How a Fresh Perspective #MovedMe
This year I celebrated my 15th anniversary as a staff member of New York Road Runners, the organization behind the TCS New York City Marathon. My history with the race goes back even further—to 1983, when my dad and I volunteered at the start, then watched the finish, inspiring me to run the following year. I ran the marathon six more times, most recently in 2002.
In most of the years since, my race-day role has been to capture the spirit of the day for our digital and print publications. I bundle up, phone charged and MetroCard at the ready, and spend about 10 hours along the route and at the finish, asking fans, volunteers, and runners what they’re doing, how they’re feeling, and what the day means to them.
This year I wanted to try something different, so about a month ago I asked my friends in volunteer start operations for an assignment. I hadn’t been to the start since 2010, and I wanted a fresh look at what it takes to mass 50,000 runners in Fort Wadsworth and set them off and running through five boroughs.
I received two assignments: volunteer check-in and NYRR Team for Kids hospitality. I set my alarm for 2:50 a.m. so I could catch the 3:45 a.m. volunteer bus from the NYRR RUNCENTER in Manhattan. Two thoughts got my sleepy head off the pillow: One, thanks to the return to Standard Time, it actually felt like 3:50 a.m.; and two, many of my NYRR colleagues had already been at work for hours.
In truth, I’d had little trouble mustering energy and enthusiasm for my job this week. The tragic events in Lower Manhattan had galvanized me to do everything I could to show a welcoming face to the world. Usually this week of 16-hour days leaves me completely spent. This year it felt like the more time I spent with runners, the more energized I felt.
I ran Saturday’s Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K with colleagues, feeling weightless and exhilarated as we crossed the finish line.
I also drew energy from memories of other New York City Marathons—running a PR in 1989, hitting the wall and gutting it out with a friend in 1994, dedicating my run to my recently deceased father in 2002. I thought about the firefighters who ran to honor their fallen comrades after 9/11, I thought about Meb winning in 2009. I thought about how more than a million people have crossed the finish line and 50,000 more would today, each of them creating their own cherished memories.
As if reading my thoughts, a fellow volunteer—a Staten Island native—shared her own memories. “I grew up two blocks from the start,” she told me. “My dad used to fire the starting cannon.” In 2012, she didn’t see her sons, a police officer and a firefighter, for four days after Hurricane Sandy. “Some memories are good, some aren’t," she said, "but I don’t forget any of them."
My jobs at Fort Wadsworth were engaging and fun. I spent the first couple of hours checking in volunteers—generous souls from around the corner and across the globe. I tried to thank each and every person. My fellow volunteers were lively, engaging, and almost ridiculously upbeat, and we chatted constantly. This collective energy, I realized, would propel the runners on their journey.
As dawn broke, I walked to the tent reserved for the 2,000 members of NYRR Team for Kids. These runners raised $6 million this year for NYRR youth and community programs. Many were running their first marathon, and they were understandably jittery. My job was to answer questions, calm nerves, and help ensure that everyone headed to the start corrals on schedule.
Again, the work was simple, fun, and shared with dozens of other volunteers, as well as coaches and physical therapists. Michael Capiraso, New York Road Runners’ president and CEO, stopped by to thank everyone, then headed out to start his 26th consecutive TCS New York City Marathon and eighth for Team for Kids. Coach Sid Howard told the runners, “You’re probably nervous—that’s okay. Just remember, it’s about completing, not competing.”
I was nervous about only one thing: getting on a staff bus back to Manhattan. My escort, event development and production manager Conor Nickel, texted me the exact location and time of our departure from Fort Wadsworth. I knew without asking that I couldn’t be late. Arriving with about 15 seconds to spare, I followed Conor and several members of our media and public relations team, all of us carrying equipment, signs, and gear. We jogged through throngs of runners, onto the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and to a waiting fleet of buses.
A police escort led us across the bridge into Brooklyn—briefly alongside the course—and then to Manhattan.
Back on the Upper West Side, I assisted a TV camera crew in getting their heavy equipment through several security checkpoints to the NYRR Media Center. We arrived just in time to watch a giant screen view of Shalane Flanagan pulling away from Mary Keitany on her way to victory—the first by an American woman in this race since 1977. Not for the first time this day, my eyes welled up. Then it was off to the NYRR RUNCENTER to charge my phone, check my husband’s finishing time, and celebrate the day with colleagues.
I knew I had to start writing soon, but suddenly feeling nostalgic for my race-day reporting role of yore, I headed to Family Reunion. There I watched runners, exhausted and elated, clutch their medals, draw their ponchos against the drizzle, and reunite with those dear to them.
Still unable to call it a day, I drifted to the East Side and stood with the mobs of spectators at mile 25, clapping and cheering. I was exhausted, but I didn’t want it to end—the energy, the way it made me grin till my face hurt one minute, then moved me to tears the next.
Then I realized something: It wasn’t going to end. I would be back next year.