From the north-facing upper floors of Viacom’s headquarters at 1515 Broadway, you can see Central Park nested amid the urban thrum, a luxuriant stretch of water and trees that allows an escape from Manhattan without leaving it. It’s about as opposite the frenetic everlasting chaos and concrete of Times Square as a piece of the city could hope to get.
Which makes it an ideal place for Viacom employees to gather outside of the office for a little fun and exercise. On a pleasant evening in early June, a team of 140 marshalled in one of the park’s meadows to do exactly that. They joined more than 30,000 racers from 709 companies who, over the course of two days, huffed through the 3.5-mile J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge run.
Ross McGraw, a director in Nick Partnerships, finished first among Viacom employees (and 15th overall), with a time of 18:44. He was followed in the men’s category by Ned Wagner (22:17), Jack Cogan (22:41), and Billy Devletoglu (24:01).
McGraw, who has completed the Corporate Challenge many times with both Viacom and a previous employer, MKTG, was on familiar turf – he lives on the Upper West Side, which is adjacent to Central Park, and he runs there often. He is also a committed athlete. A veteran of NYU’s track and cross country teams and a Team USA triathlete, he finished second in the nation in his age group (and fifth overall) at the Duathlon National Championships in Bend, Oregon last weekend. He won the Hammonton Triathlon in New Jersey last month
To keep in shape, McGraw runs, bikes or swims for an hour and a half each morning and evening. He looks forward to the Corporate Challenge as a part of his training regimen. “It’s local, it’s fun, it’s one of the few times I get to do something that represents the company versus just my own interests,” he said.
“I think it’s really cool that Viacom hosts this for employees,” McGraw, a director of partner marketing for new business at Nickelodeon, continued. “In Nickelodeon partner marketing, we do a lot of programs that focus on getting kids out and being active and I think it’s important to practice what you preach, and so I think it’s important to get out and show people that we also do that. We’re an active company and we get out and play ourselves, to some extent.”
Among the Viacom women, first-time Corporate Challenge participant Katie Howley (23:43) was the top finisher, followed by Erica Martin (26:24), Candice Brancazio (28:05), and Shannon Maguire (29:50).
“I thought this would be a great opportunity to hang out with my coworkers and represent Viacom,” Howley, a social media manager for Velocity International, said. “I think it’s nice that Viacom cares about us not only as people who can produce work, but as people who live a well-balanced lifestyle and care about their personal fitness.”
For Howley, running is a familiar exercise – She ran competitively at Division I Lehigh University and specifically sought out an apartment within walking distance of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, with its three-mile-plus running loop.
Following the race, Team Viacom descended upon The Ribbon, a restaurant just west of the park, to celebrate.
J.P. Morgan has hosted the Corporate Challenge almost annually since 1977, when 200 runners showed up. Viacom has participated for many years. Entry fees benefit the Central Park Conservancy, a public-private partnership that manages the park’s 843 acres.