Runners of NYC: Joe DiNoto of Orchard Street Runners
“If I’m into something, I try to consume as much of it as possible. So when I started running, it was hard at first, like I’m sure it is for everybody. But that first time that you’ve done it enough and you’ve pushed yourself hard enough for long enough that you get that buzz from it and you get that elevated mental state— that was it. And then from that point on, I abused it. I mean I would run 10 to 15 [miles] a day pretty much every day. And I would work til about eight/nine o’clock, ten o’clock at night as an architect. I had no social life because I had no ability to have one. I would run after work and at this point, my memory of it is like 2003 or so and I’m living in Hell’s Kitchen. I come home, it’s dark out. I change, I go out, I start running. I had my headphones in, and I would just bang out two and a half hours, three hours, whatever it was, Because it’s all I had, aside from going to work and clicking a mouse all day. In my head I always wanted more, but you’re just conditioned to think this is what you’re supposed to do. Supposed to get a job, supposed to work, supposed to do that and it just never felt right.”
Our first ever guest on the ‘Runners of NYC Podcast’ is Joe DiNoto.
Joe is a runner whose ties to New York City go back multiple generations. He is someone who has had a huge and lasting influence on the sport and culture of running here in the city. He is the founder of the Orchard Street Runners, a co-ed running group that meets on Tuesday nights in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Through Orchard Street Runners, Joe started organizing and holding unsanctioned races for men and women through the streets of New York. Those races have continued to grow in scope and competition, so we dive into Joe’s process of bringing those races to fruition, along with how he became a runner, and what keeps him running.
This is Runners of NYC. A new podcast from CITIUS MAG. Hosts Jeanne Mack 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.
Catch the first episode of the show below and be sure to subscribe on iTunes. For listeners who prefer a listening experience on Stitcher or Google Play, no worries. We will try to get the show on those platforms soon.
The following interview transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
Chris Chavez: This is our very first episode of the Runners of NYC Podcast. We’re kicking things off with arguably the most New York person that we could get to kick things off. It’s Joe DiNoto of Orchard Street Runners. Joe, how’s it going?
Joe DiNoto: Very well. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Jeanne Mack: We were really excited that you agreed to do this. We feel like we haven’t heard too many podcasts with you. You were saying that this is your very first podcast?
Joe: Yes, my first time.
Jeanne: We’re honored.
Joe: No, I’m honored. It’s a pleasure to be the inaugural guest.
Chris: What we want to do with this podcast is take a real deep dive into the running scene in New York City. We understand that most people don’t start off living in New York. For you, the DiNoto roots run deep in New York. Could you take us as far back as you know?
Joe: If you want to go way back, as my grandfather puts its, my ancestors came from a town called Noto in Sicily. His recollection goes back to Palermo. There’s a story about my great great grandfather coming over came here and his sons were born. Then, they went back to Italy. When the sons were of age, they came to New York around 1914. Pretty crazy. They had a supermarket or grocery store up in the Bronx. Jumping ahead to what I know from what my grandfather has told me, at bottom of the supermarket was where the bakery started. Water would flood to his knees and the smoke from the ovens would make him duck down. He had this little workspace where they would bake bread. They would deliver to apartments by going up the stairwell, across the roof and then down the next building’s stairwell to drop off bread.
Jeanne: So it was just walking and hand delivery?
Joe: Yeah. The business picked up and they would get into more of a production scale. It was about the size of half a city block by the time I was born. I have memories of me and my brother climbing on 10-foot stacks of corn flour and stuff like that. We’d run around this huge building. Everyone was super nice to us because we were the boss’ grandkids. It was a good childhood and we grew up in Queens. We’ve always been in and out of the businesses, living in the Bronx, Manhattan and so on. When I was a kid, we moved Upstate to Pawling, New York. That’s where I went to high school. Then I went to SUNY Buffalo for college. I ended up back here in Manhattan in 2001 – just before 9/11. I had enrolled at FIT for computer animation to complement my architecture degree. I thought that would be a nice career path. I did two years there and didn’t graduate but started working. By 2008, the recession kicked in and I got laid off. I started bartending and somehow out of that OSR came about. That’s pretty much the CliffNotes version. I don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for.
Jeanne: That’s great. I want to go back to the bread route because that has inspired you to start this race that is coming up.
Joe: This is actually the first race, I ever wanted to do. But, because it was so abstract, I thought it would be a very hard sell. Up until last week, I thought it was a pretty hard sell.
Jeanne: I guess not because you’ve got a lot of people signed up!
Joe: We’re just over 50 people now in the field. We’ll see how many show up on the day of. I’m sure there’s a fall off. There always is.
Jeanne: Let’s just explain for those who don’t know. The race that we’re talking about will take place on Thursday, Oct. 18. It’s basically a race through the streets of New York at 2 a.m. The course is not yet stated. But it will kind of be around the area that you and your dad drove the truck.
Joe: One of my strongest childhood memories is this bread route that my dad had probably from the time I was about six or seven until when I was about 15. Over the summers, I would go to work with him because I liked the city. Traditionally, that route started in Harlem and would go down to the Financial District…but it would go all over. To be honest, I haven’t set the route yet. I know that the day of, I’m going to tell people where to meet and I know that once we meet then I’ll tell people where they’re going. And that will be how we do it. I’m trying to grasp the feel of Manhattan at that time of night vs. trying to send people down the exact route that my father had. Harlem, Uptown, Downtown and the Financial District – the idea of solitude and having this city to ourselves is the primary goal. I think it’s an experience most people would not seek out on their own. So because of the popularity of the last two races, the 10Ks over the summer, I thought now might be a good time to draw a crowd to experience that. I was really would’ve been happy with seven people. I thought that would’ve been a successful launch. With 53, 54, 55 or whatever it’s at now, I think in we’re in for a very exceptional New York experience that none of us has ever had before. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Chris: This is going to be a little different than your typical OSR race. How would you explain it to people who are coming across this for the first time and don’t know what the Orchard Street Runners are. Where do you start in explaining the history?
Joe: There’s a lot there so if i was to condense it, I would say that traditionally OSR started off as a running group but I always had ambitions of putting on events. I used it as a platform to do that. Just through consistency. That’s the real component to OSR. Every Tuesday being there and continually providing access to these runs. I learned that people haven’t engaged the city in this way. A lot of people run in the city. A lot of people run in groups and do stuff. I never thought it was exceptional but I just thought of it as the way I did it. To go out in the streets on different courses each Tuesday, knowing the route ahead of time and having this preemptive strike and idea of what you’ll do that night because you knew where you’re going is a dynamic that didn’t exist in any of the other groups at the time. There were a few other groups that I had gone to. I said to myself, “I like this” and “I like that” and I edited it to how I like to do it. That’s essentially what every running group is. It’s a reflection of their organizer, what they like and what they don’t like. Knowing the route ahead of time, knowing what time we were leaving, being precise, being punctual and consistent is what I was trying to provide the community. Those were things I felt were lacking.
Jeanne: Why do you think knowing the route ahead of time is important? Because that’s almost contradictory to how you run the races…a little.
Joe: It is but it actually proves our whole thing about knowing the route…because I get lost all the time. I learned through my own personal experiences that if you know the route then you’re faster. Because Orchard Street is about speed and efficiency, it just kind of goes with that whole vibe.
Chris: When I hear of the OSR Tuesday runs, it’s all threshold runs and it never easy it sounds like.
Joe: I never intended for that. It’s just that when it started, I was young and in shape. I would run my ass off. People were used to being accommodated, running together or being told ‘OK now run left.’ That’s great for other people who like that. Was it my thing? I didn’t really know if what I was doing would attract anybody. I was trying to get a girl that I liked to run with me. That was the sole purpose of starting the group.
Jeanne: Did it work?
Joe: It did work.
*Laughter breaks out*
Joe: All is good. But that was the goal in starting the group. I just never considered myself much of a runner. I wasn’t traditionally trained in running. I didn’t run in high school or college. I just ran because my doctor told me at one point that I was too heavy.
Jeanne: I think I saw that but I can’t recall where I read it exactly. You had a moment where you realized ‘I’m unhealthy.’ I need to fix something.
Joe: I’m sitting in the doctor’s office shirtless and I’m about 250 or 260 pounds. I’m lifting every day. I’m bench pressing 350 pounds. I’m moving weight. I think I’m healthy and my goal was to gain more weight. As she’s doing a random physical, she pokes my belly and her finger kind of disappears. She’s like, ‘This is not lean and mean.’ And my initial reaction is, “Fuck off. I work hard.” She said, “You’re young now and it’s fine but as you get older this could be a problem. If you’re trying to lose weight at 40 instead of 20 then it’s much more difficult.” Whatever she said, clicked. I’m the type of personality that I binge on anything like alcohol, weed, running or food. It doesn’t matter. If I’m into something, I try to consume as much of it as possible. So when I started running, it was hard at first – like I’m sure it is for everybody. That first time that you’ve done it enough and pushed yourself hard enough for long enough that you get that buzz from it…and you get that elevated mental state, that was it. From that point on, I abused it. I would do 10 to 15 (miles) per day. Every day. I would work until about 8, 9 or 10 o’clock as an architect. I had no social life because I had no ability to have one.
Jeanne: Did you run after work or in the morning?
Joe: I would run after work at this point. My memory of it is like 2003 when I’m living in Hells Kitchen. I come home. It’s dark out. I change. I go out. I start running. I have my headphones in. I would just bang out two and half hours or three hours. Whatever it was because it’s all I had besides going to work and clicking a mouse all day. In my head, I always wanted more. You’re just conditioned to think that this is what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to work. You’re supposed to get a job. It just never felt right. I hated it. I despised it. In 2008, when the recession kicked in, I was ousted involuntarily and it was kind of a blessing. For six months, I didn’t work and collected unemployment. Eventually, I got a job as a bartender. Even that, I remember thinking about that Steve Jobs commencement speech about connecting dots and what each one means. Looking back, I’d sit there at Barrio Chino (where I worked) and I’d think about this dot. What is this? I have no idea what this is. Slowly but surely, the socialization, going out, networking and becoming friends with locals – I was known as ‘the runner’ among the local people who would come to this restaurant. “Oh you’re that runner! I see you running!” I was like, “Yeah! Yeah!” When I think about Barrio and the purpose that it served, it was a huge networking tool for me. Everything that I was been able to execute early on was a byproduct of the people that I met and became friends with.
Jeanne: Did a lot of those people join you for Tuesday night runs?
Joe: Yeah. I think that’s what drew a lot of attention to OSR initially because we have received some media coverage and stuff like that off the bat. It was that we were attracting these downtown party people. It sounds so cheesy to call them party people. Everybody went out and would drink until seven in the morning but I would get up at 10 and start running. That’s what people noticed at first. ‘Oh you can drink a lot, sleep a little and run a lot. And just keep doing that.’ People that were out of shape as a result of that lifestyle of going out were starting to say, ‘I want to run.’ It was a combination of that and the girl. It all fell into place and one thing led to another. Once the first meetup happened – it was an 8 a.m. Tuesday meetup so not even at night. It was about seven to 10 people and mostly the girl’s friends and one or two friends of mine. All my friends talked a lot of shit but never showed up. A lot of quality people were in that first group including David Trimble, who later became a very significant role player in the progression of Orchard Street Runners and the racing we developed. I met David at these runs while he was working on his race, which was the Red Hook Criterium. At that point, it was still being run on the streets but when we met it was moving to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. With us working together on this race idea that I had kind of given him to kind of chew on, we came up with the concept of The Midnight Half. Originally, like I said before, I wanted to do this super late night thing because that’s the feeling I was trying to capture. Even those long training runs as an architect, when I got to the Financial District – I mean right after 9/11, no one was down there. It was really, really weird. It felt kind of nice though because it’s this amazing place that people all over the world look at. Here I am by myself.
Jeanne: I’ve had similar experiences. I worked at a restaurant actually for a little while during my lost file years. Everything that you’re saying really hits close to home. I feel like the lifestyle there is that you get off your shift and then go drink. And then you get home and start to think, ‘Well, I haven’t run today’ but I’m not even quite tired yet. I would end up doing runs at midnight in the winter from my apartment and onto the Brooklyn Bridge, which usually there’s no way that you can run across that. It would be me and two other people. It was so surreal. It’s a cool feeling of taking ownership over this place you run in. Usually, you don’t even own a tiny percentage of it because there’s so many people. When you find the right time, that changes.
Joe: That exact thing is what subconsciously is driving the ideas that I’ve had for races lately. Even the OSR 30 [a 30-mile race around the perimeter of Manhattan] is in the same vein where it’s like ‘Let’s do a race when we know there’s no one on the bike paths because then it’s just ours.’ I heard that in a few years they’re going to finish a 32-mile loop around the island. So I’m looking forward to that 2 a.m. race.
Jeanne: OSR 32. Can’t do the zero anymore. (Laughs) So when did you start doing the races? You said the Tuesday night runs are about seven years old at this point. The racing didn’t happen immediately.
Joe: I’ll give you the key frames. When David Trimble came, that year I had done my first silent auction for the Lower East Side Girls Club. We raised about $9,000 in three hours. It was a very efficient and effective event. David attended and said to me afterward that I had good organizational skills and if I would help him with his race. I said, “Of course.”
Jeanne: Just to backup, you ran the silent auction in conjunction with starting the Orchard Street Runners group and knowing you were part of the community/wanting to give back?
Joe: Partially but what it really was that I wanted to run the New York City Half. It had been sold out. We were sitting at Lost Weekend [a coffee shop at 45 Orchard Street] where we used to meet. Three of us were looking to see how we could get in and the charity option was the only way. We looked at the charities and Lower East Side Girls Club just stood out to us for obvious reasons. I’ve always wanted to do something to help kids and contribute somehow. I remember being a kid and when you have these resources around you then it’s just more fun and in the summer we’d sent girls to camp. Summer in the city as a kid is confining and hot. There’s cement everywhere. These kids would get to go Upstate. Anyway, we picked them. I think we had to raise about $1,500 each at the time. I knew right away that I wanted to do a silent auction. I had never done one, seen one and didn’t really know what it was. I just thought it would be cool. We had a lot of things going on within the community but nothing like that for the people my age. I thought it could be a fun party. We just killed it and because it was so lucrative, the girl’s club noticed. We struck up a relationship and it’s been great since. I think we’re close to about $70K that we’ve done for them. It’s pretty crazy.
So in helping David Trimble with the Redhook Crit, in return for my energy, he said that he’d help me out with my race. I dropped the Midnight Half idea on him. He fine tuned it. I had confidence because of his involvement and his experience with the Redhook Crit. We were the first ones to move forward. I’m sure a lot of people have had the idea to put on races on their own in the city. Maybe they’ve done it and not received quite the attention that the Midnight Half did. It was with David’s partnership that I felt confident enough to execute. We just did it at the right time. Everybody was looking for something different at that point.
Jeanne: What year was that first one?
Chris: It was the way you ran the race that was different than anything else. There were about five checkpoints and people had to hit them. How exactly did it work?
Joe: For the Midnight Half, that was the format. It was based on cycling alleycats, which was heavily contributed by Dave Trimble and his approach to racing. It’s rooted in Formula 1 from his experience in the pits working as a mechanic and also go-kart racing. That’s why a lot of his circuits resemble Formula 1.
Jeanne: Basically tracks?
Joe: Yeah, but with the chicanes then it’s very Formula 1. He kind of created F1 for bikes. Because he is so involved in cycling, his approach to running game was different than the traditional. I was looking to do something dynamic. The combination of the two just melded very well. Five checkpoints. Typically what we like to do is give every runner the opportunity to offset the speed requirement with knowledge of the city, how to get around and general risk taking. That’s translated to everyone’s confidence. Both of those things. We learned that dynamic leveled the playing field. It wasn’t always a guarantee that the fastest person would win. We’ve seen multiple examples of that coming into play over the years. It creates an exciting dynamic for the people involved. A lot of people outside don’t get it. Usually after posting finishing times, there’s hostility from outsiders looking in. I get that. Sometimes it’s not a 10K or a half marathon. I think everyone inside doesn’t give a shit. That’s something that’s unexpected but kind of amazing.
Chris: It’s spectator friendly too. At least, I think so. You can sometimes catch people at two different points during the race. You’re doing a great job of incorporating live streams during the race. We’re able to see when people come around the corner. Jeanne ran the Orchard Street Women’s 10K this summer…and not to brag won it.
Jeanne: It’s not bragging if you do it, Chris. (Laughs)
Joe: Crushed it.
Chris: There was a point where Jeanne was running and there was a bus or van that was coming by pretty quick. What’s the scariest thing you’ve seen during one of your races?
Joe: That’s a good question. I’ve never really thought about that?
Chris: You’re usually on a bike with the leaders.
Joe: Yeah something like that.
Jeanne: You were all over. You were biking ahead, behind, sideways.
Joe: Now it’s a little bit more fun because I’ve got so many experienced staff members and I can actually pull off the leader and float around a bit.
Jeanne: I think I had Erik Reitinger.
Joe: Yeah. He was assigned to you.
Jeanne: And he probably saved my life from that van…Thanks, Erik.
Joe: It’s fun for me because it’s gotten a little looser for me in my role. Everybody is well-versed in their roles where I can float now. That’s what I always wanted to do and provide that livestream point of view that’s a little more general. The livestream part of it has made spectating way more interesting. The first time that we did the OSR 30, it was so brutally long and boring for everyone who was sitting at the start house to see something. These poor people come for a start and finish. For three and a half hours in between, nothing. We always wished for this sort of technology. One day, you wake up and it’s a side note on your phone app. Assigning channels and doing all that has been a dream. That’s why the 10Ks came into play this year – to cut the distance down and allow for a more spectator-friendly event. In the Midnight Half, for that hour and 30 minutes that everyone would be gone, people that are sitting at the start house have nothing to do. It’s all been an attempt to refine and provide quality entertainment for spectators and a unique experience for competitors.
Chris: You mentioned that one of the first couple races that you ran was the NYC Half. Are you still drawn to some of those bigger and more organized races or are you more involved in doing something like the Red Hook Crit once a year? You don’t run your own races.
Joe: Actually, the only time that I’ve run one of my own races was the first checkpoint of the first Midnight Half. I did it just to get a taste of it and it was amazing. Not to pat me and Dave on the back but seeing people converge from different directions when you hit the main artery toward a checkpoint and that feeling of finding out where you stand was really exciting. Not having that in a race seems like a waste to me. With that said, the last few years, I haven’t done much besides the Red Hook Crit. When I was younger – now that I’ve been doing this for seven years I can say that. When I was younger, I kind of was an asshole. I really was like “Fuck everybody else. This is the shit. Fuck these races. Who wants to sit in a corral for three hours, pay $400 and be one of 70,000 when you can provide these amazing, unique experiences for a limited number of athletes – provide high quality running shit.” That to me was what I wanted to do. In the last year, I’ve actually softened that approach to things and been more open-minded. I’ve gone out and done a few more races. Erik Reitinger, who has won several of my races and is in most of them, is a good friend. We went out twice to the Hamptons to run half marathons that were just really cool – the Bridgehampton Half and the Hamptons Half.
Chris: For this year’s New York City Marathon that you’re running, who are you fundraising for? From what I saw on Instagram, you raised the money pretty quickly.
Joe: My friend Travis Hawkins is training me for the marathon this year. He is the winner of the 2018 OSR 30. He does a lot of work with Achilles. I always thought that what they’ve done is amazing. Because of the connection through Travis now, it made logical sense that I would divert all of my efforts toward Achilles. I signed up kind of late. I remember talking to this lovely woman named Fiona and she’s like, ‘Are you sure that you’re going to be able to raise all your money by October.’ I really didn’t know and was like, ‘I don’t know, Fiona, but i’m going to try.’ I thought that if nothing else, I could put an event on. I could do something. I knew this community would come through at some point. About 22 hours after I posted it, I had raised about $1,000 over the requirement. That was about $4,000.
Jeanne: Fiona didn’t know what hit her.
Joe: No one knew! The very nice people in that organization started sending me letters that I had some record and it had never been done before. It’s just a testament to this community and how you can really harness a lot of energy. If you provide energy, in return and when you need it, you can get it back.
Chris: When you’re running now and training for New York, where do you find the motivation to get out the door?
Joe: I really have to sometimes look under the bed or look online for it. I have to create a playlist sometimes. I’m tired. Like everyone else marathon training at this point in the game during marathon training. You don’t give a shit anymore sometimes. You want to take a break and sometimes stay in to do nothing. Tonight, I’ve got to do intervals and then get a haircut at 8:30 p.m. I’m sitting here thinking about when I’m going to squeeze that run in.
Jeanne: (Laughs) The haircut can’t wait. Obviously.
Joe: Look at me!
Jeanne: It looks nice! Joe’s hair is to his ankles! (Jokingly)
Joe: Only if I put my head down! It’s an afro…Tonight I’m probably going to work on a playlist and that will be the reason – just to go listen to this playlist. That’s how I’ll kill the time. Once you’re warmed up and acclimated, it’s all about running and passion. It’s this thing that you constantly want to do. Sometimes you have to be doing it to realize that.
Jeanne: How is training going? That’s a less eloquent question than Chris’ motivation question.
Joe: It’s going pretty well. Just a couple setbacks with muscles misbehaving but I have a good guy in Michael Crowes who beats the shit out of those bad muscles and makes them nice again. Other than that, it’s just been time wise. I’m a big fan of this fall weather. Anything between 35 and 50 degrees is my favorite. I’m looking forward to what’s coming.
Chris: This isn’t going to be your first New York City Marathon though. Before we started recording, you told me that you’ve run it twice before. How are you expecting this experience to be different than those other two?
Joe: I ran 2011, which was horrible. I jumped in about a month before and was just unprepared but I had a good time. In 2014, it was nice and windy. To be honest, I don’t remember much about it because I blocked it. Neither one of those were very well-trained marathons. I mentioned in a post that I wanted to do one trained. My friend, Travis, reached out as a result of that. With his help, I think that I’m in for, if nothing else, a much more comfortable and slow marathon. I’m expecting to do a personal best of maybe 3:30. It would be awesome to do better. It would be great to do that. I’m not pressuring myself because I’m aiming for a two-year goal. This is a stepping stone for me.
Jeanne: When you were doing those super long runs after working a full day as an architect, were you training for anything specific?
Joe: That was just me binging.
Jeanne: Not even looking at races?
Joe: Not even aware. I was completely unaware of anything. I was running in Nike Frees with compression pain in my spine. Just not knowing anything like what to do with what shoes or how to run. I just wanted to be in shape and be fit. I had youth on my side at that point and I could just run indefinitely and not have any issues. I just remember at one point when I finally got thin and I looked in the mirror and being like, “This is crazy.” I never thought that I would be able to see definition or anything like that. That motivated me to do it more and more. It was vain and it was conceited. It’s what drove me.
Chris: For as much as we’ve talked about your own running, if you go on the Orchard Street Runners Instagram, there aren’t very many pictures of you running. It’s a lot of photos of people who have run your races and how they’ve fared after the fact. Whether it’s someone who has run an Olympic Trials qualifier or if they’re racing in an OSR singlet, it seems like you’re very proud of this brand and this baby. I think Jeanne mentioned to me that it would be a seven-year-old baby that’s going into second grade at this point.
Joe: It’s an honor to see the people who come to my races accomplish so many things. Jeanne being one of them. There’s a long list of these competitors who find their way to my thing when they’ve accomplished all these other huge things. It just blows my mind. For me to put that out there is an honor to say this person is associated with something I did. It adds validity and does all these positive things for OSR. I don’t consider myself OSR. I consider OSR to be a compilation of many things and many people. I think these people are proud to be associated with it. That’s the motivation with putting other people on there. It’s actually become a utility to get people somewhere in what they’re trying to accomplish. My photographers and some of the competitors have gone onto some things as a result of being featured on this Instagram account. Recognizing that there is some level of power there shows that there’s a responsibility to benefit the people who have benefitted me.
Jeanne: I’ve definitely had people reach out to me after The New York Times article. OSR is the thing that they reflect on when they’ve maybe read my name before from winning that race.
Joe: That’s something that I don’t catch a lot of. I sit in my one-bedroom and I crank away at my computer like a madman and make this stuff. I don’t get to hear a lot of the stuff that’s said about it. Anytime I do hear something like that, it’s always really gratifying.
Jeanne: I was thinking whether you thought OSR or the races could exist in a different city or place?
Joe: To my own fault, I haven’t traveled a whole lot so I don’t know if I’m equipped to answer that question. In my mind, I think what these races tend to do is draw out talent where the mainstream stuff doesn’t. We kind of get these vanguard dark horses. Broderick Gann was an amazing runner who came out for the first men’s 10K and won. No one had ever seen him before or since. He’s an amazing talent but he came out for that event. Jeanne came out for the 10K. David Knowles, Jerry Faulkner and all these guys come out. That’s a function of the dynamic and reputation that OSR has created and carried for being something different. Maybe not better but something else. Other people can identify with that instead of the mainstream-please-everybody-let’s-get-as-many-sponsors-as-possible. Not everyone is into that dynamic. The fact that I can provide access for these people to engage with a community that they don’t otherwise feel a part of is what these races are all about. I think that can happen anywhere. As long as there’s talent. So where do you target? The obvious places are maybe like London or Copenhagen with a strong running population. I don’t know where I’d aim first. Maybe even Asia? I know people out there who are very into the OSR format of racing. They’ve reached out over the years and I know there’s a lot of people who would be into it.
Jeanne: Would it ever go to a different city?
Joe: I’m ready to go. Funding is obviously what we’d be looking for. If anyone is interested in sponsoring an event like that, reach out. I’m always talking to partners about getting outside of New York. It’s a big risk for me because we’ve had a very high success rate and I haven’t taken too many risks…well…I guess I have taken some.
Chris: Logistically. When people do reach out and say, “I love this concept and I’d love to give it a try in my own city.” Where would you start in giving advice to them? How much planning goes into planning these races ahead of time on your end?
Joe: It reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright, right? He had a client that he was working on a project with. Wright hadn’t done any drawings and the client was getting nervous but he said, “It’s all here” while pointing to his head. That’s the reality. I see these things before I execute them and I see them very clearly. I only do them when I see them very clearly. If I don’t have the vision and I have the idea then I won’t execute. When I see it, it’s just very easy for me to do it. I think if someone has a vision then the hardest part is taking the first step toward executing it. If i was going to help someone, I would try to help them to just move forward and take that leap of faith in taking a step toward doing something. Everybody has ideas. Very few people take the initiative to do them.
Chris: Is there a little component that has worked so well for OSR that you keep to yourself. Something that makes OSR unique forever and it’s something you’re only going to keep to yourself.
Joe: That’s a hard question to answer.
Jeanne: I’m not sure I understand it myself. ‘Is there a secret?’ is basically what he’s asking.
Joe: I wouldn’t say there’s a secret. From my experience and where I sit in the subculture, it seems to me that anybody who has the initiative to start something – whether it’s a running group or a race – is a reflection of the personality of that person. The success or failure of that resides on how that person presents themselves and what they’re doing. I think over the years I’ve been a certain asshole to certain institutions of running. I’m sure I’ve said plenty of things about New York Road Runners, Runner’s World and these cliche running things that people identify with. It’s mostly because that’s the only thing out there to try and identify with. As far as there being a secret? I just follow my gut to a tee. I don’t care what somebody says or what anyone does. If I don’t feel it, I don’t do it. If I don’t feel like talking to Runner’s World, I don’t. People get excited about getting coverage or exposure and that’s fine if that’s your thing. It’s never been my thing. It’s not about that shit for me. It’s about what feels right and what I’ve trusted. So far, so good. Here I am. Here is OSR. Jeanne Mack is running our races for Christ’s sake.
Jeanne: (Laughs) No! OSR is letting me run.
Chris: That was the other thing too. When you agreed to do this interview, I was like, “OK great! At least we got him. We heard there might be some trouble with Runner’s World but at least Joe has agreed to come on this podcast!”
Joe: (Laughs) It’s funny because when The New York Times approached me about the women’s race…Pia [Peterson], who is an amazing journalist, as well as Amy [Lombard] the photographer. She said to me, “I’m not sure if you’re interested in talking to me.” This was over email.
Jeanne: Everyone sort of tiptoes like “Excuse me, Joe!”
Joe: I don’t know if that works for me or against me! Like I said, it’s like the gut. Runner’s World tended to try to take from me. They tried to take the name OSR and put it in their magazine without permission or using it correctly. A lot of these media outlets that are very big just don’t take the time to understand the finite details and nuances of what each running group is or does. They want to take you and plug you into their formula to sell a magazine. They don’t give a shit about how it makes you look. I’ve been working seven years at creating this reputation. Why am I going to let someone take it and plug it into some equation that someone, who doesn’t even understand what’s going on, created? It’s not of interest to me. When Pia approached me for The Times article, she said, “I want to make sure that all the facts are right and I want to go through this process with you.” That’s all it took. If i can have a say in how I am presented and how OSR is presented then I’m interested.
Jeanne: I think that article did a nice job of celebrating the women’s side of things and how it was separated from the men’s race. Also, I think throughout the past couple months, I’ve seen continuous posts from you constantly celebrating these girls who have gone out and crushed it. It’s like, “Let’s give a moment to acknowledge Caitlin Phillips going to Berlin and running a crazy fast time.” It’s not just everyone who is doing great but the women that come to these races are exceptional.
Joe: It’s so true. The first or second Midnight Half was when I really caught on. I think it may have been Leigh Gerson’s performance that caught my attention and I said that it was a shame they’re being overshadowed by the men’s performances. The overall winner was being paid attention to while there was a separation of the females. I never really liked that but that’s the way it’s done. It didn’t even sound right to me but that’s the way it’s done. I’m not a 20-year veteran of race organizing. I kind of taught myself as I went. Trimble has been an amazing mentor. Aside from him, there is no other resource on how to do this. You have to figure it out. I figured out fast that women are doing amazing things with running in the streets just like the men were but no one was giving them any credit for it. Early on, OSR was mostly women: Colleen McGurk, Amy Lynn Crain…All these girls were coming and tearing this shit up. They were destroying guys. We were like, ‘These girls are so badass.” I wanted to give them a race. None of them signed up. Six girls signed up for the first one. Leigh Gerson won the first one. Darcy Budworth was in it. I can’t remember off the top of my head anymore of who else was in it. I sat there and thought that it was a real failure. 12 had signed up. But, on the day of the race, six dropped out because they didn’t want to come in last. We executed the event anyway. What I learned from that is: There is no failure. It’s cliche but there is no failure. That first race was small but it made noise. People heard it. To see how it’s evolved into this year’s race is insane. I have that memory of being so disappointed and standing outside of Lost Weekend with five girls lined up. I felt bad for them. No one showed up. There were no spectators. There was nothing.
Jeanne: There were a lot of spectators this year. It was crazy.
Joe: We had more than 2,000 people watching the livestream for the women’s race and then more than 3,000 for the men’s race.
Chris: Around the world.
Joe: Yeah! Around the world! People in Australia were emailing me. I had people emailing me for months about how they caught it. Steve Finley [coach of the Brooklyn Track Club] posted a photo of six phones at a meeting at Nike. It was the feeds for first place, second place, third place, etc. That is not even a vision that I was able to foresee. You’re like watching the people on your table. It’s insane! It’s just so much fun for me to get creative with everything. Even now, I started making t-shirts because I have these ideas and I have this opportunity out to a community and see how they get digested. I love the feedback. I love the interaction. That’s where I find my happiness now. The best thing in the world for me is the day of a race. After that shit is over and all the content starts flooding in. I stay up all night and look at photos or videos of everybody’s captures. Now with the live stream, you’re able to watch the whole race again from different vantage points. For me to absorb all that is so awesome. You get to see all the good stuff. You see all the bad stuff. It’s exhilarating.
Jeanne: Are there any races where you wouldn’t want content from? I’d assume there will be content out of the Bread Route Race but thinking about races where you wouldn’t want the same amount.
Chris: Something like ‘No phones.’
Joe: I really thought that would be the Bread Route Race. I thought five to seven people would run this race. It would be like this one we did about a year and a half ago called The Red Hook Race. It was on a Tuesday night. Instead of a Tuesday night run, I just switched it to a race. We started in Red Hook for this one because Trimble’s offices are there. He was home from Europe. We decided to throw together a race. I think we had 14 people, including Trimble, and I was following the leaders on a bike. Pavel Marosin and Erik Reitinger dueled it out with Pavel winning in the end. It was awesome because there were no spectators – not that I don’t mind spectators but it was just really a intimate race. We did prize money. Trimble had a change jar in his office and that was the prize money. We distributed it to everybody in like a half-life formula. To this day, people who ran that race and have run every race that I’ve done…that’s the race that they love. I get it. It was their’s. It was no one else’s race. That’s what I thought this race would be. I talked to a couple people beforehand about it and got a feel for what their reaction was. I talked to Travis Hawkins, David Kilgore, Erik Reitinger and a couple other people. They were all amped about it and I thought that maybe I would get five guys. Then BOOM. I tried to make it as clear as possible. There is no course. There is no venue. There is no food. Nothing is coming. There is no finish line. It’s nothing. It’s like me saying ‘here and there.’ 53 people are ready for it. I’m stoked. I am so excited now because the fact that people see value in this race, makes me happy. It really gets me going. I can’t wait for Thursday. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Everything is such a gamble. There’s just so many variables. Maybe the place that I plan on starting isn’t accessible at 2 a.m. Who knows?
Music for the show is by Future Generations. Portrait of Joe DiNoto taken by Jason Suarez. Podcast artwork by Kyle Klosinski.
If you enjoy this podcast, check out the other shows on the CITIUS MAG Podcast Network including the 1609 Podcast, Price of a Mile, Running Things Considered and more.