Whether you’re running to sweat off a few pounds, prepping for a marathon, or just jonesing for a fit way to meet active and attractive people, running clubs might be right up your alley.
I chased the tail of the RunningRats founder JJ Hughes and lucky for me (and my lungs) I caught him in a rare moment of repose, sitting on a bench in the Commerce Court Running Room in downtown Toronto where the 60-member club meets every Tuesday evening.
Bruce Springsteen said we were born to run. Was the Boss right?
I think running is a great sport, but when you get to the marathon level it’s probably not what your body was meant for, but marathons appeal to people because completing one is an accomplishment.
What’s the story behind the RunningRats name?
The Running comes from running, the “Rats” is an acronym for Running Alumni of Toronto and we just put the two together.
Genius. Can anybody join?
Yes, we usually ask that people feel comfortable running at least 10k or more. Often people who join our club have been through a couple clinics and are looking for people to maintain with.
Urban running is one giant obstacle course. What gets in your way?
Our biggest problem is cars coming out of the car parks of the downtown towers, especially on the one-way roads. They’ll look the way the traffic is coming and if we’re running in the opposite direction they won’t see us and just shoot out and run us down, which is kind of annoying.
How do you prep for the Marathon?
The program that I follow is based on what I’ve learned through the Running Room. Usually we’re working on a 15 to 20 week schedule where we’ll keep increasing things in increments. We do different runs: hill training, speed work and on a Sunday we’ll do a long run which takes us up to 36k. The marathon is 42k, so we don’t train for the whole distance in advance.
When you run a marathon, is it about finishing or the experience?
It’s really about the experience. The tagline of our group is “Run with the Spirit,” so it’s about having a good time and supporting each other in our accomplishments.
Was it really hard to finish your first marathon?
It’s like that every marathon. I always find that the last 10k is hard.
What’s the secret to surviving a marathon?
I think the secret is to have a program, and have some people to run with so you have the support. Then it’s just about having the will to succeed and the spirit to want to win. You win whether you are the first person over the line or the last person over the line.
You often see runners wave to each other when they pass each other; what’s the deal with the wave? Are runners all Mr. and Mrs. Congeniality?
Yeah, you’re right. Runners have a special camaraderie. You’ll always say hello when you see someone passing by which makes it a fun sport. So even if you’re running solo you feel like you’re running with the other people who are out there.
No one thinks that salt marks that form during long distance runs are attractive; do you wipe them off or are they a badge of honor to be worn right to the finish line?
It’s not really something I thought about; I never really noticed. Is that a problem you have?
Yeah but it’s from potato chips. Speaking of cravings, you haven’t gone for a run in a week, and you haven’t had sex in a week, which do you crave more?
You’re going to print this? If I’m frustrated I have to get out and run. I’m not answering your question [though], my girlfriend would kill me.
Running clubs have been minted as the latest pick-up venue; is the press deserved?
It is a social thing, that’s very true but I think on the whole people come out to run.
People join clinics to meet people (laughs) but don’t quote me on that.
What are your thoughts on the whole jogging on a spot at stoplights phenomenon. Couldn’t you mix it up a little, maybe take a tai chi break instead?
I think it’s crazy. If the light is red I stand there and drink water.
Tracks or Treadmills?
I think treadmills are so monotonous. If you’re on a track, at least you’re outside; there’s real air and there’s more happening whereas to be running on a spot is painful.
Cotton or Dri-Fit?
Dri-Fit. You only have to watch the men coming in at the end of a marathon on a hot day wearing cotton and you’ll know why.
Spandex or Mesh?
Neither really, but I hate spandex so I’ll say mesh.
Nike or New Balance?
New Balance. They just have good quality shoes that work well. They also do a lot of wide sizes and narrow sizes for people with different types of feet. Nikes are good if you want to look good.
Hat or Headband?
Hat, [I don’t find headbands stylish].
Sunscreen or Bug spray?
Sunscreen—I’m running too fast for the bugs.
Why do so many runners wear such skimpy outfits?
They don’t (*Looks around the Running Room and back down to his quarter-thigh length shorts*) It’s hot.
For more info on the RunningRats, scoot over to www.runningrats.com
An abbreviated version of this story first ran in the Toronto Sun under the headline "Running: The Clubs"
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