On a recent Wednesday evening, April Thomas stepped out on her front porch on 30th Street and saw scores of runners going by. “Are they running a marathon or something?” she said.
Kids in the neighborhood edged up to the sidewalks, offering high fives and calls of support to the people jogging by. “They wanted to cheer on the race,” Thomas said. “We figured they were doing something for charity.”
But then, the next week, there the runners were again, dozens and dozens going by on a Wednesday evening. “Hey, wait a minute? Again?” Thomas said she and her friends asked.
If this is a race, it’s only to the beer line. NoDa Brewing temporarily closed its original location on North Davidson Street in July and moved the popular NoDa Run Club to the new taproom on North Tryon. Tryon Hills residents now get to see about 100 sweaty runners go flying by every week.
Initially, the reaction was utter confusion.
“We had one old man who at first was like ‘What are these runners doing on my street?'” said NoDa Run Club coordinator Carla Garrison-Mattos. “But now that same guy saw me running to a checkpoint the other day and said ‘Hey, honey, you’re going the wrong way!’ trying to guide me correctly. The same guy. So, we are making absolute progress. …
“We had people that were like ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this?'” Garrison-Mattos continued. “Well, for running,” she would respond. “Why?” they asked her. “Is someone chasing you?”
Not only was Garrison-Mattos trying to communicate to the neighbors what was going on, but she also discovered the challenges involved when helping runners learn new routes and dealing with potential traffic issues.
“I had no idea what it would take to move a run club,” she said.
And yet a few months later, kids still come out to cheer on the runners while adults wave from their front porches.
Makaylah Gray, 8, stood on the sidewalk on a recent Wednesday, fingers in her mouth and looking anxiously at runners as they passed. She said she often comes out to watch them.
“I want to high five them but I’m shy,” she said. Eventually, Makaylah stuck her arm out, fingers outstretched, and squeezed her eyes closed, turning her head in the opposite direction and whispering almost inaudibly, “high five.” The approaching runner knew just what to do.
Back on her porch, April Thomas and her friend Kara Boyd smoked cigarettes, watched the crowd and wondered aloud what running with the group would be like.
“I don’t know if I could run as far as they do,” Boyd said.
“I think they just run to the light and back,” Thomas said. “We could do that.”
Boyd said she does worry about cars not respecting runners, and she wishes the automobiles would just slow down. But even so, she finds the idea of joining in a run club intriguing.
“We used to just to walk around the neighborhood sometimes,” Boyd said. “I don’t need to lose weight or anything, but I know it’s good for my cardio.”
“I was thinking about walking some more, too,” Thomas added. “I get out of breath and I know it’s from the cigarettes. I thought about joining a gym but I don’t want to not go and then waste my money.”
When she found out NoDa Run Club is not only free, but it ends in place where one could get a beer, Thomas laughed. “Even better!”
The excitement of Run Club seems to go beyond even nearby homes, spilling out onto busy Tryon Street as runners neared the end of their route. A lone walker in a sea of runners headed back toward the brewery prompted a bystander at the corner to call out loudly: “Hey! Why you ain’t runnin’?”
Photos: Melissa Oyler