Charlotte is accelerating. The Queen City holds a perennial spot on almost every list of fastest growing U.S. cities. At the same time, the nation is in the midst of what many term a second “running boom.” The result of these parallel trends is significant. In a town previously known for its long association with auto racing, the more participant-friendly sport of running has seen exponential growth in North Carolina’s biggest burg.
The rapid pace of change in Charlotte’s running scene can make even the fastest runners’ heads spin. So we caught up with (well, he slowed down for us) a guy who’s been in, and run through, it all.
Scott Dvorak’s been a competitor on the highest levels of the sport. He’s qualified for an Olympic team trials (5,000 meters in ’96), won the Antarctic Marathon (’97), and holds North Carolina State records in two distances (5k and 15k). In 2000 Scott, along with running rival and friend Eric Hichman, opened the first location of the Charlotte Running Company. Since then, CRC has expanded to several locations around Charlotte and in 2014 was named as one of the 50 best running stores in the country.
We sat down with Dvorak to talk about how the Charlotte running community has changed, the good and bad of the recent minimalist running movement, and how free beer might just beat out the Internet.
How have you seen the Charlotte running scene change?
I’ve been in Charlotte for 21 years. The running community here has always been active and tight-knit. Back in ’94 I was competing in a lot of local races. Everybody knew everybody, and you saw the same individuals every weekend. There’s a lot of growth but you still see that now. Charlotte’s a little big town.
How about in general, why are we witnessing the second running boom?
Part of what’s driven that is the marathon’s become the new goal—everybody wants to do a marathon. Part of what’s happened there is the accessibility to do a marathon has increased. You’ve got a lot of support that wasn’t there 15 or 20 years ago. You’ve got training programs, Team in Training, the Galloway Program, other charity programs. They’ve taken away a lot of the fear of “I don’t know anything about running” or “I don’t look the part.”
That (accessibility) is also getting a lot more women into the sport. I’ve seen that change at the store. When we opened up 15 years ago, we probably saw 60/40 men to women. Now that’s flip flopped. We’re 40/60. I see it in the races, too, the races are pulling in more women.
What are some of your favorite things about the sport in Charlotte?
Charlotte’s a beautiful town to run in. It’s fairly runner-friendly. People tend to look out for runners here more than some other big cities. And the support here. I think Charlotte’s had two stores on the top 50 list. There’s some big cities that haven’t had one.
What would you like to see improved?
I wish there were trails in town. If you want to get off-road you have to, kind of, make a drive. Down to Anne Springs (Anne Close Springs Greenway) or McAlpine (McAlpine Greenway). I also wish there were more accessible tracks. Really the only accessible, municipal track is Johnson C. Smith.
What are your favorite runs around Charlotte?
If I’m in town I love to get on the Booty Loop. It’s just pretty and there’s lots of other runners out there. I love to get out there on a spring day. I live near McAlpine. It’s part of the reason I moved there. It’s a good one. If I want to get off road, for some single track, I go to Renaissance (Park), although you gotta worry about mountain bikers a little bit out there. Or the Whitewater Center, those are great places to run.
How about after, to refuel?
I always love a good brunch and Bad Daddy’s has a great one.
There’s a popular group run from your Dilworth shop every Monday night. Are there any other group runs around town you like?
We have group runs out of our other stores. And I really like the NoDa Brewery run. We sponsor that one sometimes. Actually all the brewery runs. Triple C has a run on Thursday night. Sycamore’s got one I think going on Saturday mornings.
Why do you think so many breweries are organizing group runs?
Running and beer seem to go hand-in-hand. I think is the same reason you see a growth in running. It’s a very social thing. People like getting together and going for a run and the beer after is a natural add-on to that. We put a bar in the shop for that very reason.
Why is community involvement such a staple with the CRC?
At the end of the day, people can get shoes anywhere, especially now with the Internet. The only way I can compete is by giving incredible service to everyone that walks in and connecting to the community so they feel good about us. Hopefully they’ll see that, sure, they can save three bucks ordering their shoes online but look at everything Charlotte Running Company does for the community. They put on all these events, they’re tied to all these charities, they give me free beer after the Monday run. That’s how we stay relevant.
Which community projects are you most proud of?
We’re involved with the Turkey Trot. When I came on in 2002 the race was hovering around 1,500 to 2,000 people. Since then we’ve grown it to 10,000. I’m pretty proud of that. That’s one of the biggest competitive events in Charlotte.
A couple years ago, after the bombing in Boston, we put together an impromptu memorial run. It was last minute. We kind of put it out through our channels and in the span of a day we ended up having about 700 people show up down at Alexander Graham track, doing just a mile and had a candlelight vigil. It was really cool and made me realize what a great, close running community we really have here.
It’s great to hear that while Charlotte grows as a running town, the roots of community aren’t getting lost. Let’s talk technology. What are some of your favorite new products coming out now?
I’m a big Nike guy; I love their stuff. They’ve come out with a lot of the Flash product, really high-vis apparel. I’ve always loved Adidas shoes, and I like the Adidas Boost that’s come out—it’s a really nice platform. I’m running a lot in Hoka’s now. I don’t run as much as I used to and I can go out and run 4 miles in them and not be sore the next day. We’ve seen that brand explode. In just the last five years I’ve seen more cool stuff come out.
Do you think that’s because of technology upgrades or changes in mindset?
You’ve seen some technologies that have come from a change in mindset. Three or four years ago, the big buzz was minimalist. Born to Run came out and people wanted to run barefoot. Me personally, and my staff, took the stance that not everyone needed to run barefoot. Guys that are 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds don’t need to run barefoot. It’s good to aim to be closer to barefoot, to run more mid and forefoot, because you’ll be more biomechanically set-up. It’s easier on your knees. But our belief is that you still need some cushion.
Minimalism was a good thing though because it got people thinking. It started the conversation. No one ever talked about heal-to-toe drop before. You used to only see shoes with a 13mm drop. Now just about every manufacturer has a shoe in their line that is about a 7mm or less. What that’s done is given rise to shoes like Hokas that have cushion but only a 4mm drop. So you can be more biomechanically correct and have cushion. You’re not having to clear that big, thick heal in the back.
What does the Charlotte running community mean to you, personally?
I got in this because it’s a passion. I was a graphic designer. I loved doing what I did, but I had a hard time visualizing the next 30 years, sitting a cube, not talking to people. Even though I don’t run competitively anymore I’m still emotionally caught up in the sport, I follow the races. That’s one great thing about owning the store—talking shop. It’s not a bad gig.
Charlotte Running Company organizes several group runs and races throughout the year and info on all of them can be found on their website. In addition to Scott’s suggestions, Megan Lordi, store manager at the Dilworth location, also suggests running in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood and stopping by the Common Market for food and an incredible beer selection.