Derby City Runners Club: Community through Fitness — or one run at a time

The Derby City Runners Club is a free runners club that meets four times a week: rain or shine, with a total of about 200 runs per year. It offers a great way for people to come together in the name of fitness to grow our community. The club started out with nine members in 2013 and has grown to 1,200 members. In addition to it’s regularly-scheduled runs, it offers themed runs to raise funds for different non profits in Louisville. The founder of the club, Jason Kelly, a trainer and avid runner recently met with LEO to share his story and vision for this expanding club.

LEO: What was your inspiration for the DCRC?

Jason Kelly: I moved to Louisville from Tampa for work back in 2013 and was involved with run clubs there. I knew that beginning a club would help me to meet like-minded people and discover the city. I met folks that were interested in fitness, specifically running and wanted to hang out, to get to know each other after our runs. I purposefully planned each run to meet at a Louisville business where we could grab some food and drinks after each run. My hope was to build relationships with other runners and businesses that support wellness in the Derby City.

How did you begin promoting and drawing in members?

We use, mostly, social media to reach our current and any prospective members. I created a small website in the beginning and then later began using meetup.com, which has proven to be our greatest resource for new members. We have also figured out that posting photos on social media platforms builds up camaraderie and attracts new members. When I scheduled my very first run, I had no expectation that any one would join me. I was so excited that nine people actually showed up for that run. We were all strangers, but then quickly became friends, and then they brought their friends, and we continue in that fashion.

Tell us about the runs

We average about 100 runners per week with our four scheduled runs. We begin and end each scheduled run at a restaurant. We love doing this as part of our mission to connect people with others through fitness. These gatherings inspire support, relationship building and just a good time! Our locations include: The Against the Grain Brewery downtown … Great Flood Brewing Company … Tin Roof in St. Matthews … and at the Bank Street Brewhouse in downtown New Albany … Each one of our runs is designed for all fitness levels, with many using the club as a training component for larger runs. We map out a 5K and a five-miler for each run, so all levels can enjoy themselves. No one has to complete the total distance. You can turn around at any time, and many do. We support any one that wants to join us. The downtown run is one of my favorites, as I think our waterfront is beautiful. We use the walking bridge and our members think it’s really cool to be able to run in two states for one run. Our Monday evening run seems to be our most popular evening, and I think it’s because our members use it as a recovery run from the weekend.

What are the benefits of participating in DCRC?

The most obvious reason to run is to maintain your health, but there is so much more than that going on when being part of this group. Running is one of the most accessible ways to maintain fitness, as it does not require equipment or a membership fee. The club offers a great way to build your fitness, as you can start by just walking and then adding in speed or distance at your own pace. One perk that I especially like is the opportunity to get outside and really see our city — it’s interesting and fun. You can see so much more when on foot, or even your bike — things that you might miss while driving to the gym. This experience opens up a connection with your neighbors and neighborhood. Also, partnering with local businesses helps to establish relationships built on something positive and healthy. We support them by meeting at their location, and they support us by offering specials or discounts to our members at those times. Some of the owners/managers that value wellness have also joined the club or suggested that their staff join as well. Every one wins!

Who else is on your team?

I never thought that this group would become so large, and managing it has almost become a part-time job! I feel lucky to have had Dan Kummar, Stephanie Fish and Tami Massaccoli join me to support our continued growth. I was doing everything solo, and with their help, we are growing super fast. No one has a particular role: We all just do what it takes to get things done, and everyone is a volunteer. Our operations include social media updates, organizing special events, planning routes and often paying out of our/their own pocket to make things happen. We realize that this is not a sustainable way to do things so are making some changes.

What does that plan look like and how can our community support DCRC?

We have created some longterm plans and goals. As part of our plan, we have filed to become a 5013C organization and are continuing to seek out local businesses willing to support us. Yes, we accept  financial donations, but, more importantly, we like having businesses that want to be part of a group that is doing good things for themselves and others. Our original plan to begin and end each run at a public business has really been a great way to build the groups exposure and support. Most businesses often offer discounts to our members or help to sponsor events. We want to continue to build on these ideas.

What are the ways the club contributes back to the Derby City?

Again, our mission is to partner and support Louisville and so we frequently offer themed runs with proceeds donated to our favorite organization. Currently, we are offering some themed runs to support the Kentucky Humane Society. We just completed our first one with the American Race with 65 participants. The next one is The Happy Hour Pumpkin Race. We are also hoisting a midnight run in November. Our turnout for these types of events is really high with members and lots of first timers. It is so much fun to support these groups, raise money and get fit. •

Flannery is a wellness coach who teaches yoga in Louisville and Southern Indiana. She promotes wellness through her show “The Wellness Hour,” at 11 a.m. Sundays on 100.9 WCHQ.