The world may be put on hold, but runners are still finding ways to move forward. Adidas Performance Coach, art therapist, and WHOOP member Jessie Zapotechne finds strength in her New York City running community amidst a global pandemic. While she cannot host in-person group runs or race locally with her Adidas Runners and Girls Run NYC teammates, she has found new ways to empower the local running scene and has committed to running 26.2 solo miles the original day she planned to run the 2020 Boston Marathon. Photos provided by Lauren McNary and Keith Montero.
It’s week 7 of quarantine in New York City. Since the onset of the pandemic, NYC has been hit the hardest in terms of COVID-19 diagnoses and related deaths. There’s no easy way around it – it’s grim, and it’s managed to put the city that never sleeps on an indefinite hold. And yet, at the very same time we’ve seen a new creative renaissance emerging – from closeted artists painting masterpieces in their living room apartment, to everyday people making viral videos as they find ways to connect remotely.
For runner, coach, and art therapist Jessie Zapotechne living in Brooklyn, quarantine has been surprisingly productive in the most unanticipated ways. While the city is on pause, Jessie has used this time to her advantage by corralling her immediate networks to maintain a sense of community, encourage staying active, and simply check in. In addition, she’s clocked some of her highest mileage running alone on the quiet streets of Brooklyn, bandana wrapped around her face, 6 ft. away from those on the bike paths. Typically she runs late morning or mid-day when most people are working from home on their laptops.
“My mileage has doubled overall at this time, but so has my recovery–and so I am running more and longer and at the same feeling much stronger. I am running a lot for my mental well-being, and now more than ever I really need it,” says Jessie, who discovered WHOOP from a colleague several months ago. She was hooked to the concept immediately, and thought it could be a new tool the urban running scene could benefit from. “She was wearing it and said–’this is the next big thing.’”
During this time Jessie has used WHOOP to see how her body is adapting to her increased mileage and new recovery routines. Now that she’s able to get more sleep and spend time on recovery protocol (rolling, stretching, meditation), the data has been fascinating. “WHOOP has helped me to begin to bring awareness to some of my behavioral patterns and choices that ultimately have a huge effect on how I am performing. Not just as an athlete, but as a human each day.”
New York is a surprising mecca for running. “It is literally the most interesting place and continues to be the most stimulating place that I have ever run,” says Jessie, who has been a leading figurehead in the urban running scene for years. Dubbed “the first lady of running” by her peers, Jessie helped grow a swell of runners in Brooklyn and Manhattan by being an original member of the Bridgerunners, co-founding the Black Roses, and eventually starting Girls Run NYC in 2015. These groups are known for being a collective of creative, progressive individuals who also happen to love running. Today, Jessie is the co-captain of Adidas Runners NYC and co-leads Girls Run NYC.
“With both groups, a strong sense of community is part of the foundation–and so without the ability to meet in person on a weekly basis it has been important to keep athletes connected and engaged,” she explains. Just because gatherings are cancelled, doesn’t mean runners can’t motivate and challenge each other.
Specifically, Jessie has stayed connected with her Girls Run community via WhatsApp and Zoom. Girls Run NYC, founded in 2015, features women of all backgrounds and athletic experience who meet weekly at McCarren park for a workout. It’s a simple, safe, judgment-free zone for female runners of all abilities to exercise and connect. Keeping in touch each week has helped foster a sense of security and comfort for the core group of women missing that social connection.
Similarly, Jessie and the other captains of Adidas Runners NYC have shifted gears to create weekly digital programming for thousands of people. Rather than focusing solely on running, Adidas has operated from a holistic approach to training in areas of movement, nutrition, mindset, recovery, and gear. These five pillars have been encouraged via daily content shared in Facebook groups, Instagram Live sessions (like meditation or at-home workouts), virtual runs, and weekly check-ins.
“It was important to me to continue to provide the training structure that we had created for our winter and spring seasons, and to keep those workouts and training goals consistent,” says Jessie. Some people have access to treadmills, while others continue to train outside following safe social distancing protocols and wearing masks or bandanas. For others, this is simply a time to lay low, allow their bodies to recover, and plan ahead for future goals.
April 20th, 2020 would have been the 124th anniversary of the Boston Marathon, and it would have been Jessie’s 5th year running the race. Instead, it’s been postponed to September 14th, and rightly so. While running in groups right now is discouraged and unsafe, running alone has not been cancelled, which is why Jessie is running a marathon by herself.
Her route has been mapped out, starting in Brooklyn and ending at Rockaway Beach. She’ll be wearing her WHOOP the entire time: Her first time running a marathon with WHOOP data by her side. Unlike other running watches that focus on GPS monitoring and pace, WHOOP has given Jessie 24/7 insight into her daily cardiovascular output, recovery, and sleep tracking. One major benefit of staying home? Getting more sleep to improve her training.
“Sleep has been my achilles heel over the years, and I know that I absolutely must prioritize it for performance and overall health. It’s been clear since the pandemic that as my sleep has gone up, so has HRV and also recovery and ability to take on strain.” For WHOOP members like Jessie, this has been a completely new routine resulting in new learnings from her data.
“I am doing it for me, because it brings me joy and peace of mind to run long. But I am also doing it for my friends and my fellow athletes. I know that often others need to see people challenge themselves and do things that maybe seem crazy because it opens up possibilities. It’s hopeful.”
Stay tuned for a feature of Jessie’s WHOOP data to see what running a solo marathon looks like before, during, and after, and get a chance to ask her your most burning running questions on Instagram.