Step step breath, step step breath, step step breath...these are the sounds that relax me. The rhythm that propels me, and the effort the burns within me. The wide boulevards of Providences East side pass before me, the sun through leafy trees dappling the streets in speckles of light. Cool air chills the skin, it will be hot but you have to get out early.
Running has been the sport that defines me. A characteristic that shows motivation, confidence and a wee bit of the masochist. However I am not the only one to call the streets of Providence my stomping grounds. Providence is a big little city full of runners, elite, novice and recreational. The capital city of the smallest state in our union, A city of art and history, but a certain few are beginning to rewrite the history books as we speak.
The question first cropped up when I read a Runners World article about Americas Running Cities; I was surprised to see Providence as a running hub. As an employee of a run specialty store I see all types of runners come in. People nervously just starting this whole running thing who always say “I’m not a runner” (you are), the grizzled old road warriors with their slew of experience and stories of how running used to be, and sometimes the elite runners whose confidence can light up a room with their enthusiasm. I knew these people existed, but I thought this normal. I didn't see what made Providence so special.
It may be because Providence is home to 6 six colleges or universities that each have cross country or track teams. It could be the high number of road races that occur around RI and Downtown 5k which is generally the national road race championship. It could be Providence is the 19th most active city in the US, or it could because of a little known group of runners that train and call Providence their home.
Providence College’s Director of Track and Field, Ray Treacy is the draw for elite runners world wide. Ray has coached 11 olympic athletes, and captured two NCAA cross country championships in an incredible 30 year career. He fields an international team of Cross Country athletes each year and with minor funding, creating stellar long distance runners. He also does it the right way, through strength, creating athletes who are consistently strong. His credentials go back further than merit can show. A coach of the old school, but highly effective. As many have said the best there is.
Ray Treacy’s ladies own several national distance records. Molly Huddle has the national record for the women’s 5k at 14:44.76. She also holds the road 10k record at 31:37, she also recently won the US Nationals in the 5k in a time of 15:01 narrowly out kicking Shannon Rowbury. Kim Smith is another of Treacy’s elite athletes, a New Zealand native who ran for Providence College winning NCAA Cross Country Nationals in 2004. Kim also has run the fastest half by a woman on American soil in 1:07.11, she also owns the New Zealand record of 2:25.21 in the London Marathon. Amy Hastings is another recent addition to the Run Providence group, running a 31:10 10k in the London Olympic games. These athletes are the contributing factor. Not too many people know they are training in the city, but they are making Providence an elite training ground. They have willingly made Providence their homes.
Ray Treacy may have been the ultimate draw for the elite to travel to Rhode Island, however now there are other programs that are supporting the educational community and contributing to the running community as well. The New England Distance Project is a coordination with Woonsocket public schools to have high level athletes work as mentors, role models and coaches in the Woonsocket area. They have recruited four athletes so far. David Goodman, the D2 steeplechase champion was the first to sign up and has seen much success within the program, developing into a confident and strong runner in the open category. Katrina Spratford is an 8 time All American heralding from Shippensburg University. Katrina is showing a lot of progress and talent in the longer distances, but unfortunately recovering from injury. Lara Crawford also from Shippensburg, came to Providence with hopes of becoming an elite runner, a 2008 Olympic trials qualifier in the 10K and a 10,000 meter 33:56 personal best. When I asked her why she came to Rhode Island she said this:
“I was looking at the group mostly based on the running aspect, I knew I would have to like the place where I would be spending lots of time out running. The area has some of the best elite distance runners in the U.S. in Molly Huddle, Kim Smith, Amy Hastings, while also having the best women’s college program with Providence College (who won DI NCAA’s in XC). This aspect was a huge draw in for me since I knew I wanted to be on that level. It didn’t take long for me to find out that Providence is quite the running community either. I started going to Foundation Performance for injury treatment and met other runners, including Katie DiCamillo (who trains in the area but runs for New Balance Boston). Now we train together quite a bit along with some runs with the Run Providence crew (Molly, Amy, and Kim).”
I run with the knowledge that others are shipping out to Providence with the hopes of making this little city their training grounds. I think it makes me appreciate the area more, reawakening my love for city miles on the East Side, long runs from the College District and workouts on the Coogan Loop. The air is clear, the sun shining and a few more miles lay before me.
I run Providence. Step step breath, step step breath, step step breath…