Kanayo Anekwe needed somebody to train with for an ambitious running schedule that included the Cherry Blossom 10-mile Run last Sunday and a half marathon at Pike’s Peak in August. To find a partner, he needed to look no further than Fun Runs, hosted by Fleet Feet every Thursday evening and Saturday morning.
Fleet Feet is a nationwide franchise that sells running shoes, apparel, and equipment. Gaithersburg’s local store is owned by Chris and Robyn Gault, who opened their first store in Kentlands in May 2005.
Fleet Feet has been hosting its Fun Runs every Thursday since then.
The Fun Runs “are just a good way to have new people coming to the store and a fun way to get people running together,” Chris Gault said. “And it’s a good way to advertise.”
Just one or two people came out for the inaugural run, Gault said. The weekly run soon became a big hit among the community; so big, in fact, that in February 2010 the store had to move to a bigger location, in Gaithersburg.
“By word of mouth people started coming out more,” said Anekwe, who has been working at Fleet Feet for more than six years. “Then people start seeing these big crowds meeting in front of the store and they want to know what it’s all about.”
The runs are about an hour-long through Gaithersburg and the Kentlands. The faster paced group, which on Thursday was led by Fleet Feet worker Chris Leach, takes about a seven-minute-mile pace and will usually log five or six miles by the end of the run. There are also slower paced groups, as well.
“It gives the people a sense of camaraderie,” Leach said. “A lot of the times endurance athletes will have to train isolated.” The runs give those training for similar events the opportunity to work out with people who have the same distance goals in mind, he said.
Five-year runner Oscar Portillo typically runs on his own, but every Thursday he makes the trip to the Kentlands and joins the rest of the runners, which now can range between 60 and 80 people on a nice day, Gault said.
“It’s nice to actually run with people,” Portillo said outside the store on March 29. “All the runs are fun, meeting people and doing the different activities.”
The Gaults looked to other Fleet Feets around the country—there are more than 100 locations in the U.S.—to find activities to spice up the weekly runs.
The most successful: a pub crawl run last fall. The runners would jog to a bar, have a beer, hit another bar and repeat. Tickets for the activity were $20, and it raised $540 which the store donated to several charities, ranging from Girls on the Run, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, Kentlands Community Organization and Critters for the Cure, Gault said.
Other creative runs included a “poker run” in which runners would go to five sites, grab a poker card from each one and play the hand they selected upon returning to the starting point.
“Chris and Robyn really go out of their way to get people to have fun,” said Peter Haack, who has been a loyal fun runner for two years. He used the fun runs to train for the Marine Corps Marathon last October. “The Fun Runs have opened my eyes to lots of other ideas and races. There are a lot of people with a lot of running knowledge here.”