Ben, "Asian Sensation", Tackles the Harlem One Miler!

My name is Ben, and this Sunday I will participate in the 2nd Annual Harlem One-Miler…after running 62 miles (100 km) on Saturday at The Great New York 100M/100KM Running Exposition. This will be my first time tackling these kind of distances in both instances since I’ve never participated in a 100km race or a one mile race. In fact, up until four years ago I had never run any kind of race.

Prior to 2012, my brief forays into jogging ended with ankle and knee injuries, so I much preferred walking. That all changed when my friend and mentor Chris began suffering from renal failure as a result of diabetes.

Chris is a criminal defense attorney that I met when I was a college student transitioning to law school; in 2005, we were both involved in community activism. He took me under his wing and gifted me my first suit when I graduated from college. In August 2011, Chris told me that he was considering approaching members of the Asian American Bar Association of New York to see if anybody was willing to consider donating a kidney. I supported Chris, and also felt that I ought be willing to do something that I ask of others, so I got tested to see if we were a match.

It took a long time for the results to come back. So long that I thought that the lack of response meant we weren’t a match. I was backpacking around Guatemala and getting my arms and shoulders tattooed in December 2011 when Chris and I finally learned the results: We were a match.

Thus began several rounds of testing, physical and mental, to make sure that I was healthy enough to donate my kidney. I knew that I’d have to make  lifestyle changes post-transplant and lead a healthier life. In an attempt to keep myself honest, I signed up to do my first Tough Mudder with five of my friends. Chris and I went under the knife on May 25, 2015. 

I was discharged from the hospital three days later, and my friends and I participated in our first Tough Mudder. I’d love to say that we trained hard for months to prepare, but we didn’t. It took us more than five hours to walk, crawl, climb, swim, and slide our way through the 13 miles of obstacles and mud. We had a lot of fun and pledged to actually train for the next one.

So we did, and I started running. In order to avoid the injuries that plagued me in the past, I  taught myself to be a forefoot runner rather than a heel-striker. When I began running, the goal was to get in shape for obstacle course runs and run some 5ks and 10ks. Then one day in 2013, my friend Danilo put out a call on Facebook for runners to join his Ragnar Relay team, so I joined and ran my 16 miles that weekend in costume (tighty whities in honor of Breaking Bad's Walter White).

That was the most miles I’d ever run. Since 2014, I’ve run nine marathons, two Olympic distance triathlons, one 50km ultramarathon, and two 24-hour Tough Mudders.

A lot of runners wear watches that will tell them their finish time before the race results are official; they can tick off their race finish times and average paces off the top of their head. I’m not that kind of runner. The people I meet at races mean more to me than my finish times. Running for me isn’t just an opportunity to challenge  to squeeze as much life as I can out of my remaining kidney, it’s also way for me to expand my horizons.

In the last four years, running has taken me to countries, states, and neighborhoods in New York City that I’d never been to. It’s also been the jumping off point for several friendships. I love meeting other runners and hearing their stories. (Just don’t try to hold a conversation with me while I’m running. I’m doing my best to zone out.)

That is why I’m excited for the Harlem One-Miler. I signed up for it on April 15th thinking that would be my race that weekend. On April 21st, I found out that I somehow got off the The Great New York Running Exposition’s waitlist. Though I accepted the 100km entry, I never considered skipping the Harlem One-Miler. The Harlem Run crew has been on my radar for some time and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to meet and run with a new crew in a new community.

See you on Sunday!


Amir Figueroa1 Comment