Wave of Cancellations and Postponements Spurs Virtual Events on Staten Island

COVID-19 triggered a tsunami-like wave of cancellations and event postponements which started in March with what would have been the City’s 259th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Since then, events small and large on Staten Island haven’t been held. Most recently, it was announced that the 50th running of the New York City Marathon, scheduled for November 1, 2020, won’t draw thousands of runners to Fort Wadsworth for the start of the race.

Jeff Benjamin, Board Chair of the Staten Island Running Association (SIRA), spoke with OnSI about how he and his group have found success with hosting virtual runs and tapping into the resiliency of athletes.

“We are living in, without a doubt, extraordinary times,” said Benjamin.

For many in the running community on Staten Island, the NYC Marathon is just the tip of the iceberg, as 5Ks and other neighborhood runs that usually raise money for local causes also can’t happen.

“The fact is, for a lot of races on Staten Island, money raised from them, tends to go to charities; frontline kinds of things, scholarships and everything,” Benjamin explained.

In light of this, the 2020 “Memorial Day Virtual 5K Run/Walk for Heroes” organized by SIRA, was able to raise funds for local groups in the fight against the Coronavirus. It began on Saturday, May 23, and concluded on Memorial Day.

Thanks to runner participation, SIRA was able to donate more than $10,000 to seven different local groups and charities who are keeping Islanders safe and healthy during the battle against the pandemic. Participants in the race, included legendary marathon champions Bill Rodgers and Rod Dixon, as well as legendary indoor miler Eamonn Coghlan.

According to Benjamin, “We did very well. We had over 400 people enter literally from all over the world. So, we did very, very well. We’re happy with that.”

Virtual runs, like the Memorial Day Virtual 5K hosted by SIRA, consist of participants sending in an entry fee then receiving, via mail, event T-shirts, finishers medals, and commemorative running bibs. In return, participants complete the race distance running or walking on their own, on whatever course or treadmill they wish, as a show of individual solidarity.

This type of sporting event presents a unique training opportunity. In Benjamin’s experience, “Most runners tend to be very impatient with their racing. Some people, sometimes, even when they start running, they’ll run for like three weeks and think, ‘Wow! I’m ready to race.’”

However, he explained, that isn’t a very strategic approach. “Many runners get injured, burnt out or turned off from the sport because, in my opinion, in the years I’ve been around, they do too much too soon and are looking for that instant gratification.”

Instead, Benjamin recommends using a more measured approach. “You know, if you study the careers of some runners, like especially Bill Rodgers, he did a four-year build up, you know, where he did trial and error before he finally achieved his marathon greatness. It’s not that he rolled out of bed after one month of running and did it. He had a lot of failures before he had his successes. As did Rod Dixon and all of these others,” he shared.

So, during the COVID-19 crisis, stick with it and use the virtual races to gauge performance, Benjamin explained. “Just keep on training. Keep it consistent. Keep building your endurance. You can never lose in running if you continue to keep building your endurance.”

He also shared a pro tip: “Bill Welsh, the legendary Staten Islander who is 91 years old, still gets out, does a half-mile/mile everyday with his walker. You know, he’s been running, I would say since the 1940s. Bill used to say, ‘Try the talk test.’ The talk test means that you start with a 10-minute jog or walk. If you’re able to talk, you’re doing fine. If you’re not able to talk, you are training too hard. And you don’t want to train too hard, too early.”

Benjamin concluded, “I would advise people, especially with the weather getting really good out: If you start working out, go gradually, especially if you haven’t done it before. And try to get the okay from a doctor first, so you’re physically cleared to do it. Then just go very easy.” 

Feature photo courtesy @statenislandrunning on Instagram.