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Running is
a Gift

This year, the miles meant more.

For Gavin, a school principal, they’re a way to deepen his connection with his community. For Sam, a nurse, they’re a respite from the daily challenges of work. For Ash, a photojournalist, they’re a reminder that each battle is fought in the moment. For Mary, an elite runner, they’re a road back to where she wants to be.

Sam Roecker

Runner & Otorhinolaryngology Nurse

Sam started 2020 with a nagging injury that kept her from racing at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta. Then came Covid and a new “normal” for a nurse, whose job in ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) involves treating patients who present some symptom of the disease. It’s stressful and hard to navigate positively, especially when there appears to be no end in sight.  Or as Sam says, “It’s pretty daunting.”

Returning to running has been Sam’s respite from long days and nerve-wracking situations. “Having something that’s relatively unchanged has been helpful,” she says. While coming back from injury over the spring, the challenges of lockdown life helped her get outside of her comfort zone with running. She explored new, less crowded routes and trails. Found new tracks to train on when her usual spots got closed. Wherever she went, the outcome was the same: one hour to work hard and forget about everything else.

Now back feeling fit and eager for a challenge, she’s closing out 2020 with her first and only race of the year, The Marathon Project on December 20th in Scottsdale, Arizona. As an amateur used to competing against pros and coming to the line with a bit of a chip on her shoulder, she’s excited for the back-to-basics nature of the race. “Everyone’s there because they want to be there,” she says. “They’re doing it because they just want to race and show what they’ve done. ” For Sam, that means proving that she’s stronger than ever.

Gavin Smith

Runner & Associate Head of School

As a school principal, Gavin Smith’s job was already stressful. This year only added to the strain, with upheaval and 12 hour days the norm. When we met him for his usual morning run near his home in Roxbury this fall,  he had just gotten word that his school was returning back to full-time online learning within the next 24 hours. In a year of change, the only thing that has been consistently positive is running. Six days a week, Gavin gets out the door. On weekdays, he’s out before the sun, leaving by 6:15 a.m and tracing his way through Dudley Square to the Fens or Esplanade and back. He’s not a coffee drinker, but his energy comes from being out in his community, waving at the faces that have become familiar through his routine. 

It’s not something he takes for granted. A few years ago, an injury made him recognize just how precious movement could be. Volunteering as a guide for visually impaired runners only deepened that appreciation. “Those individuals never complained once,” he says. “They were just happy to get out.” As a Black man running in Boston since 2008, he knows that his runs send a message, not only in his Roxbury neighborhood but to the wider community. There was a long time when he’d show up to  B.A.A. races and not see a single face that looked like him. “Distance running isn’t equated with Blackness,” he says. “Folks know that needs to change. But there are barriers: community, socio-economic status. Public schools have no track teams, college programs are being cut.”  Sometimes his students will see him running, and wave or take a Snap Chat video. All of this,  Gavin says, “Makes running a revelatory thing for me.”

Ashley Gilbertson

Runner & Photojournalist

A photojournalist who has documented war and crisis around the globe, Ash Gilbertson is not used to staying in one place for extended periods of time. For the past ten months, every single day, he’s been photographing New York City, chronicling the transformations happening just outside his door. 

For Ash, running is an opportunity to enter the fray. “At its most basic, running teaches me that each battle is fought in the moment.” He relishes the challenge and the opportunity to fight for improvement. “I am an idealist, I want to fight for it,” He says, “I’m not going to be an Olympian, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to run.” 

Up at 5:30 a.m to work, he often runs in the evening, taking in the city in the dark and finding a rhythm in its chaos. His favorite workout is a long tempo, where he can push hard and then hang on. “You get to Mile 1 and you feel great,” He says. “Get to Mile 2 and you think ‘This is amazing.’ Then Mile 3 and 4 hits and it’s just death. Overcoming that death to me, that’s reinforcing my outlook on life. I get back from a tempo, decimated. But I feel like I can take on the world.”

There’s symmetry between his running and photography. Both require a single-minded commitment to a moment, an ability to find meaning in the mundane. “There’s nothing else,” he says. 

Mary Cain

Runner & Community Manager

Mary Cain isn’t big on resting. After sharing her story with the New York Times in November 2019, she raced her first indoor season in three years and was aiming to qualify to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June 2020. She joined Tracksmith, diving headfirst into a full-time job as our New York Community Manager and gamely adapting her role to the realities of Zoom life. She moved apartments and joined Voice in Sport as a mentor for young female athletes. Despite all the challenges of lockdown and the uncertainty of when she’d get to race again, Mary kept moving forward, relentlessly committed to her goals.

And then, she stopped. Sometimes timing can be fortuitous. Not racing this summer gave her the opportunity to investigate nagging hip pain, and ultimately landed her in surgery for hip impingement. Afraid of a fall lockdown, her doctors pushed to get it done in at the end of July.  Twelve weeks of recovery and by late October, Mary was running again. She started on the Alter-G, eased her way into treadmill work, and is now finally back out running in Central Park.

Is this where she thought she’d be when 2020 started? Certainly, not. But sit down with Mary for ten minutes and you’ll realize quickly, she’s not interested in what’s expected. She’s re-writing the rules anyway.

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