New Year’s Eve in New York City. It’s a coveted spot for thousands of people each year. On the last day of 2021, it certainly was a goal destination for Jen Bernard and Christopher Regan.
Their 40-mile Croton Aqueduct Trail run, which starts from upper Westchester County, concluded in Manhattan; they covered the distance in a little less than eight hours, finishing well before the ball dropped to usher in 2022.
For Bernard and Regan, it was all about the journey. The destination? NYC on New Year’s Eve? Not so much. After enjoying the solitude of the trail on an unseasonably warm early winter day, the crowded streets weren’t much fun for the self-described introverts.
“Once we went through Central Park and onto Fifth Avenue, the streets were very crowded,’’ Bernard said in an email interview. “Getting around the crowds of people after running 38 miles was the most challenging part.’’
Regan added: “Manhattan was definitely the worst part of the journey. Since it was New Year’s Eve, even with COVID, there was a lot of people that we had to dodge. Also, the sidewalks around the outside of Central Park were rough for running on with crowds.’’
Why run 40 miles on the last day of 2021? Ultrarunners get asked the “why” question quite a bit. In this case, Bernard and Regan love the challenge of long distances. In particular, 2021 was a great year of running growth for Bernard, who tackled many new distances and set personal-best times at a wide variety of races.
There was also a very practical reason for their 40-mile journey from the country to the city. It was a training run for an upcoming 100-mile ultra that they are both aiming for in two months.
In fact, the duo had recently completed a 51-mile rail trail run in training. So, a 40-miler just fits into the scheme of things. Ultrarunning race organizer and coach Steve Estremera planned the Croton Aqueduct run as an annual event on New Year’s Eve.
Estremera coaches Bernard and many other local ultra and trail running enthusiasts. Last year, Bernard struggled through this 40-miler.
“I wasn’t in shape to run that distance yet and the last 10 miles or so were very painful with a lot of walking,’’ she said of last year’s endeavor. “I decided that this year I was going to redeem myself and finish strong. We didn’t exactly train for this but it was a training run for our 100-mile race at the end of March.’’
Regan said this 40-miler, which took them 7 hours and 47 minutes to complete, was an extremely successful venture. He called Bernard an “excellent planner,” which helped on their one-way run to the south. Rather than carrying hydration supplies for the long day, she mapped out stores along the way to stop and refill and replenish.
Their 100-miler race plan is to follow a 10-minute run/walk plan (7:30 run/2:30 walk), so the pair stuck with that plan. They included some extra walking time on uphills and extra running times on downhill. They started out in the dark and fog at 5:30 a.m.
Bernard said they were able to calculate their hydration needs based on their recent 51-mile training run. They made three pit stops along the way, and she improved her time by nearly three-and-a-half hours from the 2020 run.
Both Regan and Bernard said they were able to feed off the energy of running with each other. “I’ve run a lot of long races over the years and I’ve never gotten to enjoy someone’s company during those runs,’’ Regan said. “It definitely helps to reduce the mental load. I’ve come to appreciate runners who I can get along with for long periods of time and that’s not an easy thing to come by for an introvert.’’
Added Bernard: “I also had a lot of fun running with Chris, he’s great company no matter what type of run we are doing. Since I ran it last year I knew what was coming up and it was fun being a guide and showing Chris where we were going.’’
Training and racing during the pandemic have gone well for both Bernard and Regan. Regan had one hiccup — when his trusty treadmill stopped working at the end of 2019, which took a toll on him mentally and physically. He said although he didn’t race much in 2021, he grew to enjoy running with others much more.
For Bernard, she had an injury-free 2021 and parlayed that into personal-best times at 10 kilometers, half marathon, marathon and 50 kilometers. She doubled her yearly mileage, added a lot of hills thanks to Angela Legg’s popular Hudson Valley Elevation challenge, and even took home some age-group awards and first-place finishes.
“I’m more of an introvert,’’ she said, “so the pandemic didn’t really affect my training or social life, and there were enough races local this year to make me content.”
Regan agreed. “I think introverts held up better during the pandemic,’’ he said. “I was fine working from home, not going out, and using the treadmill … I actually prefer it. I’ve somewhat gotten attached to Jen’s training plan, although I still do some extra stuff.’’
Looking ahead to 2022, both are optimistic for more and better long-distance challenges, starting with the 100-mile race at the end of March. Blackbeard’s Revenge 100 is a point-to-point race that starts on the Outer Banks and runs the length of the North Carolina islands.
“I’ve vacationed there many times growing up so it’ll be fun to visit the northern part of the islands again as an adult and to see the southern part for the first time,’’ Bernard said.
Other local runners attempting the Blackbeard’s Revenge 100 miler include Jessica Velez, Jennifer Rankin, Nicole Barone, Adam Bartlett and Tim Johnson.
“As long as races don’t get canceled, I would prefer things to stay the way they are,’’ Regan said. “I’ve gotten a spark back for some crazy things and my friends are on board.’’
Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club member Pete Colaizzo, the track coach at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, writes on running every week. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more club information, go to www.mhrrc.org