How the Streets of NYC Helped Sam Anderson Clean Up His Act
If you didn’t know better, you’d swear the new United Airlines NYC Half course was designed specifically for Sam Anderson.
This Sunday, the heavily tattooed 36-year-old Brooklyn resident will follow a route that begins right by his apartment, proceeds over the Manhattan Bridge—his favorite East River crossing to run over—and cuts through the Lower East Side, where he’s made his name concocting creative cocktails as beverage director at the trendy Mission Chinese. Anderson will even get to run by the restaurant as he races uptown.
Alas, the course was not designed with Anderson in mind. It’s just another example of how seamlessly and serendipitously the sport of running his slotted into his life.
Anderson found running five years ago, when he was badly in need of some kind of change. The California native was depressed, drinking heavily, and grappling with a smoking habit he just couldn’t shake. It was actually his desire to ditch cigarettes that got him running the streets of NYC. After trying everything from the patch to hypnosis, he found that only workouts curbed his cravings.
“The feeling I had afterwards—definitely not during the run—was really euphoric and empowering,” Anderson says. “Though I would smoke heavily before a run, I wanted to smoke less afterwards. Gradually, the entire experience—the difficulty, the feeling of flying on the bridges and leaving one's body for a few moments, and then the euphoria afterwards—started to stick with me.”
In September 2013, not long after he’d gotten hooked on running, Anderson decided he wanted to tackle the New York City Marathon. He discovered NYRR’s 9+1 program and learned there was just enough time for him to run nine races and volunteer at one before the end of the year, thereby earning a spot in the 2014 New York City Marathon. He wound up finishing that race in 3:05, and he’s returned every year since. Later this year, Anderson will participate in the Eugene and Chicago marathons, and though he missed the entry drawing for the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon, he’s thinking of running for charity.
“It's always great to have a deeper reason to be racing beyond personal experience,” says Anderson. He’s running the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half for Ubuntu Pathways, an education-based charity that supports kids in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Looking ahead, Anderson says he’d like his lifetime mile count to surpass the number of cigarettes he smoked back before he quit. If he averages 60 miles a week, he’ll reach that goal sometime in his mid-50s. But he admits that’s an “artificial” way of staying motivated. There are plenty of other reasons to continue logging 80-plus miles a week and running races ranging from the unsanctioned Midnight Half, which he’s done three times, to the NYRR events he’s become so passionate about.
After all, the sport helped him quit smoking and limit his drinking to the point of abstaining during the week and sticking to wine as a means of weekend relaxation or celebration. Running has also helped him bring a fresh perspective to his work at Mission Chinese, where he oversees beer, wine, cocktails, and tea.
“The way that running has allowed me to reclaim my breath and my life has directly translated into a more creative life and way of looking at the world,” Anderson says. “That includes, but is not limited to, life at work. But I am definitely trying to not think about work when I am running.”