"It’s not just about growing as a runner, but as a person and a community advocate."
We recently caught up with Lisa Rivera, one of our Salty's Squad members and a pacer for Harlem Run, to talk about running, community, and life (not exactly in that order). She reminded us how community is a source of strength and how we as members of a community can be that strength for others.
For background, Harlem Run is a collective of runners passionate about running and community. Strong, positive, and diverse, they all call Harlem home. They welcome runners of all sizes, ages and abilities as they run the streets of their iconic neighborhood and get fit together.
And now our Q&A with Lisa!
How has being part of the Harlem Run community impacted your life?
Being part of the Harlem Run community has impacted me in many ways. When I first joined the Harlem Run community, I would say that I was a completely different person. I was more insecure and more unsure about life. I was placing doubts on things and especially myself. I thought I was taking care of past traumas, and at the time I was going through a divorce and shifting my eating and going to fitness classes. However, running, but especially the community of Harlem Run, just gave me a healthy outlet and gave me a way to not just take care of others, which I’m accustomed to doing, but do it in a different way, through fitness. Through this, I also took care of myself, which is so important. When you’re not taking care of yourself, it impacts those around you.
Harlem Run also consists of so many people from all parts of the world and with all different expertise. There are so many people that I would have never interacted with or met if it wasn’t for Harlem Run. I wouldn’t have so many of my current members of my tribe: my biggest supporters, my biggest cheerleaders, all people that I’ve met in the past six years or so. They have gone from acquaintances to friends, and some to what I consider family. They are some of the people that I hold dearest.
Harlem Run also pushed me to dream and think beyond the limits that I used to set for myself. I’ve learned about community and sports, networked, created proposals, strategized, created cue sheets and my own running routes, improved my Excel skills, just so many things. It’s not just about growing as a runner, but as a person and a community advocate.
I’ve enhanced my leadership skills. Harlem Run leadership and members are always encouraging me to do more despite my fear. I recall during lockdown I was so nervous teaching live workouts virtually vs in person but it was beautiful because it all happened organically and genuinely and honestly. If it wasn’t for Harlem Run, I would never have started the East Harlem walks or done my first RFP proposal and got an approval. If it wasn’t for Harlem Run I wouldn’t have pushed to own my own business or thought it was a possibility. This community connected me to hiking and getting on the bike. They helped me get comfortable with other workouts and connected me with my current fitness trainer. I met him years ago through Harlem Run.
This is such a difficult question because Harlem Run has impacted every portion of my life in every way. They’re just family - Harlem Run is family. It’s not just a Running Group. We are a movement. We are about creating a space that’s inclusive for people: feeling safe and included, feeling like there is somebody else like me there; they’re going to understand what I’m going through; I’m not alone.
"It’s about being seen, heard and really feeling safe, not feeling judged and not feeling alone."
Right now, so many of us continue to learn and grow and share the knowledge and information. It is really all about giving and caring and wanting people to keep moving and just live their best life! Better, healthier lives for themselves and their loved ones.
Long story short: Harlem Run has given me the ability to be vulnerable, honest, genuine and to be my truest self regardless of anything! It has given me confidence that I had lost, it helped me build a tribe that I surround myself with that is consistently pushing me to be a better version of myself! Harlem Run has given a space to be seen, heard, understood, to not feel alone, to be vulnerable, to be scared, to be anxious and so much more. Most importantly, Harlem Run is a community that has my back; they are some of my biggest supporters through everything even outside of running.
How has the past year changed your thinking about community and running groups (if it has changed) and what are you most looking forward to as we move toward a return to "normal"?
The past year has been challenging for many people in many ways. I’m not a homebody and was very difficult to be stuck at home at first during the lockdown, then continuing to work from home and becoming my mother’s caretaker after she suffered a severe heart attack and cardiac arrest due to clogged arteries that led to 5 stents. Afterward, my brother tested positive for Covid, then my mother had to get a defibrillator put in her heart so that was another surgery. It’s been very, very challenging to say the least. This is just the surface stuff that doesn’t include all the PTSD, anxiety, stress, and so many other emotions. Not having my running and other fitness outlets caused a lot of tension/stress not just at home, but internally for myself.
To get back to your question about how the past year changed my thinking about the community and the running groups - I’m just that much more appreciative of the communities that I am a part of, including Harlem Run. I’m even more appreciative of things like hugs and smiles in the community and just seeing people face-to-face.
Pre-Covid I wanted to help and give so much that I was always on the go, never said NO, always moving, planning, doing, volunteering; I was always busy. I was always on my phone. If I was on the train on the bus, I was multitasking. Sometimes I would be out to dinner and multitasking; so I believe Covid has given me a chance to take a break and breathe and realize the importance of community and TIME and putting your phone aside and enjoying one another’s company! It is not just for others and the community but also for yourself! The importance of self-care is so much more than just the surface things that we do like taking a day off, going to see a friend or taking a bath but really doing the hard work of the internal stuff that continues to show up for us in different ways!
So after COVID, I am so much more grateful for human smiles, touch, hugs, laughter, silence, dance, music, company, alone time and so much more. So how has the past year change my thinking about community and running groups overall: it has made me more appreciative of them and all the people like myself that continue to volunteer their time, their energy, skill sets, their support just to help others live a better and healthier life. Overall, this pandemic has taught me many lessons - to appreciate my health, my ability to move, and most importantly to appreciate my body and all it does for me day in and day out.
I think one of the biggest things I’m looking forward to is going on a Run-cation! I love being able to run races in person due to all the cheering and community feel. I also love traveling but when you can connect the two, it’s just heaven for me.
I'm also looking forward to being able to do more things with people. I miss doing community events and I hate turning people away because I know it’s very difficult to get out of bed, to get dressed, to even get out the door, to get on the train and then make it somewhere and because of Covid now there are a lot of capacity limits on groups/events and things. I am also looking forward to being able to meet new people and not having to turn anybody away. I haven’t seen a lot of people in my tribe for some time and I miss catching up with friends and loved ones face to face. Honestly, I just I really, really miss being around humans and engaging in various things like a drink at the bar, games, listening to some live band performing, picnics, and hugs.
What's the first thing you'd say to someone considering starting to run (either for fun/exercise or maybe signing up for their first 5k)?
Ideally a trainer and a training plan will help guide you, will keep you on track, will help keep you stay accountable and focused.
But I think the first thing I would say to someone considering starting to run is to just start. If you have no idea where, join a running group. Many of the running groups are free. I can’t speak for other states but in New York City I believe we have over 600 running groups and a good portion of them have no membership free. You just really show up and a few like us (Harlem Run) have different paces including walking, run/walking, and paces from 7-12 min/mile. There's always somewhere to fit in.
Another piece of advice: I would say start with baby steps. Set your goal to run for a minute, and walk for three. Or maybe you challenge yourself today try a Bridge and give yourself a different point on the bridge to run to before you walk for a while and keep pushing.
"Don't forget to celebrate all the steps you have achieved, even if it’s getting up, dressed and out the door..."
Keep challenging yourself and make sure you know your why, as our founder of Harlem Run Alison Desir has said for many years. Knowing your why and why you are doing this will play a huge role in your commitment to yourself and your development.
What's your favorite GU product/flavor to use on a run?
I have a few things that I love depending on what I am doing. However, specifically for a running, which I’m going to start training soon, I love love the ROCTANE Energy Gels. My favorite flavor is Pineapple. The elevated sodium is the perfect amount for me since I’m a salty sweater and I just love the sweetness 😊.