At the base of Toronto’s CN Tower on Tuesday, October 29, the city’s running community threw a party for 28 people about to start an epic journey. After showering the crew with confetti and cheers, two Escape 2 New York (E2NY) teams piled into two RVs, setting off for a relay covering a distance of more than 500 miles from Toronto to New York City.
The challenge: Arrive in New York City before the start of the NYC Marathon on November 3—and hopefully inspire others along the way that they too can reach whatever finish line they are striving for. For E2NY cofounder Quinton Jacobs, it was “to bring together some really dope energy, put a super ambitious goal in front of them, and watch the story unfold. It wasn’t ego-driven. It was to involve the community and raise money and awareness for a cause.”
As Runner’s World prepared for its own marathon buildup, I asked my friend and fellow photo editor and running pal Jennifer Pagan if she was running the marathon. “Running to NYC, lol, but not running. Just cheering,” she wrote via Instagram DM. My response was casual. “Oh cool...“wait, running to NYC?” She lives in Brooklyn but left just to run all the way back? I was confused. Pagan responds with, “Ha, yeah, running a relay with some friends from Toronto.”
Pagan heard about E2NY through a 6-Degrees of Kevin Bacon style. In this example, Jacobs met one of Pagan’s friends in South Africa at the Comrades Marathon in 2018, and when E2NY was ready to recruit. It’s not unusual for diehards in the running community to say yes to new things. “There’s a group of us who travel and race together at least once a year. We’re always down for an adventure...I personally said yes because I knew it would be an experience of a lifetime,” Pagan continued. “I could tell that the people involved had the positive energy and commitment needed to make this kind of endeavor not only successful, but special.”
In addition to creating a unique opportunity for runners, Jacobs and cofounder Andrew Abley, raised well over $14,000 CAN for Skylark, a Toronto-based charity dedicated to young people and their families struggling with mental health needs. “E2NY was about connection from the start,” Jacobs adds. “We also knew that we wanted to use E2NY for a greater purpose. Mental health was a common cause for all of us. We looked for an organization that was front-and-center with mental health programming.”
Jacobs has a lot going on, and is passionate in whatever he focuses on. He works full-time, is a single dad to three kids, volunteers often, and organizes community-building events like E2NY. And runs. It was running with a local Toronto run crew that first connected Jacobs to Abley.
In 2018, they were a part of a 10-person relay race from Toronto to Montreal. Team members set out to run about 37 miles each, but because various circumstances Abley couldn’t run. Team members ran about 18-24 miles each with Jacobs picking up the slack for the remaining 50-plus miles. “If I was the captain who put the team together, [Abley] quickly became the manager. He guided that ship right through to the finish line. During the celebration of the relay, they were already plotting the future.
As captains and cofounders of E2NY, Jacobs and Abley planned to run the marathon at the end of the trip. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen for either of them. Jacobs broke his leg (twice) and tore his Achilles in 2019. “I’d been trying to get into the (New York City) marathon for eight years,” Jacobs said. When he was told by a doctor he could not run, the timing could not have been worse. He felt he was letting everyone down. “I was set to run the ceremonial first leg with our charity and other supporters,” writes Jacobs. “It was one of the things, next to running the NYC Marathon, I was looking forward to the most.”
“Every segment was a unique and memorable experience,” Pagan reminisces. “Running in the pitch black along the river headed toward Niagara Falls. Bombing downhill through sheets of rain during a severe storm. Dangerous for sure, which led to quick reacting and smart decision making for safety, but fun as all hell in the moment for me.”
Memorable moments for the E2NY’ers was a lot of laughs, a lot of rain, and the breaking down of RV1. They were approaching the Finger Lakes when one of the team members on a 2 a.m. driving shift pulled to the side of the road. It was dark and the driver misjudged the shoulder, ending up in a ditch.
Though there was no “official” registration, through friends and social media connections, Jacobs quickly filled the two-team roster of 28, which included runners and content producers—RV 1 was made up of five female and 10 male runners; RV 2 was made up of five female and eight male runners. Copies of the E2NY route booklet was left on each RV, with each page breaking down key leg information on all 90 legs of approximate 6 miles each.
After three days and nights on the road, they finally arrived, relatively unscathed, in New York City’s East River Park around 4 a.m. Saturday.
As of Sunday morning, it looked like Abley was still good to go for the race. I texted Jacobs that morning to find out where they were cheering. Within seconds he wrote back. “The squad is at mile 21.4ish, you’ll know when you see them…But I unfortunately won’t be there. Andrew had a seizure at the start line,” I think he was in shock, not only out of concern for co-captain Abley, but also that he now had to navigate through 50k runners and road closures to get to his friend, and fast.
In a private Instagram post on November 3, Abley's wife, Tanya, writes “still processing and figuring out what this all means. For now, we have each other.” Abley had accidentally left important medication in the RV when he dropped it off in Yonkers. “Add to that fatigue from E2NY, and the excitement of the NYC Marathon morning… it was just too much,” adds Jacobs.
Jacobs and his E2NY crew wanted to go next-level with this trip, and they did just that. Despite setbacks and challenges along the way, they used the unmatched energy at the core of E2NY to fuel one another over the three full days of the relay. Here, Quinton Jacobs shares more about how this relay came to life, the purpose behind it, and why—even without running—he knew he had to tag along for the whole journey.
Runner’s World: How did you start this?
Quinton Jacobs: Last year when we ran to Montreal, Andrew got injured a few weeks before we left for the race. He wasn’t able to run, but he came on the trip and managed the team of 10 in a way that held him as the unequivocal team MVP. We were in Montreal with the team celebrating our accomplishment. It’s hard to explain the feeling, but you’re sitting with this team of people that you’ve been tied to for three days, and they’re right there with you. But you miss them, because you know that the adventure is coming to an end. Andrew was mucking about on his phone and smiling, and when I asked him what he was up to. He showed me a Google map showing Toronto to New York City. The distance was ambitious, but both of us looked at each other and smiled.
While we were passing the idea back and forth, it was clear from the beginning that neither of us had any interest in building E2NY around athleticism, or around the actual running portion. We never once asked how we could make it faster or harder. Instead we asked how we could involve more people. How we could share this experience with more of our friends, family, and supporters.
And how are you doing that?
We wanted to use this endeavor for a greater purpose. We polled the team for organizations and causes that were close to their hearts. Mental health was a shared cause for the entire team, so we looked for an organization that was front-and-center with mental health programing. Once we decided on Skylark and approached them with our plan, they were so enthusiastic and have been very active in all our fundraising events. In the months leading up to our event, we held several community fundraisers and the support was unbelievable, and at our main fundraiser weeks before our send-off we reached our $10,000 goal.
In the spring, a few of us from the E2NY team were able to visit the children from Skylark’s Day Treatment Program and had a chance to speak to them about overcoming adversity. They were so excited about our E2NY idea that we decided to open up the first leg of E2NY to the Skylark children and staff. One of the staff from Skylark came out to our send-off and ran the first leg of E2NY, and it was her first 10K ever!
Without being able to run for E2NY, is it still impactful and rewarding for you?
I struggled with this question in the days leading up to our send-off. After finding out that I wouldn’t be able to run, I even considered not coming, worried that I wouldn’t be able to muster up the kind of energy that this project deserved.
I broke my fibula in January after slipping on ice while trail running. In July, while I was on a recovery run, I landed in a pothole and broke my foot. After a rough start to the year, my plan was to finish strong with a full lineup of runs—October 13, the Chicago Marathon, my favorite marathon; October 20, the Toronto Half Marathon with kids from an organization called “The Kickback,” that I had been coaching over the summer to run their first half-marathon; October 29, E2NY, an event that’s taken me a year to plan; November 3, the New York City Marathon.
After a few days of beating myself up, and having the team rally around me…I doubled-down on the original purpose and packed my RV duffels. We said from the beginning though that E2NY was never about running, it was always about connection.
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