There are hundreds, if not thousands, of run crews in 2021. Something that started out in New York City, and has since influenced runners around the world, has naturally evolved
The origins and history of the run crew movement is a story that has been well told: born in New York City in the early ’00s, the culture has been adopted and adapted by people around the world, each time becoming a little less what it was, and a little more something else.
That in itself is fine – it’s a natural evolution. People take inspiration from something they see, hear or feel, and they make it their own. Somewhere along the way the run crew movement went from being a counterculture, a breeding ground for expression and connection to self and others, and became … a fitness class. A place to come if you want to lose weight or get a nice photo of yourself and have coffee, not a place to run until you puke and then wash it down with a beer or some shots.
It became mainstream and, in some instances, has been driven by big brands who were not just paying to access these crews but also creating and shaping them.
So, when you find a crew that’s keeping it straight and doing things for their city and for the culture, it’s worth celebrating – now more than ever.
“GVTC is a place where people can relate to each other. We are LA. We’re legit from LA, originally from LA.”
Good Vibes Track Club (GVTC) is not the most well-known crew in LA. You’re not catching them selling out merch or blowing up an ad campaign, and you know what? That’s totally fine with them.
“We’re just some folks from South Central Los Angeles. We know a lot of people don’t know us and we’re not hyped but we don’t mind that. We just focus on each other. From day one, one of our mottoes has been ‘we all we need’ and that’s what it is. Whoever shows up to the track and does the work is who we focus on.”
That’s Marvin Garcia, but he generally gets referred to by some variation of ‘Wavy Marv’. Marv grew up in Leimert Park, a small neighbourhood bordering Crenshaw and only a few blocks from the Rancho Cienega track that acts as home base for GVTC.
GVTC has been around for a minute – I first came to know them on a trip to Boston in 2018 when I met Marv, but this isn’t a history lesson (you can read that lesson here).
Instead, we’re going to look at how a bunch of limelight-shunning regular folks from South Central got connected to New Balance and ended up taking a coast-to-coast trip to the home of the run crew movement.
“GVTC is a place where people can relate to each other. We are LA. We’re legit from LA, originally from LA. It was founded by us and all five of our captains are from LA. I’m from South Central LA, we have captains from East LA, from the rough parts of Hollywood; we’ve all grown up in this city and in these neighbourhoods. That's why I think people can relate because we all grew up here – they see themselves in us.”
The LA that outsiders know is a city for the beautiful – a city bursting with extraordinary wealth and fame and revelling in the attention of the world. But beneath that, it’s a city of workers, of grinders. Where New York has a reputation for a fast-paced lifestyle and the city rewards the hustle, Los Angeles is built on grinding.
GVTC are grinders, for sure. From back in the day when they would get 10, 15, 20 people to a session, a post-Covid boom has seen the group swell.
“After last year when we couldn’t hold open sessions at all, it has been crazy to open it up and see how many people are coming out. We have had over a hundred people at our track sessions now in South Central. We had so many new runners – people were hungry to get to a workout and try it out.”
A 2017 report into health disparities in South Central Los Angeles found that residents living in the area were more likely to die from diabetes, had less access to healthcare and had a lower life expectancy compared with residents living in Santa Monica and surrounds.
Is that surprising? No. But it makes it even more significant that Marv and the squad are a visible force in their community. Of course, people come from other parts of LA to run with GVTC, but with the track being in South Central and long runs often happening in the area, GVTC are providing a constant visual marker to residents that running is a space for them.
And now, they’re not just showing up in their pocket of LA – recently they sent 30 runners to the New York City Marathon.
“This (going to NYC) was a vision I've been working on for over a year. When the captains linked up and started planning, we wanted to take the whole squad to a major – New York wasn’t even in the plan! We did it in 2019 with Chicago, and so we wanted to go bigger.
“At that time we had no idea how we were going to do it, but we had a vision to take the squad.”
Enter New Balance. Sometimes people or opportunities come at you at exactly the right time, and that was the case when the team at New Balance hit up Marv and the group.
“Eventually we had the opportunity to sit down with New Balance. They were on our radar for a little while, but with anything we do we have to make sure the alignment is there. I don't rush things, I'm very protective of what we’ve built and I don't want any brand to ever take credit for what we have built.
“But they definitely have been aligning with good people - they recently had a collaboration with Bricks & Wood, which is a South Central brand, from the same area as me, so that made the decision a lot easier.
“They (New Balance) didn’t want to come in with their own agenda, they just wanted to align with us and support our vision. They wanted to help us keep building.”
Marv explains that New York City has always been a place he’s taken energy from – he has a close friendship with industry personality (he’ll hate that I’ve called him that), running icon and former NYC resident Knox Robinson.
“New York has been a massive inspiration point for me – I’m there as often as I can to get inspiration from that environment; it seemed only right to take the squad out with me so they could feel that inspiration as well.
“We probably miss out on some opportunities because we don’t pay attention to what’s popular or we don’t try to create hype – we just work. So I know that our team members might never get a chance to get a free bib to a race or be part of all these brand programs that happen in our city. So this was an opportunity working with New Balance to get some bibs for our team members to run the biggest race in the world.”
The crew from GVTC aren’t influencers. They’re not selling out what they’ve built to a brand – they’re runners just like you and me. The opportunity to get a bib for New York? It’s going to help them build a legacy. More people will show out next marathon season because they saw GVTC running the marathon this year. How does that look in three years? Five years? What are the positive effects on their local community?
That’s what a bib means to someone from South Central LA.
Race days are never guaranteed, and that’s something that runners have started to appreciate since races were cancelled en masse beginning in early 2020. But to run a World Marathon Major is special, and GVTC member Haas Sullivan wasn’t about to let the opportunity slip.
“I have friends that have had qualifying times for NYC and haven’t been able to get in for years – so to get the chance to roll 30-plus deep with GVTC for the 50th anniversary was no small feat and an opportunity that couldn’t be missed!”
And that’s what’s so special about creating opportunities for people. The impact of that opportunity lasts long after the race finishes and the stories are retold over and over. Someday we won’t be doing this – that’s true for all of us. But, while memories of conversations fade and details get blurry, the memory of running the streets of New York City with crowds cheering you on is one that lives forever.
I’ll let another GVTC runner, Kimberly Yanira, close this out.
“Until you run a marathon, I don’t think you realise how invaluable it is to have friends cheer you on – and when your friends fly out from the West Coast, well that’s something you can never forget. It fosters a deeper sense of gratitude for the community you are part of. It’s a great reminder that running is a team sport.”