For a certain breed of New Yorkers, the need to run is a unifying force. Collectively, they’re known as urban runners. Many hail from the worlds of art, fashion and design and are part of a cultural anthropology in New York in which running is sustenance to their social lives. In conversations with five notable New York running socialites—from a lighting designer, to a culinary director and a museum director of events—they get real about what it means to live and run in the city.
32, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
I lived in San Francisco before I moved to New York. I was bored and wanted a challenge. I knew I’d get it in New York.
The first time I came here, I interviewed at Per Se in Columbus Circle.
I was terrified when I got the job. You’re not allowed to make mistakes. I plated desserts. Everything had to look perfect. The cake had to be cut at an exact angle.
The New York restaurant industry is hard and demanding. For a lunch service at noon, I was in by 6 a.m. I worked 16 hours a day.
I started running in 2011 to relieve the stress from my job. It was also a substitute for smoking. I’d started smoking at 18. It was a social thing. I’d tried to quit multiple times. Running was a way to cut it down—and eventually cut it out.
When I started running with a group, it was hard to keep up with people. But the less I smoked, the easier it was to run.
Someone once told me that I’d eventually run marathons. I thought that idea was crazy.
I’d probably be in a different place career-wise if I hadn’t started running. I’m a culinary director at The Purple Carrot. We work with Mark Bittman to figure out what recipes we’re going to make.
I love the food experience — from going to the market to preparing a meal and then eating. I like the act of cooking. I’m thankful I get to do it everyday as a job.
I love running in Prospect Park. It’s a mile from my house, and there’s not a lot of stop and start. Though the loop is just over three miles, there are trails inside the park and many different ways to run.
In New York, you can find any group that fits who you are and what you’re looking to get out of running. It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you’re meeting people to run.
33, South Slope, Brooklyn
I first visited New York when I was 16. I’m from Toronto. I remember looking out the window from the plane and thinking New York could be home someday. Six years later I moved here.
It’s hard to get on your feet. I spent a week in two places, a month in a place I found on Craigslist and a month in a friend’s sublet.
I worked for an architecture firm before the market crashed. Then I was laid off, but it was the push I needed. I started a small business with college friends, and that’s what I’m doing now.
I have a BFA in furniture design. I’m an entrepreneur with a business focused on design and manufacturing of lighting.
It’s absolutely true. You have everything at your fingertips here, but the misconception is that it’s easy to get. There’s competition for the same thing — an apartment, same patch of park if you want to have a picnic and a line for everything.
People assume New York isn’t a good place to train. That’s not really true. The city draws great athletes—or maybe there are high-achieving people here that happen to be good athletes.
New Yorkers are really friendly.
I love using training groups. That’s what motivates me.
I literally ran into one of the running groups, Bridge Runners, years ago. I was running over the Manhattan Bridge, and they were running in the opposite direction.
“Know the route” is a big part of Orchard Street Runners. We won’t wait for you at a red light. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll be left behind. It’s a locals-only, as-fast-as-you-can tempo run.
They’re kindred spirits. I have deep, personal connections with a lot of people I’ve met through that group. My favorite run is a 16-mile loop that includes three bridges. I start in South Brooklyn and run to the Pulaski Bridge, over the Queensboro Bridge and then over the Manhattan Bridge.
There are definitive racing experiences—cultish runs that are part of the underground scene, and bigger ones, like the NYC Half and Marathon, which have a quality of being on stage. It feels like some weird version of a band, and you’re performing in front of an audience.
These experiences are what excite me about being a runner in New York.
36, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Founder of Girls Run NYC and Breakfast Club. Counselor at Brooklyn Collegiate Prep School.
I love the way my day feels when I run in the morning before work. It gives me time to start processing the day.
I’m from Oberlin, Ohio. I moved to New York in 2003 for grad school at NYU. I have a master of arts degree in art therapy.
I practice psychotherapy with art making as part of the process. It’s a unique career. I feel lucky to do it.
I used to party a lot. Mike Saes, who started Bridge Runners, was always trying to get my roommate and me to run. It took six months before I actually showed up. I’d never run with a group before.
Running at night, through the streets and in dark alleys, crossing over bridges and going through neighborhoods I wouldn’t normally go through, opened up the city.
I never thought I would run a half marathon. I’ve run seven marathons, two 50ks and a lot of half marathons.
Over the last 10 years, I distinctly recall leaving runs in spandex and athletic clothing and going straight to a party, an art opening or a nightclub. People would look at me and laugh. I didn’t care at all.
The whole point is to be out of your comfort zone. The track is inspiring. It feels good to run fast.
I never regret going for a run. It’s always reenergizing.
33, Lower East Side
In New York, our jobs demand a lot. That’s a big factor of why I hit a wall. I put all of my energy into working.
I produce special events for the New Museum. We did a Lady Gaga book launch; we’ve worked with Google and a lot of fashion and beauty brands.
It’s easy to feel alone and very focused on work in New York. Running felt liberating, like I was breaking free from the pressures of my job.
I’ve lived in the Lower East Side for eight years. I’ve found a real sense of community in this neighborhood. There’s a rich history of diversity—the LES was a working-class neighborhood for many years.
When I was younger, I didn’t feel fully accepted for being Mexican-American.
I think the art world appreciates you for whatever background you are. In the environment I’m in, being a woman is celebrated—the New Museum was founded by a female curator.
I wasn’t interested in running growing up. I was a ballet dancer. I thought the cross country kids at my high school were insane.
I was inspired to run after watching the NYC Marathon in 2011. I was mesmerized by the sheer human emotion of the runners. They were going through a challenge many people will never experience.
I didn’t actually start running until January 2012. I was a board member of the Lower East Side Girls Club. I decided to run the NYC Half Marathon to fundraise for the club. The club helped me find myself. It introduced me to running.
When I started running, my activewear consisted of mesh shorts from college and cotton t-shirts. I got trail running shoes because they looked cute. I wore oversized JNCO-style sweatpants on my first run over the Williamsburg Bridge. For my first race, I cut up a pair of black tights to wear as arm warmers.
I showed up to an Orchard Street Runners run in mid-January 2012. Everyone met at Lost Weekend. We used to run on Saturday nights and Tuesday evenings.
New York is an epicenter for urban running communities. I can hang out with people from different walks of life who have good vibes and respect each other.
Brian Saint Hilaire
24, Lower East Side
I can’t picture living anywhere else. The vibration of the city gets people going. There’s an edge here.
I’m Dominican. My parents came to the U.S. about 20 years ago. We only speak Spanish to each other.
I went to LaGuardia Community College for business administration. But I’ve always been into fashion.
I’ve worn Supreme since I was young. I’m also into Japanese streetwear—I really like Human Made. I work for Rick Owens, so that’s one of the brands I appreciate as well.
My staple outfit: classic black sneakers, black workpants with a white T-shirt, a flannel and a really nice coat.
Styling has always come naturally. Growing up in New York, you’re exposed to so many amazing labels from all over the world.
I styled my running coach Knox Robinson when he was featured in Runner’s World magazine in November 2015.
I got into running about three years ago. I live close to the East River and one day I decided to run on the track. I had no idea what I was doing.
I was shopping at Nike Stadium on Bowery one evening when I saw people coming in dressed in running gear. They were part of a club called Bridge Runners. The following week I showed up to run. I’m a little shy so for me to make that move was bold. I kept coming every Wednesday night to run with them.
The urban running club scene is a mixture of hanging out, having fun and training really hard. I need that balance.
The amazing thing about running is that I can block everything out. It’s very therapeutic. I run four times a week.
I like to run on Houston Street to the East River and around the southern tip of Manhattan to the West Side Highway. It’s so scenic.
I love half marathons. It’s the perfect distance. The most I’ve ever run is 21 miles. I don’t know what an extra five miles feels like, but I’m curious. I should find out.
Photos by Paulsta Wong.