Nike Run NYC and Me
Until now I have avoided publicly commenting about the Nike Run NYC changes. And to a large extent, I want to continue to avoid sharing my opinion about the new program, as ultimately the decision to change is entirely up to Nike. They fund the free program and are entitled to do what they want with it, so in that respect, my opinion does not (and should not) matter. A bit of history. In 2002 I was approached about becoming part of a new program, to be called Nike Run NYC. It was Nike's attempt to get back to their roots as a running company. Along with Shane Neil, Michael Maloney and Toby Tanser, I was one of the original coaches for the program. On nights I didn't coach, I acted as a pacer for the other coaches. We had small (OK, tiny) crowds at first, but it gradually grew. We had a great group of pacers and support staff, including Nike legend Kenny Mack, Deb Murray, and many more. As the program grew, I got to bring in friends and colleagues to add to the staff, and many - from Terence Gerchberg to Yves-Marc Courtines to Ramon Bermo - became mainstays. Later, the runners had a three-time NYRR Runner of the year (Lete Berhe) and a sub-1:02 half-marathoner (Worku Beyi) among their group of dedicated pacers for the free program. And MKTG (nee Marketing Partners) was brought in to handle the promotion and management of the program as it grew in popularity and scope. Personally, I benefitted greatly from the program. Not just from the money I made or how coaching for Nike helped me increase my visibility to the city's runners, but from the countless good friends I made among the other coaches, pacers, runners and marketing staff. I can't begin to explain how grateful I am for that.
Over the years we ran from Niketown, Flatiron, Super Runners Shop, Paragon, the Westside Brewing Company, Wollman Rink, and at times, anywhere we could park our mobile van and set up a tent. We provided a service, Nike never asked me to try to sell anything, and the runners had a free program. We had races in Central Park that were followed by concerts. We had runs on the Westside Highway that were followed by almost implausible amounts of Irish Car Bombs and Statue of Liberty Shots. We ran for two hours in the streets of the city dressed like the characters in Chariots of Fire, wearing the newfangled Nike Frees. I did TV appearances that forced me to change my clothes in the park's bushes and to elude arrest. And maybe, just maybe a few staffers donned flesh colored briefs (and nothing else) and pretended to be streakers at a race a few years ago without having to call the bosses and ask for bail money. (Of course, like the bosses, I have no official knowledge of any such incident.) I got to work with Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman, Lauren Fleshman, some cyclist who wore yellow a lot, and many other high profile athletes.
Last week Nike announced major changes to the program. The format is changing, and the staff is changing. Many runners are upset. Some will likely remain upset and take their business elsewhere, and others will embrace the new format and remain loyal to the brand. And Nike will stick to their guns, or respond to the public outcry. Ultimately, it's "their ball", and they can do with it as they see fit. Since I have no say in that decision, I'm choosing not dwell on it.
What I do know is that there's no mandatory signup to get into Central Park (though when I'm King of the World, I may institute such a policy in order to avoid overcrowding by the fair weather runners). There's no velvet rope at the Red Hook, 6th Street or Riverbank tracks. Some will embrace the new Run NYC format, and those who don't can, will, and should keep on running.
During the first twelve years of Run NYC there were times when I was Nike's "fair-haired" boy, and worked all their big events. At other times I was less involved, which was fine too, because I felt like I could trace the family tree back to me whenever I looked at the staff or coaches and pacers. Regardless of my status, it was great to see the community that was built. Friendships came from it. Relationships came from it. Teammates came from it. And let's not forget that I met the lovely future Mrs. Coach Cane at the end of a Nike run. I'm focused on the aforementioned friendships and relationships that came from the program. None of that should change. And I'm proud to have had a small role in helping to build that. Now remember the words of wisdom that I shared with the Nike group so many times. Left foot, right foot, repeat.