Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Race Report: Staten Island Half Marathon

The Whitehall Terminal for
the Staten Island Ferry
After getting back to New York from Hartford, my friend Sally and I tiredly got back to my apartment, pretty much crashing since early the next morning we were getting up for the long trip down to Staten Island via subway and ferry to the start.  After running the Hartford Marathon on Saturday, we were slated to take on the Staten Island Half Marathon on Sunday.  In the five years I had been running at that point, the only time I had ever run in Staten Island was when leaving the confines of Fort Wadsworth and making my way onto the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for the NYC Marathon; I had never run this New York Road Runners managed race. While we left early enough to consider the amount of time it took for the subway at that early hour to take us into the city, the 7 train became severely delayed due to some track work or accident further down the line once we got to Queensboro Plaza, so with another runner and his wife heading into Manhattan for the ferry, we four decided to jump into an Uber and get ourselves to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal via car instead.

Getting onto the ferry w/ other runners
I'm pretty sure this terminal only gets super crowded twice a year, and both instances are with races - the Staten Island Half Marathon in October, and a few weeks later for the NYC Marathon, which starts on Staten Island.  With security high, we made our way into the terminal and quickly got ourselves onto a ferry to take us down Upper New York Bay to St. George Ferry Terminal, where along Bay Street, runners would assemble for the race.  We donned our costumes (with the weather being pretty nice that day, compared to the wet weather in Hartford the day before) while on the ferry, and prepared to disembark as we passed by Lady Liberty watching us from her pedestal on Liberty Island.

Good morning, Lady Liberty...
Originally, the course started near the St. George Ferry Terminal, then ran down Bay Street toward Fort Wadsworth, then out to Father Capodanno Boulevard and back to the terminal’s parking area. Over the years, the course has changed slightly due to road construction; for instance, in the 1990s, the finish was moved inside Fort Wadsworth (athlete's village for the marathon), but then changed again when that move proved to complicate runner traffic, especially when needing to get back to the ferry terminal.  Starting in 2014, the route changed again when construction began on some large scale developments on the waterfront, so the finish line was moved to inside the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees.  In 2017, more construction caused another tweak to the course, moving the start and finish to Bay Street, which required mileage to be made up by adding the boardwalk and the back hill of Fort Wadsworth, a climb that is rewarded by the beautiful views of Manhattan.  Additionally, over the years, runners have had to brave the elements with usually crappy weather - rain and wind - so this wasn't the most desirable of races, paired with the long trip to get down to the island for many runners who live further away in the other boroughs.

Running down Bay Street
This year, however, the weather was gorgeous.  Crisp, cool fall weather— with a temperature of 50 degrees -- quite different compared to the day before in Hartford.  These were ideal race conditions, and so we made our way to the start area, which was split between the first wave of runners on one side of the divided Bay Street, and the second wave on the other; while wave one took off at 8am, we were slated to take off in the second wave at 8:30. We stepped off the starting mat off of the intersection with Slosson Terrace at about 8:34, taking it easy as we made our way south along commercial Bay Street. After an initial downhill descent from the start, the course flattened out fairly significantly as we made our way right through the thick of the island's northeastern waterfront neighborhoods of Tompkinsville, Stapleton, Clifton, and Rosebank.

We had already run two miles by the time we passed Hylan Boulevard, as the commercial surroundings gave way to a more residential setting in the neighborhood of Shore Acres.  This part of the course started to lightly ascend uphill, and actually met up with a section of roadway that was shared with the return of faster runners, coming up to their 11th mile of the race.  And since we started half an hour behind the first wave, it wasn't much of a surprise to see these race leaders coming up our way, at this point just under an hour into their race, and close to finishing.  We continued on down this residential area, before finally making our first turn of the race, turning right on School Road across from Von Briesen Park.

School Road headed west
We continued to ascend as we made our way westward along School Road, a four lane roadway that forms part of the northern boundary of Fort Wadsworth. Eventually, the course veered slightly left, following Lily Pond Avenue underneath the road structure for I-278 leading up to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. It was a fairly long tunnel, considering how wide the interstate is, and we emerged on the other side, reaching the 5K mark in a conservative 34:05, continuing to head southward along the avenue's southbound lanes.

Heading down Fr. Capodanno Blvd.
Just as we passed McClean Avenue, we came up to another section of course that was split with runners coming up toward our direction. There was a nice downhill descent as we made our way down the now divided Lily Pond Avenue (separated by a grassy median), with Fort Wadsworth to our left and the residential neighborhood of Arrochar to our left.  Being that Halloween was a few weeks away, it was fun to see some homes decked out in decorations for the fun holiday; it made us, dressed as fruit, fit in with a costumed theme! 

Eventually, Lily Pond Avenue curved around down to Father Capodanno Boulevard, a primary north-south artery for Staten Island's East Shore, running through the neighborhoods of Arrochar, South Beach, Ocean Breeze, and Midland Beach.  It was named after Vincent Robert Capodanno, a local Roman Catholic chaplain who was killed in combat in the Vietnam War. Around this section, Sally and I caught up with a Front Runner friend of mine, Faith, as we chatted about my crazy race schedule for the next month.  Eventually, she continued on as Sally and I started to take more extended walk breaks as our tired legs from the previous day started to take a toll on us.
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance from Fr. Capodanno Blvd.
A Staten Island Corgi!
We would run down this section of road for quite some time, nearly 2.5 miles, with single family homes to our right and Lower New York Bay beyond the baseball fields and beaches to our left. Midland Avenue in the neighborhood of Midland Beach was the turnaround point that would take us for 2.5 miles back in the other direction. It was nice to casually alternate our running and walking along this stretch, enjoying the company of the many other runners blessed with the unusually beautiful weather for this race.  I even spotted a corgi during the race, obviously having to get a photo with him! We made our turn around point about 1/4 mile before the 6 mile mark, and ran across the 10K mat in 1:09:39.  I even spotted my friend Ken, who came down to cheer for runners along this stretch of road.

Nick, Sally, and I with the bridge
One odd occurrence: Sally and I spotted a fellow runner diverting to the playgrounds and fields to our right as we headed back northward, seemingly adding to his running workout by climbing fences and doing push-ups, pull-ups and parkour exercises on whatever equipment was available to him.  We found this super strange, but hey -- to each their own.  Now over an hour into the race, the mileage we had already put in this weekend had started to take the toll on our pace, so we began to walk quite a bit more. We made our way back to the section we so enjoyed going downhill, now trudging uphill, and at McClean Avenue, we turned right, only to spot my friend and fellow FRNY member Nick in the medical tent with someone attending to his knee.  He was on pace to PR, but halfway through, his knee gave up on him and he had to make a trip to the medical tent to get taped up. Sally and I walked with him for a bit, making our way east along the avenue, making our way past the National Park Service guard booth and officers posted there that signaled the entrance to the former military installation of Fort Wadsworth.

Fort Wadsworth sign!
Built in 1663 as a Dutch blockhouse, the site remained continuously garrisoned until 1808, when several fortifications were built on the site over the years. It eventually adopted its current name, Fort Wadsworth, in 1865 to honor Brigadier General James Wadsworth, who had been killed in the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War. Over the next century, it served an important role guarding New York City (a natural point for defense of the Upper Bay and Manhattan beyond) in the event of military action, and continued to be a mobilization center for the US Army. The base was turned over to the US Navy in 1979, which used it as the headquarters of Naval Station New Y
ork.  Prior to closing in 1994 it claimed to be the longest continually garrisoned military installation in the United States. The property was transferred to the National Park Service as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area the following year, and today now houses some US Coast Guard and Army Reserve offices, in addition to the National Park Service.  Annually, the fort also serves as the athlete's village for the start of the NYC Marathon on the first Sunday of November.  This time, we would get to run through it.

Up close and personal with the bridge
Past the guard station, the road became Battery Road. We then turned left onto New York Avenue, treated to up close and personal views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Runners were running toward us on the other side of the road, so we knew we were doing a loop or out-and-back in this section. After running under the bridge once again, we ran around several of the Coast Guard's buildings within the fort, taking a left onto Marshall Road, passing the 15K mark, which we crossed in 1:55:19, then turned left onto Drum Road, before making our return to turn right down New York Avenue back under the bridge span.

The route then had us turn left onto the single lane Hudson Road, around a grassy knoll and somewhat underutilized-looking baseball field, taking us back under the bridge. The area here, though, had some nicely manicured overlooks, with the batteries on the coast below.  Lots of runners were stopping here to get some great photos of the bridge, photos that would not normally be allowed unless taken on National Park Service ranger-led walking tours of the sites.  We continued north along Hudson Road, part of which included a small ascent, before turning left onto Mont Sec Avenue, a somewhat steep downhill back to New York Avenue. Nick needed to slow down a bit, but we wanted to take advantage of the downhill, so we decided to continue on. We turned right onto the avenue, passing the guardhouse on the north entrance of the fort, and the general entrance I was familiar with from using it during the two NYC Marathons I had done. After the guardhouse, the street signs showed I was on Bay Street, and I then realized this was where I had seen the race leaders speeding by nearly two hours before.
Manhattan in the distance from Edgewater Street
Open roads and lots of parking lots
We turned right onto Hylan Boulevard, as we made our way back to the water, as we briefly ran past some of the historic homes of the neighborhood of Rosebank.  Now 11 miles into the race, the last two miles would be nice and flat, right at sea level.  Unfortunately, it was also one of the least pretty parts of the race, as we were led down Edgewater Street and Front Street, a heavily industrialized area littered with rusting buildings, expansive parking lots, and generally uninteresting views of the Staten Island Railroad tracks, warehouse buildings, and overgrown and unmaintained lots and piers.

Not the prettiest part of the race.
Before leaving this ugly waterfront area (which honestly showed the grittier parts of New York City to Sally), we crossed one more timing mat, the 20K mark, in 2:40:40.  We turned left onto Hannah Street, which led us right back to Bay Street, as we made the tough ascent up to the finish line.  We crossed the mat to the sounds of cheers of people amused by our costumes to a 2:47:57 finish. I even spotted outgoing NYC Marathon race director Peter Ciaccia, giving out high fives to finishers, who quickly posed for a photo with us.

Sally and I with NYC Marathon director Peter Ciaccia
Victory Headstand at Borough Hall
The finishers' chute led us further up Bay Street, toward the ballpark, and the former finish of the race; while Sally and I caught our breath, I initially had thought of doing my headstand photo in front of the ballpark's entrance; a rather stiff-looking security guard in a trenchcoat was standing watch, and Sally went over to ask if he could move a tiny bit for us to get a photo without him in view in front of the entrance.  He was not very nice, and told her gruffly "no chance," and speaking rather dismissively to Sally.  He even threatened to take her "across the street" to I assume NYPD Precinct; unfortunately, this incident marred a rather fun day; we decided to do my headstand in front of Staten Island Borough Hall instead.

Bling photos on the ferry!
We made our way back to Manhattan on the ferry, taking quite a few photos posing with our medal haul for the weekend and wearing our outfits; after disembarking, we treated ourselves to some delicious sandwiches at the Route 66 Smokehouse on Stone Street in Lower Manhattan. It was actually very fitting, since Sally wanted to be there (but couldn't) to help me celebrate my 50th state finish for marathons and national anthems at the Route 66 Marathon in Oklahoma in November, so being at a similarly named restaurant was the next best thing. We retired back to my apartment to rest up from a long weekend of running and so much fun!
Me and my medal haul with Lady Liberty!

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