Walking Manhattan’s 32-Mile Shoreline

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george washington bridge on the great saunter

The Great Saunter

The shoreline of Manhattan is a 32-mile walk taking at least 12 hours at a 3mph pace. Every year the Shorewalkers organization puts on the Great Saunter, which is exactly that. If you register for the walk, it is $20 which gets you a bib number and their official map. There is some support of gatorade along the walk. At the lunch stop in Inwood Park they provide some chips, gatorade, and moleskine bandages.

Don’t let the word “saunter” fool you. This is no easy walk. It is an intense physical and mental challenge to walk the distance of an ultra marathon. It is a task for the physically fit who are willing to push themselves and suffer for an accomplishment. It’s not “just” a walk and you can seriously injure yourself by moving steadily for 12-hours straight.

It requires preparation. Not necessarily training but you definitely need the right clothing, strategy, and most of all supportive shoes. Hiking boots or newer running sneakers will work. Dry wicking socks are a must. Layers. Snacks. Extra socks. Water. Salt. Sugar. I can’t stress enough how this is a pretty serious walk.

With all the said, it’s a really fun experience. I walked it last year under much more favorable conditions. We can’t predict the weather. While last year was a high of 66, this year was a high of 60. That’s a pretty big difference for being outside all day. It also was rainy and overcast most of the time.

In the late afternoon the sun peeked out and that helped. Mood-wise there seemed to be a big difference between the two experiences. When it was warm and sunny, of course we were in greater spirits. I’m not sure I will do the walk again but I will factor in the weather next time. For runs, I’d never think about skipping because of rain. But running in gloomy weather for 2 hours isn’t nearly as bad as walking in it for over 12. Last year we started at 7:30am and ended right at 7:30pm. This year it took us an hour longer. That’s how it goes!

Little Red Lighthouse on the Great Saunter

How to Prepare to Walk an Ultramarathon

Changing my socks and using body glide on my feet was a life saver. If I do this again, I’ll bring two extras because putting on fresh socks made a huge difference! We still stopped to stretch a lot. I brought more snacks than last time, and it still wasn’t enough. I was hungry the same whole time until the last 3 miles when my stomach started feeling upset. That usually happens to me after intense physical activity.

I have the background of being a distance runner so take this with a grain of salt. Being able to ignore the pain, something I’ve learned from running, was extremely helpful. I was decked out in running gear including sneakers. I saw some people in hiking boots but for cement walking I prefer sneakers. I had dry wicking socks, compression sleeves on my legs, running pants, a flipbelt to stash snacks in; then 3 layers of shirts including a tank top, long-sleeve shirt, and running hoodie for more pockets and warmth. We all wore baseball caps, which I also recommend to be prepared for good (sunshine) and bad (rain) weather.

I may not do the full walk again but I would do just the first half. I felt “fine” (considering) at the halfway point of 16-miles. This is in Inwood where we eat lunch. There’s a subway station right there too. And that distance is still nothing to laugh at. Even “just” walking. Plus the West side is a much nicer walk the the east.

gps watch battery lasts 11 half hours

My GPS watch battery died after 11.5 hours

I didn’t really start to feel it until about mile 21. That was when my energy level really started sinking. My muscles started tightening up, especially my hip. The pain kind of sustained from this point, never feeling worse or anything. But I kept feeling more and more tired. Even after finishing. A friend of mine (brilliant illustrator Nikki DeSautelle) felt hyped up after finishing the walk. But I just wanted to lay in a horizontal position for a long time. I did take the train and still walked home from the station.

My recovery, and you do have to recover for this, was taking a warm bath & shower. Drinking lots and lots of liquid (gatorade, water, ginger ale for my stomach, and tea for something warm). Then elevating my feet – I slept like that too. If you have a stick or foam roller, that will help a lot.

kips bay from great saunter

The Best Way to Experience Manhattan

The walk is beautiful and I recommend it as an experience. If you are new to the city or don’t get to the upper parts of Manhattan much, it is a wonderful way to see all the neighborhoods. The scenery changes on a dime and more than anything the walk helps relight my love for New York City. When I was going through a tough time my first year here, I wish I had participated in The Great Saunter. Seeing so much of the city all at once, while also having time to think, meditate, and still be able to talk to others when needed is truly a unique experience that might have sped up my falling in love with the city.

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