What it's like to organise the New York City Marathon

Peter Ciaccia congratulates Mary Keitany who won the NYC Marathon in 2015.
Peter Ciaccia congratulates Mary Keitany who won the NYC Marathon in 2015. Photo credit: Reuters

For the tens of thousands of runners in Sunday’s New York City Marathon, just getting to the finish line will be a momentous accomplishment.

What many won’t know is that the man waiting at the line watching the runners pound out their last steps on their 42.2km journey will be seeing out the last moments of his own marathon.

Peter Ciaccia’s been the New York City Marathon race director for the past six years, and involved with the New York Road Runners – a non-profit that organises the races for 18 – and will step down after this year’s event.

"I was volunteering at the marathon, just checking it out and I thought it was interesting behind the scenes," Mr Ciaccia says of how he got involved with NYRR after an earlier career in the music industry.

"A job popped up on their website that I saw as I was applying for a race and I was curious about it so I followed through.

"So I fell into it, really."

And so Sunday will be a special day for Mr Ciaccia.

He'll be at the Staten Island start line at around midnight, the first of all five New York City boroughs that the marathon passes through.

"I've become the leader of the orchestra, and so all the players in the orchestra have got to keep in tune when I point the baton at them," Mr Ciaccia says, weaving his two careers into one simple summary.

The marathon is well choreographed too; it has to be in a city like New York where minimising disruption to the city is key.

Aside from prepping the finish line in Central Park, most of the course from Staten Island up through Brooklyn and Queens and across to Manhattan and up to the Bronx and back is built up in the night before the race.

Stages for the 150-odd bands go up, fences to protect runners, sponsor, drink and aid stations all pop up while the runners take their final rest.

"We probably clean out every rental truck on the East Coast [of America], there are probably at least 2,000 trucks we use [that night]."

As dawn breaks on race day, Mr Ciaccia's attention turns to media commitments with radio stations and TV networks set up at the start line.

Then he'll manage the start of the race, which involves eight separate waves of starters before jumping in a car and following the runners through New York's five boroughs to meet them at the finish line.

"I always make a point of staying for the last runner, no matter what the time."

That'll be extra special this year, as he congratulates the final runner coming across the line, it'll also signal the end of Peter Ciaccia's own marathon.