Exploring how running shops and their communities keep runners moving
Editor's Note: This piece is brought to you in collaboration with Nike Running. Featured runners shared their thoughts on community, their current training regimen, and how running influences their life. Runners were also given the opportunity to wear test the Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT% prior to its general release.
Despite everything 2020 has thrown at us, one thing remains constant - we never stopped running. When the major marathons are cancelled - we’ll run them virtually. When our crews can’t meet up 100 deep on a weeknight for a run then some food, we’ll share our runs over social channels. When we are told we have to wear face masks? No problem, we’ll rip track workouts in them.
Through pandemics, and social justice movements, and loss, we run. Sometimes we run for ourselves, and sometimes we run for others. Some of us run to raise awareness, and to show runners of the future that they belong here. Some of us just love to rip. Whatever you run for, we’re here for it.
We checked in with six athletes across North America to learn more about their running and the communities that support them.
Gilbert Tuhabonye - The Loop Running Supply
Gilbert Tuhabonye is a pillar of the Austin running community - since the early 2000’s he’s been coaching athletes of all abilities with Gilbert’s Gazelles, his training group now based out of The Loop Running Supply. Gilbert has been around running all his life, and says that in The Loop, he’s got more than a partner in running.
“It’s special to have a home, to meet at The Loop and experience the connection. First we were just meeting in a park. When you meet in a park it’s okay but it isn’t a home. This space has become a home and an extension of the family.”
Today, we’re following Gilbert on his favourite run - a river loop that is especially popular with The Loop community, in no small part because the path goes right past the store. “It’s right in front of the house (The Loop that is), and you get to see other runners, and it’s easy on the body. Back in the days when we didn’t have GPS to tell how fast you were going, you just had a simple watch and the mile markers tell you how fast you go.”
The run features beautiful views of the Colorado River, which in humid weather in late September is busy with kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. Like all of us, Gilbert has done a lot more solo training lately, and we ask him where his mind goes as the miles tick by.
“When I run I used to sing. Now I sing and pray so that we can get back to normal. Pray for the virus to go away so we can all get back to normal. Pray for the better.”
As someone who has been running for over thirty years, and has coached and worked with thousands of runners, Gilbert has seen it all. And while we might be in the middle of a situation no one could have planned for, Gilbert’s outlook is community first.
“We have to rethink the way we do things. We have to keep people engaged, especially kids. When we started a run we used to get everyone together at once and I would send an inspirational message before they left. Now we do wave starts so the connections feel small scale. The big family meet up gets lost. People keep telling me they miss that. We have to adapt though.”
For Boston architect Caroline Shannon, community means more than just the people she trains with. Training with Heartbreak Hill Running Company, Caroline understands the power of the collective - not just for oneself, but for the wider community.
“Being a Heartbreaker challenges you to speak up - for yourself and for others. I remember an “Office Hours” where I stood up to share a goal that felt scary - saying it out loud made it feel possible - working hard made it possible. As Heartbreakers, we’ve united around shared causes for racial justice, for voting rights, for women’s rights, for human rights of all kinds. There’s no such thing as “just running” - it’s an inextricable part of our lives. It’s a privilege and a responsibility, an opportunity to shape ourselves and our world for the better.”
"As Heartbreakers, we’ve united around shared causes for racial justice, for voting rights, for women’s rights, for human rights of all kinds. There’s no such thing as “just running” - it’s an inextricable part of our lives."
We track Caroline on a favourite local loop, dubbed the ‘Firehouse Loop’ a hilly 10 miler that starts and finishes at the Heartbreak's Newton store - right around Mile 20 of the Boston Marathon course. The Firehouse Loop is the marathon training loop of all marathon training loops. January through March you’ll see hundreds of runners taking the 10-path as they prepare on arguably the most grueling section of the marathon course. Many of those hundreds are Heartbreakers.
“In the build-up to Boston, almost all of our long runs are here.
The Boston Marathon is run one day per year. To most people, the other 364 days a year, these are just regular city streets. For me, there’s magic in these miles of pavement everyday. Each time I run them, another layer of memories settles.”
If there’s one thing runners have gained in 2020, it’s a new appreciation for everything running gives us. When racing is taken away, we realise that as much as racing felt like the thing we were getting out of bed to train for, it’s the community that gets us out on the road early or keeps us there late.
“We often say, 'it takes love to know Heartbreak' and this has felt especially true these last few months. I had been pouring myself into training for Boston throughout the winter and as difficult as it was to lose the race, it was infinitely more difficult to lose the rhythm and camaraderie and confidence that marathon training gave me for everything else I do in life.
A couple of weeks ago, I laced up with a few of my teammates to support their “virtual” Boston Marathon. I had only planned to run part of it - but coming past mile 20, I couldn’t stop. As I said before, there’s magic in those miles. It looked nothing like the third Monday in April usually looks, but it honestly didn’t matter. We were out there for the love of the run, our team, our city - and that was more than enough to carry me through the full 26.2.”
Back at the store, Firehouse Loop done, we ask Caroline what running looks like for her for the rest of 2020, and what role it plays in her life.
"Right now, I’m running to support my overall health and manage my mental health (anxiety). It’s the best way I know to practice telling myself “I can do this” - lap after lap, mile after mile - and then bring that into the rest of my day as an architect, student, ally, advocate, partner, sister, friend."
Omer Abdulrahman - Runologie
Omer Abdulrahman arrived in the US from Sudan speaking little English - but the universal language of the runner drew him to the Raleigh running community.
“My family lived a rural life farming crops and tending livestock before the Sudanese Civil War changed our world. I escaped from becoming a teenage soldier by running. I escaped the armed militia trying to recruit me by sneaking through the back of a tent in the refugee camp. I ran for hours. I ran and walked until sunrise, not knowing how far I had gone, I just knew to keep going. Fourteen days later I arrived in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Through my life’s twists and turns running remains constant."
When Omer moved to Raleigh in 2015, he worked two full time jobs while attending school. It didn't leave much time to build a social network - which is where Runologie came in. The shop has a thriving community of runners, with different shop runs throughout the week catering to different levels. For Omer, the chance to blend in to a pack with dozens of other runners several times a week helped make Raleigh feel like home.
When I arrived in America, I noticed people running - and running through Raleigh brought me a new life. The running groups and clubs are this community’s backbone - every weeknight you can go to a run club of 50-100 people to sweat with casual runners or pace up with a friendly tempo.
This community has become family and they have fully embraced me.”
Putting in work feels like a common thread for Omer, and while gone are the days of two full time jobs while attending school, these days the ‘work’ is 90 mile weeks in preparation for a sub 15 minute 5km.
“Living downtown, Dorothea Dix Park has become my stomping ground and host to Runologie’s race series. I help set up the shop’s races then compete in them.
In Dix Park, I’ve grown to love the hills, the quiet roads under giant oak trees, and the repeats in the park’s large grass fields. For my non-pavement longer runs, I hit the American Tobacco Trail--a flat 22 miles that is perfect for extended tempos.”
When the local community is the source of so much of your energy, and when those 90 mile weeks don’t culminate in the pinning of a bib number, what do you do if you’re Omer Abdulrahman?
“The limited interactions with other runners is challenging. I used to race nearly every week during the summer but now I am limited to time trials...while 2020 has been challenging, we can only continue to learn, adapt, and grow and that is what our community will do.”
Ennis Addison - Brooklyn Running Company
Brooklyn Running Company, in Park Slope and Williamsburg, serves a number of run crews and community groups from the area, and supports a number of local races in Brooklyn - including the famous Brooklyn Mile. The team at Brooklyn Running Company tapped Ennis Addison to share his experiences of running in Brooklyn - and we're glad they did.
All writing below by Ennis Addison - Ed
I do tempo runs down Kent Ave, by Domino Park, as the flat blacktop on the Williamsburg waterfront allows me to get into a kind of groove and hold a comfortably hard pace. Firm, snappy, responsive yet more substantive trainers like the Tempo Next% feel good underfoot for daily mileage; I took them out for 10 aspirational miles yesterday.
Kent Ave runs under the Williamsburg Bridge aka the WillyB — debatably one of the toughest bridges for runners in NYC given its brutal, seemingly endless ascent from the Manhattan side via Delancey street over the East River and into Brooklyn. During humid, morning Summer long-runs for fall marathon training, me and my crew, DBRC (DawnBreakers Running Crew) — a cadre of young-in-the-90’s parents and partners who attempt to get our miles in while our fams sleep—masochistically hit the WillyB at mile 17 or 18 on a grueling 20+-miler in order to simulate what running hard on tired legs is going to feel like on the Queensborough Bridge or on the approach to Central Park up 5th Ave in the NYC marathon.
With that said, my runs down Kent Ave dodging trucks or over the WillyB dodging bikers, hit a little different nowadays.
On 2/23, Ahmaud Arbery, was lynched in southern Georgia, on a run. On 5/8, on the country roads of Stockbridge, Mass where I was riding out Covid-19, I ran 2.23 miles in solidarity with Ahmaud and to protest his public lynching. Collectively, the running community and running culture writ-large, was proclaiming, “A man was lynched that day.”
On 5/25, George Floyd, was lynched in Minneapolis by a police officer who realized the thing, chillingly, with one hand in his pocket.
In June and July, back home in Brooklyn, I ran consecutive 100-mile weeks amid and because of the multiple pandemics that we’re enduring, alone and together. In fact, running has given me new meaning in the face of it all. I now run as an act of survival, as a kind of existential, improvisational Blues/Jazz hybrid gesture (not knowing where my feet will ultimately take me). I run as an act of freedom.
Many of my ancestors had been running since they arrived at these shores, involuntarily: rejecting and resisting their putative state of (un)freedom. Many of their remains rest, disquietingly, in the African Burial Grounds in Lower Manhattan. Therefore, I run in the tradition and memory of bold runners as runaways. Palenques. Cimarrones. Maroons. Mackandal, of course. Harriet, of course. Frederick, of course. Manzano, of course. I run to honor NYC running treasures like Ted Corbitt, of course. What’s more, I run because my father lost his race and too soon.
Finally, I run so that my brood—Langston, August and Zora-know that they are the descendants of a long line of venerable runners and that, indeed, they are runners as well. One day, they too, will be called upon to run and I’m preparing them to exclaim, upon taking their first step towards everywhere and nowhere, “Catch me if you can. I dare you!”
Jes Lam - Vancouver Running Company
Jes Lam has been running with Vancouver Running Company for over 5 years, so she's the perfect person to give us a pulse check on running in this stunning city.
Jes has been running PR's and helping others earn theirs as part of 'Flight Crew' - a run club set up by Vancouver Running Company, where Jes leads some of the multiple runs from the store each week (pre-covid of course).
All writing below by Jes Lam - Ed
It’s 6pm on a Thursday and like clockwork, I ascend the stairs of Vancouver Running Company (VRC) and it feels like I’m coming home. I’ve been running with Flight Crew Run Club for five years now and can’t imagine spending Thursday night anywhere else. The moment I stepped through the door that first night, I was immediately embraced by the magic that pulsates through its walls.
The constant chatter and electricity that generates from everyone in the shop on a Thursday is contagious – you can’t escape it. Everyone is stoked to run and that’s what makes this place special. It’s a place where inhibitions and doubt are left at the door because everybody is a runner, everybody is accepted, and everybody belongs here. It’s a place where you can leave the day behind, the week behind, and rev into the weekend on a high. And I can guarantee that you’ll find your new best friends here; I know I did.
Being situated in the heart of Kitsilano allows VRC to show off Vancouver’s beauty on every route we run. The route we chose to shoot at is quintessentially Vancouver with ocean and mountain views along every step of the way. We run over the infamous Burrard Bridge where most like to push it to the top then let the legs float as you descend to the other side. And then there’s the stairs – it’s always a competition of who is going to be a “hero” by running up them versus walking.
Vancouver’s picturesque Seawall is a major attraction of this route with good reason. From the Seawall we admiringly gaze across the water at the skyline that is anchored by a backdrop of the Coast Mountains while the sun sets. Run views really don’t get any better than this.
Running is my meditation where I can free myself from the anxiety brought on by all the turmoil in the world. As I’ve gotten accustomed to solo running these past several months, I eagerly anticipate the day when I can run with the Crew once again.
Though I may not be hitting the heavy mileage I used to pre-pandemic, I find myself evermore grateful to have this sport to turn to in these times.
Running is my meditation where I can free myself from the anxiety brought on by all the turmoil in the world. As I’ve gotten accustomed to solo running these past several months, I eagerly anticipate the day when I can run with the Crew once again. Until then, I look forward to solo runs where I get to bump into a familiar, smiling face along the Seawall and throw out an air-five.
Moe Murunga - Mill City Running
Kenyan born Moe Murunga is relatively new to running. When he came into the sport three years ago, he came by himself. The first time he showed up to a group run one Saturday morning at Mill City Running, he had to ask if there was a race on, such was the size of the crowd milling about.
“During introductions I found some runners who were running my pace, I was the new guy but they welcomed me, and I still train with that group today. Mill City has become a home.”
With everything Mill City owners husband and wife Jeff and Bekah Metzdorff do for local runners, it's not hard to see how Moe fell in with Mill City. Their racing team is the largest registered club in Minneapolis (over 400 runners), they host various events at the shop, and have regular training runs throughout the week (pre-covid).
As Moe takes on a stunning loop around Nicollet Island, we ask what the group vibe is like now, in a very different time. “A small group of us still meet every Saturday morning outside the shop to get our long efforts in. Running with a group, even a few others makes the miles go by much quicker. Lots of us are struggling with motivation as most of our racing season has been cancelled. A number of us were planning on chasing PR’s at CIM this December, but I’ll adjust my plan.”
The historic Nicollet Island, in late September awash in beautiful fall reds and oranges, provides an ideal training environment for Moe and everybody at Mill City Running. Wide, smooth roads and little car traffic - an almost universal wish list for road runners.
“The Island is perfect. The perimeter road is exactly a mile around with a few longer, gradual inclines. The Team spends a lot of Wednesdays nights out here training. Mile repeats, tempo runs, hills, you can do it all on the Island.”
Back at Mill City Running, engaging in the ritual post-run chat out front of the store, and Moe best articulates what we’re all feeling. Not just the 6 runners profiled in this feature, but all of us. And it’s the perfect way to sign off this piece.
“Running in 2020 is part stress relief and part centering. You are able to get lost in it. The Saturday 20 miler doesn’t know there’s a pandemic, it just needs to get done.”
Through putting this piece together and speaking with athletes across North America, themes of connection and support stick out to me. Staying connected in 2020 can be tough, but having a community pillar like a local running store has given these athletes something they can rely on, something familiar, and something that reminds them that running isn’t cancelled. Not now, not ever.
Another common theme that came through from Omer, Moe, and Jes, was about feeling welcomed and finding another type of family. That sums up the best parts of the running community as I’ve seen it around the world, and all it takes to be part of that is the initial leap - show up to that group run, head into your local store, take that first step in exploring the local community - the rest will take care of itself.