Saturday, May 06, 2006

Good Times on Rikers Island

Today marked the 9th annual Rikers Island 5K Challenge. Yes, that’s right… The Rikers Island, as in New York’s largest jail facility. Fortunately, New York’s Boldest let me off the island after the race for good behavior.

Before starting the race, all participants and visitors have to get a special hand stamp, that is, if you want to leave the island. Once registered, stamped, stretched out and warmed up it was time to race.

In a typical NYRR race in Central Park there are thousands of runners so getting a good position in the chute is important. Here however there only a couple hundred runners so I lined up right in the front – which isn’t all that unreasonable considering I was going to try for a 6:20/mile pace.

The race actually begins in Queens and immediately goes over the Rikers Island Bridge (see red arrow in below image) which is probably about 3/4 of a mile long and has a pretty hefty incline. At this point I was probably running at or maybe just better than my target pace but the hill was difficult and my breathing had already become labored.

As you come down off the bridge you enter Rikers Island proper and pass through a series of gates patrolled by some seriously armed corrections officers! The course flattens out and I was able to find my groove even if somewhat forced.

“Where’s the 1 mile mark” I asked myself. Glancing down at my watch I realized that I’m 8 minutes into the race. I either past it without noticing, there are no mile markers or I am way off my pace.

The race then wrapped around a couple of jail blocks and the catcalls from the inmates began. I cannot confirm it, but am told that there may have been some lewd comments offered up. The one that sticks out most to me was a rather innocent, if uninspired, “Run Forest! Run!” Given the circumstances it still made me smile.

As the race made its way along the back stretch very near a Laguardia Airport landing strip (see yellow arrow in above image) I strained, pushing to stay toe to toe with Mike while keeping an eye on Jeff who was maybe 25 meters ahead. Around a bend, up another hill and there it is - the finish. I noticed the official clock time – 19:50. I wanted to come in under 20 minutes. In a bad way. So I kicked up the last little incline and to the finish.

My final time… 19:58. Roughly a 6:26/mile pace and a 5K PR by over a minute.

The good people of the Department of Correction had a barbeque and were making hotdogs and hamburgers. Hey, who doesn’t want to enjoy a burger at 10:30 in the morning in the parking lot of one of the toughing prisons in the country? I certainly did!

Good times on Rikers Island indeed! Maybe I’ll come back. Then again…


Suzanne said...

Nice race Josh....glad they let you off the island.

Yvonne said...

Great race Josh! A sub-20 5K - that's awesome. I'm sorry to have missed this race, I really enjoyed it the past few years. My favourite catcall from an inmate was "get a tan lady!"

Did Hellgate walk away with most of the awards again this year?

Anonymous said...

May 3, 2008. I just returned from the Rikers Island Race. This was my third race day visit to Rikers and there were less participants than in 2005 and 2006. NYRR had their Brooklyn 1/2 today so that could have been part of the reason.

They still have the BBQ at the end and plenty for all.