People Who Make NY Special

The Man Behind the New York City Marathon

Thank Peter Ciaccia, director of the New York Road Runners’ biggest race, for your messy tears and hoarse voice the first Sunday of every November.

There’s no better symbol for New York City than our annual marathon, happening again this Sunday, November 5, for the 47th time, when runners from all over the world hit our concrete streets and push themselves to their limits. If you’ve never whooped and clapped for the more than 51,000 athletes who wind through all five boroughs, get out there and cheer—for them, for yourself (like the runners, you “made it” in NYC, too!), and for our city.

And don’t forget to cheer for Peter Ciaccia, too. He’s the brave soul who has undertaken the organization of this behemoth, iconic event for the past 16 years as New York Road Runners’ (NYRR) marathon race director. Coordinating 50,000-plus runners and more than one million spectators across bridges and boroughs is no small feat. But it’s more than big numbers that make this marathon spectacular. Ciaccia chatted with us about how and why the NYC Marathon is so special.

What Should We Do?!: The marathon is always so emotional and joyful for runners and spectators alike. In fact, the theme you chose for this year’s race is “It Will Move You.” What marathon moments have really moved you?
Peter Ciaccia: The 2001 New York City Marathon will always hold a special place in my heart. I started working at NYRR that year, and it was also the last year I ran the race, which was just two months after the attacks of September 11. The city was still very much in a state of shock and deeply suffering, but also determined to bounce back and stand up against the violence and hatred. So that marathon became one of the city’s first steps forward toward recovery, and the event’s mantra became “United We Run.”

At last year’s TCS New York City Marathon, one of my favorite moments happened at the finish line, at around 8 p.m., when 96-year-old WWII veteran Jonathan Mendes finished. I saw Jonathan, who we believe is the event’s oldest runner, approaching, and I jogged out to finish the final few yards with him. After crossing the finish line and presenting him with a well-deserved medal, Jonathan went into the medical tent for his own personal remedy: a shot of whiskey. My favorite way to end every race is by helping those final runners get across the line and celebrate their accomplishment.

WSWD: What makes the NYC Marathon special compared to other locations’ races?
Ciaccia: It is the largest marathon in the world and made up of more than 50,000 runners from more than 125 countries around the globe, who come to New York City for a unique look at the world’s greatest city. There’s no better way to see the sites and experience the diverse neighborhoods than our 26.2-mile running tour that goes through all five of the city’s boroughs.

WSWD: You’ve run marathons yourself. How do you keep yourself motivated?
Ciaccia: Running 26.2 miles takes commitment and months of training. Putting in the hard work on a consistent basis usually results in a good race day. During the race there are many tricks you can play when things might get a little tough, which is in the later miles. Having a mantra that you used during your training can be repeated during those tough times in your race, reminding you of all the hard work you have put in. Math is always a good distraction as well. Calculating your time and pace keeps your mind sharp.

WSWD: The spectators help, too, we’re sure! Which spots along the course need more spectators and cheering?
There are lots of great places to catch the action from the sidelines, including Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, the Queens side of the Pulaski Bridge, and First Avenue in Manhattan, but new this year we’re introducing the New Balance Mile-20 Block Party. As runners exit the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, my home borough, New Balance will help runners through the dreaded mile 20, known by many as “the wall.” The event will have music by Bronx-based DJs, a local drum line, a large interactive digital screen, and more.

WSWD: Is planning the marathon a full-year, full-time job?
Absolutely. The planning begins on race day the year prior. During the event our team is already starting to pay attention and take note of what needs to be changed or what can be improved at next year’s race. New York Road Runners has a staff of 200-plus full-time employees to make the marathon a success each year.

WSWD: How has marathon planning changed since the Boston Marathon bombing?
Ciaccia: The safety and security of our runners, staff, volunteers, and spectators has always been and will always be New York Road Runners’ number-one priority. We are also fortunate to work in close collaboration with New York’s finest, the NYPD, and other city, state, and federal agencies to ensure safety at all of our events. Together with our agency partners, we have extensive safety and security measures in place, both visible and behind the scenes. We encourage runners to be aware of their surroundings, and if they see an unattended object or people who may look out of place, to call it to the attention of the nearest race official or law enforcement officer.

Peter Ciaccia
2016 TCS New York City Marathon runners. Photo courtesy of NYRR.

WSWD: What runners should we be watching this year?
Ciaccia: Each year the marathon draws runners from around the world to the streets of New York City, including a world-class professional field and a great group of celebrities looking to take on the challenge of completing a marathon. You can track my favorite runners, or any other runner, from the TCS New York City Marathon app. Some of my favorite stories from this year’s field include:

  • Meb Keflezighi – A NYRR Team for Kids Ambassador and four-time Olympian who will be running the New York City Marathon for the 11th time. It will be his 26th and final professional career marathon. In 2009, Meb became the first American in 27 years to win the NYC Marathon, and he was victorious at the Boston Marathon five years later.
  • Kathrine Switzer – Kathrine made headlines when she became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. She eventually won the New York City Marathon in 1974. Kathrine will run the NYC Marathon this year to honor the 50th anniversary of her historic Boston race. She is running the race for her charity, 261 Fearless.
  • Bishoy Tadros – An acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) survivor. He was diagnosed at an early age and underwent several years of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. He feels blessed to say that this struggle instilled strength. His mantra from an early age was very simply “to break barriers.” Bishoy is running his first marathon at the TCSNYCM as part of Team in Training with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He is training with others who have been directly affected by the disease. He is the number-two top Team in Training fundraiser in the country!
  • Patricia Lorquet – An alumna of New York Road Runners Run for the Future, a youth running program designed to introduce young women entering their senior year of high school to the sport of running and the benefits of leading healthy and active lifestyles. At the end of the program, participants complete their first 5K and receive a college scholarship. Since completing the program in 2013, Patricia has discovered a love for the sport and continued her running journey. On Sunday, Patricia, now a senior at the University at Buffalo, will complete her first marathon.
Peter Ciaccia
2016 TCS New York City Marathon runners. Photo courtesy of NYRR.

Peter Ciaccia’s Faves…in a NY Minute

New York City street?
West 233rd in the Bronx, where I grew up.

Season in NYC?
The fall: marathon season!

Totonno’s in Coney Island.

Place for breakfast?
Landmarc in Columbus Circle.

Place to take out-of-town guests?
Trattoria Dell’Arte on Seventh Avenue.

Place for dessert?
Veniero’s on East 11th Street.

Not running the marathon? You can at least spend the weekend like a marathoner. Get in touch!