Members of the Bronx Sole running group. Photo: Christina Dabney
Members of the Bronx Sole running group. Photo: Christina Dabney

Bronx Sole encourages beginners to run at their own pace to get in shape

The cold air quickly turned from uncomfortable to refreshing as the runners moved through the streets of Mott Haven. Justin Mashia, 37, led the way, GoPro light in hand. When pedestrians offered a hi five or encouraging word, he ran back to offer a Bronx Sole business card and enthusiastic explanation. As teenagers chanted “yes we can”, the group waved and continued to their first historical landmark: the old Crystal Chemical Company building on East 134th Street in Port Morris.

Mashia says a few factors led him to create Bronx Sole earlier this year. He was tired of having to leave his home in the Bronx to travel outside the borough whenever he wanted to run with other people. He was also tired of his home borough’s perennial ranking as the unhealthiest county in New York state for seven years in a row, as gauged by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The group’s first run took place on Sept. 13 and they’ve met up every Tuesday since then. So far, there have typically been five or six participants for each run.

Mashia’s friend Pedro Rivera, 34, offered to help out with the project by incorporating cultural insights about some of the routes the new collective would take during its group runs. Mashia leads the pack while Rivera stays alongside the last runner, enabling everyone in the group to run at their own pace. As they move through the South Bronx, the group stops at landmarks and Mashia whips out his IPad to explain each site’s cultural significance.

Cassandra Walcott, 47, who works at 21st Century Fox with Mashia, has been running with the group since the beginning. A former Bronx resident, she now comes up from Harlem to join the others.

“It’s a running community that fosters the love of your home borough. Although it’s not my home borough (anymore), it fosters a love of the Bronx,” she said. “There’s a lot of rock stars of the running world. They’re a little showy. This one is more like a community. We’re going to take our time.”

Bronx County’s dismal showing in The Wood Foundation health study is based on several factors, including personal behavior, economics and clinical care. The report found that 29 percent of adults in the borough are obese, a condition which is linked to other health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

Mashia says he started running to cope with depression after the death of his grandmother. He credits running for pulling him out of that gloom.

“She held on for 18 hours. The nurse said she felt like she was waiting for someone, and it devastated me. Because it felt like she was waiting for me,” he said. “I found that running with other people made me feel better. When I would go there people were happy to see me. People were happy to sweat with each other. You’re all in it together.”

Mashia’s goal for Bronx Sole is to create multiple running/walking groups that can incorporate families and seniors who would participate at their own pace.

“I know if it pulled me out of a dark place, it can pull the Bronx out of the rut that we’re in,” he said.

Bronx Sole meets every Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. in front of The G Bar at 575 Grand Concourse and begins the run at 6:30pm. The group’s Instagram handle is @bronxsole.

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