to right–Art Hall, Jeff Benjamin–SIAC President at the time, Alan
Steinfeld-NYRRC, Tom Fleming—2 time NYC Marathon Winner ,Abel Kiviat, Fred Lebow, Judge Brennan, Jim Higgins–SIAC VP at the time
Art Hall, one of the true builders of the sport of running in the New York Metro area, passed away. He was 64. We asked Jeff Benjamin, who was coached by Art, to provide us with his thoughts on his coach and mentor.
Back in 1989, at the behest of Mark Will-Weber, I was invited to
Emmaus ,Pennsylvania, to check out Rodale Press, the headquarters of Runners World Magazine. As a 24 year old runner, I was always curious as to how that side of our sport operated, and I was able to observe it firsthand for a day. While there, I was introduced to Bart Yasso, Budd Coates and finally Amby Burfoot. Amby was the editor-in-chief of America’s largest running publication at the time, but hardcore fans also knew him as the 1968 Boston Marathon Champion. Amby was a bit on the quiet side, yet he was gracious and invited me out to lunch, which, at Runners World, meant it was time to do a run!!
As we were changing and lacing up the shoes, Amby asked me about my background. I started by telling him how I got into running as a 16 year old. When I mentioned to him that I had run under my first coach Art Hall for Staten Island’s North Shore Track Club, his eyes lit up quick! “Art Hall”, he said very fondly. “What a nice guy!” We then embarked upon a 45 minute run, which felt like 5 minutes, as we conversed about Art Hall and Central Park for most of the run. That was one of the gifts of knowing Art Hall. His enthusiasm, animation, and always encouraging humor made all of those warm downs after a hard race with him go a lot quicker!
Art Hall, who passed away too early last week at the age of 64, was one of New York City’s (and later Staten Island’s) road racing pioneers. He joined the 55 or so members of the New York Road Runners Club, and, inspired by runners like Ted Corbitt, proceeded to train and become one the top distant runners in the country. In a time period when many of America’s top long distance runners routinely banged heads in road races around Yankee Stadium, Yonkers, Van Cortlandt, and later Central Park, Art took on the likes of Corbitt, Gary Murchke, Norb Sander, George Hirsch , Allan Steinfeld and others.
A front-runner who was no morning glory type, Art consistently would try and break his competition as quick as he could. Even in his late 30’s , he showed no hesitation at the start of the 1982 NYRRC’s Trevira Twosome 10 miler, where he took it out on such runners as Frank Shorter and eventual winner that day Matt Centrowitz (Matt Jr.s’ father).
At the same time, this tremendous all-business type competitor gathered a plethora of young runners around him, joining them for warm downs after fierce races in which his encouragement to others was contagious to all around him. Young local runners like Tom Fleming, Lou Vazquez, Pete Squires, Rudy Robinson John Plata and Bob Glover, among others, all benefited in some small way from his example and inclusiveness. In her autobiographical book, Marathon Woman, women’s pioneer Katherine Switzer, attempting to fight for the rights of women’s equality in the sport during the late 60’s and early 70’s, credits Art Hall as one of those in Central Park, who was unflinchingly encouraging to her as she pursued the dream.
Art Hall finished fifth in the first NY Marathon, won by Gary Murchke. There was the time when, during the 1975 New York City Marathon (the last one run entirely in Central Park) Hall, running in fifth place through brutal humidity, encountered a staggering young runner in fourth who tried to stop and lie down around the 22 mile mark after bonking. Fearful for his life, not from the heat, but from the area in the Park where the crime rate was high at the time, Hall stopped his race quickly, loudly encouraged him to get up and finish, ran part of it with him psyching him up and made sure he finished. That young developing runner was none other than Bill Rodgers, who would later go on to bigger and better things! Art would finish fourth, fourth and sixth in those early NY marathons.
The late 70s and early 80’s were truly THE era in Central Park where a runner, regardless of ability, would eventually encounter the likes of Ted Corbitt, Kurt Steiner, Joe Kleinerman, Harry Murphy, Fred Lebow, Allan Steinfeld, and Art Hall, people who were devoted to the sport in their own way, and never hesitated to take people under their wings, inspiring many others!
Art’s competitive record was equally impressive. A consistent age-group winner in Central Park NYRRC races, he also won the 1975 Penn Relays Marathon. His Marathon PR, set in Boston, was 2 hours 22 minutes 12 seconds was set in an era when only the top 100 finishers would earn the coveted Boston medal. He would win 2 of them! Bill Rodgers called Art, “One of the toughest competitors. If he was in a race, you know you were going to hurt.” Even as the prize money races started to grow, and competition became faster, Art stayed just as competitive, racing and taking on the likes of Rod Dixon 3 months before his 1983 NY Marathon victory, in the Diet Pepsi 10K Championships.
When Art moved to Staten Island, he founded the North Shore Track Club, once again spreading his enthusiasm in a new setting to a new generation. Even at the age of 47, he was still capable of a low 26 minute time for a 5 miler! He still holds numerous Staten Island Road Race records to this day. He has received recognition not only from the NYRRC, but also other clubs as well for his service. In 1985, the local Staten Island Advance newspaper honored him as one Staten Islands’ top sports historical figures. In 2010, he was inducted into the Staten Island Track and field Hall of Fame.
Although he moved to Staten Island, Halls’ connection to the NYRRC and Central Park, just like his racing performances and training, remained consistent. He was one of the creators and leaders of the NYRRC’s Urban Running Programs, which introduced thousands of young kids to the sport. He also served for years as a board member on the NYRRC.
Art Hall’s contributions to our sport have influenced many. By putting on a friendly face, his genuine enthusiasm encouraged many to join and participate in the NYRRC and the sport. It is truly a great compliment that many have taken his influence and have used it to expand the enthusiasm he had for the sport to an even larger group of runners.
You will be missed Art. RIP, and Thank You.