Whether you see Alison Mariella Désir in action or through moments captured in photographs, one cannot but help understand why she is loved and admired. Her skill for igniting that “special something” in people through physical activity is infectious. Growing up, Alison’s parents used to say that she had powdered feet; she was always involved in multiple, often competing activities, had a penchant for travel, and was the life of the party. This characteristic once troubled her parents who wondered if she’d ever just stay still long enough to catch her breath. Over the past several years, Alison has channeled that energy into running and a deep commitment to improving her own health and fitness and inspiring others to do the same. Now, the Harlem Run founder is full steam ahead, managing a city running group that has garnered the attention of national publications and corporations.
What inspired you to create a running group in Harlem?
Harlem Run is the result of many lessons learned along my journey through depression. In January of 2012, a bad break up, my father’s worsening dementia, and limited job prospects led to me decide that I would sign up and train for my first marathon. I was feeling completely helpless and demoralized and had little faith in myself. I had no confidence or self esteem but, somehow, I had this idea that I could do the impossible and run a marathon. I committed to my training schedule in an almost devoutly religious way- I did not skip a single workout and valued my time running more than anything else in my life. As I moved through my training program, I found that I was doing things that I once dreamed were impossible and I was validating myself in the process. Even though I still did not feel good enough in many ways and found my father’s worsening health condition out of my own control, I could control my running and how I pushed my body. Running became moving therapy for me and I discovered my mantra – Find Meaning on the Run.
After completing my first marathon in May 2012 and raising over $5,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, I decided to start blogging about the lessons that I was learning along the way. I touched on a lot of self-help related topics and, what I would later learn, were key ideas in counseling psychology and sports psychology. As my blog following grew, I felt compelled to start putting my words into practice and wanted the opportunity to interact directly with the people who were reading my blog and feeling empowered by it. In November 2013, I started Harlem Run, at that point known as “Powdered Feet Run Club,” with the hope that it would be the tangible expression of all that I was blogging about and an opportunity to inspire and empower others to find meaning on the run. That run club is now Harlem Run.
How has Harlem Run grown since its start?
I never imagined Harlem Run would become what it is today. If you ask anyone who is a member, Harlem Run truly is a family. Membership, by the way, is all inclusive- from the moment you show up, you are a member and part of the family. Harlem Run began with just me- showing up and running all by myself, pretending there were others with me — and it has grown to become a group of anywhere from 50-125 people on a given Monday night run. Over the past 22 months, I met several exceptional individuals, including 7 other people in particular who have become captains in the group and take on various volunteer roles, from leading different pace groups (from 7min miles down to a walking group), to organizing socials and events, to designing and creating new gear, etc. We also have some new and exciting partnerships with global brands that we are eager to announce, we will be featured in the November issue of Runner’s World Magazine — we have become a change agent!