You won’t find Mike Saes among the workout zombies pounding out miles on the treadmill at any of NYC’s franchised vanity temples. He and other members of the BridgeRunners crew prefer to run where the streets are hot and entrance is free: on the pavement of New York City, with its sirens and pothole-steam blasts and a bazillion weird-faced strangers. For this merry band of scrubs and rascals, running isn’t about getting 35 minutes of cardio, five-days-a-week, as part of a prescribed fitness routine. For Saes at least, inspiration sprang from basic survival instincts: running from the law when he was a young graf writer, running home from bars when he’d been out all night and couldn’t find a cab, running across the Williamsburg Bridge when he was late to pick up his kid. This last one in particular made an impression.
“Once I realized how cool bridge-running was I started doing it more, and a couple of friends would do it with me—it spread through the hood. People would see me in my short-shorts, see that I was kind of serious about running,” says Saes, the BR ringleader. “It became a group thing, but for all ‘non-runners.’ We were just looking for something to do.” The BridgeRunners (motto: Never Run Alone) mostly consist of creative types Saes hooked up with while hanging around downtown playgrounds like bar/gallery Max Fish, including the music-video director Kai Regan, photographer Brandee Brown, writer and band manager Knox Robinson and skater Mike Hernandez. Every Wednesday, the gang meets on the Bowery in Manhattan and heads out for a fresh look at the city. Saes and company rely heavily on the variety spice, seeking out unconventional routes as much as possible. “I use the city as the track and change routes every week,” explains Saes. “I like to run through Central Park but running in a circle is like being a gerbil—it’s not that cool to me.”
Powered by two secret weapons—the collective momentum of the group and the built-in distractions of the streets—BridgeRunners are able to max out their abilities more than the average, solitary gym rat. “Your eyes are so busy during the run that you’re not thinking about the pain. You’re more focused on what’s going on around you. If you run five miles by yourself, you can run eight miles with BridgeRunners, no problem, no sweat,” says Saes, who cops to running home from the Staten Island Ferry wearing work boots and corduroys at 4 a.m. during his wilder days.
Mostly the BridgeRunners are in it for recreation and company but will occasionally band in the name of a bigger cause—a relay to fight AIDS in Africa or a run to benefit the Harold Hunter Foundation, an organization supporting inner-city kids that’s named for the notorious and departed skater and downtown character. Occasionally, they’ll even go the distance says Saes: “Every year we get five or six people to run marathons with us for the first time. That’s my job: it’s not me running the city, it’s getting other people to run. To run and go hard.”