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Front Runners

In early February, Kidan Kidane YSN ’24 stood behind the line at the 2024 Women’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Orlando, Florida. She steeled herself for the 26.2 miles ahead, while New Haven runners gathered around their TVs to watch her on the race livestream. 

Two years earlier, before moving to New Haven, Kidane thought she had given up competitive running. Born in Ethiopia and raised in the state of Georgia, Kidane had been running since high school. She received a track scholarship to Kennesaw State University to run the 5K and 10K, but she stopped running after graduation to pursue nursing. When she came to Yale for her master’s degree, Kidane discovered a robust running community that reignited her interest in the sport—this time at much longer distances.

Remarkably, Kidane was one of four runners from New Haven who competed in the Olympic trials. Just ten minutes before she lined up, Connor Rockett YSE ’24, Ben Decker SOM ’23, and John McGowan ’13 had begun running at the Men’s trials. 

The Olympic Marathon Trials, one of the most prestigious competitions for runners, only occurs once every four years. The qualifying times––2:18 for men and 2:37 for women––are nearly a full hour faster than those of the Boston Marathon. Even so, New Haven runners have a surprisingly large presence in this exclusive race. 

While New Haven locals form the base of the city’s running community, many runners are Yale affiliates, meaning the running community is highly transient. One might expect that such high turnover rates make it difficult for runners to create a lasting community beyond the confines of Yale. However, the city’s running community shatters this assumption, producing lifelong friendships and national accomplishments. 

As Kidane recounted her running journey to me over a phone call a month after the trials, I could hear the hunger for the sport in her voice. “I go out hard and race aggressively,” she told me, confidence underscoring her words. “An experienced runner told me they didn’t think I could do it, so I thought to myself, ‘Watch me.’” She ran the Boston Marathon in 2:36:22, qualifying for the trials with thirty-eight seconds to spare—even after stopping to puke (“twice,” she added). 

Kidane and her fellow Olympic trial qualifiers—Rockett, Decker, and McGowantrain with New Haven Road Runners (NHRR), the primary run club in New Haven. The group offers daily 6:30 a.m. runs and social night runs on Wednesdays open to anyone. Unlike most run clubs, the routes are designed by their coach, Jake Jayworth. Also the professional coach for the Fairfield University cross country team, Jayworth has a USA Track and Field Level 1 coaching certification and a master’s degree in Exercise Science. He works individually with runners and designs daily routes for NHRR. 

Since reinstating daily runs at the end of 2020, the club has amassed over three hundred members and beaten almost every previous club record. The Wednesday night social runs have become particularly popular, with nearly forty runners showing up for the conversational jog and post-run hangout at The Trinity Bar. Other seasoned NHRR runners have joined each other in running ultramarathons under the influence of psilocybin, also known as shrooms. 

NHHR has also been a space for reflection. In 2023, NHRR runner Miche Palmer YSE ’17 founded a book club for the group. Popular titles include “Choosing to Run” by Des Linden and “Good for a Girl” by Lauren Fleshman, prompting discussion about the systemic inequalities in running, like the lack of recognition for female athletes. “[New Haven] is not like New York where there’s a bunch of different run clubs. NHRR is trying to figure out how to be a club for a lot of different people,” explained Jayworth.

I ran my first marathon last year. After tumbling over the finish line, I told myself it would be my last. Much like Kidane, I fell out of competitive running before moving to New Haven. Kidane was out of college and on her own working in Atlanta when she stopped racing, and I was in a small town with an even smaller population of runners. However, New Haven provided me with a community that reinvigorated my love for running. On one particularly rainy day, as I trudged through the mud in East Rock and rued my decision to run, I passed another runner. He cheered at our shared dedication, and I couldn’t help but  laugh at the absurdity of the situation and enjoy it for what it was. 

Though Yale Club Running foregrounds my running community here, my occasional interactions with NHRR have helped me reflect on my relationship with the sport. Even when I’m running alone, passing NHRR runners on the track or local routes encourages me to keep going. On Strava, a social media app where runners connect online to share their runs, I’ve found an online community with members of NHRR like Kidane. Since the start of my collegiate career this past fall, I’ve run too many 5Ks and two marathons—despite having “retired” last year. 

Earlier this month, as I stood at the start line of my most recent marathon, the excitement from the past few months of running in New Haven surged through me. My confidence was high knowing that the friends I’d spent tens of hours running with were all around me, gearing up for the same race. That day, I set my own personal record and set my sights on the next race.

Megan Kernis is a first-year in Ezra Stiles College.

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