In 2017, Samsung and Under Armour teamed up to help athletes better understand the importance of tracking their activity, nutrition and sleep. This partnership culminated in Under Armour health and fitness apps being integrated with the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro, allowing users to log exercise, meals and sleep directly on the wearable. As part of the partnership, we invited 12 athletes to Portland, Oregon, to challenge their physical and mental capacity and encourage them push past their comfort zones. One of these athletes was New York City resident and recent TCS New York City Marathon finisher, Adalgisa [Lisa] Rivera. And while she did cross the finish line in Central Park after 26.2 miles through the five NYC boroughs, running didn’t always come easy.
In July 2015, 175-pound Lisa Rivera decided she wanted to make a change in her health and appearance. With a long family history of heart disease, Rivera knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“My lifestyle and the foods I was eating — it was very cultural, so it was hard to change at first,” Rivera remembers. She began by choosing healthier food options and eating smaller portions. Plus, she also joined a local gym.
Then one day, Rivera’s cousin who was captain of Harlem Run, a run crew in Harlem, New York, convinced her to join a workout with the group. “I hated running at this point, so my cousin lied to me and said we would be doing a workout, not running,” she says. “But when I showed up at Lenox and 125th Street, the coach, Rachel, said we would be running to Marcus Garvey Park.”
Despite feeling nervous about being able to keep up with the group or having issues breathing, Rivera decided that since it was only a block and a half or so away, she would try it.
She jogged at a slow pace to the park and when she arrived, she was — again — surprised to learn that the workout in question was speedwork. “I thought, ‘I can’t run 400 meters, what will people think of me? I can’t keep up with them’,” says Rivera. “But one of the team captains, Amir, stayed with me the whole time.”
Rivera quickly learned that the thoughts in her head were a lot scarier than the reality of the speed workout. She saw there were people of all levels and realized it was OK for her to run at her own pace. And even more, she ended up going back to Harlem Run the next week.
“What I love about Harlem Run is that they’re very inclusive — they don’t just have members with 7- and 8-minute mile paces, but also 11- and 12-minute mile paces and even a walking crew,” says Rivera. “I never felt intimidated or pressure that I had to be at a certain pace.”
Rivera, who was going through a divorce at the time, found support and a welcoming environment in her fellow run crew members. They were there not only there to answer her questions about everything from sneakers to biomechanics without judgment, but they also checked in to see how she was doing and noticed when she was having a bad day.
“It’s almost like a family,” she explains. “I was trying to figure out who I was after my 10-year relationship, and this became a safe and therapeutic place for me to rebuild myself as an individual. I found the support I needed.”
Rivera ended up phasing out her gym membership and devoted all her time to running. She continued to eat well, too, and eventually got down to her current 122-pound weight. Then in 2017, she signed up for the New York City Marathon.
“I learned a lot about myself during marathon training,” she says. “I had to learn to be alone when I was running, which was really hard some days. But I also learned how to cheer myself on. I created mantras that I would say to myself and playlists that matched up to my pace. I even started tracking my sleep and using the MapMyFitness live-tracking feature, so my other runner friends could track me for safety.” She also leaned on other members of Harlem Run who had run multiple marathons and ultramarathons for advice and knowledge.
In Portland, at the Samsung and Under Armour event, Rivera got even more time to focus on herself. While she claims to be competitive, during a 12-mile bike ride, the New York native — who hadn’t biked since she was 12 — found herself at the back of the pack with one other seasoned rider who kept her company. “I could not have been put with anyone better than him,” she says. ‘He asked so many questions and took a lot of photos of me biking as well. We got to talk about our lives and politics and other decisions.”
There were also moments when the two just biked in silence. “I’m used to talking all the time, so it was nice to just bike and process everything up to that point. It was great prep for the marathon. Those 12 miles were the most memorable from that trip.”
Rivera returned to New York for her final days of tapering before the big race. On November 5, Rivera crossed the finish line at the New York City Marathon in Central Park, making her a marathon finisher for the first time.
“I started this journey to lose weight, but it became a lifestyle for me,” says Rivera. “I choose to be healthy now, and I surround myself with like-minded people. I made a shift in my life that will hopefully help me be around longer.”
Through the running community and support of Harlem Run, where she’s now a pacer for the run/walk crew, Rivera also gained confidence to believe in herself. She eventually had the courage to leave her long-time job and start a new one. And she even took on a part-time gig at JackRabbit, a running store in New York City, where she’s learning more about running mechanics, sneaker brands and other things she never even fathomed she’d be interested in.
“Running has made my life easier and happier,” she says. “When my vision is clouded or jaded, I run. There are days that I run by myself and cry. It’s therapeutic and helps me make decisions or process a loss or other things. It’s a way of life now.”
Written by Amy Schlinger, a New York-based fitness and health writer and editor whose work has appeared in SELF, Men’s Fitness, Shape, Muscle & Fitness HERS, Pilates Style, Max Sports & Fitness and more. Check her out at www.amyschlinger.com.