Inside Events: New York Road Runners
12 Dec, 2018By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with President and CEO Michael Capiraso
New York Road Runners (NYRR) is a non-profit running organization based in New York City. It was founded in 1958 with 47 members and has since grown to membership of more than 60,000. NYRR serves nearly 600,000 runners of all ages and abilities annually through hundreds of races, community open runs, walks, training sessions and other running-related programming, with 267,000 youth and seniors participating in free fitness programs and events nationally, including 134,000 in New York City’s five boroughs. The NYRR offers large-scale running events as well, including those that bring in top international talent; these events include the TCS New York City Marathon, United Airlines NYC Half, Brooklyn Half and more.
Sports Destination Management: There are a lot of running clubs across the U.S. but very few of them can claim to have the scope of events, or to attract the kind of talent that yours do. What do you attribute that to?
Michael Capiraso: I’d say we are an interesting organization with a lot of offerings. It has been a good 60 years for us, and nearly 50 years of hosting the marathon. We are lucky to be in such a great city that really has become a bucket-list running destination for a lot of people. I think that when the marathon started to hit its stride – if you’ll pardon the pun – in the mid-seventies, we were right out there with an urban marathon that people really enjoyed.
SDM: What is the economic impact of the New York Marathon?
Capiraso: About four years ago, we had a study done; the total economic impact was $415 million. I think for a lot of the big events we offer, people want the experience of running the streets of the city. We are incredibly fortunate to have so many different courses and neighborhoods to run through. We see a lot of international travelers participating in our events – there is a group of women who come from Sweden to run the Mini, which is one of our races – and they’re going to bring their families, stay in the hotels, see a Broadway show – in fact, there are a lot of people who plan to visit their families and friends in this area of the country and they make their travel plans around the races they want to do.
SDM: How do you go about picking out the routes for events?
Capiraso: We have a team that oversees the events and they do a very good job of making sure we are serving all five boroughs. It is a very collaborative approach and very strategic – they look at a number of factors when they’re making decisions.
SDM: Do things change much from year to year?
Capiraso: Our race calendar has been pretty consistent but every so often, we reinvent something. A number of years ago, we changed the Brooklyn Half by turning the course around and that was very successful. We’re always asking ourselves how we can change things a little and serve both the runners and the community. Sometimes we change the pre- or post-race for an event, to keep that edge.
SDM: What is your volunteer core like? Do you have a lot of people in the membership who help out at events, or is it more the people in the areas where you’re hosting?
Capiraso: It’s both. We also encourage people to volunteer by offering our 9 + 1 program. If you run nine races and volunteer for one, and if you qualify, we will give you guaranteed entry into the marathon. That is a very popular program.
SDM: You have talked about changing things up and staying current. What kind of other ideas have you brought in recently?
Capiraso: We launched virtual races this year, and now people who aren’t able to be with us for runs – in fact, they could be anywhere in the world – to run a race and upload it to Strava.
SDM: How many races did you offer that way and what was the reception like?
Capiraso: There were nine virtual races this year, including the TCS New York City Marathon – Virtual 26.2M. Olympians and marathon champions Meb Keflezighi and Des Linden have both been taking part in the NYRR Virtual Racing Series this year.
Runners can choose to purchase a virtual race for credit toward the NYRR Virtual 6 Program. Participants that complete six NYRR Virtual Races by the end of 2018 will be eligible to receive one non-complimentary entry to the 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half and one Popular Brooklyn Half Virtual Training program to help them prepare for the race. NYRR is already on the ground in New York every week of the year getting people moving, so NYRR Virtual Racing is a way to expand our footprint and impact further with those around the world.
SDM: NYRR isn’t just about elite races, though, or even distance running.
Capiraso: No, we serve people of all ages and all abilities. We are very focused on community impact – it is really important to who we are and what we believe. So for example, next year will be the twentieth anniversary of our youth program. We provide a curriculum and we’ve developed fun games that involve running. Kids can log their time running and get incentives like medals and T-shirts. It’s a free program and it’s our way of creating the next generation of runners; we call it our Rising New York Road Runners program.
SDM: With all the work you do, you must have event organization down to a science. What do you think is the most common mistake people make when trying to organize a road racing event? Is it not allowing enough time for permitting, not starting soon enough – or something else?
Capiraso: You know, it’s hard to say. We’ve been here for 60 years. I think we pride ourselves on the fact that we really engage the community in everything we do. Being here 365 days a year, we have a number of things that bring the community in. In addition to our programs that serve kids, we support giving back to the community. We have free 5Ks and a striders program; there are seniors that come out for that.
I’d also put our city partnerships at the top of the list. One of the most important things to us is our relationships with the New York Police Department, mayor’s office, the municipal agencies – they all know us.
SDM: Amazon is coming into Long Island City and obviously, it will be bringing a lot of new employees and their families. Do you look forward to having new runners from that development?
Capiraso: We’re in all five boroughs but we have seen some really great growth in Queens. In fact, one of our races is the Queens 10K that happens in June and runs around Flushing Meadows Park, where the tennis center is. We welcome all those new folks because we have a lot of programs to help and support them.