I never particularly enjoyed running in my younger years. Yes, I played soccer for as long as I could remember, and also played lacrosse in middle school and high school. We even had to run laps during my time on the varsity cheerleading team and my college dance team, but of course when it came to the monotonous task of running laps before practice I instantaneously rolled my eyes and wished I was anywhere but there.
But, I always managed to “man up” and get through it, and as we all know but hate to admit, it feels good afterwards.
So when Patrick told me he wanted to run in the 12th Annual Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk in New York City with me, his best friend and some of his Coast Guard coworkers, I told him I will be his biggest cheerleader on the sideline and take lots of pictures. I almost got away with it, until my friend (Gee, thanks Ashley! Just kidding.) was unable to come and cheer with me.
“Just run with us,” he said. “I’ll even get you a shirt.” Dammit.
I’ve heard of plenty of people I know running 5Ks, half marathons, and the NYC marathon (my younger brother Tim ran it in 2011 and is doing it again this November… yay!), but I never had any interest. No persuasion of wearing white and getting sprayed in color, or zombies chasing me, was going to interest me in running a 5K. I have participated in some walks for a cause before but never an inter-borough feat where I feared keeping up with and/or losing my party if I decided to walk while they ran for a record time.
I offered plenty of excuses. “If you can’t check your bag, I’ll be your back-up plan and just meet you in Manhattan with a change of clothes and whatever you need!” That didn’t work… the run had a wonderfully organized bag check system sponsored by UPS that brought your items from the beginning of the race to the end of the race with ease. “But if I run and then we hang out in the city afterwards I am going to look gross!” He wasn’t hearing any of that. We were running together for a good cause.
Speaking of the cause, if you are like me and aren’t familiar with the Tunnel to Towers run until I was invited to run it, let me tell you about it.
The Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk mainly honors the legacy of Stephen Siller, an FDNY fire fighter who, on 9/11/01, reported for duty that morning upon hearing of the World Trade Center attack even though he wasn’t scheduled until the afternoon. When he got to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which was already closed to traffic, he ran through the tunnel with all of his gear on, in hopes to meet up with the rest of his Squad. He was killed when the south tower collapsed.
In addition to following in the footsteps of an American hero as well as showing support for our first responders and military, the participants help fundraise for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which, “brings hope to grieving children, and healing to firefighters and families of our military, who sacrifice life and limb in the line of duty.”
Do you have chills yet? Before the day of the run, I heard from my mother that Tim, my brother I mentioned before and who had participated in this run in the past, claimed that of all the runs he has participated in, this one was his favorite. “Interesting,” I thought. And then the day of the run came, and I knew exactly what he meant.
There was an estimated 30,000 people there. No one was pushy or self-righteous – we were all supporting the foundation together. And besides the fact that as you are running through the tunnel and pushing yourself even if you want to quit, you don’t. You are running in a herd of people that are representing something bigger than all of us. You are running in the footsteps of a hero, Stephen Siller, and for all heroes past and present.
As I was running through the tunnel, people started “U-S-A… U-S-A…” chants at various times and everyone chimed in. It was hot in the tunnel, and I couldn’t imagine running it in full gear as many people did in order to properly honor Mr. Siller.
When you see the light at the end of the tunnel, literally, I can vouch for myself and others that it triggers something in your brain to speed up, even when the course is a bit uphill. Then, when you reach the end of the tunnel, there it is. One World Trade Center. The Freedom Tower. It was gorgeous. On the left of you, outlining the perimeter of the course for about a half of a mile are police officers holding American flags, one after another. A beautiful sight that you think would come to an end at any time but it just kept on going. And on the right. Police cadets each holding a large banner draped over their neck of brave heroes whose lives were lost in 9/11. They all cheer you on, give you high fives, and tell you great job as if you are the hero, but you can’t help but send the applause right back their way, or at least directed towards the faces on the banners that they represent.
With about a mile left of the run to go, high school cheerleaders, bands, and other fans line the entire path and continue to cheer you on. Their cheering was working! I kept running but at this point it wasn’t for me, but for them. All of the volunteers that came out to support the run. For the military. For our first responders. For everyone else who is so much braver than I am and especially for those who were willing to give their lives and everything they had to help others.
In the end, I ran the 5K, (which mapped out to 3.46 miles instead of 3.11) in 40 minutes and 15 seconds. My pace was an 11:38 mile. I broke my own personal record of a 12:01/average mile even while dodging thousands of other runners and their feet and making sure I didn’t get caught up in anyone or trip and fall.
Okay, I know I wrote a lot and you are probably begging to see some photos of this amazing event! Here are some pictures of this awesome adventure, and yes, I was snapping away with my phone throughout the entire run. 🙂
You can bet I’ll see you next year, Tunnel to Towers run! Thanks for an amazing experience.