An Insider's Guide to the Booming Running Scene in Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem’s running scene includes local races, group runs and training programs.
Winston-Salem’s running scene includes local races, group runs and training programs. Visit Winston-Salem
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Stop by Foothills Brewing on a Wednesday evening around 6 p.m. and you’ll find the crowd chugging electrolytes instead of beer. Each week, the Foot Soldier Run Club hosts a group run that usually draws about 40 people of all levels and abilities, from aspiring couch-to-5K athletes to marathon runners.

"It seems like there’s always somebody to run with," says Foothills Brewing’s Director of Marketing Ray Goodrich, who happens to have a total of 16 half and full marathons under his belt. “If you show up by yourself and run 10-minute miles, there’s a group you can run with.”

That camaraderie and support, along with walkable neighborhoods, greenways, a vibrant downtown, and a robust calendar of local races, group runs, and training programs, have combined to earn Winston-Salem a reputation as one of the most fitness-friendly cities in the Southeast.

Group Runs & Training Programs

Each week, the Foot Soldier club hosts 1- to 3-mile runs that begin at Foothills Brewing and conclude with a post-workout happy hour. Local retailer Omega Sports is often on hand for shoe and gear consults, and the club periodically brings in educational speakers. For example, the club has hosted a Q & A session with an OrthoCarolina physical therapist.

While the brewery supports the Foot Soldier Run Club, it also uses the popularity of running to build support for local nonprofits. In 2017, Foothills launched the Craft Happiness IPA Project, brewing a different IPA each month themed with a charitable need in the community. Brews have highlighted homelessness and the need for affordable housing with Domicile IPA and animal rescue with Haven IPA. On Wednesday evenings, the chosen charity comes out to raise awareness for its cause. As Goodrich puts it, "The intersection of running people and craft beer people is a very crowded intersection." By capitalizing on that synergy, the Craft Happiness IPA Project makes a difference in the community.

Another important partner in the running scene is the Fleet Feet Sports Winston-Salem store. Eleven years ago, triathlete and Winston-Salem native Keith Davis and his wife Emily left corporate America to open the shop and build Winston’s reputation as a fitness community. Two store expansions later, they’re training local runners of all levels and abilities, supporting the local race scene and partnering with nonprofits and like-minded fitness organizations to promote an active lifestyle.

In the past, Fleet Feet’s programs primarily drew beginners and 5K runners, but now there’s an even mix of beginners and distance runners, says Stacie Battjes, Fleet Feet’s director of training programs. "We like to say we’ve graduated a lot of people up to longer distances," she says. “People who started with us in our beginner 5K program are now running half and full marathons.”

Each year, more than 650 athletes participate in Fleet Feet’s running programs, including about 200 people who train for half and full marathons. "We offer something for everyone from beginner to elite, wherever they are in their journey," says Battjes. “We want to engage more and more people so they feel connected and at home.”

Fleet Feet offers No Boundaries 5K and 10K training for novice to intermediate runners, and a Speed Series for 5K runners interested in moving up to half and full marathons. With Fleet Feet, runners can also do super-sprint and sprint-distance triathlon training. Plus, the store partners with local fitness franchises like CrossFit and Pure Barre to provide cross-training opportunities.

While Fleet Feet supports serious training, it also hosts non-timed family fun runs, like the Hot Chocolate Fun Run on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. These fun events have become holiday traditions and they encourage families to spend time together doing something active and healthy.

In addition to hosting events, Fleet Feet operates We Run Winston, a race local/shop local group that includes 300 volunteers who staff races and receive registration discounts. "We’re creating an awesome community of fitness-loving friends," says Battjes.

More Local Resources

Celebrating its 40th year in Winston-Salem, the Twin City Track Club is the hub for all things running-related in the Triad. The all-volunteer nonprofit puts on local races and group runs, organizes social events, and publicizes local running routes. For a modest annual fee, members get merchandise discounts and can plug into training that fits their goals.

To ensure that running remains front and center in the city for generations to come, Crazy Running Winston-Salem offers family-oriented, age-appropriate programs that help kids from 5 to 14 fall in love with running and develop a lifelong passion for active living. Offering training at local parks and in afterschool programs, Crazy Running focuses on running, stretching, strength, speed, and, most importantly, fun.

Race Calendar

Thanks to Winston’s temperate climate, you can register any time during the year for a race, join up with a training group six to eight weeks out, and hit your stride on race day. And, along the way, you’ll pick up a great group of like-minded running buddies.

Foothills Brewing celebrates North Carolina Beer Month in April with the Hop Swap Half Marathon & 5K. This spring destination race starts and ends at the Foothills downtown brewpub and is a fundraiser for Yadkin Riverkeeper. Last year, Foothills invited six local breweries to join them for the block party at the finish, and all accepted. Goodrich likens the sense of community among North Carolina craft brewers to Winston’s running community. "We call it coopetition," says Goodrich. “We watch out for each other and pull for each other.”

The races that make up the We Run Winston Signature Race Series also highlight seasonal events and charitable causes. For more than 30 years, the St. Leo’s 5K/10K in March has been considered the kick-off of the Winston race season, and the Hospice Hope Run follows in April.

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A summer staple is the Twin City Track Club’s Beat the Heat 5K, which is also the USA Track & Field 5K Road Championship. For years, the Ardmore RAH! 10K/5K/Fun Run’s scenic course through historic neighborhoods has drawn crowds in October to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank, and the Mission 5K in early November has supported Fleet Feet’s Feet First charity.

The entire running community comes together for the Triad’s biggest race of the winter season, the Mistletoe 5K & Half Marathon. Benefiting the YMCA and its efforts to prevent childhood obesity, the race sends runners on a tour of Winston-Salem’s historic highlights, through Buena Vista, Reynolda Village, and the Wake Forest campus, before returning to Hanes Park.

Originally written for OrthoCarolina.

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