ometime in February every year, a small but growing group of Flyers have made their way to Prospect Park in Brooklyn for a great little race. No, this is not the Brooklyn half-marathon, itís the Cherry Tree 10 miler and this year it's on February 20th. Itís run by the Prospect Park Track Club, and compared to many of the NYRR races, it still has that small town flavor.

ut word does get around, and a few years ago they started using timing chips and last year (2010) the participation reached four figures. The Flyer participation has grown over the years as well. The earliest I could find in our archives for this race was for 2002 where we had 7 runners. I think some Flyers may have participated in earlier years, but the archives donít go back much further. In 2010, our participation reached 33, a record. I think my first Cherry Tree was in 2006, and in 2007 I managed to win my age group — which is a good indication of how far Prospect Park is from Central Park!

ouíre probably wondering why a February race would be called the "Cherry Tree", thinking no doubt about the much better known "Cherry Blossom" in Washington DC., which comes around the time the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in early April. Itís because this race is around George Washingtonís birthday, and you know his relationship with cherry trees, and not telling lies.

The Realities of Running a Race

he race is the result of a great deal of effort by the Prospect Park Track Club, and 2010 was the 15th running. I talked to the race director Michael Ring before the 2010 race, outside Slope Sports, a local running store where I had picked up my number.

[Editor] Hi Mike, how long have you been doing this race.
[Mike] This is the 15th year.
[Editor] Thatís amazing — and youíve got the biggest crowd yet.
[Mike] Weíve got over 1000 now. Itís very satisfying to find out that you donít need to have a marathon qualifying event to draw a big crowd.
[Editor] Iíll tell you, a lot of my friends like this race to get away from those crowds.
[Mike] But even at 1000 people, itís not going to be the crowds like Central Park.
[Editor] I remember the Brooklyn Half last year where we went around 2 loops and that was pretty tough. [Note: last year's Brooklyn Half had 9,641 finishers, and this year it closed out 2 months before the race.]
[Editor] Well itís 3 loops but youíre not going to bump into each other, weíre not going to move up to the 5000 — 6000 people range.
[Editor] Well, Iím glad of that. Are you going to cap this race at some point?
[Mike] We might — and we ran out of hats this year [technical hats given to race entrants] — but itís hard for a small club to turn people away who have $25 towards the race — thatís the reality of it. Until a few weeks ago I thought weíd be in the red, but it looks like weíll just about break even.
[Editor] Oh, I believe that, and you have a valuable sponsor here [Slope Sports].
[Mike] Slope Sports, yes, I like them as a store and today I realize theyíre a community resource, giving us a place to do this.
[Editor] And Kirsten and her husband run the store, is Kirsten going to run?
[Mike] Yes Kirsten is either going to run the race or fire the starting gun.

I then talked briefly with Kirsten Marino, proprietor of Slope Sports.

[Editor] Hi Kirsten Iíve been coming to this race for about 5 years and I remember when your child was a little baby in arms, remember that?
[Kirsten] I do and now my son is almost 4 years old — named "Thor".
[Editor] Beautiful name. And I was commenting to Mike outside how lucky he is to have you as a resource to sponsor this and provide a venue to pick up the numbers.
[Kirsten] Thank you, and Iím happy to be part of this race; itís obviously a very successful event, and Iím proud to be a sponsor.
[Editor] And do you run the race?
[Kirsten] I have many years ago, but after having my son Iíve been a little out of shape, and I havenít gotten up to those 10 miles yet, but some day soon I will. But it is a fantastic race and itís usually the coldest day of the year, but not this year.
[Editor] I know — 2 or 3 years ago it was like 18 degrees.
[Kirsten] Yup, and the water at the water stations was frozen and the Gu was frozen — but itís always a good event with a good turnout and this year weíre going to have great weather, and a fantastic turnout with over 1000 runners.
[Editor] Well, Iím looking forward to Sunday and they said you might fire the starting gun.
[Kirsten] Iíd love to, yes.

"The reality of it" was made clear later when Mike sent me a rough look at the costs of putting on an event like this:

As you can see a lot of the services are donated (Slope Sports, Bishop Ford HS, Ambulance service) and before and during the race the club gets out its own membership to volunteer. I asked one of the group at the race how many volunteers were working the race, and she said around 40. And that's from a club with around 200 mmebers or about 20%. Quite impressive. Here's their web site:

Prospect Park

word about Prospect Park — Prospect Park is often compared to Central Park. It was designed by the same landscape architects, Olmstead and Vaux, and was constructed from what was largely farm land in the then independent City of Brooklyn. Initial planning took place soon after the completion of Central Park in 1858, but the Civil War interrupted progress and construction did not start until the late 1860s.

n interesting side story concerns the fate of the Litchfield Villa, built in 1853-1857 by the architect A.J. Davis (who designed Lyndhurst — the Jay Gould Estate in Tarrytown that Flyers know from running along the old Croton Aqueduct from Hastings to Tarrytown) for railroad magnate Edwin Litchfield. This mansion, one of the last remaining examples of a palatial Italianate mansion in New York City (and in use today as park headquarters), overlooked New York harbor, and Litchfiled's estate, which included much of today's Park Slope, extended all the way down to the Gowanus Canal. Click through the sequnce of photos at the left to see some of the villa's features. It seems when Litchfield was vacationing in Italy in 1869, the state Legislature condemned the building and included it in Prospect Park. It's good to know the state Legislature would never do anything like that today.

he park incudes many of the inovations pioneered in Central Park, such as a system of trails, roads and bridal paths and carefully constructed site lines to enhance the landscapes. Manhattanites often consider it Central Park's little brother, whereas Brooklynites consider it an improvement, where the builders made all their mistakes in New York, and "got it right" in Brooklyn. Of course such petty rivalries are now long since a thing of the past.

ere's a few links that give some more information on Prospect Park.

The Race

he race is just over three loops around the park. The distance around Prospect Park on the road is just about half of the loop around Central Park, so you can get a feeling of the park's size from that. There is only one significant hill, which peaks out near the Grand Army Plaza entrance (the north end of the park), but instead of going down, there are rolling hills for about another mile. It's not a bad route, but when you're running hard, that hill gets tougher each time around. For those of you familiar with the Brooklyn Half route, which goes aroud twice, this race will seem almost empty by comparison. Having around 1/10 the number of entrants makes a big difference. The start is just down the hill from the 15th Street entrance where there is an F train stop. Unfortunately in 2010, the F train was not running that morning, so we came in via the Q train on the other side of the park, but that was no big deal. I had picked up my number earlier in the week, but otherwise you would be able to pick up your stuff at the Bishop Ford High School, about a 10 minute walk away.

his is not meant to be a race report, since the next running is coming up on February 20th, but just to give you an idea of what to expect. The main feeling I want to get across is that this race is put together by volunteers belonging to a running club much like ours, and they put on a great race on a low budget. It's definately worth your while to give it a try.

Here's a slide show of photos John Ward and I took at last year's race. Click on the picture to see the slideshow. It was a beautiful cold but sunny day, with a little snow left on the ground. Perfect racing conditions. This year, you come too!

You can register for the Feb. 20th race on-line:

Click on photo for slideshow