Ever heard of a runner's high? This diverse group of athletes, the majority of whom are working class immigrants from countries like Gambia, Japan, Mexico, and Brazil, get together daily to train for races and raise their spirits.
The West Side Runners, New York City's oldest and fastest running group, proves that going the distance boosts not only your health, but also your quality of life.
Some barely make enough money to cover race fees, many work long hours as busboys and dishwashers, and don't have health insurance, yet nothing can keep them off their feet.
"I love the New York marathon," says Luis Cesareo, a 32-year-old runner from Mexico to the New York Times. "My teammates, and the Mexican people, are all around. When I run so hard, it feels almost like I'm dying. That's when I feel most alive."
Cesareo works at a livery dispatcher from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. and sleeps during the day. He is currently training for his second marathon.
His cohort, Felipe Vergara, 49, runs 8-10 miles at 4:30 a.m., heads to his job as a plumber at 7 a.m., and finishes his day with another 10 miles in the evening.
They're among the 300 members of the club.
According to the story, the positive energy counteracts the negative experiences these immigrants face on a routine basis, though not all hardships are spared. Some runners have lost their money, others have died of AIDS, or returned to their roots to race.
Mostly, it's a chance to be the best. For these dedicated athletes, running provides an element of achievement their daily lives cannot always offer.
Bill Staab, President of West Side Runners, tells the Times, "They work unbelievably hard at their jobs, but few of these guys have major successes financially. Whereas success in running is available to everyone. They know if you put in the work, you'll see payoff."
The runners are also changing the face of distance racing in America, a sport which at one time was predominately practiced by the affluent and white.
Julio Sauce, a 41-year-old runner from Ecuador, says, "It's sort of an American dream."