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Just before dawn on Wednesday morning, a slightly bleary eyed Mary Cain walked into the NYRR RUNCENTER in Midtown Manhattan. NYRR staff milled about, preparing the space for its 7:00 a.m. opening. Some said hello, others let her be. Everyone knew her, of course, but it was quite early–and she was waiting for her running buddy, Alexi Pappas.
A few minutes later, the Greek national record holder in the 10,000 meters arrived with her husband, Jeremy Teicher, their cheeks flushed from the two chilly miles they ran there from their hotel. Pappas beelined to Cain and threw her arms around her. The two met seven years ago, at the start of their professional running careers. Though Pappas was 23 and Cain was 16, they became close friends and have remained so ever since.
Gradually, around two-dozen others filtered in. They had come for a group run, organized by NYRR and led by Cain and Pappas, who was in New York with Teicher to premiere their new film, Olympic Dreams. But for now, they were just two runners among the rest, eager to get in a few peaceful miles in Central Park before the craziness of the day.
Speaking to those who came (mostly women, but a few men as well), Pappas likened her friendship with Cain to a favorite sweatshirt, and glanced down at the eggshell mock turtleneck from her sponsor, Champion, she was wearing. “It’s just so comfortable, you know all the folds,” she said, tugging affectionately at the fabric. Cain, standing to Pappas’s left, smiled, blushed a little, and put her arm around her friend. “There’s only one person I’d get up at 5:30 in the morning for, and that’s Alexi,” she told the group.
Minutes later, all of the runners were on the bridle path in Central Park, a wide dirt road favored by local runners. As on any group run, conversations flowed organically from one topic to another as people met and got to know each other. Mutual race experiences, how training has been going, and life beyond running were all bandied about as easily as the miles ticked by. After the run, everyone gathered for photos with Pappas and Cain, no longer as members of an audience, but as people who had just enjoyed their morning run together.
And that’s the thing about the running community–it really is just that. Once a group is moving as one, whether in a world-famous race or in a local 5K or on an easy run through Central Park, everyone is on the same level. As the sport continues to grow, this type of camaraderie reminds us not of the distinctions that might separate us, but of all that we have in common. Some of us may be Olympians, others just starting, but we’re all on the same dirt.
As Mary remarked after the run, “Few things make me as happy as going for a run with one of my best friends, and it was made extra special thanks to NYRR for inviting new friends to join us.”