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On The Run

It’s my New York-a-versary!
Six years ago, I moved here from South Africa, to live a life based out of the Big Apple – just as I’d once dreamed of doing. 
As a journalist, I came to New York on the hope and the dream of interviewing Meryl Streep over lunch (at some divine restaurant in the West Village, or you know, anywhere). Of course, I knew it would be hard. I knew I would be giving up so many safety nets – a regular salary, my trusted hair-dresser, my gym membership (Melrose Arch Virgin Active had become a second home to me), an entire industry I’d worked long and hard to become a part of, dear friends, and Greek-style family lunches. 
But I knew I had to do it. That fire was burning inside and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I came looking for adventure and to broaden the proverbial horizons of my career as an entertainment journalist. I came looking for interviews with actors and musicians I admired, for stories about South Africans beyond Charlize and Elon achieving wonderful heights, for opportunities to see concerts, take in museums and Broadway shows and be exposed to more cinema than I ever had been before. 
A year and a half into my time here I found something I was not looking for. Not at all. 
Begins with ‘r’, and ends with ‘unning.’
Ha.
I’ve spoken about this before, in a recent episode of The Rundown, and a couple of posts before, but thanks to the New York City Marathon and the inspiration (that still doesn’t feel like the right word) from a South African NY Times photojournalist who took part in the marathon a year after he lost both his legs in Afghanistan, I started running. Properly. Outside. Longer than the usual 20-minutes on a treadmill I’d done before. 
Like many of the friends I’ve made since becoming a “runner” I realised we all have our story of how we came to running. Or how it came to us. Which is funny, because it’s something we were innately born to do, but often the joy gets knocked out of it, after being dished out as punishment one too many times. Or in my case, being tripped up and falling in a school race and being told I’m not good at it.
Crossing my first finish line was the opening chapter of my love affair with running. More than just a physical feat, I saw finishing the NYC Marathon as somewhat of a test. If I could get through it, I would be okay in NYC. 
Because living here is not easy. Not easy at all. 
With its high rents. And South Africa’s terrible exchange rate.
With its multitude of people. And very little space. 
With its seven-girl-to-every-guy ratio.
With its many Choose Your Own Adventure options. Too many options, sometimes. 
I engineered my life to be here. No one sent me here. No one secured me an apartment or helped me transfer my life here. I wanted this. But I couldn’t have foreseen the challenges life as a freelancer in a new city would bring with it. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, waking up excited yet daunted by what each new day brings with it. 
Through it all – late-paid invoices, interviews with Oprah and Spielberg, unanswered emails taken too personally, broken relationships and solid ones, many slices of late-night $1 pizza, friends who’ve become family, one-night trips to LA and Miami, over-extended credit cards – running has become the rock, my anchor.  
When most have a 9-5 to go to, I have 5-9 — miles, that is. I know that no matter where I am, or what is happening, I can run.
It keeps me on track when nothing else does or can. I’ve tried all I can to establish a routine, and then I go to London for a Captain America junket (I know, boo hoo) or a big US story breaks and I’m filing for News at 3am. But running is my routine.
I’ve tried to picture my life over the next five years. It’s hard to imagine most of the time, at the rapid rate journalism is changing, and I’m trying to figure out my space and place within it all. I’m not new to forging a different path for myself – I did it in South Africa – but being overseas and without the comforts of home make it a little more terrifying. Running is the vision for my future that I can’t yet see. I catch glimpses, however small they may be, of what could happen, and how. 
In running, I scratch the surface of who I could become. It’s the hope I have for my life and for the lives of others around me. Running is the dream I never knew I could dream. It takes me beyond what I imagined for myself when my imagination doesn’t seem to want to work. Little 4’11 me qualify to run Boston? You betcha! What else?
And running is my reminder. It allows me to tap into the part of me I most recognize, that sometimes gets buried under piles of dresses I’be worn one too many times and crippling self-doubt. The part that is alive and full of excitement and enthusiasm for life.
It reminds me of little victories I’ve forgotten when I am my own worst critic, which is most of the time. When I forget what I am capable of, I run to remind myself: I’ve done it before, I can do it again. Every time I do something I think, truly think, I couldn’t do, it’s like my muscles send messages to my mind that I can go on, and farther.
I do it to outrun the thoughts – the negative thoughts that have thrived on uncertainty and internal questions over my abilities and skills that threaten to become the default setting in my life as a freelancer. I run to re-set my own heart beat, re-set my thoughts. I’ve gotten myself this far, with my legs and my heart – surely I can keep myself going. Because running is a clear sign when there are none for me to see.
It connects me to the Earth. It makes me remember I’m not alone. Truly. With each step I take, I make New York a little more like home, places become familiar, the faces too. Wherever my work takes me, I run. More often than not, carving out my own culturally-rooted route, knowing I am connected to footprints of those who have come before. Even as I travel and work alone.
On a run once, a friend told me running isn’t going to pat you on the back, and say, “good job, well done.” But the confidence it has given me to face the challenges of my life keeps me coming back for more. Even when it’s hard. Even though I struggle with it more than I don’t. Even though I am not a “traditional” runner and have been told I don’t look like a runner. (It’s my height, isn’t it? Too tall, I know, haha)
It seems so easy to remember, and yet, how easy to forget that breaking something down into the smallest of steps is the way to best get through it. And to best get through this life. Each time I make it through a run that’s particularly hard, I not only know this, but I feel it to be true. 
I know the route I’ve chosen is hard. Since discovering my love of running, I’ve started to make peace with the fact that pain and challenges are a given. Testimony doesn’t come without the test, and all that. Struggle, however, I’m learning, I can choose to forego. Just like with running, in life, I’ve gotten a little better at expecting hardship to pop up along the way, so now I tell it to lace up, we’re heading out. And just like running, living in New York is an oh-so rewarding experience. Just like running, I’ve done and seen things here I never thought I would ever do. Like watch Lady Gaga play the closing down party of the iconic Roseland Ballroom. Like listen to Hugh Jackman tell me what he learnt out of reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. Like stand next to couple hundred thousand other bodies as the NYE ball dropped in Times Square. Like be in the audience when Trevor Noah first appeared on The Daily Show.
So –
When the rent is due, I run.
When I don’t know how to answer a text, I run.
When I’m overwhelmed by all the things I want to do to make sure I live life to the fullest, I run.
When I don’t know how long I’ll be in New York for, I run.
Onward, I run.
“One belongs to New York instantly,  one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”
– Tom Wolfe

Like so many friendships made in our time, I first met Ray Hailes on Instagram. He was part of the week 2 group of runners who took part in Nike’s Montauk Project, a life-changing couple of days that a handful of New Yorkers got to experience in East Hampton.
I was part of week 3, the final week, and in the days and weeks preceding my trip, I’d seen posts featuring the hashtag, #MontaukProject, many of which came from Ray’s IG, along with others who’d been sharing pics of the epic training sessions, runs on the beach and latest Nike shoes they’d scored. Ray and I, along with the others who were lucky enough to attend, bonded over this experience that left such a great impact on us (so much so, he and his friend Eric got tattoos of the Montauk co-ordinates), knowing that we’d be forever changed by the insight and lessons learnt, rather than all the cool free stuff we got.
In this episode of The Rundown, Ray talks about how running shaped his early life in NYC, moving here ten years ago from Texas by way of Chicago. He talks about having sickle cell and how that impacts is running. Along the way, he takes me on a route that starts at the famous Brill Building, where many a hit song was recorded back in the day, (and still is home to studios and labels), to the place where he met his best friend and fellow Resident Runners co-founder, Eric Blevens, at West NYC.

For more on Ray and Resident Runners, visit their site, and join them on Thursday night runs – or one of their monthly taco runs!

**Shortly after posting this, President Barack Obama declared The Stonewall Inn the US’ first national monument dedicated to gay rights.
This week’s Pride activities in New York, and in other parts of the world in the wake of the Orlando gay club shooting, have been even more poignant. In honour of the people and places that have helped knock down barriers and defy preconceptions, I decided to head to places that have significance in the LGBT history of the city for this week’s episode of The Rundown.

I took part in the Nike BeTrue run earlier this week – such a great show of camaraderie in the face of an attack that left this whole country – indeed the world – reeling. I know the running community has been standing strong, just as many others have, with those who were affected by the mass shooting.
Here is the route I ran, and also a mention of the stops.
For more info on The Stonewall Inn, click here, Cherry Lane Theater, here, and for more on the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, go here.
Also, as the police officer in the video so noted, the LGBT Community Centre on 13th and 7th Ave is a vital source of comfort and care for many people – so donate if you can, or just spread the word!

pridemap

I’ve had the good fortune of a being able to travel to London often enough to spend a few miles in the company of Run Dem Crew, a large group of fantastic people who make running through the streets of the city an adventure every time. The positive energy and heartfelt vibes of community come from the top, from the crew’s founder, Charlie Dark, aka Daddy Dark. He’s a very busy man – a poet, a teacher, a DJ, a writer – and so I was very happy to pin him down for a quick run through his hood in East London.
After the recent London Marathon, I sat in on the crew’s Tuesday night pre-run session, which they call Housekeeping. It’s when Charlie presents the medals that have been earned to the runners – most will write a note about the experience and he will congratulate them in front of their running family. A huge number of RDCers ran London so the whole night was taken over by talk of the marathon. I found myself tearing up over the stories I heard – people I didn’t know overcoming their own insecurities to take on the 26.2 miles of London town. What moved me most though, was the emotion from Charlie, a man who, after many years in the music business (some of them as part of the trip hop group Attica Blues), has “been there, done that,” and still has passion and pride to share with those around him.
I haven’t yet run London, but I did run the Hackney Half, while I was there, and got to experience the support and love of RDC first-hand. It’s not a stretch to say RDC made me appreciate London, and those who live there, in a new way. I’ve found that London can be cold – not just in weather – but they made me feel at home. Charlie, together with the likes of BridgeRunners here in NYC, has created an international network of crews that come together to support each other via various “bridge the gap” events. He’s also given us the idea of “cheer dem,” and his phrase to “do da ting” when it comes to running a race has permeated many Instagram feeds way beyond London.
I ran with him through Stratford, taking in some of the Hackney Half course to find out more about how running has left its mark on his life…
For more on Charlie, follow him here, and for more on Run Dem Crew, head over here

 

If you run in New York City, chances are you’ve run with Jessie Zapo. Back in the day, she ran with BridgeRunners, she co-founded Black Roses NYC, and leads runs through Brooklyn with Bkfast Club and Girls Run NYC. Originally from Ohio, Jessie and I met through Black Roses NYC, and Nike’s Montauk Project, which brought a handful of runners together for three weekends in August 2013. Jessie is a leader of the quiet, calm and effective kind, who’s support is invaluable when it comes to achieving any kind of running goal. She’s also an ace when it comes to creating the best holiday-themed cookies!
We went for a sunset run, on a very cold NYC Winter’s eve, and talked about how she began running, what’s kept her going, and why she believes the support of other runners can be so uplifting. Pour yourself a cuppa and join us on the run, through Dumbo and the oh-so-scenic Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Jessie will soon start up a therapy practice that brings running and art closer together, so do visit her site for more info on this, and, if you live in Brooklyn and feel like starting your morning off on the right foot (da-ta-ta), perhaps join in on a Bkfast Club run.
Find Jessie here and here.