12 October, 2011

Race Recap: The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 9/11 Tribute Run

With all of the Disney happenings lately, I've slacked with writing one of my September race recaps! And this one, out of any race I've ever completed, was by far the most emotional runs I've ever done

For the past few years, I've heard about the September 11th tribute run that happens every year in New York City.  Living only a few miles away, so many people I know were personally affected on that day that I knew I had to run.  Yet every year I always had a wedding/family function/or was out of town.  For the 10th anniversary though, I knew I had to be there so I registered the day it opened up.

Here's a little history of the run...

On September 11th, firefighter Stephen Siller had just gotten off the late shift at Squad 1, Park Slope, Brooklyn. He was on his way to play golf with his brothers on that bright clear day when his scanner told of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers. When he heard the news, he called his wife Sally to tell her he would be late because he had to help those in need. He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear, then took his final heroic steps to the World Trade Center. When Stephen drove his truck to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, it was already closed to traffic . With sixty pounds of gear strapped to his back, he ran through the Tunnel, hoping to meet up with his own company, Squad 1. Stephen, along with 342 other firefighters lost their lives on that day.

The run recreates the run that Stephen completed on 9/11 from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center.

My Garmin obviously had a few troubles while we were in the tunnel so it looks like I swam for a bit but here's the map from the run...

The whole day was memorable.  Guess I'll start from the wee hours of the morning....

Woke up about 4:30am and headed down to Jersey City to catch the Path train directly to the World Trade Center.  When I walked out into the street to head towards the shuttle buses to bring us to the starting line in Brooklyn, firemen that had volunteered for the race repeatedly thanked us for coming to support Stephen's memory and the FDNY/NYPD.  Every runner I saw quickly corrected them and instead said Thank You for helping out NYC over the years.

Turning the corner took my breath away for a second.  Staring at me was the World Trade Center construction site and One World Trade (the first building to start construction after 9/11) arising into the hazy sunrise.  Every runner I was walking with stopped to take a photo. 

We quickly got to the buses and it reminded me of the seamless bus transportation for Marathon Weekend at Disney.  Dozens of Coach buses lined up and were being filled one by one before heading out to Brooklyn.

Once in Brooklyn, bag check and packet pickup were in the Ikea parking lot so I quickly headed over to pick up my bib and then sat down on a curb waiting for my other friends to arrive.  I was wearing my Marine Corps Marathon In Training shirt so it started up a few conversations with a few people, including a few Marines who were also running it.

When my friends arrived, we were slightly hungry so headed into Ikea for a quick bite.  The store was nice enough to open up their cafe hours before the real store opened and served their full breakfast menu as well as runner friendly options.  I ended up with their Swedish pancakes (slightly thicker crepes) and loved every bite.  :)

After eating, we started to make our trek towards the starting area by the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.  It was CRAZY to see the number of people running this event.  Announcers kept saying that 30,000 people registered and I believe it.  It was a sea of people everywhere you looked!

One of the most touching aspects of the race was seeing the amount of firemen from around the world that flew in to NYC just to participate.  And not only did these guys (and women!) participate, but many of them ran in full gear, including their oxygen tanks.  There was a huge group of firemen from London who were definitely enjoying all the attention their sexy accents were getting from the ladies!

Just a few of the Brits & their fans

We managed to weave our way to the start line so we can see the opening ceremonies and memorials.  There was a moment of silence, along with a few songs.  From what I remember the first group to line up at the start line was a group of wounded soldiers.  They started off the race 15 minutes before we did so they could get a slight head start before the throngs of runners.  There was also a piece of steel taken from the rubble of the World Trade Center that was on display for people to touch on their way over the start line. 

After the wounded soldiers, I believe there were 1500 West Point Cadets that crossed the start line in formation.  After the cadets was another huge number of Marines and other military.

Finally it was our turn to line up and we quickly got ready to run.  I had my camera ready to go and before I knew it, we were off! 

We ran over the timing mats and immediately rounded the corner to head down into the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. There were a few firetrucks parked over to the side with some of the best looking cheerleaders I've seen in awhile... ;)  (Did I ever mention I'm a sucker for men in uniform?)

Heading into the tunnel
The tunnel was the true start of the emotional rollercoaster for a few runners.  I saw a few people overcome with emotion just standing over to the side of the tunnel.  A minute or so after entering the tunnel, "Proud to Be an American" started playing over the intercom system and that got a few more tears flowing!

It's hard to hear but here's a quick video while we were running through...(and no, I promise that's not me singing)

The support for the men and women in uniform was overwhelming.  Every runner that passed someone in full gear gave them a pat on the back or asked if they were ok or needed water.  It was HOT and muggy in that tunnel just wearing a t-shirt and running shorts.  I was dripping sweat within 2 minutes of entering the tunnel.  Adding 50+ pounds of heat resistant gear must have been excruciating.  Many people stopped to walk when the uniformed person stopped to walk due to the heat and weight of their gear. 

After exiting the tunnel, we ran down the street that was lined with military holding American flags on one side....

...and on the other side was over 343 firemen holding banners with the name and photo of each one of their brothers lost. Yup, this is where I kinda lost it.  I had to slow down and walk a few times and wipe away tears.  The enormity of the run doesn't hit until you see the photos of the men and women that lost their lives on 9/11.  Saying thank you to the firemen along that route felt so miniscule compared to what they went through.  

After catching another glimpse of One World Trade, we turned the corner for the final portion of the run. 

Crossing the finish line we were met with a ton of volunteers handing out any and everything you could think of! Bottles of water, bananas, frozen strawberries (omg the best thing I've ever had post race!), chocolate cookies, etc.

Luckily since we were in the first 1000 or so people to start the race, the post race area wasn't a zoo yet but the chaos grew with every passing minute.  It took a while but I found my friends and we quickly did a lap through the post race party.  There was SO MUCH food for all of the runners and families that it was overwhelming!  Burgers, hot dogs, ribs, chicken wings, salad, pasta salad, pasta, beer, water, soda, dunkin donuts, coffee, etc.  You name it, it was probably there!  I grabbed a burger, water, and few more packages of the Dole frozen strawberries and we decided to high tail it out of the area.  Someone should have realized that you can't squeeze 30k runners plus their family in a 2 city block area. 

Overall, this was an amazing experience.  I would do this race every year in a heartbeat.  Unfortunately I think the 2012 race is the exact same weekend as Wine & Dine though.  For obvious logistics reasons, this is one of the only Tunnel to Tower tribute runs that can't be held on the actual September 11th date.  If I can find a close run on 9/11 though, I'll make the trek out there. 

It was slight chaos with 30k runners (they didn't cap the race) but I'm glad they were able to raise a crazy amount of money for the foundation.  I heard that this race raised somewhere around $2.1M for the charity. 

If anyone wants more information on the foundation, as well as the locations of all of their other tribute runs, their website is:  


  1. What a recap! I don't think I could have got out of that one without breaking down emotionally...so glad you were able to experience this and share it.

  2. That sounds like a great event .... good cause, put on well, overall a class act!

  3. What an incredible race recap! That sounds like such an amazing thing to experience, and I'm glad you had the chance to join in this year.

  4. wow...I did that race here in LA but of course it is nothing like this one.

  5. Wow - I got choked up reading your recap! Sounds like it was a really great experience!!

  6. Sounds like a great race. Aren't you in NJ? I used to live in Allendale.

  7. What a race. I can't imagine the emotion.

  8. I read an article about this race and it sounds amazing. I was tearing up just reading your recap - very cool race, glad it has been so successful!

  9. @Krissy...Definitely a race that I think everyone should experience if they can!

    @FF...agreed! With the amount of runners, they controlled the crowds really well, very impressed!

    @Christina...thanks! This is definitely one I will try to run every chance I get!

    @Caroline...loved your recap of your race as well. Even on opposite coasts it sounded as if they put on a great race!

    @Emily...thank you!

    @JStone..I am in NJ! Right in Hackensack actually :)

    @Beth...definitely a rollercoaster of emotions but worth every tear.

    @Amanda...thanks! Hopefully they can keep up the success with it ever year.