Finding My Running Home

I came to running late.  At the age of 34, I quit smoking and needed something to keep me motivated.  I started slow, following a run/walk program.  Once I got a few 5Ks under my belt,  I realized that I loved running and the feeling of complete peace it gave me.  However, like previous athletic endeavors, I wasn’t particularly good at it.  I’ll rephrase that – I was (and still am) slow as molasses and terrible at sticking to a training schedule over the long term.  Part of it was medical.  I learned after a few years of excruciating calf pain during runs that I had chronic exertional compartment syndrome in both legs, which required surgery to fix.  But really, a lot of my problem was that I’m someone who requires accountability to stay motivated.  I blame Catholic guilt, but my fear of letting others down is the one thing that will always keep me going. 

At the time, there were no running groups in Harlem and all of my runner pals lived in Brooklyn.  I looked into different clubs around Manhattan but getting to and from workouts after work was too much of a hassle.  And each of the clubs I contacted me told me that either their workouts would be too advanced for me or that they didn’t really have people who run at my pace.  I wasn’t “good” enough to run with them.

I can’t remember how I heard about the Powdered Feet running club, but I clearly remember how excited I was when I did.  In late 2013, I emailed Alison and expressed my interest, but warned her, “I’m really, really slow.”    I am terribly self-conscious of the fact that I run a 13:00 minute mile.  I think the fastest I have ever run a mile is 11:13, and that was after a lot of training and hard work.  Alison, however, told me that all levels were welcome and encouraged me to come.  That first run, a freezing, icy January evening, I knew I had found my running home. It was just Alison and I and she ran with me the entire time.  I had to stop and walk a few times, but she stayed with me.  Finally, I found a running group that didn’t make me feel self-conscious about my pace.  I was its' first member. 

For a few weeks, it was just the two of us and then some others started to join.  Two months into running with the group,  I had to have surgery to fix the exertional compartment syndrome. My legs healed quickly, but it was a good 5 months before I could start running on pavement again and another 4 before I felt I was ready to rejoin the group now called Harlem Run.  I watched Harlem Run grow from a group of five to ten people to a group of twenty. So when I returned a year after my first run with Alison, I knew all of the faces of these new members from social media ... even though they had no idea who I was or that I had been there back when it all started. 

What amazed me though was that these people who didn’t know me welcomed me into the group as if I had been their oldest friend.  Runners who were much faster than me made sure to circle back and check in with me.  They gave me high fives when I finished.  And they didn’t even mind that I would cheat and cut the route short because I couldn’t do the full run.  It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been to a run in 9 months or that I was still slow. I was part of the crew.


I’m still part of the Harlem Run crew even though injury and travel keep me from attending the Monday night runs as much as I would like.  It’s been inspiring watching how this crew, this amazing movement that is Harlem Run, has continued to evolve and grow.   I am so proud to be a part of this group and even more proud to be the O.G., Harlem Run’s first member. 

October 19th is my last run with Harlem Run.  A few days later, my cat and I will board a plane to London to join my fiancé, and fellow Harlem Run member, Ed.  The small town in Hertfordshire where we will live has an active running club and I plan on joining them. It will be a great way to meet new people in my new adopted homeland and it will help me to stay accountable to a training schedule. But no matter where I go, I will always be a Harlem Run woman. 


P.S. If you’re looking for a great race and an opportunity to visit London, I highly recommend the British 10K in July 2016.  The course goes past all the iconic London landmarks.  You will find me and Ed putzing along towards the back of the pack. 

Amir Figueroa2 Comments