There's something special happening at The Loop
It’s early on Friday morning, hot enough to not even take a shirt on the run, the route is hilly, and you’re sweating through your eyeballs. That sounds like a version of reality for some of us, some of the time.
Now add in a 7 mile loop, and a group of running buddies all with their foot on the gas - no one’s running all out (yet), but the pace seems to be picking up bit by bit. You know it’s starting to get uncomfortable because for the first time you’re conscious of the speed you’re running at.
Did I mention it’s early on a Friday morning?
Welcome to the Bomb Run in Austin, Texas. Soon enough, the pace will pick up again and the pack will splinter. Decision time - do you latch onto the back of the quicker runner in front of you, or ease off the throttle just enough to bring your heart rate under control and stop the suffering?
Pick the former and you might just hang on longer than you think and surprise yourself. Pick the latter and at least you might be able to talk to another runner while you run back to the finish.
The start and finish is back at The Loop Running Supply, a boutique running store in downtown Austin. The Bomb Run starts here every Friday morning at 6:10, and the route alternates regularly. The OG Bomb Run started back in East Africa - Burundi to be more precise, with Gilbert Tuhabonye, who has become an integral member of the local Austin running community. Back in 2004, Gilbert started the Bomb Run at another run store in town, before it moved to The Loop in recent times.
“The run is a slow and easy start and a fast finish meant to simulate race pace. Ultimately, the heart behind the Bomb Run is community. We start together, and we push each other to finish strong. Don't get me wrong though, you don't show up to the run expecting to cross the ‘finish line’ holding hands. It's very much a ‘drop the bomb or get dropped’ attitude”, according to Pam Hess, co-founder of The Loop.
Much of the charm of the Bomb Run is in who shows up. On any given week you might see a decent mix of college athletes, post collegiate runners, plenty of amateurs, and when TEMPO shows up - elite marathoner Allie Kieffer is at The Loop.
Arguably those moments just before a run like this are as special as the time shared on the run. These are the moments, away from your job and before you move into your ‘non-runner’ circles for the day, where everyone clicks. From the moment you pull up at the run, the other people there ‘get’ you. Nothing needs to be explained or toned down; this is the time for the uncensored and unbridled flow of conversation.
Adam Waldum, regular on the Bomb Run, puts it best.
“For a lot of us it’s the one run of the week we all start together, so we’re catching up on life and running. At 6am, some people are chatting it up while others you won’t hear from until the middle of the run.
No matter how quick anyone is, everyone is there and we all start together.”
The Loop is much more than just being a convenient starting point for the run - it’s arguably the beating heart of the Austin running community. As well as being the base for training group Gilbert’s Gazelles and a must visit destination for travelling pros, The Loop has its own racing team, Go The Spoils. Pam Hess is clear on on what makes The Loop special.
At the end of the day, if we haven't weaved The Loop into the local running community, we are just bricks and mortar and that's not what I signed up for."
Pam Hess, Co-Founder, The Loop
Go The Spoils was started from The Loop's desire to support local sub-elite and elite athletes. As Pam explains, a lot of these runners were already getting the work in, but without the camraderie of a group training environment.
"Austin has a ton of talent, and most of these athletes have been used to being on their own in workouts, easy runs, and more. We wanted to support those athletes in their big goals by providing a team of other like minded individuals."
The group helps out with various training and coaching programs in the area. You might have already seen GTS around - they bossed The Speed Project this year and have some of the sickest race kits around (read about their experience at The Speed Project here).
Today’s route takes us through an undulating loop known as 'Lollipop'. Pam explains, "It's 7 miles total, with about 3 miles of rolling hills...it's a net downhill of rolling hills into the finish, and ideally the bomb would get dropped on the descent home, but that's not always the case."
After less than 2km, when the road starts to go up, two main groups are established - a front pack of 12-13 runners, and a second group of 9, with various smaller clusters spaced out around the second group.
As the miles roll on, the road bobs up and down on the horizon like a boat in rough seas, causing the packs to thin.
"There's usually a progression throughout the entire run, and then a big move, like in a race, where the pace really speeds up."
Mitch Ammons, Go The Spoils runner
There's something special about watching the sun come up on your run. Granted, the heat and humidity can take something away from the feeling of the world waking up with you, but it's an undeniable lift to the spirit when you can start a run in the dark and finish bathed in golden light.
Running through the suburban streets of Barton Hills and back towards downtown Austin, the city springs to life.
As the run winds down, everyone regroups and rolls back to The Loop around 7am for some hydration, core, rolling, or just to share stories from the run. It's this post-run buzz and sense of community that is so important to Hess and her co-founder, (and husband) Ryan Hess. There is an easy parallel here to parents of big families, who find no greater joy than when their house is filled with laughter, footsteps, and mayhem.
"Community is everything. You feel it most at The Loop from 5:30am to 9:00am with the Gazelles and our Go The Spoils team coming and going from the shop before work. People will be showering, putting on their makeup in the dressing room, doing core inside and outside. All after running the trail together in complete darkness."