Sharon Green: Distance Running Gives Her a Window into Other Communities

Sharon Green, 26, a research project coordinator in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, doesn't feel the runner's high other runners rave about, but she loves pushing through the waves of pain in long distance running. On Nov. 1, she'll be running her sixth marathon. Someday she hopes to run an ultra-marathon or compete in an Ironman-distance triathlon. 

When did you start running, and why? And what is the longest distance you have run? 

Until high school, I dreamed of playing professional basketball. But in 10th grade, at a modest 5’2” and around 100 pounds, my school’s running coach suggested that I take my foot speed to the track. That was when I started running competitively. I broke three of my high school track records, all of which remain intact, and raced long distances in college—primarily the 5K and 10K. Since then, I have run five marathons and am training for my sixth. Perhaps one day I’ll train for an ultramarathon or even an Ironman-distance triathlon.

Does the marathon distance, or the New York City Marathon in particular, have any special meaning for you? 

I love the marathon—it’s one of the few major sporting events in which anyone can enter and all the competitors run together. Unlike the Super Bowl or the World Series, in which only the top players in the world can compete, the marathon is far more inclusive. In the upcoming New York Marathon, I’ll be running in the same event as the world’s fastest distance runners, life-long running enthusiasts, and even first-time marathoners.

Many people enjoy the 26.2 mile distance because they say it is far enough to experience the “runner’s high”—a euphoric, pain-masking feeling induced by endorphins during exercise. I don’t know what they’re talking about. Any exhilaration I feel is quickly replaced the pain and agony associated with running a distance twice the length of Manhattan. In fact, throughout the entire marathon, this particular distance allows for cycles of sensations from feeling motivated to feeling defeated and everything in between.

What gets you through your long training runs? 

The better question would be: what gets me up at 4:45 a.m., while it’s pitch black out, to run several times per week? The answer is Back on My Feet, a nonprofit organization that provides social services and running shoes to individuals experiencing homelessness. I started volunteering with Back on My Feet’s Team Uptown to show support for their members and efforts. After just a few runs, it felt like they were helping me far more than I was helping them: not only do they push me to run faster during 18-mile training runs, their personal stories provide me with endless motivation to spend my career devoted to improving the health of those who are homeless and involved in the criminal justice system.

What is your goal on race day?  

My goal on race day is to beat my time from my first New York City Marathon. In 2007, I qualified for the marathon during my senior year of high school with my dad by running ten New York Road Runners races in one year. We ran the marathon together in November of 2007 in four hours and ten minutes. This November, as I run the course for a second time, I hope to run faster.

Have you had any particularly special moments during your runs? 

Many of my runs have held special meaning to me, and I think it is partially because I refuse to run with music—I find that it distracts me from my run and my connection to my surroundings. When I worked in Ghana, I would often wake up before dawn and run to and up Mount Adaklu, one of the tallest peaks in the country. Along the way, I would pass the local vendors setting up their stands of freshly-picked fruits and vegetables, hear and smell the cassava get pounded into fufu, and feel the heat and humidity rise with the sun.

Now, as I embark on long runs in NYC, I run through various neighborhoods—my runs cross the lines that divide communities, and economic and health disparities are revealed. I often run from my neighborhood in Inwood, through Washington Heights, Harlem, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights, all the way south to South Ferry. Other 18-mile or longer training runs have also brought me to communities in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx that I wouldn’t otherwise visit. With every run, I immerse myself in the different communities along my route and learn more about my hometown.

Why are you running the NYC Marathon?

That’s an easy question—for the T-shirt.