part of Manhattan. I saw more people than I expected, conspicuously outfitted in hiking boots and backpacks.

The official start time was 7:30 am, but dozens of walkers began early, including me, around 7:15 am. I was feeling anxious, antisocial, and eager to get to that evening’s Cinco de Mayo party.

Margarita Jell-O shots = the world's greatest motivator.
Margarita Jell-O shots: the world’s greatest motivator.

As I told my father the night before, it wasn’t a matter of wanting to quit along the way, but rather, how quickly that feeling would arrive. I knew I would suffer. I might not make it. I walked quickly, passing many Saunterers along the way. No one said hello. Eventually, I had nothing but my overstuffed backpack to keep me company.

Greaaaattt big lamp post. Teeeeeeny tiny Statue of Liberty.
Greaaaattt big lamp post. Teeeeeeeeny tiny Statue of Liberty.
George Washington Bridge.
George Washington Bridge.

My legs started feeling stiff by mile 8, which is when I conveniently remembered I hadn’t trained at all for this.  I promised myself a quick stop at mile 10 to pop some ibuprofen. The first of many.

Next time I'm bringing morphine.
Next time I’m bringing more vodka.

Around mile 18, still feeling optimistic that I would finish, and nursing only one blister, I met a woman named Grace, who was walk-jogging the entire distance. Grace had the inside scoop on the fastest walkers.

“Did you see the woman in pink?” she asked me.

I stared back blankly.

“Holding a plastic bag?” she probed.

“Ah! Yes! Bag lady!” I exclaimed. I tried not to sound out of breath trying to keep up with Grace. “How could she hold a plastic grocery bag for 32 miles? Why didn’t she use a backpack? And she was so fast! I couldn’t catch her!”

“I know! Me either!”

Brooklyn Bridge. (Okay, so my pictures aren't great. I was afraid to stop moving.)
Brooklyn Bridge. (Okay, so my pictures aren’t great. I was afraid to stop moving. Actually, this is kind of artsy. I should charge for this.)

I thought I’d been enjoying my solo trek, but by mile 25, I was eternally grateful for Grace’s company. It turned out we had a lot in common, and she shared kind words that had an effect more powerful than 6 months of therapy: she thought I was 22.

“I just turned 34,” I told her. “And lemme tell ya, I feel it right now.”

“When I signed up for this, I thought it would be so easy,” she said.

I looked at her incredulously.

“I can’t believe you’re holding up this well if you came into it with that mindset. I knew it would be awful.”

We shared an “I just want to finish” mentality and held our pace for as long as possible, our conversation wandering between divorce, dating, food, and spirituality. You can cover a lot of ground (pun intended) when you walk with someone for 4 hours.

We stumbled through the remaining few miles, feeling sheer delight when the numbered streets turned to names – that meant we were getting close. The last mile was the hardest physically, but by then we could already taste the beer victory.

South Street seaport, our victory apéritif.
South Street seaport, our victory apéritif.

We started celebrating as soon as we saw Fraunces Tavern, the [starting and] finishing point.

It was 4:30 pm, 9 hours later, when we crab-walked up the stairs and met a very cheerful woman, who took our names and presented us with certificates. We immediately asked about the plastic bag-holding woman in pink.

“Everyone keeps talking about her!” she replied. “I haven’t seen her. Only one guy finished the whole thing before you two.”

Grace and I let out a collective squeal and hugged. Sure, it wasn’t a race, but…

*mic drop*

Second and third finishers of the 630 who completed the full 32-mile walk. (And many will tell you it was 34+ miles. I think they’re very wise and should be trusted.)

After our single celebratory hefeweizen, Grace, who’d found street parking, drove me the 4 blocks to my parking garage, where the attendant said,

“You took a long time.”

“Huh?” I replied, suddenly remembering that I’d told him I’d be back by 5 o’clock. It was only 5:30! And did it really matter?

“That’ll be $45.00,” he continued.

“Huh?” I said again. “I must’ve misread the sign.”

“You went over 10 hours,” he explained.

“So that was a $55.00 beer,” I grumbled, reluctantly handing him a wad of cash.

Don't ever park here.
Don’t ever park here.

But I’d done what I’d come to do. I quickly recovered and drank patted myself on the back for the rest of the weekend.

And by quickly recovered, I mean I’m still hobbling. No marathon, triathlon, or long-distance cycling has ever left me so sore.

So naturally…

I’m already looking for the Next Big Thing. Any ideas?? Have you ever done anything like this?

Bonus shot: Surreal view of the Freedom tower on the (painful) drive home.
Bonus shot: Surreal, undoctored view of the Freedom Tower on the (painful) drive home.

*GIVEAWAY WINNER UPDATE: Many thanks for your hilarious entries in the latest Go Jules Go giveaway! Babs (my mother) had a hard time picking a winner, but chose Misty from Misty’s Laws! Congratulations, Misty – your copy of Jen Kirkman’s memoir, I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself is in the mail!*

18 thoughts on “The Great Saunter a.k.a. My First Ultra-Distance Event a.k.a. Owwwww!”

    1. Yes! Keep me posted! I really want to do one of those Blerch Marathons hosted by The Oatmeal, but the upcoming ones are in Seattle and Vegas. I’m not sure my old bones could handle a long flight AND insane mileage in the same weekend.

  1. That’s awesome! I had just come back from my awesomely long dog walk this morning. 2.5 miles. Guess I have some work to do. But I will consider taking a plastic bag (and Vodka) with me. I might make it to 2.75 miles tomorrow.

    1. Oh now that’s just cruel. (They actually do an event where you climb the Empire State Building. Which is what I feel like I’m doing every day at work – I work on the 11th floor.)

  2. Congratulations! Also, I too think that your Brooklyn Bridge pic is wall-worthy.

    Just curious, how was the two-day body pain after doing little/no preparation? (Coz we all know it’s not the next day when the suffering begins… 🙂 )

    1. Ah, you know the agony of second-day pain! I was actually thrilled to be so sore the next day, hoping that that meant Day 2 wouldn’t be so bad. It was juuuust slightly better, and by Day 3 I was actually feeling almost human again. It’s as shocking as the fact that that Brooklyn Bridge photo isn’t blurry.

    1. Yessss! I just clicked over to your blog and see that congratulations are in order – 200 lbs!! That’s f&*^#$ incredible! You look as awesome as my Brooklyn Bridge photo – nay! The Freedom Tower photo! Rock on!! Glad to see you’re returning to blogging. I’m trying to get back into the swing of things, too!

  3. Hi Julesy!! (Remember me, formerly Sprinkles?) Great job on your magnificent saunter! I’ve done many 10 and 15 mile hikes, but never more than that! I’ve gotta do some reading and catch up with you!

    1. Sprinkles!!! So nice to see you (although I can barely see you, since you are disappearing! Hiking is sooooo much harder. There’s a 50k ultra in PA in Sept that I kind of want to try (it’s a run, but walker-friendly), but there’s 4,000 ft in elevation gain and one really rocky part. I don’t know if I could do it in a day! The Great Saunter elevation gain was probably 250 ft. 275, if you count the part where I got lost.

  4. Fabulous! I haven’t been to the gym in 1-1/2 years and gained back most of the weight I lost, but I’ve started back on the straight-and-narrow path by walking and starting to eat right again. Sigh.

    You’re an inspiration to me, Jules. In fact, I’m so inspired I’m going to walk all the way down the block for happy hour tonight. But I’m waiting until 5 because it’s not like I NEED that drink. Nope.

    1. I will meet you there!! I tell ya, Peggles, it’s a struggle. I’ve tried everything. (Stay tuned for future posts, “Life Without Cheese” and “Hypnotherapy: How to Lose Weight…or is it Your Own Mind?”

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