By Natalie Zisa
Running may seem like a solo sport, but something tells me the numerous run crews in New York would beg to differ. For Miguel Hernandez, founder of Mile Style, a run crew based in the Bronx, he fell in love with running when he was able to share it with other people.
“It’s this euphoric kind of feeling. We were all discovering the sport for the first time and I experienced this level of freedom,” says Miguel.
But when he switched from running on the track to the streets, he noticed few others joined him. Not only were there few other runners, but most people gave him weird looks.
“I got short shorts on, running sneakers and gear, running through the hood. I would get stared down because they’re just not used to seeing anyone run out here,” adds Miguel.
The lack of a run community in the Bronx peaked Miguel’s interest in to the borough’s health statistics. Unfortunately, the results weren’t optimistic. Miguel found out that the Bronx had been ranking as the most unhealthy county in New York State for the past 7 years. And 2020 makes it almost 10 years straight.
“I told myself that I have to help change this the best way I know I can and that’s through the sport of running. I was inspired by other groups like WRU (We Run Uptown) and what they’ve done with their community in Washington Heights and I wanted to bring that to the Bronx,” he shares.
Naturally, this led to the creation of Mile Style. When forming the run crew, Miguel was very intentional about picking a name. He purposefully didn’t want to include the word running or runners knowing it can be intimidating to anyone trying the sport for the first time. The word mile gave it a run element, but allowed for some word play.
Miguel spread the word throughout the NYC run community and Mile Style launched its first run on June 28th, 2017 with about 30 people. But after that, the hype quickly fell and Miguel was only joined by about two or three people on a weekly basis.
“That was probably the hardest thing at the beginning. I thought I would be able to attract a lot more people, but that’s not how it works. It takes time to build something,” says Miguel.
Regardless, they kept meeting every week and through word of mouth, the group started to grow. Before the coronavirus pandemic, their group runs were reaching 45-50 people, a number that Miguel takes a lot of pride in. He also takes pride in the diversity of his group, sharing that everyone brings a different element to the crew.
Whether it’s in personality, age, gender, shape and size, or race, the word diversity isn’t used lightly. Miguel’s work in the Bronx is equally as important due to the lack of representation Black and brown people have in the sport.
“The sport of running is such a white sport,” says Miguel. “And there’s a laundry list of reasons why.”
“The sport of running is such a white sport.”
Two specific reasons include a lack of basic education in health and wellness and a lack of funding in underserved schools and communities.
“I feel like we’re missing a lot of information beyond the physical education class. We don’t have access to healthy food. We have tons of fast food restaurants and liquor stores. We have corner stores that sell nothing but candy and sodas. And that really affects not only the adults, but the kids. They go to the corner store and pick up a Pepsi and Devil’s Food Cake and think, I’m satisfied.”
Beyond that, Miguel says kids are pushed to join other sports like basketball and football, which generally require a lot of resources and equipment. Meanwhile, there are a lot of schools that don’t have tracks and communities that don’t have clean public spaces.
“We’re stuck in these communities with buildings, concrete, steel and glass. There are no outdoor spaces available for these kids to enjoy, to run through. There are a lot of better served communities with the type of funds and income that allow for tons of open space and beautiful roads. And unfortunately, a lot of people of color don’t have that.”
Miguel admitted that as much as he loves running in the Bronx (he recently completed a marathon throughout the whole borough), it can also be difficult. Between the traffic and the congestion, it doesn’t make for the safest running environment. And though Miguel is aware that Mile Style has the potential to expand beyond the borough, his focus remains unchanged.
“The main focus is always going to be the Bronx. That’s where my mind and my heart are right now,” he shares. “I just want to make sure that the Bronx is okay. And of course if we do branch off into different areas of New York or the tri-state, that requires leadership outside of my control. So ideally yes, I would love for it to be bigger than the Bronx, but that’s a long-term goal.”
In the meantime, Mile Style is adjusting to running in our new normal. Lacing up now includes a mask, hand sanitizer, and keeping a 6 feet distance. But the heart of the crew is the same.
“People of color are not in the world of running the way I would like them to be, but we’re trying to change that,” emphasizes Miguel.
“People of color are not in the world of running the way I would like them to be, but we’re trying to change that.”
For Mile Style, that means prioritizing inclusivity. Their weekly Wednesday runs ensure that no one is left behind, no matter your pace or fitness level. They encourage beginners to join and live for the transformation moments. Miguel recalls one member in particular who went from running an 11-minute mile to completing half marathons. And he’s most proud when the people who started running for the first time with Mile Style are now able to teach others.
“That’s always been one of the goals. To simply educate people and help them understand that there’s a great life you can live by being healthy.”
All photos courtesy of @MileStyle.