Late 2008, in the midst of the recession, I had just broken up with a long-term girlfriend, moved out of my apt, and was laid off from my 10+ year career in architecture. Lots of sudden change. You’d think I would have been upset about all of this. The reality was that the relationship with the girl, the living situation and the job were all pretty toxic. At the time I would have never had the courage to make any of these life changes on my own, even though I knew for a very long time that these elements in my life were all making me very unhappy. Sometimes life has its own way of putting you exactly where you belong.
I spent the next few years working nights at Barrio Chino as a host (a Mexican spot in the LES). In the beginning this job was great, I met a lot of locals as I greeted them at the door and sat them for dinner. Its easy to make friends when you’re an open-minded, halfway decent human being and you have the ability to cut someone’s wait time for Mexican food down to a few minutes. Being that I lived and worked on the same block I hooked up all my neighborhood acquaintances with instant tables and the occasional free margarita. Over the next couple of years I started to use my gaining popularity with the locals to launch some small business ventures, mostly food pop-ups. I did a pirogi start up called ‘Joe’s Pirogi’ for a few months which was a lot of fun. I would host evening hang outs at Trophy Bar in Brooklyn frying up handmade pirogis and sides. My friends in the food service industry would help me prep and execute. I also tried a fresh pasta start-up with a buddy of mine for a minute. Both ventures were a shit-ton of work, and after several weeks of putting together events and dinners it felt like I was getting no where fast. These things were successful in drawing in people but the financial successes were small, so eventually I decided my time would be better spent doing other things.
All the while I had been running. Daytime, nighttime, whenever I could. Most days I would wake up around 11am and fuck around for an hour, then go for a nice long run. I would head to work in the early evening, hosting from about 6pm – 12am pretty much every night. When I got off work I would wait for my service industry friends to finish up their shifts across the street. When they got off we would go out and tear up the city by drinking excessively, smoking weed, blowing lines of coke and hooking up with random girls. Using our connections in the industry we’d skip lines bouncing from venue to venue chasing the party each night until the point of complete exhaustion, sometimes 7am the next day. But everyday I would get up around 11am, and by noon I would be chasing down my miles.
I didn’t think anything of it, people that I saw at work or partied with at night would see me leaving the neighborhood and coming back from my runs. I ran so much that I eventually became known as ‘the runner’. “You’re that runner” people would say when they saw me out, or when I would greet them at the restaurant. They’d ask me how far I run, and when I told them they would be blown away..it isn’t hard to impress a non-runner with mileage. Some people would be inspired and ask questions about how to get started, what shoes to wear or what my routes were. Eventually I would start arranging meet ups, mostly to get a girl I liked to run with me, but also to accommodate all these people asking for my help in getting their own running habit started. One day I set a meeting time and a place and invited a bunch of my friends..this was sometime in October of 2011.
Compared to the food pop-ups OSR was so effortless and fun. I would just send out a post, then people would meet up and run. Soon it was clear that the energy I was using to maintain those food pop-ups would be better spent nurturing OSR. When it came to running, things seemed to have a life force of their own, an energy that we all felt and were instantly hooked on. It was undeniable, so I went with it. By March of 2012 I was planning my first official OSR event, the first Silent Auction to Benefit the Lower East Side Girls Club.
The success of the first auction lead to Dave Trimble asking me to help him with his race, the Red Hook Crit. I contributed to this event as the volunteer coordinator for 3 races from 2012-2013, I also put together the primes for the competitors (prize baskets consisting of food and drinks). In return Dave agreed to help me organize a race I had conceptualized called the Midnight Half. Together we created the format and organized the event with it launching on May 31, 2012, my 34th birthday. To call it a success would be an understatement. What we had created would change running and launch a new genre of the sport. Being the first of its kind, the Midnight Half is undeniably the single most significant racing event in urban running to this day.
Soon after the first Midnight Half, I started adding smaller races to OSR’s yearly schedule. These include the OSR men’s & women’s 10K series (M10K & W10K), as well as a 30mi race around the perimeter of Manhattan (OSR30). Over the last few years these races have matured into highly organized, competitive events drawing in some of the fastest and most talented runners in the world. World class runners competing on ‘open streets, through traffic and over bridges, with no road closures and no course markings.’ The model has been mimicked many times by running groups and brands all over the city and the world, but in my opinion OSR’s events have always remained ahead of the curve as we continuously set the standard year to year. I attribute this success primarily to the fact that I retain complete creative control over everything I produce. This is accomplished by paying for everything out of my own pocket and keeping the races and running group free of corporate sponsorship. This is a key characteristic that separates OSR from many other running groups, and this fact has also allowed OSR to become a platform where multiple running groups overlap. Our weekly runs, races and events are always comprised of many amazing individuals that claim affiliation to various other running organizations.
The reason for the back story is to provide those that don’t know how things started with an understanding of what it has taken for me to get OSR to where it is today. General interest of running in this city has grown so much over the last few years and a big part of that has been due to the images and stories our events have generated. Lets be honest, OSR races have produced some of the most gritty, dynamic, visually stimulating images of running in decades. I dare someone to argue otherwise, and back it up! I am proud of the guys and girls that have competed in, volunteered for, and shot these events. The photos are just fucking stellar. The creation of these races, where they take place, who & how many people are in the field, when they start, where they go..these details are not accidental, they are planned. They are planned based on much experience and hard work on my part, and on part of my volunteers and staff. The images captured by the myriad of talented individuals that my events are lucky enough to attract are so dynamic because of these details, as well as the talent of those capturing these moments.
Everything I have ever done under OSR has been done at my own personal expense. My parents aren’t rich, I don’t have some benefactor footing the bill on the venues I retain for races or parties, no one covers the cost of the water people drink at check points, no third party takes care of the bill for electronic scoring and timing. OSR is what’s called a ‘labor of love’, look it up if you need to. What I have created has involved a lot of sacrifice, struggle and perseverance on my part and the part of many of my friends. It is because of these struggles that the content (photo/video/story) we produce is extremely precious to me. Many times along the way when I considered giving up on OSR people around me would insist that I keep ‘doing what I was doing’, so I did…blindly. There have been times when I didn’t have money for rent or food as a result of putting on a race or a party for the running community, but it was ok because I felt what I was doing served a higher purpose of some kind. These were sacrifices I made for the greater good and it is/was done out of passion. Let me just say this again, OSR related races and events are created and executed via my passion and the passion of the many volunteers, athletes, photographers and videographers that come and do their thing. I believe that when passion is the common thread driving people to work together for a common goal, with no direct individual gain, you end up with something much more special and something much more real. You can feel it at the Midnight Half finish line, or see it in the many amazing race photos. It can’t be mimicked or recreated under false conditions, as many have tried.
These images/stories we produce are the product of the years of hard work, struggle & experience I have as an organizer. These images/stories are a product of the experience the photographer/journalist has amassed through their career, the time and energy of the volunteers helping out, the hours athletes spent training then pouring everything they have out on to the course. It is because of this that I am writing this post, if you are ever so inclined to post an image from one of my events, or purchase an image from one of the photographers or videographers that have shot my events, you better damn well credit that photographer properly as well as credit the event in which the photo was taken and those people featured in that image. If you don’t give credit where credit is due you are disrespecting all the people, time and energy it took to create the image, and the context in which that image was taken. I don’t care if it is a photo you post on your instagram or one you put in your magazine, their is an etiquette involved and a courtesy to the people that have directly contributed to creating these images & stories, and that etiquette isn’t limited to just the photographer. Recognize that.
I have been hearing about uncredited use of race images more and more as the running population continues to grow, some examples even include race organizers giving images to corporate sponsors without the artist’s permission. Just recently I have seen my own race photos in print without the photos being properly credited. Yes, it’s one of those things in which the rules are not written, but it is still unfortunate that people are so willing to take content that isn’t theirs and use it for personal gain without asking permission or offering proper credit. If you are an organizer, a creator or just a fan, it is imperative that you realize the consequences of your actions. People’s intellectual property or creative property should be respected and acknowledged at all times. If you are going to write a story about a race, or use visual media from an event, the first thing you should do is ask permission from all those involved. The second thing you should do is label that story/photo/etc citing proper credit.
If we, as a community continue to fail to do whats right we will run the risk of losing these events and the people that document them. As unsponsored organizers we don’t do what we do for money. Remember, every unsponsored event is a by-product of the passion, energy and time of the hundreds of people involved. They/We deserve your respect. As an organizer I have to admit that over the years I have been appalled at how quickly people just take from you, without conscience and without concern. Consider this post an acknowledgement of this behavior.