I just made my plans for Father’s Day weekend. With my father and my daughter’s father both gone, it’s a good time for us to get away; spend some time at the beach. But this isn’t really something new. For many years I spent Father’s Day weekend with my parents on Shelter Island (New York) where they retired. And now, my daughter and I go back. The following was originally published in the March/April 2009 issue of Good Times (the North Jersey Masters Newsletter).
Shortly after I started high school my parents bought a summer home on Shelter Island, a community of about 2500 that swells to close to 8000 every summer. It’s located between the north and south forks of Long Island and is only accessible by ferry. It was completely charming and I hated it. It was far from my friends – a two and a half hour drive that could easily turn into four on a hot summer Friday night. And of course I was expected to spend every weekend there during my sixteenth summer. The following summer they had decided to rent it out. I was elated. And by 1982 I had a driver’s license and developed great negotiation skills, so Shelter Island became a place that I could avoid. It was my parent’s place.
They retired there in 1988. I dutifully visited once a month; but there was always someplace else I’d rather be. Back then though, I wasn’t a runner. The year that my parents made Shelter Island their permanent home, they volunteered to work a special event in the community—the Shelter Island 10k Run —the ninth annual! I thought they were silly. “You’re handing out water to whom? They’re running how far?” At that time I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to do that. Fast forward eight years. Now married, working in Manhattan, I decided that my company needed a team-building activity. I heard about the Corporate Challenge. Three and a half miles—how hard could that be? I talked everyone into it and we had a good time. When I look back I realize that small experience changed my life. Through that event I had started running.
When I told my parents about my “new sport” they reminded me of the 10k on Shelter Island scheduled for the following month. I entered although I had never run that far before. My goal was to finish. And I did, in 1:06:40. I didn’t think that was too bad for a first time effort, but it wasn’t my performance that struck me that day—it was the fact that I found myself falling in love with Shelter Island. I made my way to the race start adjacent to the Shelter Island School—a school shared by kindergarteners and high school students. I was amazed at how many people were there. An article in The Shelter Island Reporter that week had predicted over 3000 for that year’s event. Where did they all come from? What the heck could be so special about this race—about this place?
The answers became quite clear fairly quickly and were defined further over the next 6.2 miles. I shot from the start at the sound of the horn and preceded downhill—yes, a downhill start!—and after the first turn heard the church bells. The parishioner’s of Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church had come out in force to cheer on the field in a fashion that rivaled New York City’s First Avenue on Marathon Day. And this was only the beginning. When Grete Weitz ran this race she said it was one of the most beautiful courses she had ever run and Runner’s World has listed it among the top 75 races in the country. Nice rolling hills with spectacular views of the bay give way to a stretch of wooded landscape that make you forget you’re on an island. Just before the four-mile marker the course makes a turn onto Shore Road and opens up to the incredible sight of sail boats silently bobbing in the crystal water sparkling in the setting sun as a much needed cool breeze comes in off the bay. Here, overlooking the course, are some of the island’s most stately old summer homes whose inhabitants politely clap for us mid-packers from Adirondack chairs on their expansive front lawns while sipping martinis.
I am especially inspired however, by the contingent of the island’s elderly natives who line Winthrop Road banging pots and pans and sporting crazy hats. I pass on the beer offered to me by a small group partying on Route 114 and continue on to the water station. The course gets cool, shady and quiet for a brief moment in the last mile, but the crowd thickens again as the course turns off Midway onto Bateman Road for the final stretch—a horseshoe on the field behind the American Legion Hall. A local radio station broadcasts the finish and the local favorites in the back of the mid-pack with me are highlighted. I’m just excited about the enormous buffet of fruit and candy and beverages and the fact that I finished, can still stand and have been able to find my parents in the crowd.
That was thirteen years ago. I went on to run nine straight Shelter Island 10ks. I ran it in 1998 for a PR (46:52) that still stands today; I ran it in 2000 nine weeks after my daughter was born (1:18:03). I even found a way to beat the LIE traffic – the Long Island Railroad’s Ronkonkoma Line out of Penn Station is a civilized alternative and ends right at the Shelter Island North Ferry in Greenport. In the later years my little daughter joined her grandparents on Bateman Road to cheer me on.
The last Shelter Island 10k that I ran was the 25th Annual in 2004. I never imagined my streak would end. But things change. My parents sold their house and moved into an apartment closer to me. In 2005 the race date was changed from June to the third weekend in May. With obligations preventing me from making a weekend of it, I ran the Midland Run 15k instead. In 2006, I organized Gilda’s Run on the same weekend. Later that year my father died. He was buried at Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery on Shelter Island, the entrance to which one would pass in the third mile of the 10k. But I haven’t been back to Shelter Island since his funeral. The thought of doing that 10k again has never even crossed my mind. I haven’t even allowed myself to imagine what it would be like without him—and my mom (who is now in assisted living)—there to cheer me. They were my biggest fans. I haven’t allowed myself to imagine that at least until now. Because I’ve learned a lot from my fellow North Jersey Masters members about overcoming challenges— from injuries and heartache and beyond. And because I recently found out that last year the race organizers moved the Shelter Island 10k back to June. Maybe that’s a sign. This year will also be the 30th Annual. I’ve found myself saying, “You can do this.” So I probably will; probably not for a PR. And I will probably be sad when I realize I won’t find my parents in the crowd. But I will be happy that I finished and enjoyed beautiful Shelter Island once more. And my parents will be there —in my heart.
I did run the 2009 (30th Annual) Shelter Island 10k and it was everything I imagine it to be…my time? 51:48. My mother died in 2012 and was buried there along side my dad. In 2013 I decided to renew the annual tradition. Last year, a month after my 50th birthday, I clocked my second best time on the course. 49:04.
The 2016 Shelter Island 10k will be held on June 18; 5:30 p.m. start. For more information and registration go to http://www.shelterislandrun.com/.
Shelter Island 10k Course, about mile 4.