How Nike+ Run Clubs Appeal to “Non-Runners”

Coach Chris Bennett leads a track workout in Portland. Photo: Jonathan Beverly

On a Tuesday night in April, 60 or so runners gather around a coach on the edge of a track in Portland, Ore., sweaty and spent, basking in the endorphin rush after a hard workout. They’ve just completed 18 repeats of 200 meters at their mile race pace, interspersed with four 400-meter loops at 10K pace. The coach, Chris Bennett, is waxing eloquent.

“That was a legit workout, and you owned it!” Bennett says. “You showed up. You stepped up to the line each time. That’s what we celebrate! You don’t get many chances in a day to be a badass. You were badasses tonight!”

He sounds like a high school coach motivating his young, fast athletes. But the group here at the Nike+ Run Club (NRC) Portland Speed Run are not all young, or even fast.

Some zipped off the 200s in close to 30 seconds; others took 50 or more seconds. A few are ropy-muscled masters runners in racing singlets and shorts, but the majority are 20- or 30-somethings, entirely new to running, and in cotton T-shirts, basketball shorts, stocking caps or yoga-style apparel.

“I can’t even remember the last time I ran on a track,” says Starbuck Ballner, 29, a Coast Guard corpsman stationed nearby who has been running by himself on rural roads. “I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to stick with the fastest group.”

Ballner, like many others, is buzzing from the experience. “The community of runners cheering each other on, giving out high-fives, pushing their times lower by a second or two—and cracking jokes the whole time—was even better than I had hoped for,” he says. “It was only a Tuesday night speed workout, but I felt like it was the Olympic Trials.”

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