I think it’s important to show people that you can be part of a healthy community through something like running.
Halfway through mile 19 of the New York City Marathon, runners find themselves on the Willis Avenue Bridge, pushing themselves slightly uphill into the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx. They’ll then take a left turn down East 135th Street, trying their best to stave off the dreaded “wall,” but if they were to take a detour down Alexander Avenue, they might find themselves in front of the Thinkubator Café, a coffee shop that also houses a nonprofit that trains teenage entrepreneurs and acts as a community space.
It's here where Sharon Tonge walks in one rainy morning and orders a matcha latte and banana bread. Sharon, a dancer and promotional model, was born and raised in the Bronx. She fell in love with running while she was studying upstate at Syracuse almost through necessity. Sharon didn’t have a car, so running was how she explored the area around her, getting lost on the trails and roads before finding her way back to her dorm.
Sharon continued running NYC after moving there post-graduation. First, she lived in Harlem, then Coney Island for a decade before rising rents eventually guided her back to the Bronx, to Morris Heights, which she describes as “crowded, but family-oriented,” and where “people know they’re there for the struggle.”
The Bronx has a reputation of being rough and it makes you street smart, but at the same time, it builds togetherness. It feels safe once you know that there’s people around you that you can trust and who care about you—we’re all looking out for each other. There’s a lot of community here.
That community includes Mile Style, Tonge’s home run crew that has a mission to promote health and wellness through running in the Bronx. Mile Style meets every Wednesday evening in Hunts Point, leading runners of all “faces and paces'' through the different environments the South Bronx has to offer: within the site of a former concrete plant that’s been revitalized as a waterfront park; through the 13-acre Starlight Park, which offers athletic fields and playgrounds; along Southern Boulevard, which runs along the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden; through Soundview Park, which is known as the “Gateway to the Bronx River” and has a track field, amphitheater, and stunning waterfront views of the South Bronx and Manhattan.
One of the locations Mile Style runners are familiar with, will also be the scene of the first-of-a-kind Bronx homegrown 5k race organized by a collective of runners who have their roots in the Bronx: Sol Rivera, Miguel Hernandez, and Alex Felicier, the co-founders of Race the Bronx, taking place on April 9.
Rivera and Hernandez run with Mile Style, which Hernandez founded, while Felicier coaches and runs with another crew he founded, 718. When Tonge learned that the race was being put together by runners she knew in her own backyard, she jumped at the chance to sign up.
"Sol and Miguel and Alex—they’re amazing,"she says, "and why not be a part of history too? It’s such a big step—getting a company that’s solely for the Bronx, doing races that are only in the Bronx—I don’t think there’s any other companies like that."
Sharon’s putting in the work too, training with Mile Style week-in and week-out to get speed in her legs. “This is going to be just like running with them, but a little faster!” she says, laughing. She doesn’t have a goal in mind except to “do the best that I can and run as fast as I can.” She credits her friend Jay, a fellow Mile Styler, who sometimes wakes her up at 4 a.m. to do runs and hill repeats and pushes her to become a better runner.
It’s this community and team atmosphere in the Bronx that helps runners collectively improve and perform together. In 2020, when the New York City Marathon was canceled due to the pandemic, Mile Style organized an unsanctioned marathon route that took place entirely in the Bronx. It was Sharon’s first marathon and she’ll always remember the way the local crews came out to support the runners and provide good vibes in addition to hydration and snacks. Anyone who’s ever run the New York City Marathon, who’s made it across Willis Avenue Bridge and into the Bronx, knows that the energy and moral support from Bronx residents on the sidelines is unparalleled.
“I think it’s important to show people that you can be part of a healthy community through something like running,” Tonge says. “Here in the Bronx, I don’t know, for some reason, I feel like we’re all just working so hard and coming home and tending to our families, that working on our health can be the last thing on our minds. So why not be part of a community that wants to get people’s minds there? I think that’s the number one thing that even got me into wanting to be a part of a running group in the Bronx."
Bandit invites you to race the Soundview 5K on April 9th in the Bronx - for more information visit the Race the Bronx website.