On March 16, 2014, I ran my first half marathon. My parents live streamed the race, watching me finish on a computer screen in their kitchen. I completed 13.1 miles in a time of 3:11.21 and could barely walk.

I swore that I would never run a distance race ever again.

Fast forward to two and a half years later. On Sunday, October 16, 2016, I completed my 13th half marathon nearly 40 minutes faster than that (dreadful) first one, waving to my mom as I sprinted across the finish line.

How Community Helped Me Love Running

Something changed between that first race and that last race. I found a community to support me.

How Community Helped Me Love Running

You see, I had always looked at running as a very personal, individual sport.  It was how I stayed healthy, managed stress, and explored my city.  It had never occurred to me that I didn’t need to do it alone.

That first year I raced was a big (and stressful) year for me for several reasons. I was living in New York City and I was lonely. I was working for a large nonprofit organization I cared about deeply but struggled to see a future for myself there. I was faced with several choices, the biggest being whether to tough it out in Manhattan for a few more years or call it quits and say goodbye to the Big Apple.

I started applying for jobs and making more of an effort to spend time with the small network of people I did have in the city. I was introduced to a group called the November Project and began spending my Wednesdays, then Fridays, then weekends running with them. Running turned into dinners, dinners turned into friendships, and those friends encouraged me to move past my comfort zone and figure out what I really wanted: a job with meaning that challenged me

On September 11, 2014, I joined a young nonprofit called America Needs You that was revolutionizing career development for first-generation college students. I was drawn to their energy, transparency, and dedication to the students they served. It was a risky move to join a new nonprofit in a city saturated with great organizations all competing to survive. But I couldn’t ignore the evidently strong sense of community at America Needs You.

How Community Helped Me Love Running

I’ve never regretted that decision.

On November 6, 2016, I will run my first full marathon in support of America Needs You.

The training has been harder than I ever could have imagined. I can’t stop eating and I frequently fall asleep on the bus and the subway. Aches and pains are happening in places I didn’t know aches and pains could happen. My boss and CEO constantly hear me talking about long runs, foam rolling, my favorite flavor of Gu, and the benefits of body glide.

Despite all of this, I am having the time of my life because I know that I am backed by an extraordinary community.

There are 13 other runners who have committed to running for America Needs You who are on this journey with me. They are current and former volunteers, alumni of our program, members of our Young Leadership Board, and all around awesome humans.

These 13 individuals, our dedicated staff, thousands of volunteers who give their time each week, and hundreds of students served by America Needs You will be along that race course with us. I couldn’t have built a better support system if I tried.

Running for America Needs You has allowed me to run faster, farther and longer than I ever thought possible. And being a part of this extraordinary community has changed me for the better. I can’t wait to take to the streets on November 6, 2016, in support of the organization that has given me so much.

How Community Helped Me Love Running