Find a Group, Find a Love (Bklyn)

by Jeremy Willner

I hated to run.  Running for running’s sake has never been its own motivation.  Sure, I understand the health benefits and the positive impacts it has, but that wasn’t enough.  Seems odd to read that on a blog devoted to a workout group, but for me, it has always been that way.  Now, throw in an activity, that might also have to do with running and I am all in. I’ve always been that way.  

From as far back as I could remember I had always wanted to be part of one team or another.  Always had the desire to be part of the group. Something bigger than myself. I just never felt that running would help.  Oh sure, I knew I needed to run the bases, chase the ball down the field, execute the button-hook. I only did those things because it was part of the game. I hated to run.  I’d do everything I could to play, to be part of the team. So I looked for the things that didn’t require me to run. Play defense? Done. Need a goalie? They hardly move, I’m so there.  Don the tools of ignorance at catcher? Sure, I only have to squat, so why not? As a result, I was slow as molasses.

I’d rather look at the ball than chase it

My dad likes to tell this story from when I was playing little league baseball at 13/14: Standing on 2nd base the kid at bat hits a shot that is a sure-fire inside the park home run. Except that rounding for home, he had to slow down because he caught up to me before I could cross the plate. But that didn’t matter to me.  Doing the activity and being part of the team was what I wanted.

It wasn’t until I got to high school that the thought of running as the activity even entered my consciousness.  Though I would I fight it to laughable proportions, I told myself I was slow and there was no one I was going to beat so why try. My parents pushed, and pushed, and pushed me to join the track team, but I would have none of it. I got so frustrated, that in the middle of another argument about it, I ran out of the house (ignoring the irony) and climbed a tree in my backyard to avoid continuing the conversation.

What I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t be joining a program focused on individuals where you were out there on your own like I expected.  I had the good fortune to be at a school with a legendary track coach, Rich Gebauer. Mr. G as we called him, would win 24 county titles, 10 sectional crowns, 7 state championships, and amass a 207-17 dual meet record as my school’s cross country and track coach.  Of which I would contribute none. But that didn’t matter. There was a sense of purpose, pride, encouragement, and drive for every member of that team to push and challenge each other.  It just didn’t matter if you finished first or 50th. Everybody was treated the same, striving for the same goal, accomplishing the same thing, being better every day.

I learned to enjoy running as part of this group. Setting goals, pushing past them, and setting more.    

I lost that after high school.  And for the two decades that followed.  I tried to recapture it a few times. Picking up a run here or there.  Joining a gym but always finding an excuse not to go. I even got it in my head to train for the NYC marathon once. That lasted less than 2 months.  Running by itself, and by myself, became something I’d started to hate again.

My running buddy Peabody

Then I got a dog.  My buddy, Peabody. We’d go out for a few miles here and there and it was fun.  I’d tell myself that I was doing it for him. We’d go out for a while and come back.  Nothing too difficult, but still sporadic. Then one morning we happened to be in Fort Greene Park and saw a whole slew of people out in crazily spray-painted shirts.  It was there that I met Sierra and I was so impressed by this group of 40 people all running and inspiring each other. Sierra seemed to know every person there and encouraged me to come back the next week.  Most importantly, to bring Peabody. I was amazed that this was a thing. All these people were out running together. I hadn’t seen that for a long time.

So I did.  I came back for my first workout on what would be the first NP Brooklyn yearbook photo day.  I was welcomed with the strange introduction, ritual, and chant. Told to run up and down stairs.  Got one of my all-time favorite pictures taken with Peabody. And it ended with this guy dressed as a knight who got a stick thrown to him. I had no idea what was going on. It was a bit crazy and I loved it.  

It became a weekly ritual with Peabody.  The two of us would come for the rest of the summer and the following fall.  I started to enjoy running again. I would add a few days here and there, even signed up for my first race in 21 years that fall.  But it wasn’t until the following May, at the 2018 Brooklyn Half, where I truly rediscovered what I loved about running.

May the force (of November Project) be with us all

Donning a chicken hat on a rain-soaked day, I joined Jeanie, and Rob, and a number of other NP’ers at a cheer station for the first time.  I was absolutely blown away by the cheerers. So many of us lost our voices yelling and chanting. Giving out countless high-fives. Plus the drive and dedication of the runners I saw.  It didn’t matter how fast or how long they were out there. They were going to do this thing and do it with the support of this amazing group. It was so inspiring to me that I went home and signed up for five races that summer, plus a half marathon in the fall.  

I’ve rediscovered my love of running with November Project.  This ragtag mix of people might change from week-to-week or month-to-month, but will always support and lift up everyone around them.  I’ve found inspiration in people I’d never have connected with. Been pushed to accomplish my best from the cheer lines, and guided by new friends every week.  I now have set my sights on the Chicago Marathon in October and the New York Marathon next year. One thing is certain…without November Project none of it would be possible.  

Sailing into a bright future for November Project

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