Jon really needed a beer after this one
This year, TCC set two running goals, first, to complete the “9+1” necessary to qualify for the 2017 New York City Marathon, and second, to complete four of the “Five-Borough Series” races necessary to qualify for the 2017 New York City Half. Since Caroline ran the NYC Half earlier this year, and the two of us ran the Brooklyn Half, Queens 10-K, and Bronx 10-Miler together, the only thing standing in our way of completing both goals was my running the Staten Island Half.
I had never run Staten Island before, so I asked some of my runner friends about the race and the reaction was, well, less than enthusiastic. But I like to form my own opinion, so I went into the race with an open mind.
At 6:21 am on a cold, rainy, windy Sunday morning, standing by myself in short sleeves, trying in vain to hail a cab, my opinion was officially formed.
I like the concept of the Five-Borough Series. Running every race in Central Park gets monotonous, and it’s nice to explore New York City while running a race. But the shortcoming of these outer borough races is the logistical pain of getting to a far-flung start line at an ungodly early hour. Sometimes, you can make sacrifices so you don’t end up having to leave two hours before the start of the race, like sharing a cab to the start line of the Brooklyn Half, for example. But, unless you own a boat, you’re stuck migrating to the start of the Staten Island Half with the masses, on the Staten Island Ferry.
Now for those who are preparing for their first NYC Marathon, taking the ferry to the start of the race is probably really exciting. I remember the butterflies I would get in my stomach when I would see ANY sign of preparation for the marathon, and since many marathoners do take the ferry to the start, I imagine that this would be very exciting for those looking ahead to November.
For the rest of us, taking a ferry to the start line is annoying at best. The Staten Island Ferry is actually pretty efficient, as far as New York City transportation goes, but cramming thousands of runners on board an early-morning ferry tests everyone’s patience (note/reminder: New Yorkers are not patient).
But the ferry would prove to be the best part of the morning, as the scene upon arrival could only be described with words unfit to be published. Many runners, myself included, opted to stay inside the ferry terminal for as long as possible, as the weather outside was brutal (we’ll get to this). NYRR warned us on its website that it was a half mile walk from the ferry terminal to the starting corrals, and I’d like to think that runners are smart enough to understand how much time it takes to walk a half mile. But at 8 am sharp (note: it does not take a half hour to walk a half mile), NYRR officials started SCREAMING for everyone to RUN to the starting corrals.
Did I mention that it was cold, windy, and rainy? And that most runners were dressed in short sleeves, as the weather forecast had called for a relatively balmy 60 degrees at race time? And that, when we arrived at the corrals, having ditched umbrellas while en route, the corrals weren’t even open yet? In fact, the corrals opened at 8:15, five minutes before they were scheduled to CLOSE. All this makes you wonder whether NYRR considered canceling the race before hastily deciding to move forward with it.
Fast forward to 8:29, and I’m a shivering mess, basically uncontrollably shaking while people around me starred. I was already soaked, and hadn’t even started running yet. The wind essentially acted as nature’s unnecessary air conditioner, as we waited for clearance on the roadways, which took five excruciating minutes. At long last, the starting horn sounded and, wait what, my corral was being held back for three more minutes?!? Not cool, NYRR, not cool at all.
FINALLY, we were released, and I pressed play on my classic rock playlist (I almost never listen to music while I run, but figured that today, I needed to distract myself from the conditions as much as possible, and classic rock on a Sunday morning seemed to fit the bill). After “Good Times, Bad Times” ended, there was nothing but the sound of silence. No, not the Simon & Garfunkel song, actual lack of noise. I ran a mile while praying that the music would start up again, and then, finding a storefront awning, veered off the course to find that, thank heavens, my iPhone was not drowned, and merely needed a volume adjustment. Phew.
Now, I was ready to run, and I resolved to have a good attitude and not let the rain bother me. And, for a while, this worked well. The first third of the course heads south from the ferry terminal at St. George, through an urban residential neighborhood, then along a tree-lined avenue, and under the Staten Island Expressway before descending a large hill (“uh oh, this is going to suck on the way back,” I thought) onto Father Capodanno Blvd., which runs alongside the beach. Although I enjoy seeing new areas, the route was a bit on the boring side, reminding me of the races I’ve run in small cities and towns. Most importantly, though, the route was fairly easy, consisting of many flat straightaways, and just a few rolling hills (besides the big downhill).
At the halfway mark, the course made two left turns onto the boardwalk, which would have been really cool had it not been so freezing (see what I did there?). Truthfully, I was so concerned with avoiding the large puddles of water on the boardwalk that I did not take the time to look out at the beach and ocean, and, even if I did, there was nothing to see on such a dreary day. After a few hundred yards, we rejoined Father Capodanno Blvd., and got to do the stare down with the runners in later corrals on this two-way portion of the out-and-back course.
At this point in the course, roughly 7 miles in, the weather became a huge factor. While annoying for the first half of the course, now, the rain was being blown into our faces by an unrelenting headwind. I felt like I was pushing a weighted sled as I ran, and the raindrops began to feel like hail. We turned a corner, and surely, the wind would abate as we ran away from the beach, right? Nope. As we ran up that awful hill, the wind made it seem like Harlem Hill and Cat Hill had fused together and mutated to form the longest, steepest hill in New York, and runners around me were less than enthused. Finally cresting the hill, we headed directly towards the Verrazano, and surely it would be all downhill from here, right?
We entered the grounds of Ft. Wadsworth, the staging area for the New York City Marathon, and you could see many of the runners getting excited as the emotional boost of running through such a meaningful area set in. But then we rounded the corner, onto a precipice over the Verrazano Narrows, with wind and water in our faces, up another huge hill, and I honestly felt like the Andrea Gail trying to crest that final wave in The Perfect Storm.
With that fun experience over with, we had about four miles to go, and every bone, muscle, and ligament in my body was telling me to get this done as fast as possible before each said “screw this, I’m out”. I’m talking knees, hips, ankles, feet, back, you name it (note: I woke up the next morning and my ABS were sore, that’s how much of a full body experience this was).
The final four miles of the race were, quite frankly, brutal. The course wove through a series of industrial parks along the water, totally exposed to the elements, most of them flooded pretty badly. Signs for first aid stations had been knocked over by the wind, cups were floating everywhere, and it would have looked like the incredibly resilient volunteers were crying, but it was impossible to tell with rain streaming down everyone’s faces.
Finally, at long last, the ferry terminal appeared, and we did a loop around the Staten Island Yankees’ stadium before turning into the stadium, with a dash along the foul line towards home plate, through a giant mud pit, across the finish line at long last.
The final mile of the race, I started to get very cold and hungry, and could only think about the fact that since this was a half marathon, NYRR would have to have heat sheets and upgraded food/beverage from the usual post-race amenities. Nope. Just cups of water, pretzels, a soggy bagel, and a freezing cold walk back around the stadium and into the ferry terminal where, mercifully, beer sales had begun in time for the 11 am ferry back to Manhattan.
So, in conclusion, this is really not a bad race. It’s not a particularly sexy one, but it does include a number of cool elements, between the boardwalk, Fort Wadsworth, and finishing in the stadium. However, when I say that this was the worst race of my life, I’m not exaggerating, and I’d suspect that most other participants would agree. I’m a huge supporter of NYRR, and think that they do a fantastic job of managing races, but they really messed up here by not canceling the race. I understand that people would have been disappointed, but, frankly, runners’ safety was put at risk here with such a wet, windy course, which may have been ok for a four-miler, but not for a long distance race. Quite frankly, it’s not worth it to get injured while running the Staten Island Half, especially for those numerous runners who were using this as a training run for the marathon, and NYRR should have canceled or shortened the race.