It’s been ten years since a small group of runners from the Eastside took the streets to run across the bridges of Boyle Heights.
The Boyle Heights Bridge Runners are a running collective that started in 2013 with less than a dozen runners. They have both two- and three-mile running groups with up to 70 runners at every run, and attract up to 250 for special events.
Rolando Cruz was one of the early members and started running with the Bridge Runners just a few months after the group started. He said he never imagined the group becoming something as big as it is.
“I think it’s a firm reminder of how resilient all of Boyle Heights is and the power of community,” Cruz said. “And when you have the power of community, you can do a lot.”
The runners meet every Wednesday at 7:45 pm at Mariachi Plaza and begin running at 8. They start at the corner of 1st and Boyle, head southbound on Boyle until Whittier Blvd., where they run across the Sixth Street Viaduct.
David Gómez and Elisa García co-founded the Bridge Runners in 2013 as a way to bring the community together through exercise. García said that when they first started they initially just did it because they wanted to run, and didn’t fully understand the impact and representation of starting a running group in Boyle Heights.
Now 50, García said she doesn’t see too many women her age being represented in athletic commercials or Nike ads. She wants to make sure Bridge Runners offers support and makes sure everyone of all ages feels welcome and included.
“I think we’ve really shown what running in LA can be like, and it’s exciting to see so many different [running] groups in different areas,” García said.
Over the last decade, more running groups have formed in nearby communities. The East LA Runners meet on Tuesday nights at Belvedere Park, Highland Park Runners meet Tuesday nights at York Park and Eagle Rock Runners meet Thursday nights outside Walt’s Bar.
Lizzette Perez, one of the Bridge Runners leaders, ran her first marathon in 2014 with the encouragement of the group. Through the Bridge Runners she met her running coach, who helped her prepare for the Santa Rosa Marathon, in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
In order to register for the Boston Marathon, which is often the highlight of a runner’s career, participants must qualify a certain time from a previous marathon.
In 2019, Perez not only ran the Boston Marathon, she also did it while being almost nine months pregnant. Since then, she had another baby boy at the beginning of 2021. Perez continued running throughout her pregnancy but slightly less. Nine months after giving birth, Pérez yet again completed the Boston Marathon – this time virtually due to COVID.
The virtual Boston Marathon was held October 8-10, 2021. For the first time in history, anyone was able to register for the run without having a qualifying time. Participants were given the chance to run their 26.2 miles anywhere during those days and were then sent the Boston Marathon finisher medal.
“People [were] still running and in their own capacity, where they could fit it in. And I think that saved a lot of us too, because being able to be physically active, especially in a time where they want you to just sit and hunker down is hard,” Perez said.
García said that even through the closing of the old Sixth Street Bridge and the pandemic they’ve managed to keep the group together. One of her favorite memories, she said, is when the Bridge Runners reunited for the first time, after the pandemic stoppage.
“It was a very difficult decision for us to stop running,” she said. “We were gone for like almost a year. And the day we came back, [there were] tons of people. That was probably the best memory so far.”
The Bridge Runners celebrated their 10-year anniversary at the end of August. More than 200 runners showed up from all around Boyle Heights and Los Angeles. One of the runners, Marco Florentino (also known as DJ Fuego), offered his DJ skills to pump up the crowd before and after the run.
The group also sold anniversary T-shirts and hired a local street vendor to give away free aguas frescas to the runners. The Bridge Runners say the funds the group earns from the shirt sales stay in the community, as they hire street vendors for big events.
“We’re family now,“ Perez said. “We’re stuck together, whether we like it or not. I’m very, very just utterly grateful for the collective because they’ve enhanced my life in a positive way. I’m excited for the next 10 [years].”