Ladies We Love: Founder of Girls Run NYC, Jessie Zapo
Our month-long celebration of International Women’s Day ends on an extra-motivating note, thanks to Jessie Zapo. She’s a runner, art therapist and founder of the ladies-only running collective Girls Run NYC—just listening to her talk about the sport with such passion had us ready to get some miles in. Learn more about Jessie’s day to day, her favorite spots around the city and how Girls Run NYC came to be.
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do, where do you live?
I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I’m a licensed creative arts therapist and work at a public high school by day. By night I’m a track and field coach and the founder and coach of Girls Run NYC, a women’s running collective. I’m also a global ambassador for Adidas Women and the head running coach for Adidas Runners NYC.
Let’s talk go-tos…
Coffee order: Matcha latte with almond milk or oat milk. My favorite is Cafe Integral’s El Matcha Mas Matcha.
Running outfit: I’m an Adidas athlete so my sneaker go-tos are the Adizero Adios for long runs and Ultraboost for recovery runs. When it’s cold, I layer up, and when it’s warm, I’m partial to split shorts and cut-off tees.
Not-running outfit: I live in athleisure because I’m often going from workouts to work and vice versa. I gave myself a uniform a few years ago: black jeans and a black men’s T-shirt. I mix it up with shoes, accessories and jackets, but the basic uniform suits me and I feel like I really came into my own when I made that choice.
Neighborhood spot(s): I will always love Nolita, the first real neighborhood I spent a lot of time in when I came to NYC in 2003. For lunch I still like to go to Lovely Day, which has been around for a while. I recently moved to Crown Heights but still find myself in my old neighborhood Fort Greene to eat Vietnamese food at Mekong. S,T Coffee and Sacred Yoga in Bed-Stuy are great too. I also spend a lot of time eating tacos at Gueros these days.
Album/playlist: I’m part of a DJ collective that throws a party called “Out To Cruise.” We’re all runners and have an eclectic mix of music that we spin. I play everything from roots reggae to surf rock to Motown. A Spotify playlist that I’m currently pretty satisfied with is “ZAPO endless summer.”
Weekend plan: My weekends always start off with morning runs. On Saturdays I coach Adidas runners and Sundays are my long runs. Afterwards I usually end up getting a really healthy meal somewhere. My favorite spots are Dimes in Chinatown and Stone Fruit in Bed-Stuy. On weekends when it’s cold, I’ll make time to go to a museum or to the movies with a friend. When it’s warmer, I’m pretty much always at Rockaway Beach or upstate to hike or trail run.
Have you always been a runner? When did you start taking it seriously?
I’ve been running since I was about 12 years old as a track and field athlete. I got into running longer distances when I was 23. I was lucky to be invited to join the Bridgerunners when they were first starting off in 2004 and that started me on my journey to becoming a distance runner.
Talk to us about how Girls Run NYC came to be.
I’ve been in the New York City running community for over 12 years and always took an interest in getting women and people who didn’t see themselves as runners to run. I saw how personally powerful and transformative running could be in my life and I wanted to share that gift! So, after starting several other running clubs I finally decided to begin a women’s-specific collective at the end of 2014. I wasn’t sure if women would even want to come—but at the very first workout, which was in the dead of winter out of a cycling shop (Chari and Co) in the Lower East Side, close to 20 women showed up. I knew if those women were into it, then there were other women out there who might join—we just had to make the space for them.
That spring I got my USATF coaching certification and started hosting workouts on the track at McCarren Park. Fast forward to this past December, we just made it to three years and have seen hundreds of women come to work out with us. All of this has been solely based on the commitment of women showing up for themselves and each other. We have a lot of plans for 2018, and many of the original women who started with us are now leaders within the group.
Wow, you must be so proud of how the group has evolved. What would you say are some of the benefits to running collectively rather than going solo?
There are many benefits to both solo and group running. I think everyone needs a combination of both. Running in a group helps to hold you accountable. Also, you usually find someone or a group of people who run at your pace, which keeps you motivated and pushes you more than if you ran alone. I love running and talking, so being in a group is also a great social experience. You can make some really strong bonds with the folks you share miles with. There’s something about running that strips away a lot of the B.S. and gets you to be your true self. Running can also be the great equalizer—if you work hard, it pays off, and you don’t always find that in other areas of life.
Say you meet someone who’s apprehensive about running—either getting back into it or trying it for the first time. What would you say to them?
Come out and run with Girls Run NYC (if they’re women!). I designed the group with those very apprehensions in mind because it’s so real for so many people. I wanted to make a space for any type of runner (new, experienced or just getting back into it) to be able to all run together and get what they need from the workout. If they can’t come out to Girls Run NYC, then I suggest starting small and with a friend. We think we have to be perfect, fit or fast to start running—but that’s not true. In reality we have to be slow, gentle and start small then gradually add on more time, distance and speed. The most important thing is consistency—and that’s why having a friend or group to help you show up for yourself is key.
And finally—who’s a lady you love in your life and why?
It’s hard to choose one, but I am going to say my grandma Ruth Zehnder. She’s 100 years old and lives in Cleveland. She took care of me when I was in my early childhood, and she’s such a beautiful, kind and loving spirit. She inspires me to live to 100. I hope she gets to read this…I love you, Grandma!
Check out Jessie and more Ladies We Love in our International Women’s Day video below.
P.S. Time’s running (get it, running?) out to enter the Women for the Win sweeps. Sign up now for your shot at a Madewell shopping spree, copy of The Little Book of Feminist Saints signed by author Julia Pierpont, custom artwork by illustrator Manjit Thapp and a donation to Girls Inc. made in your name.* Go, go, go (!).
* NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to legal residents of the 48 contiguous United States (excluding Rhode Island), 18 years or older and over the age of majority in jurisdiction of residence at time of entry. Ends March 31, 2018, at6:00pm ET. For Official Rules, visit www.refinery29.com/sweeps/madewell-international-womens-day-sweepstakes/. Void where prohibited.