There are few jobs that require the constant mental sharpness and physical prowess of a law enforcement officer. The ability to quickly read a potentially hostile environment and to handle oneself in a confrontation can mean the difference between life and death. It’s about being alert, “on”, and also sensitive to complex situations.
In order to keep his mind and body in peak condition, the New York Police Department’s Nicholas Fiore never missed a run during his days patrolling the streets as a young officer working in anti-crime — whether it meant throwing the gear on in the dead of night or as the sun came up after working a swing shift.
“No matter what hour I got home, I made sure I did two things before I closed my eyes,” says Fiore. “I saw my wife and I went on a run.”
Years later, Fiore was nearly sidelined by a close call with cancer, which required him to have half of his thyroid removed. Suddenly, those runs became more than a fitness output, but also part of a regime that has kept him healthy and strong — not just for his high-stakes job, but also for his two daughters.
“That’s when it really went from a hobby to a ritual,” Fiore says. “I dedicated myself to it.”
Through commitment to the job and the community, Fiore succeeded in gaining the trust of the public and the respect of his department — becoming the Commanding Officer of Brooklyn North Detective Operations. He currently oversees 10 precinct detective squads and the Brooklyn North Homicide Task Force. Uproxx spoke with Fiore last week to talk about how running has helped him accomplish his goals and up his game over the course of his career as a first responder.
How did you first start taking running seriously?
I came into the NYPD around 2005. I was playing for the department football team during those first years. During that time I was weighing anywhere between 225 pounds and 245 pounds. So I was definitely carrying some weight around for my height, and I had always been bigger as a kid. I got to the point where my body couldn’t handle it anymore. One day I was doing deadlifts and I herniated a disk in my back. I ended up in a doctor’s office.
What did he tell you?
The first thing that he told me to do was to lighten the load. That meant I needed to start taking up some cardio. I remember this was 2008 and I went down to Gateway Park. I just told myself I was going to start running. I didn’t know how to do it properly, or where I was going to go, but I just told myself to start running.
How did those first few years go?
On those runs I was counting the time. I would plan to go three miles, and then I would go three miles. Little by little I started to get more into it. I started using the Nike Plus app, and realized that I wasn’t doing too bad. I started using the treadmill in the gym and pushing myself past my previous speeds. Eventually, I started to get faster.
How did that ability help you on the job?
There would be nights when you would roll by a suspicious activity in progress, and occasionally when you opened the door the person would run. I will say the guys that I patrolled with during those days were very fit. I could tell you that much. They were all working out or running regularly. They were all in shape. That made you feel a little safer coming into work every day, knowing that the guy next to you is putting in the work at the gym. You never want to be the guy chasing someone down and turn around to realize that your partner is nowhere to be seen.
Did that ever happen?
I admit that has happened to me, instances where I wonder how I got out. There was a mentally disturbed person I was chasing down. I don’t want to say my partner couldn’t hold their own, but they got knocked down and then I was left fighting for my life against a man with no feeling in his body. There was nothing that I could do dissuade him because he had that complete lack of pain. I had to keep him at bay for five minutes waiting for that backup to arrive. It felt like an eternity.
How does an experience like that affect you and how you trained?
I have to say once you make it out of a situation like that you leave with a kind of intelligence that you didn’t have before. You learn that you need to be pushing that weight, because you are going into a job every day where anything can happen. I mean you need to be physically capable of handling yourself against a person that may be trying to do you harm.
Did you find it difficult to get your training in while being a full-time first responder?
Sure there were months that I wouldn’t be able to run as much, when I was studying up for my promotions, usually it is hard to make up those hours. I would put weight back on, and when I got the promotion it was back to the treadmill and back out on the paths. I became a police sergeant in 2010. Starting that process, you anticipate that you are going to lose about seven months of your life at least — there is about three or four hours of studying that happens. That is on top of your regular work as a police officer. That is on top of being in a relationship.
When did you become a part of the NYPD Running Club?
I joined the NYPD Running Club in 2009. There is a memorial race that they do for Sergeant Keith Ferguson that goes over the Brooklyn Bridge. I got second or third in the NYPD, which I was personally blown away by. But I took that success as encouragement to try to see how deep I could get into the running and how far I could push it. The Staten Island Half Marathon was my first real competition. Once again, I wasn’t formally trained for any of the runs I went on. I didn’t talk to any coaches. I was my own coach, and I was pretty hard on myself. No matter what kind of knee pain that came up, or work pressure I had, I made sure I found the time.
There are a few marathons and competitions that you have been a part of. What drove you to take them on?
I think it was that curiosity of how far I could go with it, and the fact that it was supporting a healthy lifestyle that was keeping me around. I had a moment while doing the Staten Island Half Marathon that it just clicked that I wanted to do the full thing. I wanted to do the New York City Marathon. I said if I am going to be working for the city of New York, and I am going to do a marathon, it is going to be the New York City Marathon.
How was it doing the New York Marathon?
It didn’t go exactly as I thought it would. I was three weeks out from the event, and I had gone to the gym to do a little training. Out of nowhere I pop a hamstring, on my birthday no less. I didn’t know if I was going to be run, and ended up in therapy. I decided to go for it, taped up my leg and threw a brace on. I can’t describe how amazing the experience was, the top runners from the police department and the fire department get escorted to the front and compete for the Mayor’s Cup. I ended up pulling through and ended up getting a 3:05:56. I’m glad I went for it.
Does it feel good to represent your department through races like that?
I have to say that is one of the best parts. There are a few runs that I really enjoy because of that very thing. One of my favorite races to take on is the Boston Run To Remember. It is a law enforcement race where five guys from the NYPD. They consolidate the time between everyone. If your team wins you get $5,000 to donate to the charity of your choice. I came in first for the NYPD in that. It felt good to give that money to a police foundation. The run starts at the seaport. I just finished one in Nevada where 40 people from our department did a race from Death Valley to Las Vegas, which is considered the Super Bowl of Law Enforcement Running. Our crew walked away with the best time in the category with both male and female runners.
I am sure those competitions really help build the bond between colleagues, which is useful in the field too.
Doing those races with the department is incredibly important to everyone, especially working a job as stressful as this one. On top of that it helps with the physical aspect of the job, which is important when you are protecting the public. You want to walk up to a situation and have whoever is in danger or worried to feel confident that you are going to be able to handle whatever comes. My job is to make you feel like everything is going to be okay. Being in shape is half the battle, but the other half is having your mentality and knowledge base there. Having that care into your physical being benefits your mental shape as well. You need to be fit in all of the ways.
How often are you able to run weekly now that you’re a captain?
I’m on a pretty strict running regime now, especially since I’m preparing for the Boston Marathon, which I’m taking on this year. I usually do about 10 miles, sometimes 20 miles, on the treadmill. I know it sounds crazy that I’m doing marathon distances on the treadmill, but it is the only way that I can answer all the work emails and be there for my family. Everyone knows how important that training is to me, since sometimes I can be in the office handling cases until the early morning. The subject matter can be draining, but if I got my run in, I feel accomplished no matter what shape the day takes.
It is a necessary part of my life.