Michael Capiraso Discusses the New York City Marathon and the Importance of Community

Runners are social. Not necessarily chatty-social but competitive-social and supportive-social. That’s why social media is such a great tool for connecting with other runners and sharing stories of triumph, as well as challenges.

Michael Capiraso sat down with Tina Muir, the host of The Running for Real podcast, to discuss the New York City Marathon. He shared insight into his journey both as a participant in the marathon and as the former president and CEO of New York Road Runners (NYRR), the event’s producer.

As a lifelong advocate of the sport, Michael has participated in hundreds of races and has committed his career to promoting athletics. Recently completing his 28th consecutive New York City marathon, he has succeeded in raising more than $100,000 for NYRR’s Team for Kids charity.

Before joining NYRR, Capiraso was the Chief Marketing Officer for Cole Haan, North American CEO of WPP’s Prism, and Vice President of Marketing and Executive Creative Director for the National Football League (NFL).

Join us now for a glimpse into how Michael Capiraso inspires the community around him.

You are coming off your 28th New York City Marathon. So how are you feeling physically? Mentally? Do you feel like you have come off the high of the TCS New York City Marathon? Are you still getting back into the swing of things?

I’m feeling great. I thought the last TCS New York City Marathon was one of the best, if not the best, we’ve ever had. There was a terrific lead-up to it. And it was a perfect day. So much about running has to do with weather and conditions, and we had a great day for it here in New York City. We set a record with more than 53,000 people running the race this year. Overall, it was a terrific day.

I feel honored and privileged to be part of this organization and to have the opportunity to run the race, which I did for my 28th consecutive year. I was running the perfect race and was on course for a PR but then had a little hamstring issue around mile 20.

We’re talking about your 28th race and having some struggles. You decided after a few days that you would share the struggle of what happened to your hamstring.

Why did you hesitate to share that? Did part of you feel that you needed to hold this — not superhuman, I-can-do-anything kind of mentality — but maybe that you needed to keep the story from being about you? What was the hesitation to share the fact that you had a rough day?

Well, I think you hit on it. I mean, the reality is that it’s a spectacular day. It’s a really important day for many people, and not making it about me probably led to the hesitation.

That said, I certainly think what we learn as runners is that our journey is important for other people because they can learn from it. So, at the end of the day, the little nudge to share was probably a good one.

I worked hard as all runners do, and I struggled a bit because of something that had never happened to me before. I thought sharing my story would be a good thing for other people to hear.

I think I’ve been lucky for many years not to have anything like this happen to me and not have to deal with immediate rehab afterward.

But I did not want to take away from the marathon — again, it was a great day for many people running and spectating.

Was that the first time you’ve shown vulnerability — into your own life, letting people see some struggles you’ve had? And what was the reception you got? Did it surprise you? Or was it what you expected?

I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest with you. Yes, I was surprised at the feedback I got.

As I said earlier, I think it’s very much about runners wanting to hear about other people’s journeys; they want to hear about their successes. And they want to hear about their challenges, too, because I think we identify so much with them.

I had worked harder than ever preparing for the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon. I ran the last 10 miles of the course 26 times. And the irony is that I ended up getting injured along that stretch.

But I think that sharing and talking about what we go through on our journey does help others. If we have a platform to do that, great — we should do it. I think it also, to some degree, helps us deal with things. The work that I’ve been doing since I was injured has been terrific — it is helping me get stronger, and I’ll learn some things through that process.

I’m sure you’ve been through times when you had injuries or faced challenges. People want to hear about that as much as they do the celebration.

Can you tell us about your thoughts for runners who are going through a slump or have recently experienced a bad race? Maybe they are getting a bit older, into their master years, and thinking, “Well, most of the good stuff’s done now.” What would you like to say to them?

I feel the opposite. I feel like embracing change is great. As we continue to move along in our running careers, we need to do things differently. In the last few years, I’ve learned to change my running workouts, change my non-running workouts, and do more of them. Read up, listen to other people, and talk to other people about what they’ve done.

I see many people who not only improve but also find a different way to enjoy the sport. You may not achieve your fastest time, but there may be other positive aspects or challenges to it. Each year, I pick three things that I want to do differently in terms of training. This past year I chose to run the last 10 miles 26 times, work on my core, and implement the 80/20 rule, which I’d read about in a book and thought was important — I had to do more of my miles at a slower pace.

So, what I say to people is embrace the change. Embrace what’s going to happen and learn more about it — because you’ll be surprised. You may find either some extra joy in it or you may achieve a time that you didn’t expect to get before.

The stuff that we didn’t want to do for many years — either the speed work or the core work — go ahead and do it. It doesn’t mean that you have to be obsessive about it, but give it a try and get yourself into a routine.

I’ve done a lot more group training, too. I think there are aspects of group training that people find elevate either their joy or their performance.

Do you ever have a day when you’re feeling exhausted? What do you tell yourself in those moments when you’re feeling so worn out but at the same time so grateful that you get to be in this position?

I think the biggest thing for me when those moments happen is that I have amazing things to keep me motivated. Number one is the incredible support of my family and a great group of friends. That’s always a great place for me to go, get revitalized, and stay connected, which goes a long way.

Or, I go for a run. I run at a different pace, but it does so much for my head and how I feel. So, my go-to’s are certainly family, friends, and then a nice run, which might help me feel better, clear my head, and give me extra energy.

I’m fortunate in that I get up every morning and love my job; I love what I do. I love the people in the running community, and I don’t mean to sound idealistic, but it’s true. It’s generally the way I feel.

How much of this have you learned through what you did with New York Road Runners?

Certainly, working for New York Road Runners had a lot to do with it. The other thing is that the running community is really strong. And right now, there are so many digital platforms that connect us to and engage us with each other. There are other ways to stay engaged through running, and this helps us learn things. It makes us aware of things.

All of the information that’s out there right now is so easily accessible. You can meet other people to run with; you can do virtual training; you can do virtual racing. When you’re traveling, you can find running routes.

There are so many tools and things that we can now add to the engagement and new exploration. I always encourage people to do that.

So, yes, I’m fortunate to be here in New York City, having worked with New York Road Runners, and have the NYRR Run Center. But there are so many ways for people all over the world to stay engaged and new ways to be part of the running community.

You mentioned some virtual options, which I’d like you to talk more about. For someone reading who is thinking, “This conversation is all about New York, and I don’t live in New York; I have no likelihood of visiting New York. This isn’t for me,” what would you say to that person?

I think now is the best time, or better than ever, to be a runner, no matter where you are. The digital platforms and the running community on social media have exploded and continue to grow every day.

During my time with NYRR we launched several virtual platforms. We’ve had virtual training for years. We launched virtual racing in 2018. We have some new virtual coaching options and other things that will come out in the coming years.

How you can engage with running right now, through technology, are fantastic. We have people running the TCS New York City Marathon virtually in countries worldwide, and the social media and engagement around it have been fantastic.

Can you explain what that is? When someone hears the phrase “a virtual race,” what is that?

It’s the same thing as going out and doing a run at any time. We’ve created a community of people who are running a virtual race. You can make your course any time for however long, a week or two weeks, and then track it through Strava or other tracking apps. And as part of the New York Road Runners virtual racing platform, you can be a part of the entire community that is running. It gives people the opportunity to take what might be a normal run and connect it to other people and be part of something larger.

Again, I think it’s one of those things that makes the running community so special — that people can be engaged anywhere through all these new (digital) platforms.

In my experience with community organizations, it’s often hard to find volunteers. From what I can tell, that wasn’t a problem during your time at NYRR. What was your secret?

Yes, we were incredibly fortunate. I think that we helped build a culture and community of volunteerism that exists strongly in New York. Many times, people want to support things that will inspire them and inspire other people.

So, when you talk about people running races and trying to accomplish their goals, we’re often so impressed by how many people want to come out and do that. Certainly, for the TCS New York City Marathon, we have well over 10,000 volunteers that come out and line the streets to support the runners.

It’s a culture of volunteers, and that exists in many communities, and it is very strong here in New York City; we’ve been very fortunate to be able to build on and support that.

And we all know how much it means to us to be cheered on and supported by people, and volunteers make up a big part of it. So, continue to work at building the community. It’s there. People want to help and support other people. And I think it’s critical that we, as organizers, continue to give people the opportunity to do that.

Advisor, JoggingBuddy; Former CEO & President New York Road Runners (NYRR) https://www.michaelcapiraso.com/