The group of runners progresses towards “autonomy and freedom”

BY AVERY HENDRICK | Standing shirtless in the doorway of Regina’s Grocery, a runner watches the crowd of Nike-clad athletes gathering in the Lower East Side belly on Orchard Street. Above, the sun sets behind the buildings, throwing the group into blue shadows and a cold breeze.

“What? It’s not that cold!” the shirtless man says as he walks into the night with the Orchard Street Runners, an unlicensed 11-year-old downtown running club. Around him, the group stretches as they await the start of their weekly race on Tuesday evening.

Among them are a teacher, a New York University graduate student, a documentary filmmaker and a patent attorney. In the middle of the crowd stands Corey Weiss, 26, dressed in monochromatic black, like many runners – it’s their unofficial uniform.

“The races we do here — you don’t see that in everyday life,” Weiss, a former Division 1 athlete turned urban races director, said of the group. The Orchard Street Runners do not meet for organized track training sessions like most running clubs. Instead, they cross busy intersections, jump fences and cut corners in search of the best moments. They run all year round in sun, rain, snow and darkness.

After multiple starts and stops through waves of COVID and mask mandates, Orchard Street Runners, or OSR, announced on April 22 the return of the Midnight Half, a half-marathon run at midnight on the streets of New York City, the June 18. The race returned for the first time since 2019, with new addition Corey Weiss and longtime leader Joe DiNoto as race directors and two years of unusual pandemic competition under their belts as fuel for the event. .

Launched in 2011 by licensed architect DiNoto, Orchard Street Runners organizes unique little night races through the streets and bridges of New York City. All races are “unlicensed” and run without road closures, official courses, timing or bike escorts. Instead, contests feature checkpoints as course markers. However, how runners reach these checkpoints is entirely up to them.

“We play with the sport of running as a game,” Weiss said.

OSR competitions thrive on creativity and originality: they often rethink the sport of running by eliminating typical restrictions, such as designated courses.

Weiss first heard about the OSR in 2018 after graduating from Elon University in North Carolina, where she spent four years running for the Division 1 athletics program. school. A lifelong runner, she felt exhausted after years of college running and returned to her hometown of New York. However, she decided to try the sport again after her father heard about Orchard Streets Runners and recommended the group.

On a whim, Weiss signed up for the Red Hook Race, a course of about 9 miles from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn. From the first moment, she was obsessed.

“It was like a breath of fresh air. It reset my love for the sport,” she said. “I remember we were once crossing the Williamsburg Bridge and fireworks were going off at the top and I knew that was what I was supposed to do.”

After Red Hook, Weiss befriended founder DiNoto while competing in the Bread Route Race, a 7-mile course based on bread delivery routes with a 2 a.m. start time. , as well as OSR10K, one of the group’s most prestigious events.

After Weiss quit her athletics retail job, DiNoto invited her to help organize OSR1, a 1-mile race in Times Square at midnight in January 2020.

“When it all went off without a hitch, I thought, ‘Why not keep going?'” she said.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Weiss from immediately leading the OSR races as the group was forced to go on hiatus. However, the OSR was small enough to quickly return to outdoor practices. As for the competition, they created their form of virtual racing during the pandemic: the OSR Global Challenge, which required participants to submit their race times over different distances without any restrictions.

“It was fun. We wanted to see what people would do with it,” Weiss recalled.

The results were spectacular, with one athlete equaling the men’s world record of 3:43 on a disqualified downhill course. The challenge spanned the globe, with around 150 runners submitting times from Chicago to Amsterdam from 1 mile to 100.

For Weiss, the virtual OSR Global Challenge, operated primarily on the Strava running app, was the best running option during the pandemic.

Although this format is no longer necessary now that in-person events are back, the challenge perfectly represented the unrestricted spirit of Orchard Street Runners.

“We put our lives and our souls into this, to create a place to run with more autonomy and freedom,” explained Weiss, whose experience in the ultra-structured world of college cross country the has exhausted. “A place to let you say, ‘I know my body is hurting, but I’m going to go.'”

She compared the experience of running to life in New York. All Orchard Street Runners events are New York-centric and inspired by the city, such as OSR30, a 30-mile ultramarathon around Manhattan Island.

“New York City is going to eat you up and spit you out,” Weiss said. “But, ultimately, it will reward you for staying.”

If Orchard Street Runners is one thing, it’s that it’s resilient. The June 18 Midnight Half featured Trimble Racing’s David Trimble and a Nike sponsorship.

On August 11, Weiss’ OSRC1, a timed race involving collection points and specific checkpoints, wreaked havoc on the city streets. This group knows no limits, neither time, nor traffic, nor weather.

One of the group, Steph, described an April race on Tuesday night in the pouring rain that drew surprisingly large crowds.

“Some people only show up when it’s hard,” he said. “They like it like that.”

Tonight the weather is cool and clear with a cool breeze. Runners stroll through the soft yellow light of Regina’s Grocery as DiNoto stands on a chair to announce today’s course.

Dressed in black, despite their lack of visibility, with hats low on their foreheads, they do not look like the average amateur jogger. This racing group waits for no one and does not
detain anyone.

“It’s 8 o’clock,” announces a runner. “Let’s go.”

In a flurry of neon shoes, the dozen athletes are on the corner of Orchard and Canal and lost town.

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