Harlem Run on Running the UA Copper Mountain 50K

Alison Desir
by Alison Desir
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Harlem Run on Running the UA Copper Mountain 50K

This summer, members of Harlem Run are gearing up to tackle the UA Mountain Running Series. The series, which takes place in Copper Mountain, Colorado, Killington, Vermont, and Bend, Oregon, is made up of 5K, 10K, 25K and 50K race distances that promise to push participants outside their comfort zone no matter what distance they choose.

With Copper Mountain behind us and Killington on the horizon, dozens of Harlem Run participants are beginning to see what it means to push your personal edge and emerge stronger as a result.

For two participants in particular, Amir Muhammad Figueroa and Jesse Liriano, their desire to tackle back-to-back 50K (31-mile) races is rooted in honoring the personal struggles they’ve overcome through grit, perseverance and resilience.

Here are their stories, written in their own words:


Growing up, I always felt like there was something missing. While I experienced love and support from my family around me, the loss of my father due to complications with HIV when I was 4 years old and the loss of my older brother to a car accident when I was 11 meant I was without what should have been two of the most important people in my life.

This void would come to manifest itself in various ways throughout my life. In high school and college, this void manifested itself in an uncontrollable anger. Luckily, I would learn to channel that anger into wrestling, my sport of choice at the time, and I found myself at the top of my fitness and highly ranked among my peers. That is, until a back injury left me unable to compete and, before I knew it, nearly 20 pounds overweight and feeling as though my life no longer had meaning.

I found that running was more than just a physical act. Running for me is a meditative and mindful practice — and, while running, the void didn’t feel quite so deep.

Years of self-reflection, mindfulness and fate landed me, in 2010, with the opportunity to run the NYC marathon. A good friend of mine, who is living with HIV, told me about the opportunity to run the NYC marathon if I committed to raise funds for a charity. Despite never having been a long-distance runner, I jumped at the opportunity to have my miles mean more than my own personal achievements; I would be raising money for a nonprofit whose work focused on providing treatment for those in the HIV/AIDS community — people who could have been my father. I was inconsistent with my training, but I found the finish line and had the most transformative experience of my life: I found running was more than just a physical act.  Running for me is a meditative and mindful practice — and, while running, the void didn’t feel quite so deep.

In the eight years since that first marathon, I’ve tackled courses previously unimaginable to me. In mid-July on Copper Mountain, I found myself humbled by the epicness of the course — from the scattered rocks and roots, to the unrelenting elevation — and yet I committed to running the 50K because I’m on a journey to see just how far I can push myself.  As a rule, while running the trails, I don’t listen to music, which allows me to focus on my breath and surroundings. My mind drifts to the past, and future, but focusing on my breath brings me back into the present.

Fast forward to the start of the race, running at elevation in Copper Mountain felt like a punch in the throat! Living in New York City didn’t grant me any opportunity to train for the elevation but I did what I could with what I had at my disposal: NYC streets and scattered small trails. The first 7.5 miles up was all about negotiating when to run and when to walk, followed by glorious downhills.

The course itself was two loops of the 25K course, which was difficult for me to wrap my mind around mentally. Finishing the first loop, I felt pretty accomplished but, by the second loop, it seemed I had lost the motivation. By mile 21, I truly wanted to call it quits, but I reminded myself that I didn’t come this far to turn back now. With my heart beating seemingly outside of my chest and my head pounding, I gave everything I had to finish the race in a little more than 7 hours.

I run because movement to me is the most visible sign of life; when I’m running I’m truly living and through running and movement I show myself and my community just how much you can accomplish when you give your everything to a goal greater than yourself. The void I have from my father’s and brother’s deaths will always be there but so will the pavement and the trail.

Next up is the Killington 50K at the end of August. Are you with me?


Sports had always been my thing. From being a star football player in high school to snagging a spot as a semi-professional football player after graduation, I could always count on my athleticism. When I found myself unable to go pro, I began to feel like I wasn’t living up to my potential and was a failure; that’s when the drinking began. I would drink excessively because if felt much easier for me to escape reality than to process my emotions and disappointment.

Adding insult to injury, I ended a five-year relationship around the same time, which lead me to spiral out of control. I realized during this time that I had attached my happiness to other people and external achievements — I didn’t know how to be happy with myself or do things without any selfish gain. The final blow was when I ruptured my Achilles, which left me unable to participate in any activities for nearly a year.

During this time, I had a lot of time to think about my life, and I asked myself several tough questions: Is this how you want to be remembered? Do you want to cut your life short like your father did because of inner demons and addiction? Or could you be an example to strive for greatness after a setback?

No matter what life throws your way, with perseverance and a strong belief in yourself, you can overcome.

I used the time spent rehabbing from my Achilles as an opportunity to rebuild my life physically and mentally and become a better version of myself. Throughout the year, I read books about self love, the power of belief in one’s self and accountability. I slowly overcame my dependency on alcohol and started to see the possibility of a new Jesse 2.0. I committed to working hard in rehab in the gym and found running, which has not only become an essential part of my life but also a platform to share my story.  

In 2014, I completed my first obstacle race, and it felt great to be back in a competitive environment. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to take on seemingly impossible challenges because they showed me what I was made of and let others know a comeback story is possible.

Since recovering from that injury, I’ve completed several marathons, ultra-marathons, obstacle course marathons; I’ve even participated in the Obstacle Course Race World Championship and had the opportunity to participate in Under Armour’s Run Camp 2.0: Death Valley.

I decided to run back-to-back 50Ks in the Under Armor Mountain Series to inspire people to believe in second chances. No matter what life throws your way, with perseverance and a strong belief in yourself, you can overcome.

About the Author

Alison Desir
Alison Desir

Passionate about community, mental health and fitness, Alison AKA powderedfeet is an endurance athlete sponsored by Under Armour and a believer that sport has the power to change lives. When Alison isn’t running, she’s working to resolve and speak about issues related to women and girls.


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