Behind the scenes: PPTC's Marathon scramble

“So, it sounds like you had a really hard time getting your shoe tied, and after you did you stepped in poop and had to throw it away.”

by Michael Ring 

Over the past few years I have helped organize the Prospect Park Track Club’s activates related to the NYC Marathon. It might sound like a lot but I have the time so I take a leadership role.

  • Organize the running of the last 10 miles of the course a week before the race
  • Get some buses to take us to Staten Island
  • Organize a reunion area near the finish line
  • Bring runners’ dry clothes to our reunion place


I also don’t do this by myself. Anne Perzeszty actually orders the buses and does the shopping. Richard Weaver organized the volunteers, who really make this happen. Doug Olney maintains the list of who paid for the bus. There are many others who contribute in their own ways to make our members and their friends and family have a better experience before and after the NYC Marathon. That said, I have become the face of these activities.

In planning this year’s events, we decided on one change from last year: we actually decided to scale back the publicity. Last year our last 10-mile run was almost too big to handle and we almost ran out of seats in the PS 87 cafeteria after the Marathon. So instead of making everything public and saying “RSVP if you are joining us so we know how many cookies to buy”, we changed our public statements to “[These events] are open to PPTC members and their invited guests only.” We hoped this would give us a little bit more control of our events.

Like we have control over anything…

As you probably recall, late in the summer NYRR suddenly announced that it would no longer move runners’ bags from the start to the finish of the race. This made the fact that we were going to have a baggage moving service that much more popular. So on the first day of school I called the custodian at PS 87 to make sure we were still going to be able to rent the cafeteria on Marathon Day. At this point advice I got from Al Goldstein paid off. (He used to make the arrangements at the schools.)

When Al told me how to rent school space, he told me how important it was to ingratiate myself to the Custodial Engineer. “I was a Principal for 40 years and I just did what ever the Custodian told me to,” he said. “He also made more money than me.” My buttering paid off. When I called him, he told me, “Some group called TNT wanted to rent the school but I told them that Prospect Park has dibs on that date.” Dibs. He said dibs. It has been a long time since someone told me I had dibs. That made me happy.

Last year, when we finished our “Last 10” run, someone from Tavern on the Green told us we have to get a permit to have a tailgate party in the their parking Lot. So in the early fall I spent a few hours trying to get a permit. It turns out that the Parks Department doesn’t really care what anyone does in their parking lots and Tavern on the Green does not have a phone anymore. Another problem solved.

The running of the last 10 miles went well. We scaled back the publicity so the quantity of runners was more manageable than last year. The Willis Avenue Bridge was passable. Mary Wittenberg even ran by and we chatted. Little did we know what kind of hell New York would go through in the next week, and how she would be painted as the devil.

On the Thursday before the Marathon there was still no electricity below 34th St, so I rode my bike to Javits Center to pick up my bib. I did not think this was going to affect the race. I should have. They gave me some paperwork about the buses. I did not look at it; I had my own bus. Little did I know that it was about the cancelation of the ferries. Suddenly people were coming out of the woodwork looking for a seat on our totally sold-out buses.

So I gathered up my Marathon swag and went back on my bike to ride home. On the way home I had one of those moments that will look good when they make a movie about my life. I stopped in City Hall Park and bought a Chicken and Rice. Then I rode a third of the way up The Brooklyn Bridge and had my lunch, took out my cell phone. First I called Doug. “The ferries are cancelled, and our teammates want seats on our sold out buses. Can we deal with the 5 am crowd at JackRabbit being 1 bus bigger?” “Yes!” Good, then I called Anne to see if she can book another bus. Sure she said, and then I finished my halal lunch. I thought that was all very photogenic. I also thought all I had to do was go home and start a waiting list for the extra bus. Only the first might have been true.

[In the following paragraphs the timeline might be incorrect. There were a lot of moving parts. I honestly don’t remember everything.]

On Friday morning got a worried call from Anne. “Our bus company is not calling me back, not even the emergency number.” Not good, maybe we can knock on their door. I Googled their address. They were on the corner of water and water in Red Hook. Anne said she would stop by on her way to Costco to buy stuff for our reunion. She called me from a block away from the bus company. A block away because that is as close as she can get. The buses were in 4 feet of water. So Anne continued on to Costco and I started out to find us some other buses.

Also, on Friday morning I got through to PS 87. (Schools were closed all week, but staff was asked to report that day.) I wanted to make sure they were ready for us on Sunday. I was assured by my buddy the custodian that everything was fine. 20 minutes later I got an email form the Department of Education: “ALL PERMITS FOR THIS WEEKEND ARE CANCELLED”. I called back to PS 87. The custodian says, that’s news to me, but maybe you should call the Central Office. I called, tried to beg, but alas, there were no exceptions. So with less than 48 hours to go before the Marathon, I had to email our team and say there was no PPTC reunion area. I truly understood the implications for this because I had already told the NYRR that I did not need baggage check.

Anne is at Costco, shopping for the reunion that we can not have. She answered her phone as she was paying. She came really close to loading a few hundred dollars' worth of snacks into her car. One fewer problem.

And while Anne was shopping, Steve Lastoe and I were frantically trying to find replacement buses. At noon, Steve found us 6 school buses that had 50 more seats than our 4 coach buses. YEAH! I started telling everyone on our waiting list they had a seat.

Then, like everyone else, my Facebook and Twitter feeds went crazy. The NYC Marathon was cancelled.

So after I did not eat dinner I went to pick up my 12-year-old son at his friends house. He started telling me the plot of the Wii game he was playing and I realized that I was not paying attention. I apologized and told him I a really hard day. He said, “Tell me about it day, it might make you feel better.” So I repeated everything you just read and he replied with the quote at the top of this article. He got a big hug for that.

A couple of days after the NYC Marathon did not happen I realized that the Prospect Park Track Club had a few thousand dollars of other people’s money. Over 200 marathoners paid $10 or $15 for buses that never came. I thought it would be a great idea to give it all to Prospect Park so they can replace some trees, or to the Red Cross for their disaster relief efforts. I did some crowdsourcing and everyone thought this was a great idea. I was ready to start writing checks when I got slapped in the face by some reality by my fellow board members. “You are not Mary Wittenberg and this is not the New York Road Runners. You don’t make these kind of decisions without consulting the rest of the Board of Directors and WE don’t decide what to do with other people's money.” Wow, I had forgotten that I had volunteered to organize these activities, I was not appointed King. We decided to give people’s bus money to the Red Cross if they said that was ok.

Anyway, as of November 25, we have not gotten our money back from the original bus company, so this all might be more work for nothing. But on November 26, the PPTC Board decided to process the refunds regardless of whether or not we get our money back from the bus company.

Speaking of volunteers the “Last 10" run went perfectly because of the great work of Anne Perzeszty, Julio Zavala, Tom Tobin, Tom Meany, Richard and Kathleen Weaver, Doug Olney, Paula van de Nes, Cecil Burgin and oh dog, a few others whose names I can not remember because it was over a month ago. I also want to thank Diana Ortiz, who always helps but we kept changing the date, so we were without her valuable assistance this year.

Keith Williams