The nearly half-mile Pulaski Bridge itself doesn’t get a lot of mention, other than it’s near the halfway part of the race. As compared with the massive Verrazzano Narrows at the start or the Queensboro bridge at mile 15 to 16 that dumps you out on 1st Avenue, the Pulaski Bridge is just a way to get from Brooklyn to Queens.
But as you run the New York City Marathon, one thing you notice is that the bridges are tough. All the talk is of the hills of Central Park near the finish, but I found that the bridges were harder than I expected, making me a little more tired that I wanted to be, long before entering Central Park.
The Pulaski Bridge is a good example. It’s not as long as the big bridges before and after it, but there’s an incline to it as you get on the bridge, then you run up and over the midpoint (where the two parts of the drawbridge come together) and it goes down. When you look at the marathon elevation profile, it’s barely a blip. Get 13 miles into the New York City Marathon, however, and you find that the Pulaski Bridge is definitely a hill to be respected.
Halfway Systems Check
Since the Pulaski Bridge sits near the halfway mark, it’s a great chance to do a “systems check.” How are you feeling? How is your fueling? Is your pacing as planned?
For me, I always think of the halfway mark in the New York City Marathon as the signal to get ready. It’s not that you suddenly start racing. It’s just that you get mentally ready for the next important parts of the race: Queensboro Bridge, 1st Avenue, the Bronx and then the big push through Central Park to the finish.
Pulaski Bridge is when you must start paying attention. You will need to carefully dole out your energy so it’s not time to zone out even through there are still 13.1 miles to be run. Instead, start to engage.
Get up and over the Pulaski Bridge. Find your groove leading up to the Queensboro Bridge and then get across it as well. Control yourself on First Avenue, handle the relative quietness of the tired miles in the Bronx, and set yourself up for a fantastic last 10K as you race past screaming fans helping you to conquer the Central Park hills.
That’s what the Pulaski Bridge did for me when I ran the marathon. I thought, “Okay. We got this. Just keep the pace smooth and don’t get too excited as the crowds swell in the coming miles.”
There is still a lot of running to be done, but getting to and over the Pulaski Bridge feels like you are now running in New York City.
I was keenly aware I was in New York City the first time I crossed the Pulaski Bridge. It was the 1997 New York City Marathon—my first marathon, and my first ever trip to New York City.
The first police motorcycle came along side me as I approached the bridge. By the time I got to other side, there was another motorcycle as well as a helicopter overhead. When you are running your first marathon on your first trip to New York and suddenly there are police motorcycles and helicopters around you, it can be unnerving.
In those days, all runners (elite men, elite women and regular runners) started at the same time—just on different levels of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. Everyone joined together a few miles later. Eventually, the women’s lead pack swallowed up male runners who started on the other level of the bridge. That is what was happening to me. My goal was 2:30 so it should not have been a surprise that the lead women would catch me.
Franziska Rochat-Moser went on to win the women’s race in 2:28:43. I finished 130th in 2:40:15 (got a little too excited on 1st Avenue and paid for it in Central Park).
The elite women now start before the other runners so thankfully we can all get to see their race on TV unencumbered by other runners like me. But for me, it was really cool to see them up close. I hadn’t yet coached National Champions, World Championship competitors or Olympians so it was just such an awesome experience.
What I learned is that New York is one of the best yet one of the most challenging marathons you will run. Nail your race strategy and you’ll be rewarded.
Counting Up; Counting Down
If you’re like me, I count up to the half-marathon mark then I begin to count down to the finish line. The Pulaski Bridge is where I made that transition. As I came off the bridge, it was no longer “mile 14,” it was “only 12 miles to go.”
Maybe it’s because I run a lot of out and back runs in training, but I always find that the counting down makes the run go faster and I stay engaged. I look forward to the halfway mark so I can make that transition. That’s what the Pulaski Bridge meant to me. I was on the downhill side of the race and it was about to be go time!
Aside from the motorcycles around me, the other thing that I remember about the Pulaski Bridge is the quietness. With throngs of crowds lining most of the course, it’s on the bridges that everything seems so quiet. It can almost be shockingly quiet.
Plus, you get a view of the skyline. That’s another great thing about the New York City Marathon. You run from hyper-local views in the neighborhoods to sweeping city skyline views from some of the bridges. From Pulaski you see the inimitable profile of New York City to your left and start to feel the excitement that will culminate when you cross the next bridge up ahead—Queensboro—and descend into Manhattan.