Peter Ciacca, Former NYRR President of Events & New York City Marathon Race Director

“Around Labor Day of 2019, I had to go into the hospital for open-heart surgery. That was quite unexpected. Totally unexpected. Didn’t realize that. I had no signs of anything going wrong with my body. I was actually training to do the Ragnar Napa with a bunch of friends. We were going to go out there and revisit our old ultra team. A bunch of old geezers were going to go out and run this race so I was training for that. I just happened to go into the doctors for a checkup. One thing led to another and I found out I had a major aneurysm on my aorta and that needed to be taken care of right away. I spent Labor Day weekend getting that tended to. When I got out of the hospital, I got back out to Montauk and started rehabbing and walking. My last visit to the doctor, which was around November maybe, they gave me a thumbs up that I could start training and running. So I have this big bodacious goal to run the 2020 marathon in New York.

“One of the things we do, and I’m guilty of it a lot, is to put off personal stuff because I’m too busy with x, y and z. ‘Okay, I’ll go for my physical next week or next month’ or ‘Let’s put this off.’ That’s kind of what I’ve taken away from this. It’s really important to make sure you take the time to keep those appointments and do those important things. Being a runner or being in the running community – I’ve been active my whole life and you guys are like that – you have this mindset that we’re invincible, that we can actually do whatever we want and keep going. You hope that you are but every once in a while you have to bring the body in for a tune-up and make sure that everything is working OK. You can’t take that stuff for granted.”

“I’m very diligent about taking care of myself and making sure I’m doing all of the right things. I was highly-committed to the PT. The doctor said it would take me about 12 months to get back to where I wanted to be. That was one of the criteria for me. One, it was to find the best doctor in the country to do this, which I did find. The second was to get back to my normal lifestyle. We worked on that through a bunch of different things but mostly just PT and being diligent. I got out there and started walking. I was up to walking six miles a day, which is phenomenal. The doctors were so pleased with that…I took that with me and started building off of that.”

“The one big thing that we did was my wife and I picked up where we left off to get back out and travel. While we’re traveling we’re incorporating all of these hikes and everything. We drove across the country from Montauk to Flagstaff. We hit about 20 states and 21 cities along the way. We had a blast. We got out to Flagstaff and we were out there for a couple of weeks and went down to Sedona. While we’re out there we’re doing our running, hiking and taking in the outdoors. We’re also discovering America too. We had a lot of fun doing that. You gotta do what’s going to inspire you. You gotta go after it. That bucket list? Go after that bucket list. Don’t put it off. There’s a lot more I want to do. There are a lot more places I want to visit but I’m going to get to it – knock on wood – and keeping healthy at the same time.”

After consulting with some of our listeners, we heard you want more uplifting and inspirational stories in these uncertain times so we decided to catch up with one of the most familiar and friendliest voices that New York City runners may be familiar with. Former New York Road Runners director of events and New York City Marathon race director Peter Ciaccia joins the show.

Ciaccia retired from his role with NYRR after 18 years following the 2018 New York City Marathon. Ciaccia started becoming a fixture at the start and finish of races when Mary Wittenberg left NYRR in May 2015 and he was promoted. His “Good morning, runners!’ and “Do I have clearance on the roadways?” were staples at the start of races. In his time with the organization, he was a leader who helped innovate and improve races. We’ll go back to his family’s roots in Italy, his childhood in the Bronx, his introduction to sport, his love and passion for music and how he brought those talents to event planning.

Whether you were winning local races or among the final finishers, Peter was always one of the biggest cheerleaders for everyone’s race experience.

We also ask him about how he’s processing all the news regarding the coronavirus and what it would take for him to feel safe at a race.

This is Runners of NYC. A podcast from CITIUS MAG. Hosts Leigh Anne Sharek and Chris Chavez look to bring you many of the untold stories behind luminaries and legends that make up New York City’s running culture. You can catch the latest episode of the podcast on iTunes so subscribe and leave a five-star review. We are also on Spotify!

On how he’s been processing all the coronavirus news, race cancellations and what the 2020 New York City Marathon could look like…

Peter Ciaccia: “Well, you know, I’m pretty much like everybody else. I had a real strong feeling that Brooklyn wasn’t going to happen especially when I saw Jim and Michael had canceled most of the events up to May 10th. The way it works – you have to really do this stuff in collaboration with the city. It’s not just like, ‘Hey! Let’s cancel!’ or ‘Hey! Let’s have a race!’ It’s really a lot of behind the scenes work. Sometimes I don’t think the runners actually understand how much that goes on. Sometimes it doesn’t go on as smoothly as you like because you’re waiting on someone to get back to you on what from the city’s perspective – so what do we want to do with this, it’s a couple of weeks out, well the city doesn’t know what it wants to do yet. Sometimes you have to make a hard decision and just say, ‘We’re not going to do it.’ I think the guys at New York Road Runners are doing it the right way. I know for a fact they’re working very closely with the city. Jim is working night and day with those guys. Down the road with the marathon, you don’t want to say, ‘Aw man! The marathon’s going to be canceled.’ But you’re going to have a time somewhere down the line as to what’s it going to look like. What does a marathon and not New York City but a marathon look like going forward? It’s different than a baseball game let’s say. You can sell every other seat or you could go from a 50,000-seat baseball stadium and put 10,000 people in there. We’ve got some fans. But a marathon? I don’t know if you can do something like that unless you just decide ‘OK, we’re going to have to go back down and start at a different level and build from there.’ There’s a lot of other ways to look at races but even races that have a number of people in them – the Central Park races – are going to have to be looked at differently. That’s 5,000 people that come out to the park to run. So how do you do that? I think a lot of time is going to be put into studying where this goes and how the next iteration of it comes off. I know the guys are probably working with all the other Majors on this too.”

On what it would take for him to feel safe at a race…

Peter Ciaccia: “For me, personally, all of the logistics aside and all of that. I would want to be able to know that No. 1, I’m running with people that have been tested. That’s going to be difficult because we can’t even get enough tests to test the doctors and the nurses in the city. The other thing is, is it something that I actually could run and social distance? (Will I) have the distance I need to be comfortable with? That would mean that maybe it’s not 50,000 people. Maybe it’s something different? Maybe they look that for the comeback year it’s not as big. I’m not sure. For me, I still don’t know. I go out and have the privilege and comfort of being out here (in Montauk). I have to tell ya, there’s a hell of a lot of space out here. I could get lost on the trails. This morning, I got up and ran five miles in a trail up here and I didn’t see one person. That’s not going to happen in the city and where people are…I don’t know what’s going to make me feel comfortable. I’m gonna have to see how things pan out. What you have to watch is what’s being presented by Gov. Cuomo each day, look at that curve and see where it’s going. If it’s way down then maybe you feel a little comfortable. If it’s not and it starts to blip up, it’s going to change my thinking.”

Follow Peter on Instagram


Leigh Anne Sharek

Runner for the Brooklyn Track Club, 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier (2:41:59, CIM 2018), Runners of NYC Podcast host, full-time forensic scientist