The Brooklyn Half: A Hip History
As we continue to celebrate New York Road Runners’ 60th anniversary, Peter Ciaccia, president of events of NYRR and race director of the TCS New York City Marathon, takes a trip back to the 37 years of the hip Brooklyn Half. Excitement builds for this year’s race on May 19 with the addition of new title sponsor Popular Bank.
A Hip History
NYRR recognized “hip” long before the term defined Brooklyn. It started in 1981, the year of the first Brooklyn Half, when runners ventured to Prospect Park for a series of challenging loops of its hills. Then in March 1996, on a day just barely out of winter, a hearty group of runners arrived at sunrise on the boardwalk in Coney Island. This bunch of road warriors were definitely not thinking of sun and surf, but of how quickly they could run from the wind-swept boardwalk to the Brooklyn Half finish line in Prospect Park.
Even then, there seemed to be this hip allure to Coney Island. For the next 13 years, early each spring these tenacious runners made their pilgrimage to the southwestern shoreline of Brooklyn to repeat this ritual. But although the race had a loyal following, growth in the number of participants was slow and spectators were few, and the boardwalk businesses were suffering.
At one point in time, Coney was considered the amusement mecca by the sea. Thousands of people would flock on warm summer weekends to enjoy a ride on the Cyclone roller-coaster, gobble some Nathan’s hot dogs, or cool off in the ocean.
This started us thinking: If we reimagine the entire Brooklyn Half as the kickoff to summer, and if we bring the runners TO the boardwalk, then maybe we can help reinvigorate the surrounding businesses while drawing on what made Coney Island so special. We started working with key community and city officials to bring this idea to life. In May 2009 we launched the “new” NYRR Brooklyn Half course–starting in Prospect Park and finishing on the famed Coney Island boardwalk. Over 9,500 runners came to the party that first year.
A Cultural Collective
As the borough began to revitalize, the art and music community began to grow, and the hipster lifestyle was taking hold. We saw this as an opportunity to further support the communities and add something novel to the event. Drawing on Brooklyn’s culture, we conceptualized a pre-race extravaganza—a borough-centric collective of artists, musicians, DJ’s, and food vendors that could be part of a multi-day/evening runner bib pickup festival. In 2013 we launched the Brooklyn Half Pre-Party at the Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The following year, with support from New Balance, we moved the Pre-Party to the larger Pier 2 where it has been held ever since.
The popularity of Brooklyn grew, and so did the event. We continued to enhance the race day experience by adding more music and DJs along the course, a fun post-race festival in MCU Park, and our Rising New York Road Runners youth races on the boardwalk. Today we are proud to be the largest half-marathon in the United States with 27,500 runners and 1,000 kids, and this year will be welcoming a new title sponsor, Popular Bank.
No Sleep Till…
Team NYRR works so hard to produce an event of this magnitude. Being able to realize a vision that has resulted in such positive impact for the community and our runners, and creating something that is fresh and fun, is why we don’t mind “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”!!