Ready to run: Across Charlotte, runners are discovering fitness and friendship go hand in hand.
by Michelle Boudin
Anne Fechtel has a babysitter booked for her three kids every Wednesday night for the foreseeable future. That’s because the run club she founded meets Wednesdays at Legion Brewing SouthPark, and it’s the one thing the busy mom always makes sure to do for herself.
“It’s definitely the best night of the week for me,” says Fechtel, 40. “When else do I get to hang out with friends where we all have common interests?”
A lifelong runner, Fechtel says the sport has recently taken on a new meaning. “It’s always been a mental outlet for me, but the last several years it’s been the most important way for me to make friends. It’s rare to meet good friends as an adult, and this group has come to mean a lot to me. When you’re a runner and you don’t run with people regularly, you’re in a bubble – having a run club changes that.”
She started getting the group together a few years ago and officially formed the SouthPark Run Club last fall. She’s convinced the new routine helped propel her to a personal record at the Charlotte Marathon in 2021, when she was the second woman to cross the finish line.
The group is made up of men and women ages 20 to 70. They typically run a 3- or 5-mile route, then often hang around to socialize.
“A lot of run clubs meet at breweries, but we actually sit down together for dinner so you get to really know the people,” says Jason Seagle, 44. Seagle played college soccer and started focusing on running during the pandemic.
Many in the group compete in local races together. In June, when the oldest member, Art McDonald, vowed to run 70 miles for his 70th birthday, several members joined him along the way on the 17-hour journey. Others were there to greet McDonald at the finish line.
“They’re good people!” McDonald says. “I run to stay in shape, and it’s so much better when you’re hanging around other people who like to run.”
Anne Fechtel, far right, started a running group a few years ago that became the Legion SouthPark Run Club. The group meets at Legion Brewing on Wednesday evenings.
Matt Scalabrino, 51, says the run club became his lifeline during the pandemic. He didn’t start running seriously until after college. “I found the run club after my marriage broke apart. It was the middle of Covid, and I found myself alone a lot because my whole social network changed. I was looking for a social outlet with other people that have common interests. It’s the best thing ever for me.” A regular on the local race scene, Scalabrino says the other members motivate him. “I’ve made incredible friends. The people are supporting and encouraging.”
The running community in Charlotte is bigger than ever, with clubs popping up across the city. One of the fastest-growing groups is the Mad Miles Run Club. Cornell Jones and his wife used social media to spread the word of their group, which meets Tuesdays at Camp North End. Attendance exploded, in part thanks to the dance party that follows each run.
“Our self-proclaimed ‘Big Steppas,’ Mad Milers who know the majority of the dances, gather around and dance the night away,” Jones says. “Around 15-20 group line dances are performed, and we sing some of our favorite songs.”
The crowd often balloons into the hundreds. “On Tuesdays, you’ll see babies in strollers, toddlers accomplishing their first full mile, teenagers and [college students] training, Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X all running and growing together. Beginners and walkers are welcome, as well as professional runners and athletes.”
NoDa Brewing is home to the very first brewery run club in the city. Brian Mister, an avid runner, worked at the brewery and came up with the idea back in May 2012. Years later, Mister co-founded the popular Around the Crown 10K, where Charlotteans race around the heart of the city, including a loop on Interstate 277.
It’s more proof, runners say, that Charlotte has become a true runners town, one where runners support each other and the community they call home.
“Running is more fun with friends,” says Stephanie Ward, who joined the SouthPark Run Club after moving to Charlotte from Los Angeles. “There’s a tremendous social aspect to running. Everywhere I’ve lived, runners are a fantastic group of people.” The club members were the first people Ward met in Charlotte besides her neighbors. “It’s just a great community. It’s fun, and it keeps me moving. These people are not only friends, but [they are] helping me train for my 80s and 90s.” SP
Photographs courtesy Anne Fechtel