In Avondale, local bar owners’ creative efforts to keep afloat during the pandemic produced a new run club.
“We were trying to figure out ways that we could make money at the bar, bring in new customers … when we’ve been closed down,” Melissa Genova Hill, co-owner of Reed’s Local (3017 W. Belmont Ave.), said. Fortunately, artist Larky Accomplice reached out to Genova Hill with an idea: host a 5K race.
As a runner for over 10 years, Genova Hill was quick to jump on board. Larky Accomplice designed a T-shirt, personal trainer Corrine Lydon pitched in, and the race was on.
Pauly’s Party Virtual 5K took place in October 2020. Participants could choose to complete the race from anywhere they liked or run Genova Hill’s recommended route from the bar in small groups. Coffee and doughnut vendors provided snacks for in-person participants, to the delight of Pauly, Reed’s bar dog and crumb fiend (since passed).
Genova Hill said the race showed her that “there’s a need and a want for running in Avondale.” So she decided to start a club.
Gathering The Group
Once the idea was planted, Genova Hill took action. She gauged interest and invited runners she knew, plus anyone she spotted looking for running groups on Facebook. Genova Hill said she wanted to create a club that was welcoming, especially to people who began running during the pandemic.
“I wanted to create a run club that was open to everybody – new runners, seasoned runners, ultrarunners, people who even just wanted to walk,” Genova Hill said. “So you get to meet people from the neighborhood, and you get free beer at the end.”
Genova Hill added that she started the club in December “because that’s when a lot of runners quit running because of the cold and the snow.” She wanted to encourage new runners to keep going. While there are some amazing run clubs in Chicago, Genova Hill said that they can unintentionally intimidate even experienced runners. Reed’s Local Run Club aims to do the opposite.
No Runner Left Behind
“I have a rule: No runner is left behind,” Genova Hill said. “So if there is someone who is slower or somebody who is walking, I will run back with them, make sure that they’re OK. And then I’ll run to the front of the group, make sure that they know where they’re going and just kind of make sure that nobody feels lost, nobody feels alone when they’re running.”
Genova Hill said she never wants anyone to get back to Reed’s Local by themselves or feel like they held the group back. Runs are meant to be a fun, social time for marathon runners, casual joggers and everyone in between.
Plus, Genova Hill ensures that every run has a halfway stopping point. Not only does this give runners the chance to take a break, but it also lets Genova Hill highlight local bars and restaurants.
The Nuts And Bolts
Reed’s Local Run Club meets twice a month: every second Saturday at 2 p.m. and every fourth Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Genova Hill said she hopes that the weekend/weeknight combo will give every runner an opportunity to join in the fun at least once a month.
So far, scheduled runs have drawn four to eight people. Genova Hill said she’s happy with those numbers. While she would love to see the club grow, she also sees the value in a smaller group. “When you have between four to eight people, you really get a chance to talk to them afterwards,” she said. “So I also like the intimacy of it because it does give everyone a chance to meet other runners and maybe find another running partner for the days when we don’t have run club.”
Reed’s Local Run Club includes members who plan to run marathons, 50Ks and 50 milers in the fall. With this in mind, Genova Hill said she expects to arrange a few longer training sessions in the coming months. She will organize with casual runners to join in at checkpoints for a mile or two.
“I want it to be … not just these two runs a month, but like an actual running community that’s built, where people support each other in their running goals,” Genova Hill said.
Despite the laid-back nature of the club, members have been serious about COVID-19 safety, and the club has responded to evolving Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Currently, Genova Hill expects runners to wear masks if not vaccinated, saying that “every runner who we’ve had has been super understanding, super compliant, and they were concerned about everybody else’s safety. That made me very proud of the run club.”
As more Chicagoans get vaccinated and mask mandates loosen, Genova Hill will leave safety norms up to the group. “I want everyone to feel safe,” she said.
Joining The Club
To nonrunners nervous about the idea of joining the club, Genova Hill said, “If you don’t think you can run, don’t worry about it. There will be somebody there who will be by your side, going at your pace, encouraging you.”
And if you need even more encouragement, after-run treats may do the trick. Genova Hill always provides postrun snacks, sometimes pizza, doughnuts or even cupcakes to celebrate a club member’s birthday.
For those who aren’t looking to join a run club at the moment but would love to support Genova Hill’s efforts, stay tuned; she hopes to host another 5K in the fall.
Featured photo: Meredith M. Goldberg Photography