For many of us, running is a solo act fit in between all of our other commitments notwithstanding family, career, community service, personal business, school, shopping, laundry and on and on. Running is one of the best fitness activities a person can squeeze into a hyper busy schedule given the fitness gains relative to the time invested. But it often involves juggling schedules to fit it in. In the years when I ran after work, I would get stressed and frustrated when things beyond my control (like commuting delays) interfered with my running. For me, the solution was to adjust my running schedule to the early morning. This enabled me to gain consistency while also enjoying the benefits of less traffic, cleaner air and experiencing daily sunrises. But it came at a price in terms of less social interaction with my running friends who mostly stuck with evening schedules.
My solution was to form a running club to stay connected with and meet new, like-minded people to share experiences with and, for those who were interested, travel together to races. The results were fun and rewarding in terms of the people I met, the friendships that developed and our running successes as individuals and teammates. The other thing that made our club (Bronx Interboro Running Club) amazing was the diverse collection of people that came together simply to form friendships and find support for their running goals. Our membership topped out at about 20. Some of the more notable members included:
Tony – A good friend, training partner and archrival competitor. Tony and I travelled almost every Sunday to Central Park while training for the NYC Marathon to knock out 20-mile training runs. Tony had more natural speed than me and would routinely beat me at the shorter distances while I excelled in the longer events. Tony was the first person I knew who incorporated plyometrics into his training which he felt dramatically improved his speed and helped prevent injury.
Roland – A young man in his late teens who I met at a 5K in my Bronx community. Roland was hanging around at the start wearing simple sweats and off-the-rack running shoes and looked like he didn’t know what to do next. I thoroughly discounted him as a competitor until the start when he lined up in the front and now looked like a serious competitor. The gun went off and Roland immediately took command of the race making 5:20 miles look like a walk in the park. He went on to win unchallenged with a finishing time of 16:30. I approached Roland in awe after the race and told him about the club. Roland, who turned out to be a high school running star, was from the Fordham area of The Bronx and immediately committed. Roland turned out to be one of our most consistent members, regularly getting overall wins wherever we raced including Central Park. We never really knew how Roland trained. He would just laugh when we asked but we knew it was minimal and that he was making the most of his tremendous natural talent.
Claude – A terrific athlete who trained routinely at midnight and whose father, a doctor, discouraged him from running because he felt it “upset the body”. Claude was just a few steps behind Roland and ran a 1:16 half marathon and a 2:47 NYC Marathon. While most of us strived to eat well, Claude lived on a diet consisting of junk food that would dismay any health care professional. Claude attributed his racing success to consuming Resse’s Peanut Butter Cups 20 minutes before race time.
Keisha – Claude’s girlfriend and the person most likely to succeed. An incredibly thoughtful and inspired straight A college student who had her life planned out. She was an inspiration and a joy to be around.
Fran and Bill – A fun, older couple who lived like it was still the 1960’s and had a variety of interests, including running for fitness. They travelled with us to races and appreciated the support and camaraderie. Bill, a pharmacist, always perplexed us with his post-race routine. While most of us ran to the food tent after races, Bill ran to the car for a cigarette and thought nothing of it. Fran and Bill were notable collectors of salsa music recordings, danced regularly at Bronx nightclubs and were friends with Tito Puente (more on that in a future column).
Rick – A totally no-nonsense guy who never ran more than 15-20 miles per week at a leisurely pace. Yet Rick routinely ran in the mid 17’s for the 5K and had a ferocious finishing kick that made him look like an Olympic sprinter. Over time, Rick loosened up and became a big help administering meetings and organizing community events we sponsored.
Randi – A shy, young woman who got into running to manage her weight and seek support. After experiencing racing and enjoying it, Randi helped our women’s team win several awards.
Dave – A deaf gentleman who loved being part of our club. We admired Dave for his work ethic and fun attitude and loved his company at meetings and team events. Despite Dave being deaf, we found numerous ways to communicate and build trust and friendship.
Naturally, I was pleased with our success as a running club. We accomplished most of our running goals and became a competitive force in the NY area, regularly winning men’s and women’s team awards. It was more than just running. We had parties, went out to restaurants and sponsored a fun run for children, which drew several hundred participants and built community spirit. What fascinated me about our club was the diverse backgrounds our members brought and how just the shared love of running brought us together. Our diversity was our strength and we built remarkable friendships that probably wouldn’t have been attained if not for this common interest.
Time passed and life went on. Eventually several of us (including me) moved away and we disbanded. Regretfully, I lost contact with this group. I know that one has passed, none live in the Bronx anymore and who knows if any of them still run. I’ve tried to locate a few but have found only two, one living in Georgia, the other splitting his time between Florida and upstate New York. For me, these were memorable years and a special time in my life.
So as you juggle your schedules and get in your runs at whatever time of day you finally get out, the next time you see someone else running, if the thought crosses your mind, instead of the routine, casual nod, consider engaging that person in conversation if only for a minute. Maybe, just maybe you’ll make a new friend!