SCENE 1. CENTRAL PARK, NEW YORK CITY – MARATHON NIGHT. DECEMBER 10, 2020.
No pun intended, but this course was not intended to be a walk in the Park… Haley is crushing.
NARRATOR: Joe, the founder of Orchard Street Runners, is live on Instagram streaming to an anonymous audience from his iPhone. Comments and heart emoticons are littering his screen. He is also riding a bike.
The show is unfolding behind Joe. A 23-year-old woman from Michigan, Haley Ritsema, is a faint silhouette racing up 102nd Street’s empty transverse in Central Park. It’s sometime after 10:30PM. A sharp 30 degrees outside. Turning bike spokes and Haley’s footsteps are all that can be heard. The pace is hot at mile 14. Six minutes and 20 seconds per mile. No competitor is ahead, nor behind her. The route will spill onto Fifth Avenue shortly, leaving the Park’s silence. Haley, a former collegiate 800m runner, is running her first marathon, ever, with an aim to break three hours.
[Haley nods her head to the left, loosening her neck.]
She is indeed ‘crushing.’
The start was at 9PM and with enough godspeed, she’ll make it to the finish––Battery Park––before midnight.
The storyline is like Cinderella, although the satin, lace, chiffon, and stilettos have been replaced with a backwards hat, a sports bra, shorts, compression socks, and Adizeros.
Please spare her of a seamless flat route home, carbon plate shoes, and a coiffed prince chasing after her. A few handsome gents who proposed they could helm the 26.2 miles will fold their hand soon or perhaps hold on (barely) by night’s end. If she makes it before the clock strikes 12, she’ll do the same thing she said she would do if she doesn’t: Drink a beer.
There are no crowds or family members to line the course in applause. No one is competing against her. No bathroom stops, water tables, mile markers, oversized clocks, or drawn starting/finish lines. At the moment, it’s only Joe, Corey Weiss (the race director), and Erik Reitinger (OSR’s captain) who hover close by on bikes, like older siblings watching over their precocious baby sister. ‘Yung Hales’ they call her.
The light emitted from Joe’s phone reveals new information.
Why is Haley running alone?
She dropped all her pacers.
Funny. Really though.
(Turns the iPhone camera to Haley.)
Haley, where’s your entourage?
400 meters ago as she flew up Central Park West in the bike lane, Haley was flanked by her three volunteer pacers and friends: Ashley Gilbertson, me, and Colby Schulz. Haley steals a glance behind her. Darkness.
I don’t know!
When she shouts ‘know,’ her Midwestern roots are revealed. Haley is from Moline, Michigan. The population is less than 5,000. She’s never left the Midwest until now.
She dropped them.
A few miles later, Ashley, one of the pacers who wished to accompany Haley for the affair’s entirety, will retire to a subway car to carry his wasted body to safer ground.
For 14-some miles he ran confidently with Haley. By 15, less confidently. 16, pain. By 17+, in Times Square, dead.
[Riding alongside Ashley.]
You don’t look so good.
What’s the point?
Ashley was out.
So far, Haley’s route has traversed downtown and the Brooklyn Bridge; Brooklyn to Queens; over the Queensboro Bridge; Central Park to Times Square. All of this amongst traffic, pedestrians, and the city’s generous hullabaloo. The elevation gain is stupid. Especially for a debut marathon. Sidewalks are also stupid. Pedestrians are a hazard. They slow her down. 9-plus miles to go.
Haley’s close-knit friends were cast in supporting roles throughout this 26.2 mile show.
The first 13.1 miles were assisted by: Ben Pratt, Meggie Sullivan, and Ashley Gilbertson. The latter 13.1 miles by: Colleen McGurk, Kyle Price, and Mina Wageh, who surprised Haley somewhere by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a blur.
Ultra-running legend, David Kilgore, also made a guest appearance with his pal, Brenden Clarke, as they waved from a car’s open sunroof whizzing down Fifth Avenue. Colby Schulz will be the only one who can support Haley through all 26.2. She will knight him after.
Anne Bozack and the event’s photographer, Johnny Zhang, are riding alongside for moral support and documentation, respectively. A photographer by the name of Ceze is also in tow.
The girl’s got a bigger entourage than Rocky.
SCENE 2. MOLINE, MICHIGAN. HALEY’S CHILDHOOD HOME––DAYTIME.
NARRATOR and HALEY.
[The scene opens to Haley’s family backyard in Michigan. There is a porch that overlooks a field, then a forest. There is an empty barn up ahead. Haley is ten years old.]
NARRATOR: Haley’s penchant to roam free started early. She grew up on 13 acres in the small town of Moline, Michigan.
I have a great backyard for sledding!
[Haley is skipping down the yard. She is wearing plaid like she always does. Even in the summer.]
But Haley wants more. She wants farm animals to populate the empty barn. She likes taking care of things. Before that though, she must prove to her parents that she can take care of a new dog. She does. So, she is given goats. After proving she could take care of the goats…
And make a profit off their products!
(Haley is now walking towards her horse in the backyard.)
…she received her most desired pet of all, a pony.
The pony was too slow. No fun. So, I got a retired racing horse, Lyda. Lyda was great in the arena, but too spazzy. Now, I have Mocha. Mocha is perfect. He’s a Morgan horse.
Morgan horses were specially bred to be part-Arabian and part-Clydesdale––a hybrid of agility and strength. Her mother hates this, but Haley is about to ride Mocha without his saddle.
He refuses to be tied down, but he listens to me. And, I am a skilled enough rider.
[Haley hops onto Mocha and trots away from the backyard.]
Haley is on route to meet her friend Cassidy at an empty housing development site.
NO TRESPASSING the sign will say. But, there will be a race.
Scene 3. HALEY’S APARTMENT THE EAST VILLAGE OF NEW YORK––THE NIGHT BEFORE THE MARATHON. DECEMBER 9, 2020.
NARRATOR and HALEY.
NARRATOR: When Covid-19 hit, Haley was in her senior year at Western Michigan University. The plan was to go to Greece and do refugee work on the island of Lesbos over the summer. Afterward, Haley would have been left with sixteen weeks to train for the Philadelphia Marathon in hopes of qualifying for 2021’s Boston Marathon. She did stick to one plan however: attending New York University where she would enter a Masters program in public health. Then in August, she found Orchard Street Runners––only a mile away from her apartment.
By Fall, Haley had achieved the most mileage she’s ever done in her life. In November, she ran a 20-miler at 7:07 pace in Prospect Park. For fun. She excitingly texted Joe about her run. What could be done to test all this amassed fitness?
The pandemic has obliterated all of our plans. For the ultra-competitive, our metrics for reliant, holistic self-evaluation, otherwise known as ‘races,’ have left us empty-handed. And, crazed.
Joe wrote back to Haley, “alright so next Tuesday?” Joe knew Haley’s training with OSR was giving back in spades. It was time. She wrote back, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I need a few weeks to taper!”
Within those few weeks, a 26.2 mile-long stage to perform on was mapped and built. It weaved through Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Although Haley was an 800m runner (nearly a sprinter), her favorite part of training was always the long run. She enjoys the chatter.
[Haley is sitting at her desk. Her journal is close by.]
This has already been such a weird year, I’d rather take advantage of it and have as much fun as possible.
Ever since moving here to New York City, I’ve been thinking: ‘Why am I not doing more for myself?’ The only real reason I’m running this is for myself. I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. And while I don’t agree with everything she writes, it did really convince me of the utility in putting yourself first. Doesn’t mean go be an asshole, but recognizing that you have needs and wants and following those will allow you to be ‘you.’ Ultimately, that’s how you are going to make the greatest contribution to the world. Every day, I get a little bit more selfish…in a good way.
This whole night was meant to be a celebration of where I’m at in New York City and the life I am living right now. It’s really good.
Life a few years ago for Haley wasn’t ‘really good.’ Adopted as an infant, Haley didn’t meet her biological father, Keith, until she was 18-years-old. They briefly met when she was in sixth grade, but her mother quickly decided it was a mistake. It barely counted. Keith was someone who chronically turned to alcohol and substances to cope with life’s complexities. The next time she would see Keith it was to learn that he was dying from liver and kidney failure. Haley recalled that in the short time they did get to meet, they had the exact same sense of humor.
I saw him twice more in hospice. Then I went to his funeral. (Pause.) It was weird.
I’ve had my own struggles too. Learning more about my dad and his family’s mental health history has helped me to understand and examine my own mental health. I developed depression my senior year of high school and had it for years after. But I only got the help I needed two years ago. I re-read my journal entries earlier this Fall. It was bad.
I was making plans to end my life.
And now I’m here in New York City. Seriously, every day I wake up in my tiny little studio apartment and I go outside and I just have the biggest smile on my face. And I think, ‘I love New York.’ There’s nothing I love more than running around this city and seeing it.
And now I’m thinking about all of the things I would have missed had I gone through with those plans.
A journal entry from the night before her marathon reads:
SCENE 4. AS IS, A BAR–THE NIGHT AFTER THE MARATHON. DECEMBER 11, 2020. NARRATOR, COREY WEISS, and HALEY.
NARRATOR: In 2020, a year where mayhem reigned, Haley punched back.
As her journal said, she didn’t need to be convinced of her own confidence.
Haley finished last night’s marathon in 2:55:56.
Haley’s journal entry tonight will read:
As promised, Haley was getting her beer.
[Corey Weiss, the evening’s race director, emerges onto the scene in sweatpants and a sweatshirt to meet with Haley.]
[Haley then enters with her bike helmet, donning an unbuttoned plaid flannel, and her 30-pound mountain bike. She sits at the table.]
How’d you sleep champ?!
I had to down a bottle of Ibuprofen to get any.
During the marathon, Corey was on the bike throughout handing Haley her gels and water, checking in routinely. Corey also designed the event––dubbed “Racing Midnight”–– and its most important element with Haley, the course. The route she sketched up expresses their shared love for freedom, discomfort, and New York City.
When Haley revealed the final route to her cast of pacers in a text thread, phone calls and texts whizzed back and forth to its recipients unbeknownst to her. It was highly unpopular. But they were missing the point.
Going up and down the West Side Highway [a 5.42-mile flat pedestrian walkway]? That didn’t seem fun at all. I didn’t want to get bored. If I wasn’t going to have fun, then I wasn’t going to run fast. Yah, I did have this goal of getting under three hours, which I really, really wanted to do. But, there’s nothing I love more than running around this city and seeing it. Every time I leave my little studio apartment I think, ‘this place is so cool.’ Going throughout the entire city really excited me.
Recent graduates from NCAA Division 1 college track and field programs, Corey (age 25) and Haley share a deep affection for OSR’s chaotic approach to running and similar views on collegiate running. It kind of sucked. They were tired by its end. Overtrained. Too much politics. Too many personalities.
I did my first OSR race, ‘Red Hook,’ an 8-10 miler in 2018. It was one of the best days of my life. I felt like a kid again. I was free.
At her alma mater, Elon University, Corey remembers a frustrating four-year drought of personal bests (PBs) running the steeplechase. But, she was a human metronome and quickly delegated as the team’s pacer in workouts and races. It pains her to talk about her own running career. It wasn’t until her last race that she would PB. There’s still more to do.
Since reclaiming her running journey at the Red Hook race, Corey remains smitten with OSR. Her loyalty runs deep as she is now behind the curtain at each show. She refers to it as a community, a family unit, a racing organization that will never be anything more than what it is trying to be: A group of people who come together to do one thing. Run fast.
A lot of runners, they are training, running, and racing in a very specific way. They run with their head as opposed to their heart and gut. They’ve been told to do it ‘this way’ for a long time. At OSR, you are running with everything you have, any way you want. We aren’t racing logically. It’s just about that moment. We are accommodating to those who are willing to be uncomfortable.
(Her head is turned slightly down and to the side, she has a raised eyebrow and half a smile.)
The conversation turns to the first time when Haley attended one of OSR’s Tuesday night runs, which start at 8PM in the Lower East Side.
Haley was by herself. It was a little strange. She was brand new. She had no connections to anyone.
All I knew was that they were fast. I went hoping to find some fast women. I show up, but it’s just a bunch of dudes. It’s the middle of summer, so they’re all shirtless and tatt’ed up beyond belief. Ashley is smoking. ‘What is this group?’ I’m thinking. I’m this small town Midwestern girl… where the hell am I?!
Haley now knows exactly where she is. She recalls the moment she stepped off the train at Penn Station to explore New York City for the first time. She’s home.
It sounds cliché, but I thought, ‘this is where I’m supposed to be.’ It felt right. New York City is so hectic and crazy. I love it.
Haley belongs in this city. I know in two years, she will leave us after she finishes school, as she goes on to literally save the world. But, I hope she stays. Running, to me, is a performance art. But, I’m glad to be in a position where I can build a stage for someone like her to perform on. I have no interest in running a marathon.
I’ll pace you if you change your mind.
Now I’m left here wondering, how do we get this girl to OTQ…
In a time where opportunities are scarce to non-existent, the show
must can go on. We’ll just have to create another stage.