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Adrian Gonzalez remembers back in the 1980s when one of the only organized running groups in San Antonio was John Purnell’s Run-A-Way Running Club.
More than 30 years later, there has been a veritable explosion in the number of free urban running crews and free running clubs in San Antonio, with multiple group runs every day of the week for all level of athletes.
“It’s really changed, for many years it was just John Purnell’s Run-A-Ways, then Roger Soler’s group came along, then Fleet Feet had a group, now there are so many running groups, they’re everywhere,” said Gonzalez, one of the founders of the Brak Pak running group in the early 1990s.
On any given night, free groups include the Downtown Run Group, San Antonio RoadRunners, the Rockhoppers, Team RWB, Project Phoenix SA, Brak Pak, IAAP Training, Huarache Turbo, Alamo Running Buddies, R-U-N (Are you In?), San Antonio Hash House Harriers, San Antonio Social Runners, San Antonio Trailheads and more.
While running enthusiasts are nothing new to the city — Dennis M. Keating published a booklet called “Running in San Antonio” in 1983 — the rise of social media and the revitalization of the city’s urban core have played major roles in the running resurgence.
Bo Brockman, one of the founders of the Downtown Run Group, said the “River Walk has played a huge role in the running community.” The Downtown Run Group has free Tuesday runs from the San Antonio Zoo parking lot at 6:30 p.m., and also meets Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. at the Pearl Brewery.
“From the Pearl Brewery, you can run upstream all the way to the zoo,” Brockman said. “Run downstream along the Mission Reach and you pass by the missions. There is so much variety. The river is beautiful.”
Dawn Mathis, a certified running coach with the San Antonio RoadRunners, said the establishment of the Pearl Brewery, the Museum Reach and the Mission Reach along the San Antonio River, have also been a boon for runners.
“I moved here in 2003, and just the last 10 years [these developments] created safer areas to run,” Mathis said.
Social media has also fueled the growth of the running community, which used to be centered around running shops like John Purnell’s Run-A-Way Runner’s Store, Roger Soler’s Sports store, and Carroll Voss’ Fleet Feet Sports. With the rise of apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, the internet has played a huge role in connecting runners and encouraging new recruits.
Most running groups/clubs have their own website, Facebook page or page on Meetup.com. The free Wednesday Night Zoo Run, which began nearly 30 years ago, used to be a strictly word-of-mouth affair, said 74-year-old Emma Gregory, a longtime participant.
“I see so many more people now,” Gregory said. “Now, you have the internet, you have email, there’s so many more ways for people to find out.”
With the help of a website and an email list, the weekly event, which is hosted by the San Antonio RoadRunners, attracts anywhere from 75 to 150 participants every week. Sally Rios, one of the Wednesday Night Zoo Run’s organizers, said they have kids age 9 and under, to adults all the way up to age 80, participating.
“You have doctors running next to lawyers, running next to secretaries, running next to janitors,” Rio said. “Everyone is wearing shirts and shorts, the beauty is you don’t know who is what. Everyone supports each other.”
Reaching out to runners from all walks of life was one of the reasons José Iñiguez founded Iñiguez Athletic Advertising and Promotions (IAAP). The IAAP Training group holds free workouts on Mondays and Wednesdays at Brackenridge High School, and hosts Sunday runs from Mission Espada.
“I started IAAP in 2001 with 12 people, all elite runners,” said Iñiguez, who ran track at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Iñiguez won the San Antonio Marathon in 1989 and 1994.
Today, IAAP has around 300 members on its mailing list, and its free workouts are attended by 30 to 40 people.
“We don’t work with as many elite runners as we used to, but we have a lot more runners now,” said Iñiguez, whose business includes his wife Minnie, three brothers and a sister. “I like it better now. I enjoy working with runners of all levels, to see how they are getting stronger, faster. It makes me happy to see people out here.”
Running clubs have also become the new social hangout spot for many people, a place where individuals can not only find companionship, but also expertise in training for 5Ks, half marathons and marathons.
Nora Castoreno, along with her husband Adolph Rodriguez, joined IAAP last year. She heard about the group from a friend.
“I used to run by myself, now I look forward to runs with the group,” Castoreno said, who ran her first full marathon at the 2016 San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. “We all have the same interests.”
Team RWB (Red, White and Blue) San Antonio is another local group that aims to connect people through running and social activities. Both veterans and civilians are eligible to join, said Grant Inneo, the athletic director for Team RWB San Antonio.
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“We do a lot of group runs from VFW 76 and other places, and then we have a social afterwards, eating, getting together,” Inneo said. “The 20th of every month, we also have a suicide walk/run, to provide awareness for veteran suicide.”
Brockman, who founded the Downtown Run Group with Azalea Ortiz, said their members have shirts that say “Run Inspired.” When one of their members does their first 10 mile training run, they call it their “Big Deal Banana Run.” They take a photo of them holding a banana and put it on their website.
“The friendships that come out of the group are huge,” Brockman said. “We have friends who go through divorce, who get married, they build relationships.”
Gonzalez, who’s Brak Pak running group has been around for almost three decades, said building relationships is what keeps runners together. The Brak Pak meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Brackenridge Park near the baseball fields.
“Where you run depends on the relationships you build,” Gonzalez said. “With the guys in the Brak Pak- Ruben Mata, John Osborne- we average 60 to 70 miles a week together. You’re together for hours every week. It’s not just running, it’s the friendships you build together.”