Throughout the pandemic, the running world has been uniquely affected. While outdoor exercise is generally permitted, limitations to group gatherings have resulted in many races going virtual, including the 2020 New York City Marathon. For North Brooklyn Runners, a local running collective that’s free to join, this has meant revisiting and rethinking how the group operates.
In early March of last year, shortly before the government declared widespread shelter-in-place measures, North Brooklyn Runners announced the cancellation of group runs, both official and unofficial. Becca Ades, the current North Brooklyn Runners president, was a sitting member of the board back in March and witnessed the decision firsthand.
“I was lucky to be able to engage with what different members would like to see out of NBR at a time of such uncertainty. Running to me, personally, has always been as much about a sense of community as the running itself. It was important when I became president to really think about what we could do to put the team spirit aspect of NBR front and center. I am incredibly lucky that I have a team of board members who feel incredibly passionate about NBR bringing positivity to both our community and our members’ daily lives. It definitely takes a village to keep our club running!” Ades said.
Part of that village includes run leaders, who, pre-pandemic, were responsible for organizing and navigating the group’s daily runs, ranging from distance-based routes to track and interval training that typically kicked off in McCarren Park. In the new year, run leaders have been uniquely tasked with the group’s pilot run program, an attempt to return to a semblance of the prior training schedule, this time with masks, limited capacities, and mandatory RSVPs.
Jennifer Herr, who leads a Saturday morning run over the Williamsburg Bridge and a Monday morning run in Bed Stuy, has felt buoyed by the opportunity to run with a group again.
“It’s been great restarting the group workouts as a run leader; I’m happy to share my weekly runs with others again,” Herr expressed. “The club has done a great job communicating safety protocols and procedures and all the runners who’ve joined me have been very respectful in adhering to the rules, waivers, and sign-up processes, so I don’t feel very much pressure at all.”
The community connection extends beyond just runs as NBR strives to make a positive impact by connecting with charity organizations and supporting local businesses, including a “Partner of the Month” initiative highlighting favorite North Brooklyn hangouts.
“Giving back to the community has always been a fundamental part of NBR, and it’s nice to see [the initiative] out there and visible on our social media channels, especially in a time when many of our local businesses are struggling,” Ades explained. “We’ve also been extremely lucky to have one of our members, Dante Pilkington, step up as outreach coordinator to connect our members to local volunteer opportunities and charities in the community.”
Pilkington stepped into the role of community outreach coordinator in Fall 2020 and has since led efforts to assist local mutual aid organizations, food banks, COVID vaccination centers, and even the Hunts Point Produce Market strike.
“New York is in the midst of a major crisis. Two million New Yorkers are food insecure. North Brooklyn Runners has a surfeit of able-bodied young people, who by the very nature of the sport they enjoy, are very driven and motivated. I look for opportunities to channel that energy to the most high-need parts of the community,” Pilkington said. “It means a lot for someone who is in the position of power a lot of the North Brooklyn Runners are to step up. It says ‘Hey, I care about the community that we share’ and that speaks volumes — especially in areas of Brooklyn that have been greatly impacted by gentrification.”
Acknowledging said gentrification and other diversity and inclusion efforts has also been of paramount importance to the NBR board, particularly in light of 2020’s movement for racial justice after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd (after which former NBR President Brinda Ayer shared the group’s antiracist stance), and Breonna Taylor.
“We’ve worked to establish diversity coordinator positions on NBR, amplify running events led by people of color in the running community, and are currently in the beginning stages of planning DEI trainings for all our run leaders and coordinators to attend as they function as the ambassadors to our club,” Ades said. “As a club with a large white population, it has also been important for us to look inward at how our policies are playing out in real time. We’ve noticed that at certain runs or events we host, there are more diverse crowds than others. I think it’s important to think deeply about what’s happening in some spaces and not at others to promote inclusion in our club.”
With a focus on community, inclusion, safety, and support, the hope is that the club will come out of the other side of the pandemic stronger than ever. For more information on becoming a part of North Brooklyn Runners, visit northbrooklynrunners.org.