This is an event that I’ve shown up for every year, albeit with my camera, not my running shoes. Each year my running team, the Staten Island Athletic Club, stages a race to raise money for its Scholarship Fund, which provides tuition help to promising student-athletes at local high schools.
Starting in 2013, SIAC was able to partner with the NYC Parks Department to create a race within Freshkills Park, infamously known as the location of the old landfill but under a long-term conversion project to what will be one of the biggest parks in New York City. It’s by no means a unique conversion project (Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx is another example) but the scale of it is, I believe, unprecedented.
While it will take some time for the park to fully open to the public (not least because the size will require staffing and facilities to be built to support visitors), they offer bi-annual “sneak peak” days to show the progress made, and occasional special events such as this race.
After our successful 5k at the Staten Island Half, our men’s open team captain had suggested that the 5k at this event might be a good next race for me, but having watched this race twice and admired the effort of the runners, and hearing that the 10k course was now USATF certified, I felt I wanted to try the “main event” of the day. This is the race’s second year doing double duty as the USATF New York championships, bringing some of the top teams from the city, and as a somewhat competitive runner (albeit coming back from injury) you want to run with the best runners you possibly can.
Race day arrived with me feeling a little sore – somewhat recklessly I had decided to run a tough 10-mile training run in the city on Thursday, and more significantly on Wednesday night put in a long session of my rehab exercises. Three days later and I still had groin/hamstring soreness from all the squats. I opted to go for maximum support: KT tape on the inner knees, running tights to hold everything else together, my max-cushion shoes to avoid any foot issues.
Pre-race warmup: relaxed but not feeling particularly fast
Unsurprisingly I didn’t exactly feel speedy in my warmup, but I already knew I wasn’t going to be competing for any prizes. I took note of all the clubs in attendance: NYAC, Central Park Track Club, North Brooklyn Runners, Dashing Whippets, Prospect Park TC, Van Cortlandt TC… in short, the best of the best. We had a good turnout last year (from the Whippets especially) but no doubt this year surpassed it. Although I don’t represent SIAC in any official capacity, other than a member and unofficial club photographer, I do recognize what a big deal it is that these clubs will send strong teams all the way to the West Shore of Staten Island, and it says a lot for the trust put in our club’s ability to organize such a race.
And so onto the race itself. I’m still constantly amazed at my first mile splits. Amongst the throng of runners I feel like I’m jogging, and then get to the mile mark to discover I’ve run one of my fastest splits of the year. This likely explains some of my personal best times in big NYRR races where I have company for the whole race.
Start: this is easy!
In this one, however, the field got strung out quickly by the first hill. We went off the road, onto a gravel path and, of course, up a hill. Some slight worries about getting a “Mizuno rock” in my heel (any other wearers of that brand will know what I mean) but overall was strong going uphill, passing a couple of the Whippets’ ladies with whom I’d been pacing. Careful back down the hill (descents continue to be hard on my knees), and back onto the road, but the damage was already done – my legs didn’t have much spring left in them, I was isolated with no other runners close to me, and had to start digging deep to keep the legs turning over and not lose too much speed. I amused myself with the “No Passing” signs by the road, and hoped the runners behind me would respect these instructions.
The last two years as a photographer, I’ve stationed myself around mile 5, on the “North Mound” of the park. I hadn’t seen anything of the South Mound other than runners ascending the hills in the distance. I found it to be a real challenge. By the time I returned to familiar territory I was fading, seeing the runners ahead of me recede further away into the distance. I looked forward to any and all human contact with volunteers, just to make it less of a solo time trial.
Eventually I reached the Mile 5 hill that I knew so well, and as I rounded the corner of the initial peak, I heard the familiar voice of my daughter, cheering and giving high fives to runners with her friend. It gave me just the energy needed to get to the real peak, where I’m told there is a great view, though I was a little tired to appreciate it.
Mile 5: ok, this isn’t easy. But best cheering section ever.
Then down the hill, yes! More volunteers to say hello to, yes! Back on the road, the same one on which we’d walked into the park. Walking to the start village it had seemed endless. Running wasn’t that much more enjoyable, but at this point I wasn’t going to be denied. I might’ve been making a slight dent into the lead of the runners in front of me. Not enough to catch them, but I certainly wasn’t going to let anyone else go past me.
The Mile 6 marker was well received (thank you SIAC for the well marked course), I found another gear, and managed to look good for the finish, where I was given a big shout-out on the PA system that I’m probably not quite worthy of yet.
Almost home. Steve Zimmerman gives the best support, even if it looks like he’s yelling at me for being slow.
43:46 on the watch, and done. Nowhere near a PR, but as a training run, it’s my best sustained effort of this return to running, so I’m satisfied. Another solid step in the right direction.
I’ll finish up with some pros and cons of this race:
- Challenging hilly course.
- Good combination of road and off-road surface.
- Great post-race food and drinks thanks to the generous support of local businesses.
- Nice race shirt (tech material, neon-coloured which will be useful for dark winter runs).
- Gets a little quiet in places. The remote location doesn’t lend itself to spectators out on the course. In hindsight I might have worn headphones.
- Speed which with results are announced. I want to see this race continue to do well, and it’s sad to see the teams who have travelled a long way to come to the race leave because they can’t continue to wait for the awards ceremony.
Photo credits: Chre Genao (mile 5), Michelle Fishman-Cross (all other photos)