Encounters in Publishing #12: Running from the Books, by Liz Mathews

For five out of the six years I’ve worked for my current employer, I have also been a participant in the annual JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge, a 3.5 mile run around Central Park that takes place on two June evenings and brings together at least 30,000 people who all have the slightly befuddling desire to get sweaty and out of breath. As one of those people, I eagerly await the email from our Human Resources department every spring announcing the opening of registration, ready to pounce on one of the fifty spots our parent company, Macmillan, reserves for us.

But last year, there was no email from HR. Or rather, there was no email from them about running. There were emails about changing our payday schedule, and other things that were frustrating and confusing. But silence on the Corporate Challenge front. It concerned me, because I have a friend who works at JP Morgan, who was very vocal about how he was going to do in run and had been working out extra to prepare. I emailed HR with the suggestion that I had somehow missed their email, and was there still a chance for me to sign up?

No, it turned out, because as I well knew, HR had somehow messed up the one thing that I depended on every summer, having failed to reserve a spot in the park for us before all the spots ran out. This wasn’t quite the explanation I received in the email response that an HR representative sent my way, but I knew.

So this year, when the email came, I read only far enough to confirm that we were actually participating, and then I immediately clicked on the link to sign myself up. Over the course of the next few months additional emails would appear, questioning what type of boxed lunch I’d prefer, and reminding me to pay my entry fee.

Finally June 12 arrived, and I left work early to wander up to Central Park in my ill-fitting Macmillan team t-shirt. I made it through the sea of participants to our team table and checked in, the first person to arrive besides our organizer. The race came and went, and the weather was beautiful, and I felt pretty awful and out of shape when I returned to the team table for my boxed lunch, with my JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge 2013 ‘Finisher’ t-shirt in hand. Some had already finished, and others trickled in as we began to eat our sandwiches and exclaim how happy we were that we’d been able to run this year, unlike the last.

It was a little surprising, but also comforting to hear that I’d not been the only one outraged by our missed opportunity the year before. Here were some real runners—or at least people who liked getting away from the office once a year to get a little physical. We ate our dinners and sat on the wet grass and enjoyed the cooling evening air. We discussed the interesting personalities we dealt with on a regular basis at the office and how we agreed that they were…interesting.

And I knew that once we were all back in the Flatiron again, in our workplace roles, I wouldn’t be having any real conversations at all with any of those folks. Until next year. Because we will run again. We have made certain that HR knows we must.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.