How to Achieve Balance When Living, Working, and Running in NYC
New York City’s most dedicated club runners log super-high mileage, show up to intense group workouts several times a week, and finish on top at weekend races—all while juggling careers, families, and social lives.
What are their secrets to doing it all? We had to find out, so we invited a group of busy club runners—some who run competitively, others who run socially—to the NYRR RUNCENTER last week for a panel discussion all about life balance. Here’s what we learned:
They wake up before 6 a.m. As panelists told the audience about their daily routines, we quickly noticed a trend: These runners are early risers.
“I wake up at 4:15, and I’m out the door by 4:45,” said Rob McCombs, who co-leads November Project’s 5:28 a.m. and 6:28 a.m. workouts in Manhattan. After coaching up to 150 people between the two sessions, he heads to the office, picks up a bag that he’s stored there the day before, showers at a nearby gym, and then goes back to work.
In the South Bronx, Theodora Brooks wakes up by 4:00 a.m. on Tuesdays to join Black Girls Run for a 5:00 a.m. workout. “We are mothers, we are people who have to go to work by 7:30, and so we try to be flexible and meet people where they are,” she said.
“I run my own business, so I’m responsible for myself,” said Alan Novie, team captain of the Queens-based Witold’s Runners. “I have to find the time to fit running in, and I usually do it early in the morning. I get up at 5:30 or 6:00 and run an hour and a half alone or with teammates.”
Their communities keep them going. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning takes a decent amount of self-discipline, sure. But being part of a team is a no-brainer way to keep yourself accountable.
“Before I lived in the city, I was commuting from Nyack, New York, to come to November Project just because the atmosphere was infectious,” said McCombs. “It’s a lot of really positive people—the energy, the encouragement you get form others, the smiles. You get a bunch of people together at that time of day—they’re not getting up because they have to, they’re volunteering to get up.”
“One of the things we remind each other is that no woman is left behind,” said Brooks “There are people who run fast, and people who are just getting starting—and I see myself as one to welcome and encourage everyone.”
“When you’re running with somebody, you can motivate each other—whatever level you’re at—to keep going, to keep racing, to keep yourself in shape,” said Novie, whose team is made up of primarily older adults focused on racing competitively. “If you don’t, your energy level drops and you just fall backward.”
They’re not just thinking about themselves. Whether it means taking on a leadership role or finding a 1:1 running buddy, club runners are keen on sourcing motivation from their teammates.
“I know that somebody is depending on me to work as hard as I can, so that they can work as hard as they can to benefit us both,” said Stephanie Herrick, a local elite runner and member of Central Park Track Club.
“Your performance is micromanaged by the coach and other teammates, and if you’re not performing up to your potential, you’re told you’ve gotta put more in to get more out,” explained Novie. “That’s how I stay motivated to keep performing at a level that everyone around me expects.”
They never say they’re “too busy.” Herrick’s made a habit of running at 5:15 p.m.—even if that means returning to the office to continue working till 8:30 p.m. once she’s logged her miles.
She’ll also use that time to see friends. “We’re all busy—but that’s an hour to socialize,” she said. “A regular run at conversation pace keeps the run at an appropriate pace and lets you catch up.”
Brooks, a mother of two whose husband works out of state, relies on help from neighbors to make morning runs possible. “Having a family—especially younger children—can be a challenge," said. "You just have to work around their schedules, make it work somehow. You hear your coach’s voice in your ear.”
“Running isn’t something that I try to make room for, it’s something I have to make room for,” said Novie, “because I’m a dedicated runner and most of the people I run with are dedicated runners.”
They recognize that RUNNING IS HARD. And they have hacks for getting through less than ideal training days.
“If you know it’s going to be a terrible run, leave the watch at home,” Herrick suggested. You know where your 3-, 5- or 6-mile loops are. Do your run and simply log that your miles were done at an “easy pace.”
For Brooks, guilt is a good thing. When she sees a teammate post “Long run, done!” on Facebook, that’s all she needs to lace up.
If all else fails, think back to your last race—or ahead to your next one. Novie put it like this: “There’s this energy that we feel when we line up with our groups at a race—an energy that radiates through everyone who’s there, whether they’re volunteering or running, at the front or at the back.”
Feeling inspired to run now? We thought so.