Mary Wittenberg, President and CEO of New York Road Runners announced this week that she was going to join the newly formed organization, Virgin Sport. For an amateur-local-to-NYC-runner, this was big news.
I am the “average-Joe” NYRR member that typically runs 9-10 races a year including the marathon at the average pace, volunteers at an event each year, and earns entry to the following year’s marathon. I know a lot of runners that also run the NYRR races for fun without the intention of qualifying for the marathon, I used to be one of those runners. While most people I know at one point or another have a love-hate relationship with NYRR, especially Hurricane Sandy year (myself included), I really admire the organization and Mary Wittenberg.
There has been a lot of positive press about Mary Wittenberg’s departure especially how she was an advocate for women’s running and professionals. As the “average-Joe”, I think she was a big advocate for amateur runners of all ages and kinds. In addition to hosting over 50 races across the five boroughs each year, NYRR (a non-profit) also promotes and organizes events for youth running and has a charity arm (Team for Kids) that fundraises for youth and community programs.
Mary and NYRR has helped fuel the growing interest in distance running. With the organization of so many races, in addition to the 9+1 program to allow many more amateur runners to run in the prestigious NYC Marathon, NYRR has provided an outlet for runners.
While there are many local running organizations and other non-NYRR races in the NYC-area, they rarely compete up to the level of that of NYRR’s races. I understand the criticism about the club becoming too corporate, but I see it as a benefit to the runners. NYRR’s races are by the far the most organized I have ever run. While the field of one of the non-marquee events are larger than that of typical local races, you don’t feel overwhelmed. Registration (though you usually need to sign up early for the more popular events), reminder emails the week of, course maps, bag check, bib pick-up (day of is usually easier than trekking to the Upper East Side, at least for me), and all pre-race events are always well-organized with a lot of volunteers everywhere. There is always more than enough water and Gatorade stations and the mile markers and time clocks are well-positioned throughout the course. The staff and volunteers take post-race flow very seriously. I have been “yelled” at many times for chit-chatting by the post-race area and causing a traffic jam. Everyone is very efficient about making sure you make it through the finish area quickly to pick up water, bagels, and other post-race essentials. The finish times for all the runs are very quick to be posted to the website. And at most races, Mary Wittenberg is at the finish cheering you on or even running the course encouraging all the runners. Every time I run a NYRR race, I realize even more why they are, in my opinion, so great. I am a spoiled runner.
I just came from the Brooklyn Half Marathon pre-race party last night and I am reminded again how great NYRR is. There were volunteers and signs as soon as I got off the subway to help direct me and others to Brooklyn Bridge Park, which was still over a 10-minute walk away. The signage at the pre-race party is coherent and clear. The bib and t-shirt pickup is painless and the entertainment, booths, and activities were great. I even had the chance to congratulate Mary Wittenberg in person. I realize the Brooklyn Half Marathon is a marquee event and I paid pretty good money for the race entry, but NYRR puts on a darn good show and I know the race will be just as good.
You don’t need to be a professional runner to appreciate Mary Wittenberg and NYRR. She has made big strides in the NYC running scene and it will not go unnoticed by the amateurs. I look forward to seeing all the great things she will do at Virgin Sport and hopefully participating in some of their events. I know I speak for many others, thank you Mary for your support of the sport.