Sleepy Hollow is not a bustling metropolis. It is not a massive city with millions of residents lining the streets and post race parties all across town. No, it is not these things, but it is home to one of the more personal and welcoming half marathons I’ve run. On a Saturday morning in late March that felt more like late fall, the 2016 iteration of the half marathon lines up downtown to begin.
Ready. Set. Go!
Big city races like New York, Philadelphia, and Belfast are great for the huge crowd support and the feeling of being part of something big, but small town races are wonderful in their own way. They feel far more intimate and personal. There are also advantages like picking up packets the morning of the race and lining up 10 minutes before race start, and not having to fight crowded corrals to get space.
I arrive at 8:30 on the main street of Sleepy Hollow, between the old Philpse Manor, the church from Ichabod Crane, and the Hudson River. Bib and T-Shirt pickup takes all of five minutes and I spend the remainder of the time before the 9:30 start walking up and down the street, taking in the views of the river, Tappan Zee Bridge, and the town’s lighthouse. The start line has no markers or corals, just a single police barricade. A little under 800 other runners line up with me for the national anthem and for start directions given out over a megaphone. There is some attempt to get faster runners in the front, but it doesn’t pan out super well. I end up toward the middle where there is room.
The race begins and I jostle for position, trying to get past the hordes running at a slower pace. One of my race pet peeves is a lack of start positions based on pace where you have to spend the first two miles shoving past people, but at a small race like this I understand it.
All Through the Town
We pass under what must hold the Guinness World Record for largest American flag being suspended by two fire truck ladders right in front of the fire department of the town. It’s a great morale booster to start. Running through the town essentially sets the theme for the rest of the course, beautiful scenery with brutal elevation changes.
We run through the rest of town which is picturesque as only Hudson Valley towns can be, and head up onto a trail along the Old Croton Aqueduct. The aqueduct was built in the 1830s to supply the increasing population of New York City with fresh water. It became so popular people in the city began making “Croton Cocktails”, a mix of lemonade and the water. Sounds good but vodka could make it better. The aqueduct was already too small by the 1880s and a larger one was built to replace it. Now the aqueduct is home to a beautiful greenway trail that we run across. There is an amazing wooded section that crosses back and forth over a creek several times before heading uphill (yet again) to a hilltop that opens into a spectacular view of the river and the bridge (and ugly new one that will replace it eventually). This part of the trail continues along the river and oscillates (perhaps because we are near Ossining) up and down multiple times before one long torturous uphill section back up onto the top of the stonework of the aqueduct. I destroy my legs here trying to prove my hill training worked, and suffer on every other incline in the run. Around here while my legs are slowly subsiding from the burn, I think my headphones are malfunctioning and then realize a bagpiper is playing at the top of the hill.
Apparently Sleepy Hollow the TV show had a demonic piper that roamed the area, but luckily this is only Kevin ‘amazing’ Grace, an area bagpiper who is out to support the runners. His jaunty tunes propel me up and down another hill and toward what is the least interesting section of the course, an approximately 3 mile section that is essentially an out and back on a highway. It reminds me of the Ocean Parkway section of the Brooklyn Half Marathon, somewhat endless. The way out is also a ceaseless slight uphill climb. At least this is finally a hill that isn’t an immediate up and down. I start to get some momentum back here, just as my phone loses data and my music stops. It comes back just as I complete mile 9 on the section back.
Feel the Burn
The next two miles wind through the town’s residential streets before coming to the beautiful section of Kendal on Hudson and the Phelps Hospital where a great group of kids is outside cheering us along. They almost make the hill section here easy. If my Garmin is to be believed, there is a total of over 1000 feet of elevation change in this race. That’s almost to the peak of any of the smaller ski slops in the region!
After the hospital we run a section along the river where I settle in for the last push right until a train comes blaring down the tracks along the river behind me, nearly causing my heart to jump out of my chest. That’s one way to get the adrenaline back up.
The final stretch includes a little loop around the promontory where the Sleepy Hollow lighthouse stands. After our extensive lighthouse tours of Newport and Portland, it isn’t hugely impressive, but for a river lighthouse it’s pretty cool. It absolutely must be one of the more haunted ones too with the combination of old timey lighthouse and Sleepy Hollow proximity. Headless Salty Boat Captain?
As we loop back into town, the finish line comes into view. I don’t have much left in the tank but do what little pushing I can manage to get across. For the first race of the year after not a lot of outdoor running, I manage a respectable 1:50:54, at a 8:30-ish pace. It comes in as my third fastest half marathon. Considering the break in running and the hills, I’m pretty pleased with it.
The medal is pretty amazing. The size brings it in under only my NYC marathon medal and I dig the lighthouse motif. The race is organized by the Rivertown Runners, a local club and I see a lot of representation by them throughout the race. They have organized a pretty spectacular run. The course is up there with the most scenic I’ve done. I wish they could perhaps bulldoze some hills though.
The finisher’s area may be my favorite one ever for two reasons. Beer and enough of everything to go around. Oh, also everything bagels. And clementines and bananas. Also plenty of water. Ok, it’s a pretty awesome finish area. And it isn’t only restricted to runners. It’s basically a big party with a live band even playing funky tunes. The local Bridge View Tavern, a great pub down the street we had visited a year or so ago, sponsors the beer. The selection is pretty great too. Two IPAs from Green Flash and Stone, both of which we will visit in a few weeks in California, as well as a pilsner from Montana and Allagash White are all served in generous quantities. I try the pilsner which is light and refreshing after the run, as well as the not too hoppy Green Flash IPA. A little hop tastes amazing after a long run. The temperature barely hits 50, but with the sun out, it feels like a day for some outdoor beer drinking. I only wish we had more time to enjoy the festivities, but we’ve got a date with the highly recommended Salvation Burger back in New York City. The dogs I saw along the course weren’t the only dogs of the day.
And nothing tastes better than a massive burger after a run.
Except maybe banana cream pie.