Take me out to the… race?

My dad is a hard guy to buy gifts for. He’s the kind of person for whom I wish I could buy a month-long Napa Valley vacation, but have to settle for less-awesome alternatives that fit into a budget, but hopefully inspire a mini version of that vacation feeling.

When I think of my dad, several core interests come to mind:

  • The New York Yankees
  • Running
  • Running-related injury prevention
  • The New York Giants
  • Running events and races
  • Wine (and now beer!)
  • The New York Yankees
  • The “Chariots of Fire” theme
  • Sunblock with a really high SPF
  • The New York Yankees

He already has more Yankee gear than the team has World Series rings (zing!), tons of Giants shirts (eh… I don’t understand football well enough to be witty), and keeps his solid running, stretching, and workout routine pretty simple. He’s always on the up and up with newest sunscreens that boast at least eleven-billion SPF (aka “liquid clothing”), and we’ll usually share beers when we find notable ones (I know zip about wines).

Look at that- they’re best friends!

So what do you do? You talk to friends that share the same interests, like Jose, an amazingly-dedicated runner who’s in a three-way tie with my dad and grandpa for biggest Yankee fan I know.

Jose told me about the Damon Runyon 5k, a race that is entirely inside Yankee Stadium, and supports cancer research in a major way. Jose ran the 5k in 2011 and loved combining his two favorite things, and loved running for a cause that’s very near to his heart. I was suspicious of the course, wondering how thousands of runners could run 3.1 miles inside a baseball stadium, but Jose was so excited about running it again that I signed my dad and I up for the 4th annual Damon Runyon 5k.

Driving to Yankee Stadium for a game is a pain. Driving to Yankee Stadium for a race is cake. We arrived in the Bronx early on raceday morning and met Jose in front of the stadium. We picked up our packets, dropped stuff at the car, then headed into the Great Hall to hit bag check and wait for our heat.

The Great Hall before a game.

The Great Hall is the gorgeous entrance to Yankee Stadium. As soon as you walk inside, you hear the sounds of plays and crowds cheering from old games, and see the banners of Yankee greats hanging in huge open arches. No matter how crowded it is, walking through the Great Hall is an almost supernatural experience. Amazingly, the Damon Runyon 5k started and finished in the Great Hall.

Best. Bag check. Ever.

Every year, former Yankees come to speak about the race and the Damon Runyon Foundation, and the 2012 guests were Ron Blomberg (the first DH) and Mickey Rivers. Ron said a few words on both of their behalf, and heat one was off.

Ron Blomberg and Mick the Quick say a few words before heat one.

Jose, my dad, my cousin Joanna, her fiancée Adam, his brother, and I were all in heat two. The heats started at 9:30am and ran every ten minutes until 1pm so the 4,000 runners wouldn’t feel cramped. This was an integral part to why this race was so fantastic. Our heat went off at 9:40 and we started with two loops around the 100 level concourse, all the while keeping our eyes on the next stop- the warning track.

Runners from heat one on the warning track, and race spectators in the stands behind home plate.

We ran past the empty shops, closed-up vendor carts, and flashed between the visitor bullpen and Monument Park, seeing the retired numbers on the wall outside the door. The stadium sound system was playing some Top 40 songs, which was pretty fun, since it followed you all around the stadium. The small crowd of our heat had broken up by the second lap and it really felt like someone just let a bunch of runners loose in Yankee Stadium. Heaven. Following a small maze of field level hallways and really enthusiastic volunteers, we busted out onto the warning track for two spectacular loops.

Greeting his adoring fans from the warning track.

It’s one thing to sit in the stands and see the field up close, but it’s a whole other feeling to be on it. Race spectators sat in the stands behind home plate (quietly, to my dad’s dismay), photographers in the dirt, and a cameraman at third base with a live feed to the center field screen.

We were all pretty distracted on our first loop, but got down to business on our second loop. My dad touched the foul posts and the farthest points in the outfield. Adam made a spectacular over-the-wall “catch,” which was actually caught on camera by Brightroom.

Acknowledging the Creatures in the right field bleachers.

When the exuberant volunteers directed us back inside I was tempted to do another lap. Technically we could run around and around the field through the last heat! (Maybe next year.) We went inside and immediately climbed 103 stairs all the way to the 200 level concourse. After a loop around the 200 level concourse, we ran up 64 more stairs to the 300 level and ran the length of the concourse before taking a ramp down, down, down, down (I can’t stress this enough. I actually felt a little dizzy toward the end of the ramp) to the Great Hall for a finish line tease.

My dad, Joanna, and I were still together at this point, and there was a huge smile on each of our faces running through the Hall… which faltered a little when we were immediately confronted by another 55 stairs, and started the entire post-warning track loop again.

Looking strong on our second trip around the 300 level concourse!

Stairs, loop, more stairs, one more loop, down, down, down the ramp, and suddenly we were back in the Great Hall. Crowds stood at the finish line and cheered like mad. Finishing a race in the Great Hall is no joke. There were cheerleaders, spectators, random Yankee fans wondering what in the world was going on, pinstriped medals, and even a pushup contest to earn baseballs autographed by David Wells, Mickey Rivers, and Goose Gossage.

Post-5k pushups!

My dad and I did not partake in this feat of strength (next year! It’s going to be cake), but both Jose and Adam did enough pushups to win, Adam scoring a Goose ball, and Jose a David Wells ball.

And you’ll notice Jose’s shirt has an awful lot of names on it. (You can’t see it, but the back is covered, too.) Jose ran in memory of his mother, but also for friends, family members, acquaintances, colleagues, and even complete strangers who battled or are battling cancer. After the race and post-race pushup extravaganza, Jose ran into Mick the Quick, who asked if he could sign Jose’s shirt.

Wait, wait, wait.

Let’s recap. Jose ran a 5k entirely around the stadium of his favorite team. The race raised over $700,000 that went directly to a very personal cause. He was on the center field big screen and patrolled the turf of some of his heroes. He finished and won a ball autographed by a pitcher who threw a perfect game. He met a legendary leadoff hitter, who shook his hand, inquired about his shirt, then asked to sign it.

Tell me, as a fan of any team, that a morning like that doesn’t sound like a dream.

After some excited Googling, I discovered that most baseball and football stadiums host a race. Not all will grant you the amazing, seemingly-unrestricted access of the park like the Damon Runyon 5k did of legendary Yankee Stadium, but you’re still running a race (whoop!) with thousands of your fellow fans! (whoop whoop!)

If you’re a Yankee fan, reserve the second Sunday of August to run the Damon Runyon 5k, and if you’re not, do it anyway, punk find one in the stadium of your heroes, and have the morning of your dreams.

Thanks, Dad, for running 3.1 miles on solid concrete, climbing 405 steps, and hoofing it out to the Bronx to do so, three months after your actual birthday. That race absolutely goes down in history as my most memorable, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Now how the heck am I going to top that for your next birthday?

(COME BACK, BERNIE!

I still haven’t forgotten that you never officially retired, and I’ll have hope no matter what your album names are!)

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5 thoughts on “Take me out to the… race?

  1. I love the unabashed plug for Bernie–the music and the video are so cool!
    PS: Why no pictures of you, Li? You looked pretty spectacular in your Yankees gear!

  2. It was a glorious location, terrific weather, and wonderfully organized event. But it would not nearly have been so memorable without you there taking it all in with me.
    I will always remember the smile that never left your face.

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