David Kilgore certainly didn’t plan on running along the FDR Drive on a Saturday afternoon.
But there was no other way around the construction on the East River walkway, and turning around would have cost him the lead in the grueling 30-mile race around the city.
And technically, he wasn’t breaking any event rules.
There were none.
“I thought I was going to lose too much time, so I just went for it,” said the 27-year-old runner, who ended up darting between the Manhattan highway’s speeding cars on his way up to East 120th Street.
His destination was the third checkpoint in a series of eight in this underground footrace, the fifth annual OSR30.
Part of an increasingly popular trend, these ultramarathon races that occasionally make their way to cities are not usually sanctioned and always span longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon.
This year’s OSR30, which took place on March 30, started on the Lower East Side, covered the perimeter of Manhattan and included parts of Brooklyn, such as Dumbo and Williamsburg — bringing with it particular challenges for Kilgore.
There was the highway miscalculation, for one, which the runner partly blamed on his overuse of the GPS app on his phone.
“I made a few deviations off course,’’ admitted the Florida native, who has lived in the city for only a couple of years. “I’m definitely not as familiar with the city as some of the other guys.’’
But Joe DiNoto of Orchard Street Runners, who designed the course, said the adventure element of the event only helps runners break away from the mold of traditional races.
“It’s like the whole city is at our disposal, and there’s no one here to stop us,” DiNoto said. “You can run anywhere — so why don’t you? Why are you sticking to one f–king path?”
For the 30 men and women — including this reporter — who toed the starting line of the OSR30, running such long distances through the city’s streets is part of the thrill.
There were no race-day medals or commemorative “finisher” T-shirts for running the concrete-covered course.
There was only one prize: $100 for the fastest man and woman to cross the finish line.
Kilgore, who along with other competitors paid $70 to enter the race, maintained a place in the front pack until about a dozen or so miles in, when he started to lose momentum on a long stretch of the West Side Highway and last year’s winner, 36-year-old Travis Hawkins, passed him for first place.
“I knew that that guy Kilgore was fast and that he was going to go after it,” Hawkins said. “But I just had to stick to doing my own thing . . . And the execution went perfectly.”
Hawkins, a world-class triathlete who works as a personal trainer in the city, kept a steady clip of just over six-minute miles to break the tape on Ludlow Street in downtown Manhattan. He set a new course record at 2 hours, 55 minutes and 58 seconds.
Like most runners in this underground community, it was all in good fun.
“I was just running through the streets with my friends,” Hawkins said. “I felt like a kid.”
Kilgore, who struggled with “hitting the wall” — also known by runners as bonking, when energy levels are depleted — finished in third place at 3 hours, 13 minutes and 40 seconds.
This is urban running at its peak, and everything DiNoto could have hoped for when he designed the course.
“I love when my races break people,” said DiNoto, who started his running group nearly 10 years ago after losing his gig as an architect.
“And that’s what we did, we f–king broke Kilgore.”
DiNoto, who now operates the running group full-time, organizes several races around the city each year, getting out the news about them through social media and word of mouth.
In most cases, the runners don’t know the course until just minutes before the start time.
The number of people participating doesn’t meet the city’s requirement for a permit, so it’s up to the athletes to obey, or not, the rules of the road.
In addition to ultramarathons, DiNoto also recently put on what he dubbed the Bread Route Races — a three-race series, ranging from four to six miles, designed in honor of his Italian immigrant family’s bread-truck routes in Manhattan — with some starting as early as 2 a.m. during cold, rainy weekends over the winter.
“Sometimes I think the worse the conditions are, the more runners are willing to show up,” he said. “They’re complete psychopaths.”
And there are plenty of them.
This year’s OSR30 was held on the same weekend as two other popular ultras. One, known as The Speed Project, is a 340-mile relay race from Los Angeles through the desert to Las Vegas for teams of around six to 10 runners. The other, the notorious Barkley Marathons, is a terrifying 100-mile course in the hills of Tennessee that not one runner finished this year.
While the number of people signing up for marathons has ballooned in recent years — the New York City Marathon boasted a world-record 52,812 finishers in 2018 — the world of ultramarathons has enjoyed its own boom.
Nearly 1,000 people have been flocking to Washington, DC, in November to run the JFK 50 Mile. The race — one of many that began in the early 1960s, when John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to trek 50 miles in a 22-hour span — is the oldest ultramarathon in the country.
The sanctioned, 100-mile Western States Endurance Run through California’s mountains, considered the pinnacle race of the ultrarunning community, received nearly 6,000 applications this year.
But because its permit allowed only 369 people to run, very few beat the odds to even enter.
While in most cases the winning prizes are small, for most long-distance runners, it’s all about competing.
“There’s just so much that can happen in a long-distance race,” said Jes Woods, 33, a running coach for Nike who has competed in a number of 100-mile races on trails across the country and who won the women’s title at this year’s OSR30 in just the last few blocks of the race.
“It can even the playing field a little bit,” she said. “It turns the race into more of a mental game than a physical one.”
It’s a reason why some runners who can’t race at the speed of short-distance sprinters can sometimes land on the podium.
“You’re not necessarily thinking about the run itself,” said Steve Green, 32, who has a job in corporate banking and clocked an impressive 3-hour, 34-minute finish at this year’s OSR30.
“You’re thinking, ‘How far away am I from the other runners? Do I have the best route? Is that taxi around the corner going to hit me?’ ”