On a warm Thursday night in October, runners pack the gravel parking lot of the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve, ready for a workout. Their post-run destination? Kulshan Brewery on Kentucky Street.
BBay Running, a running and walking shoe store in downtown Bellingham, organizes group “pub runs” every Thursday, where a group of local residents take off for a long run. Aftward, they head to a local Bellingham pub to celebrate their accomplishment and socialize.
David Penrose, the owner of BBay Running, said the group of runners may change week to week, but the positive energy remains the same throughout each event.
“No one’s competing with anything here,” Penrose said. “They know that this is a chill run.”
The runs are usually between 5-10 kilometers (3-6 miles) and are split up into three different pace groups to ensure people stay together and run at a speed that is comfortable for them. The fastest group runs at about an eight-minute mile pace, while the middle group runs about a 9 ½ minute mile, and the trailing group runs a 10 ½ minute mile.
Running is like an active meditation for David Ball, a BBay Running ambassador and run leader who started running with the group in 2016.
“[Running] definitely helps me center myself and organize my thoughts,” Ball said. “Beyond that, I think it’s been a good way to stay in shape and keep my body used to moving.”
As an ambassador, Ball is responsible for leading or trailing the pack during runs. The ambassadors typically rotate every run. BBay Running has a dozen run leaders including the owner of the store. Their focus, beyond guiding the runs, is to ensure that everyone stays safe and no one is left behind.
“I prefer the faster groups because that's more the pace I would run normally,” Ball said, “But ultimately, this is more of a social thing for me.”
Ball’s favorite place to run is Ptarmigan Ridge on Mount Baker. The trail features a thousand foot elevation climb and descent. Black bears are commonly seen in the area, according to the United States Forest Service.
“You’re running right towards the mountain,” Ball said. “It’s pretty stunning.”
BBay Running is looking to expand their events to include people who prefer other levels of physical activity like walks and walk-runs, Penrose said.
Although the pub runs are tailored towards a 21-and-over crowd, anyone who can keep pace with one of the three groups is welcome. Penrose said some runs end at locations that allow people under 21.
Most of the runs start at 6 p.m. at BBay Running, with the exception being the third Thursday of every month, which usually occurs on one of the many trails in or around Bellingham. BBay Running also partners with a variety of running-related events, including marathons, relays and other events.
At Western Washington University, students have a running club of their own.
Western’s running club meets weekdays at 3:30 p.m. outside of the Wade King Recreation Center.
Like the Pub Run, Western’s running club offers a social opportunity in addition to its physical and mental health benefits. In the past, the club has done ice cream runs, pumpkin carvings and movie nights in addition to their usual schedule.
“You get a sense of community when you do a group run,” Running Club Vice President Andrew Schmidt said. “I met most of my friends through running club.”
Schmidt said another bonus of running in a group setting is that it helps him push beyond the pace he has when running alone. The club often communicates through Discord to discuss who will be running that day and what route they’ll be taking.
“I’ve noticed that I’m able to go farther when I’m with the group,” Schmidt said.
Similar to Ball, Schmidt said running helps him mentally. He noticed his mood is affected negatively on weeks when he doesn’t run, and he feels more optimistic when running more frequently.
The club offers a variety of different runs throughout the week, which can be viewed here. Runners of all abilities are welcome to join.
To check out upcoming pub runs, visit BBay Running’s event page.