New race director of the TCS NYC Marathon talks with Running USA CEO and RDM Publisher Dawna Stone
By Dawna Stone
For New York City native Ted Metellus, recently being named race director of the TCS New York City Marathon has been not just a career milestone, but the closing of a loop. Many may not know that Ted’s first official job in the running industry was also with the New York Road Runners, back in 2001.
For this issue of RDM, I had the chance to sit down with Ted and ask both personal and professional questions about his journey to this important role leading one of the world’s most renowned races. We had a wonderful conversation, touching on everything from how Ted – along with the rest of our industry – can’t wait to get “cooking” again. I know we’re all on board with a delicious recipe for a fast and furious comeback.
Throughout our conversation, Ted’s outgoing personality, industry knowledge, and kind humanity were on full display. With 20 years of operations and management experience in road races, he has worked on thousands of events nationwide and attended nearly every Running USA Industry Conference. Like so many in our industry, Ted is the type of event professional who is always willing to share his knowledge with others. That’s one of the things that makes him a true asset to our sport and such a fun interview. Thank you, Ted, for chatting with me and sharing your perspective on so many topics important to our industry right now.
Running USA members, as a special members-only content bonus, you can find the full video recording of my conversation with Ted online at RunningUSA.org. Find out what races are on his bucket list (hint, there’s a bunch!) and where he loves to run in NYC, only online.
(Editor’s note: conversation transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.)
Dawna Stone: Ted, thank you for joining us today. I am so excited to talk with you. What are you most excited about in your new role?
Ted Metellus: It’s ultimately to get back cooking again, to get back to producing events. The hardest task is to get things going again. We’ve been producing some small events in our “Return to Racing” series, with very safe operations to prove out the science, math, tech and operations of producing live events. Growing that to scale is the goal. It’s no different than our colleagues in the service industry that own restaurants and bars, and just want to get back in the kitchen and start cooking again. That’s exactly what we want to do for everybody in the running industry family.
Dawna: Let’s get cooking! That’s what I want to say, too. As I’m talking to you today, it’s late February. There’s got to be some questions that are top of mind that will enable you to produce the marathon live in November. What are they?
Ted: That is an easy answer to provide. It’s not a question of can we produce the marathon? Or can we produce our events? It’s not even a question of how we’re going to do that. Because we’ve been working collaboratively as an industry and internally on what we can execute. It’s about how (and what) the event would look like. That’s the question.
That’s something that we, as event producers, including me, don’t have the answers to right now. Everything changes daily. It’s not a question of, can we produce our events, we can absolutely execute on that. It’s what that event will look like, how big will it be? What are the elements that are going to be there? What are the timelines that we must work with? What are the parameters from local and regional government that we can take and say, ‘Great, we now have a known that’s executable.’ That’s what we’re waiting for.
Dawna: Is your team sitting in a room now thinking about the ifs? Such as, it’ll look like option A If this happens, it’ll look like option B If this happens, and putting those plans in place?
Ted: It’s no different than planning a family function, like a birthday party or retirement party. You should have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C. If it’s outdoors and it rains, where do we go? If this or that factor changes, how do we adjust? We have a list of assumptions that we look at. And my team hears me say this a lot – it’s all about the knowns versus the unknowns. You plan for the knowns and you prepare for the unknowns.
Dawna: If you had a crystal ball, where do you think our industry will be come fall?
Ted: Optimistically speaking, in a good spot. And this is only looking at what’s happening with the trends and data, not only locally in the New York metro area. Across the state and globally, right now, numbers are looking good. I’m not an MD, I’m not Dr. Fauci, so I’m going to let the pros do their thing.
If you think about where we were 364 days ago, there was all this talk of COVID, and where it was, and we didn’t fully understand it. There were all these questions that were out there. We know much more now than we did 364 days ago. We even know more now than we knew a month ago. If that continues to be the trend, it will be positive for us come fall with the production and execution of live events.
Dawna: I love your answer. As I keep saying, I’m ‘hopefully optimistic.’ In those last 364 days, I know that NYRR worked diligently to provide virtual options in lieu of a live event. What were some of the takeaways of that effort?
Ted: It was a success, and we had tremendous learnings from providing a variety of offerings to so many people. The global impact was huge and we were able to see that impact, thanks to our partnership with Strava. The reach of our virtual events was tremendous. Those were all positive takeaways.
Virtual is an equivalent that parallels my earlier example of restaurants. It’s like your traditional brick and mortar restaurant where you’re able to serve X many people at a time. But do you have a delivery option? Do you have an online place where I can order delivery? Can you have a pop-up type scenario, like a food truck?
That’s where our industry has evolved. It’s not just the in-person offerings, but there’s a virtual offering, as well as the pop-up option of being able to have small scale gatherings that are safe within parks or controlled spaces. Engaging people with challenges, like 100K challenges, has been amazing. Those were just some of the benefits of the virtual platform that we’ve seen. As far as the future of virtual, I think that virtual events should run in parallel with in-person events.
Dawna: If you had to say the number one lesson or memory that you will carry forward post pandemic, what would that be?
Ted: Perspective. That for me is the big thing. I mean, think about the ‘P word’ from 2020. Everybody was pivoting to the right, pivoting to the left, pivoting everywhere. But moving forward, it’s all about perspective. Everything that we knew was quickly taken away. You can’t take things for granted. So looking at things from a sense of perspective, trying to see things from a longer lens or a longer runway. Really thinking virtually, not in the sense of running events, but putting yourself in that hypothetical space. Where are we going to be? How are we going to be? Thinking strategically with your organization, your offerings, your platform. I think that is the biggest takeaway.
Dawna: 2020 also was the year that the industry talked about diversity, equity and inclusion more than it has ever before. What do you see as the industry’s role in creating awareness and safe spaces for all within our industry?
Ted: COVID-19 was the great equalizer because it affected everybody, no matter who you are, where you are, what your class is. Whatever the scenario was, it affected you in some capacity. And I think the social and racial awakenings of our country and the world was the great revealer that there is a demographic of people out there that aren’t being serviced and taken care of. Yes, there is a racial divide in this nation and in the world.
To answer the question specifically about our industry, it’s about engaging with communities, it is about demystifying running and what that is. A lot of organizations, events and groups are saying, well, we have an open-door policy, we welcome anyone to come in and come join. But if you don’t feel comfortable enough, then that’s not an option.
But what you can do though, is engage with local communities and engage with running clubs and engage with road races that are happening in your area whether as a participant. Or maybe say, ‘Hey, listen, I’d like to offer my services, I’d like to help you in some way shape, or form,’ or just communicate with them. Offer some of the services and platforms that you have as a professional in the industry or a knowledgeable provider in the industry and provide that to a different, diverse community. So I think that’s the first step.
One of the big things too is education. Taking time out individually to learn and understand and have a better process. Ask the questions. Take the time to not just say, “You know, I’m sorry for what’s going on, what can we do?’ but more along the lines of, ‘I’m sorry for what’s going on, help me understand, Talk to me. Share with me what your journey is. Share with me what you’ve gone through.’
I think those are some of the takeaways and learnings that we could apply individually as to the world but also in our industry.
Dawna: I love the way you’re talking about it because it’s about action, rather than just talk.
Can you pick one or two major moments in your career that really took you from where you were to this new role?
Ted: There’s so many. I have friends from all over the country working on different events. When I told them about this position shift, they were like: ‘Remember when you were picking up tipped over toilets off the side of a road? Remember when you were jumping up and down in the dumpster to make room for more trash? Remember when you were having to talk to a city agency that really did not want to work with you and explain to them what you were trying to do?’
One that was big for me was in August 2001, getting a phone call from my friend Jessica Wolf, who was an event manager for New York Road Runners and she said, ‘Hey, listen, we need some help with the marathon and some other planning. We need another operations person.’ Jess and I had worked together prior at a company called Pallotta TeamWorks.
I was like, ‘It’s New York City Marathon. Everybody knows New York. I’m from New York. It’s an iconic event. Let’s see what this running thing is all about.’ I close out my work with the company I was with, that wrapped up on September 10, 2001 and I’m flying back to NYC from Portland, Maine.
I get home and I’m super excited because I’ve been on the road for weeks. I’m missing family and friends and everybody. It’s crazy, I so vividly remember this. Because I was traveling so much, I was staying back in the Bronx at my Mom’s place where I grew up. I go to bed, wake up early the next morning, and I’m listening to the news and the weather, and it’s going to be a beautiful day. Fantastic. I hit the snooze button, go back to sleep, and wake up and the world is completely different.
Then fast forward to November of that year, the actual NYC Marathon race day, being in Central Park, just two months after 9/11. And seeing everything that was happening there. If you told me on that day 20 years ago, that two decades later I’d be the race director of the NYC marathon, marking my 20th anniversary working the event, I would just be like, ‘What are you talking about? That is not going to be me.’
And yet that is where I am right now. That 20 plus years of learning, doing, sharing, hearing, applying, good times, bad times, hard times, successful times. All of that culminates to where I’m at right now.
Dawna: I just got chills as you’re talking about it. I think we all remember exactly where we were on 9/11. You mentioned jumping in trash cans and I feel like as race directors, we still do those things. No matter what event you’re directing or how big or iconic it is.
I’m sure I will still see you out there one day picking up a banana peel or something. I think that’s part of what I love so much about this community, is that people are just willing to do anything and everything to make the event a success. Ted, the Running USA team and community wish you the best of luck in this exciting new role.