From Bronx Sole's Facebook page, Oct. 2019.

As schools reopen and indoor dining tentatively resumes, running groups in the Bronx have also started meeting again for the first time during the pandemic under strict parameters.

Bronx Sole, founded in 2016, reduced the size of their groups to 5 people and 1 captain and are requiring that participants sign up online. Members are also required to maintain social distancing and keep their masks on during runs.

Amy Ortiz, a co-founder of Bronx Femme Run, says their members were so excited about returning during the quarantine they voted in an online poll for the monthly runs to turn into biweekly meets instead. The group settled on meeting every other Friday and keeping the same social distancing parameters as Bronx Sole.

“We just wanted to be able to come back doing something that’s good for your health in the best way and the safest way possible,” says Ortiz, 36.

Although he was already a competitive runner, Bronx Sole co-founder Justin Mashia knew that they had to offer different paces to accommodate people of all levels. They have a running group, a run-walk and a walking group.

Mashia, 38, created the group after learning that the Bronx was once again ranked as the unhealthiest county in New York State according to the annual County Health Rankings report. He knew it was important to keep Bronxites running during the pandemic.

“Our motto is ‘your health, your hood, your history,’” he says. “We started because we cared about the health of the Bronx.”

Bronx Sole runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays to cultural and historical areas around the Bronx, including the Hispanic Heritage Month mural at the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education in Hunts Point and Blanka Amezkua’s art gallery located in her Mott Haven apartment.

These are just two of at least six free running groups available in the Bronx helping residents take control of their health during the pandemic. Even as meeting sizes have decreased and social distancing regulations continue, both of these groups have had new members join almost every week.

In fact, a national study conducted by ASICS found that 36% of runners reported exercising more often and 73% wanted to continue running after the pandemic ends. Additionally, 79% of those surveyed said running helps them feel “saner” and “more in control,” and 65% said it provided more mental benefits than any other physical exercise.

Milagros Ramirez, 40, recently joined Bronx Sole after picking up running as a way to combat anxiety and depression during the pandemic.

“I’m not completely out of my anxiety and depression. I’m really not,” says Ramirez. “But I think when I do go and run a little bit, I feel myself a little bit stronger.”

Ramirez, who did not identify as an athlete or a runner prior to the pandemic, says these running groups can help Bronx residents “maximize” their neighborhoods and are “important for community building” during these times.

“I feel that with the precautions that we’re taking, it’s great to just be able to have a small group go out and be together,” says Bronx Femme Run member Jardy Santana, 34. “It’s nice that this is a low risk environment. We’re all here gathered for the same reason of just taking care of ourselves.”

Those who are interested can check their social media pages each week for the meeting sign-ups.

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