One of the recreational sports clubs on the IU campus is not quite like the others. They run. That’s it.
You may have witnessed them: running along Third Street in the late afternoons, dancing at Dunkirk in candy-striped cross country shorts, or shoveling down two or three $4 Scholars Inn burgers before running back to the stadium to add on a few more miles for the day.
Some are new, running for fun and keeping the Freshman 15 off, and some are old, following pre-designed workouts and strategizing for the end of the season national meet. They receive no endorsements, no scholarships, no fancy shoes, nor have a professional coach.
But they all want the same thing.
They run for the pleasure of running. Running to just run.
Sara Brown did not start off her IU career like this. She was recruited during her senior year of high school in Lilburn, Georgia to run cross-country and track for the women’s varsity running team. Sara, now a junior studying speech language and pathology, spent her freshman year as a redshirted Division 1 athlete. The lack of racing and change of college life was hard for the back of the pack runner.
Sara’s freshman year was a brutal transition from high school. She battled through bronchitis, sinus infections, and mono throughout the spring season, and was forced to forfeit the track period. Over the summer she recovered enough for a decent summer training plan. But when she returned to running in the fall of 2013, Brown knew something was not quite right.
“I was not doing well,” she said describing her first couple practices of the 2013 season. “It was a snowball effect. The worse I was doing, the worse I was mentally.”
She first thought about quitting in October, and by Christmas break she was done. During a winter practice, the women’s team was doing 16×400 meter sprints on the indoor track. Sara was halfway finished and running a slower pace than she desired. Her teammates rushed around the track flying past her. Through each set, Sara kept pushing her body and mind. Just keep going. Sara prides herself in never quitting workouts, even if it is at a “grandma-like” pace she says. But this was different. She walked off the track and out of the building.
It was her final varsity workout.
Sara’s running is not over. Her love of the sport brought her to a new environment, one that takes place every weekday in the parking lot of the varsity tennis courts.
She stumbled upon the IU Run Club, one of the 35 club sports sponsored by the Recreational Sports program.
“It was a really hard decision to quit the team,” Sara admits. “I did not hate running, I was just unhappy. I found out about Run Club through the manager of the varsity team, Dustin Spanbauer (who happens to be one of the coaches of the club).”
Trying not to be “show-offy”, Sara did not reveal her past status at first. But she was welcomed kindly. She was a fellow runner, so already part of the team.
“The club is so supportive,” she adds. “It is a group of people getting together and going for a run. They are motivated group of people.”
Motivation. Dedication. Reputation. The run club has incorporated all of these traits each season since Indiana Running Company manager, Ben Bartley, created it in 2002 while he was attending IU. The club is part of the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association, an organization governing all events and communication amongst college running, cross-country, and track clubs. Over the years, the club has grown and flourished due to its participants die-hard commitment towards its success. Nine board members, elected each year, direct the club. This year the club has about 60 members, and is headed by junior Cameron Nowrouzi.
The year is split up into cross country and track and field seasons, with a national championship meet at the end of each one. Last year, the men’s team took home first place from the NIRCA Cross Country National meet held in Hershey, Pennsylvania, beating out teams from all over the country. Out of 300 runners, four IU men, Philip Rizzo, David Eichenburger, Nikolas Jeftich, and Ryan Wells, placed in the top 15. The women came in eighth, with Kathryn White placing 14th as IU’s lead runner. In the T&F meet, held in Bloomington last spring, both the men and women’s team placed fifth, as well as third in the men’s half-marathon category.
Most people are unaware of the club’s history and rankings. And the pressure of what it takes to continually place in the top ten, are some of the problems the club faces, according to some of the athletes.
Emily Odle, a senior majoring in anthropology, says intimidation stops many people from joining the team.
“We have a reputation that the club is overwhelming and too serious,” she says. “But we have people who want to train and do workouts and we have people who just want to run with others.”
According to Cameron, there are about 40 people that attend practice everyday so far this year. In the past it has been difficult for the team to gain and keep new members.
“People would sometimes feel intimidated or feel that the intensity may be to hard for them to do recreationally even though we do encourage all levels to come out,” he says. “This year we seem to have a lot more people who are willing to stick around and put in the hard work that the club does, since they can see that we won nationals last year. They are willing to put in the hard work because they want to win as much as we do and become a part of a winning tradition.”
This broad range of goals and abilities is what makes the club special—and the option to make one’s experience of the club as he or she wants. The social aspect of the group is what drew Emily to the club, and back into running in general.
Emily transferred to IU her sophomore year after running for Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois for a year. Due to personal issues, Emily withdrew from school to be closer to home, and applied to IU. Though she had heard about the run club through a friend, Emily had no plans on running for another team.
“I went on a running hiatus for about two to three months,” she says. “I felt lost without my coach and teammates at Olivet. I became disinterested in running and only ran when people made me.”
Emily’s best friend Katy White, one of the club’s top runners, forced the reluctant athlete back into her running shoes a few days before the 2012 Fall season began.
“During that run I knew is was going to run again,” she said, adding in that her other option was to try out for the rowing team. “I didn’t know what I wanted from the run club yet, but I was comfortable and felt accepted, so I just kept coming.”
Acceptance into the family is Run Club’s secret weapon. The ease of integrating oneself into a group of like-minded (crazy, as some say) people helps transform the club from just a sports group to an actual team. Both from former varsity levels, Emily and Sara agree that the club functions as an actual college sport, without the added benefits and pressures.
“People had scholarships and the caliber to run for other Division 1 or 2 teams and decided to come to IU for the education and college experience,” Sara says. “We have people who were big in high school and are training just as hard as other school’s varsity teams.”
Sara said the two teams have similar goals and interests, but more is expected of the varsity team.
“Everyone on the varsity team are motivated, but there are a lot of extra factors,” Sara acknowledges. “There is free stuff, scholarships, and a higher expectation of you. At Run Club, everyone is motivated, but their motivation comes from their own personal goals. Some people want to go for a nice run and others want to kick some ass.”
The club meets every weekday evening at varsity tennis courts. They stretch and double-knot their shoe-strings while Cameron checks in people for attendance for club maintenance, and updates them on any new information or upcoming meets. Once all routes are established for the nights run, different groups take off. The fast sub-7 minute fellas head for Cascades Park for a hilly workout, while the long distance-minded ladies make their way to the cross-country field for a longer workout.
The route and mileage for Emily depends on the training formula she and volunteer, unofficial coaches Josh Foss and Spanbauer have premade. With a top placement in mind at Nationals, Emily bases her daily schedule around her running workouts. She shoots for 55 to 60-mile weeks, including two to three faster workouts, recovery runs, a long on the weekends, and any supplemental activities she can fit in, such as weightlifting and swimming.
Adding the hours spent in running clothes with the time spent in class, doing homework, and fitting in meals, Emily’s schedule does not allow for frequent late night trips to the bar or Netflix marathons.
“Some people don’t get it,” she says, adding in that her life is frequently described as ‘sacrificing her college experience.’ “The love of running makes it worth it. Knowing that there are others going to bed early to run in the morning gives me a sense of community.”
Even without the pressure of a coach or a mandatory attendance policy, those showing up each day at practice are there for the love of running and the shared commitment.
“It is hard to keep motivated,” Emily confesses, “especially when we have the ‘don’t have to run and no one will know’ kind of environment. But that is the beauty of Run Club. You are free to train and get out of it what you want.”
At 6 p.m. each weeknight, Sara and Emily stand in the parking lot, surrounded by fellow student runners. Practice begins, and everyone takes off, loosening out their legs with each stride. Throughout campus people make room for the group charging towards them down the sidewalk. They look like simple runners, but they are more than that.