It’s rare to see a political figure so committed to engaging with his constituents that he runs with them on Sunday mornings. We sent a writer to Roger Williams Park in Providence to go on the run with Mayor Jorge Elorza.
Every week, Providence's Mayor Jorge Elorza meets up with a group of citizens in Roger Williams Park for a three-mile run. I, on the other hand, am constantly making excuses not to run. “You just gotta start,” Mayor Elorza told me when we sat down to discuss his running group, which he’s been a part of since well before he was voted into office. “I love to run. You just focus on your breathing and your pace. I’ll think about the issues going on in the city, or in life. It’s meditative.”
To be honest I love to run too, or at least I did when I was in it. For a while I was going out every other day, anywhere from three to seven miles, and that meditative element was huge. The physical benefits of running are all pretty obvious and important, but those moments of mental clarity are criminally under-emphasized on fitness magazine covers and your friend’s post-Color Run selfies.
So on a drizzly Sunday morning I joined the mayor’s running group. Was I feeling confident in myself? Hardly. But this wasn’t a five-mile race or a Tough Mudder. This was three miles in the park with a group of 20 judgment-free strangers who were looking for and giving out motivation.
“We have an 80 year old and a six month old who come and everything in between,” the mayor had told me. “Everyone goes at their own pace. They run, they jog, they walk, whatever works for them.”
At just about 9am, we all set out together and the group quickly separated into several smaller units. I measured my own pace against the others and quickly found a zone I was comfortable with, confident in knowing that there was always someone to catch up to or, if I needed to slow down, someone else to run along with. It’s the kind of motivating that doesn’t need verbal encouragement. The sound of breathing and feet on pavement was all the cheerleading I needed.
The drizzling stopped shortly before we had started, and the colors of the trees were at peak autumn levels of ruby and orange, something even a jaded lifelong New Englander couldn’t help but be taken by. But runners be warned: those idyllic park views hide sinister inclines. Being a little more in shape would have helped, but if you’re a new runner or just coming back to it like I was, pace yourself early on to be better prepared for a handful of hills.
Another way of looking at it is those hills make the finish line feel that much sweeter. Looping back to the museum – technically a third of a mile over an even three – felt more significant than I remembered three miles feeling. I was wiped, but so were the runners who finished before and after me. Everyone swapped times and words of encouragement. Some were discussing the 100-day running challenges they were doing together. A woman in her late 50s handed out bottles of water to everyone.
“That’s the neat thing about the group on Sundays” the mayor had told me. “You know your friends are going to be out there; they motivate you, you motivate them and there’s a community that forms around it.”
As we all parted ways, a couple of the other runners asked how I felt and if they’d see me the following week. “I think so,” I told them. A beautiful park, camaraderie and a warm, fuzzy sense of accomplishment? Who wouldn’t go back?