How do you know the Bronx? Maybe as the birthplace of hip-hop or as the tumultuous burning borough during the 70’s. Maybe you’ve been to the Bronx Zoo or the New York Botanical Garden. Here’s a very relevant fact to maybe shift your perspective: the Bronx has the most green space of any borough in New York City. Did you also know it has a deep history of running and racing: Van Cortlandt Park has been a mecca for cross-country racing for more than a century.
If you know, you know. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t seem to know, which is why Miguel Hernandez, Sol Rivera, and Alex Felicier got together to form Race the Bronx (RTBX), a new company with the mission to bring races to the streets and parks of the Bronx while highlighting the best of what the borough has to offer.
You may know Miguel as the founder of Mile Style, a run crew he started five years ago after he learned that the Bronx was ranked as the unhealthiest county in New York. Most running crews were based in Manhattan and Brooklyn; Hernandez wanted to cultivate a local crew that could help make the Bronx a more healthy and active community.
If you’ve run in the Bronx, chances are, you’ve seen Sol. She is originally from the South Bronx and was one of the earliest members of Mile Style. Sol started running as a way to help manage her anxiety, but also found a family and community within the crew—now best friends and soul sisters joined at the hip.
Alex is from Crotona Park and has lived there his whole life. A high school and college runner, he started the run crew 718 during the pandemic and eventually met Miguel and Sol through the running community in the Bronx.
What is their upcoming race?
On April 9, RTBX will hold its inaugural race, a 5k at Soundview Park. We spoke with the three RTBX co-founders to learn more about how they formed their race company, what future programming might look like, and what people seem to get wrong about the Bronx.
What’s the story behind how RTBX was formed?
Sol Rivera: The conversation behind racing in the Bronx has been going around with a lot of the crews back and forth for the last few years. I know I've had a few conversations with Miguel throughout the years, and eventually I met Alex at a race and we were just talking. The next thing you know, we're putting together Race the Bronx. It just happened so organically.
Everything happens downtown and even though there are a couple of races that happen here in the Bronx, I think in our heads we were like, ‘man, you know, we are from here. This is our hood.’ Like, why can't we just do this for ourselves and bring this to the community more than just once or twice a year?
Alex Felicier: You don’t see that many people running up here outside of the groups. How do we get more kids involved? That’s a really big part. And to show all the beautiful parks we have. That’s one reason we picked Soundview—it’s a really pretty park, nobody really does anything in it. We don’t have a Central Park, Prospect Park. So our courses are going to be fun and funky and sometimes you’re going to hit a trail, you’re going to hit some crazy turns.
Miguel Hernandez: We want to help change the health landscape of the Bronx. And the best way we know how is through the sport of running.
How did you decide that you wanted to start with a 5k and do it in Soundview Park?
SR: Alex is the one who comes up with the courses. I think starting with a 5k, there’s a higher percentage of runners who tend to run that distance, anything over that and it’s going to be less people participating.
AF: Soundview is on the East River and there’s an amphitheater and the green space is really nice. I think it’s a park people really don’t know about and we just need to showcase the Bronx. People know about Pelham Bay Park, people know about Van Cortlandt Park, but people don’t know about Soundview.
MH: It’s a gem of a park in the Bronx. I really feel like when people show up and race this, they’re going to get a lot more than what they bargained for, in a good way. There are people who come from the Bronx who have never seen that park before and they’re going to be shocked that it’s there. It will put on full display just the beauty of the Bronx and what we have and hopefully it’ll make people want to come back to the Bronx for our next race.
How many races are you hoping to do in a typical year, and what kind of programming can we expect to see?
MH: We’re looking at between four to six races a year. We’re already looking towards our next race, which should be a shorter distance. Then, maybe some trails will be involved - something along Orchard Beach at some point, possibly.
AF: I think in the distant future, two or three years, we’ll get a half and a whole marathon in the Bronx. We’ve got Van Cortlandt Park in our backyard, so definitely some 5k and 10k trail runs. And then hopefully some indoor track and outdoor track as well.
What are each of your favorite running routes in the Bronx?
SR: My favorite route to run is Maritime College. You can see both bridges [Whitestone Bridge and Throgs Neck Bridge] when you’re running by the water. And when you go during the sunrise, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s also good on your knees because they have that red tarp on the track, what's it called, Alex, help me out.
SR: Yeah, so they have that going around.
MH: I currently live not too far from Pelham Bay Park, which is the largest park in New York City, right? It’s a huge, massive park that also encompasses Orchard Beach. It’s right next to City Island and there is a really nice path that goes down Pelham Parkway over to Pelham Bay Park. It’s just gorgeous and quiet with not so much traffic. And the good thing about it is that, you can kind of stretch the distance out to whatever you want—a six-mile run; you can do 18 miles just from where I live.
AF: Wow, Miguel took my route, let me think. There’s the Bronx River Parkway, which is absolutely gorgeous. It goes along the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens and is really, really nice. It's very well paved and you’re surrounded by trees. It’s part of the Bronx Forest, which, when you think about the Bronx, you don’t think of a forest being here. I feel it’s underutilized because you don’t see a lot of people running.
What’s a misconception you think people have about the Bronx that you’d like to correct to get more people running up there?
MH: That the Bronx is just bodegas and liquor stores and project buildings and syringes on the floor, right? I mean, yes, there are those things in the Bronx. But there's also that in every other borough—Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, you have all those same things.
The Bronx has amazing green space. You can really find yourself in the middle of a beautiful oasis when you're running out there, right? If you run in Pelham Bay Park, or Van Cortlandt or to Soundview, you will really find yourself enjoying your run, whether it’s a speed workout or a long run or just a casual run. And even if you don't hit the parks, even if you're just hitting the streets, it’s not very different from running the streets in other boroughs. Like, I've run the streets of Downtown Manhattan during rush hour and that shit is insane. Tons of taxis and random cars and bikers. The Bronx doesn't have that much traffic, right? I mean, we do, but it's not as crazy as Downtown Manhattan is.
The Bronx has always sort of been the last to get things. Even Staten Island gets shit first—Staten Island has a Nike store! We’re finally getting one, but that’s something that’s always irked me. We don’t even have a Trader Joe’s? We are an outstanding borough with millions of people of all different creeds and colors. Smart, intelligent, resilient, amazing people. One of the pioneers of long-distance running—Ted Corbitt—is from Van Cortlandt. Anyway, I’m just rambling because I will defend the Bronx to the death.
SR: I just want our stories to be seen. We have so many people of color, runners who are excited about running, and I want people to see that we’re here and aren’t going anywhere. I want to be able to highlight everything we have to offer in the Boogie Down. We love this sport and we’re going to make a name for ourselves.
Time for a lightning round. What’s your favorite running shoe?
MH: Nike Pegasus.
AF: Pegasus, yeah.
SR: Pegasus! I love them.
Favorite thing to eat after a run?
MH: Bagels. Some kind of bread.
SR: Does coffee count? I can’t drink coffee before runs, though right after, it’s like, I have to have my cup of coffee.
AF: Mango! Mango juice.
What’s your favorite place to hang out after a group run?
AF: Kingsbridge Social Club.
SR: Boogie Down Grind!
MH: Boogie Down Grind is a coffee shop right in the Bronx not far from where Mile Style meets up. It’s Black-owned, hip-hop themed, and attracts a lot of people in the local community. They’re very hospitable and gracious to Mile Style and let us leave our belongings there while we go for a run, stretch, and all that stuff.
Morning run, afternoon, or evening?
SR: I’m a morning runner.
MH: Afternoon. Or night.
What is your favorite race distance?
SR: The mile!
MH: I don’t know, man. I mean, it’s either the 5k or half marathon.
AF: 800 meters. It was the only race I used to like in high school and I got to college and my coach was like, ‘no, you’re not an 800-meter runner, you’re a miler.’ But I still like the 800.