What began as an idea to keep a group of runners in contact after their training group ended upon successful completion of a half-marathon, turned into a community of more than 3,600 runners who communicate through Facebook. The founders of We Run Huntsville, Gregg and Karen Gelmis wanted to create a source for active people who want more than just a solitary run, and people who are trying to get active who need a commitment to get them out the door. “It is perfect for the experienced and the novice, the elite and the back of the packer,” says, Gregg Gelmis. He’s talking about runners of all experiences (first 5k to 100-milers), road runners, trail runners, and even bikers and swimmers (aka triathletes) who get together for a little “cross training” to improve their running.
Neither Gregg nor Karen grew up with a love for running. Gregg swam and loved photography. Karen enjoyed tennis, water skiing, volleyball, and a bit of running. Even as an adult, Karen ran only a few miles simply for stress relief. Her experience with the community aspect of running began in Houston with a training group for a 1/2 marathon. She loved the experience and she wanted to keep the group together after the event was over.
Moving to Huntsville, Karen’s interest in reaching out coupled with a strong running community and large, transient workforce at the Redstone Arsenal proved to be the perfect combination. The Gelmises filled the missing niche in the community with We Run Huntsville, a forum for people new to town to find out about training runs, events, diet and dealing with an injury. “We provide a ready forum to meet others and get plugged in quickly. We are also lucky in that we have a track club that puts on lots of great road and trail races, a triathlon club that puts on great events and a shoe store that is very active in the community,” says Gregg Gelmis.
We Run Hunstville also serves as a forum to introduce runners to new adventures. Before moving here, Gregg and Karen didn’t have much experience with trail running but both were hooked the first time out on local trails. Karen loved the scenery, the pace, the obstacles, and the freedom of being in the forest. Gregg loved taking pictures of the sport--“the constantly changing terrain, water hazards and natural obstacles make for great photos.”
Gregg started taking photos at races of Karen but often found himself with nothing to do after she'd passed. Before long, he was attending more races and photographing other runners and posting them on Facebook. “We got such a good response, the photos had to be moved to their own site because with 65,000 photos of people participating in local events and over 11,000,000 hits, Facebook was overwhelmed,” says Gregg.
Chris Brackbill enjoys being a member of the group. “I’m not one to push myself when I train alone, so the group has made it much easier for me to increase miles and pace in my training,” says Brackbill. “Whether it's roads or trails, morning or evening, weekdays or weekends, I can always find a group that's doing what I want to do.”
But this isn’t just a story about a running group in Huntsville. We Run Chattanooga launched several weeks ago and is attracting members. Chattanooga’s running and work community bears little resemblance to Huntsville’s other than in terms of enthusiasm. What will it take for WRC to thrive? Karen Gelmis says, “folks who are committed to establishing and keeping the community together. There’s lot of effort on the behind the scenes organizing and communicating events that are relevant and fresh to the participants. People are easily bored, and there is a lot of competition for their attention. But people like to be part of something”
Ginny Kelly, a We Run Chattanooga member, believes that WRC can make a difference in the community. “WRC is a terrific tool for information on trail running, road running, triathlon training, plus various running events close to the area. It's a powerful way to knit together the amazing, already-existing running communities we have in Chattanooga.”