Take a non-competitive three mile run, add in a few microbrew beers (or wine, if that's your poison), mix in new friends, and you have the kind of fun night a number of Tampa Bay area bars and fitness stores are getting behind.
These "running social clubs" aren't really a "pub run," that kicked-up version of a pub crawl where participants run from bar to bar, but a weekly gathering of people with good health and socializing on their minds.
It's based on the concept of "hashing," a leisure activity started in the 1930's by British expatriates in what's now Malaysia. As legend has it, they would get together for a run on Monday nights in an effort to get rid of their weekend hangovers. Afterwards, they'd drink more beer to satisfy their new thirsts.
The group took the name "the Hash House Harriers," after the dining hall of the Malaysian house where some of them lived. Members that followed eventually wrote down a set of "objectives" that members of the nearly 2,000 chapters worldwide still follow today:
- To promote physical fitness among our members
- To get rid of weekend hangovers
- To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
- To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel
Now while many the clubs and events today aren't direct descendants of the "hashers," they try to obey those same rules.
Running for Brews Tampa was the first group I checked out. They hold events every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at a trio of Tampa bars. I stopped by on a Wednesday night at the Pour House in the Channel District, where I met John McMahan, aka "Johnny McDrama."
McMahan has been with the Running for Brews organization almost since its inception.
Combining his love of exercise and craft beer, and wanting to find a way to get his wife to join him on these "bar runs," Kevin Bupp created the first chapter in Dunedin in 2010.
With the help of McMahan, a triathlete and race organizer, Bupp's idea picked up momentum, and now Running for Brews has over 7000 members in 24 chapters in seven states. In the Bay area alone, they hold nine separate weekly runs in half a dozen cities; with plans to add more (take a look at their link above for their schedule).
The first thing McMahan likes to point out is that his organization doesn't work with chain bars -- only local establishments.
"We choose our locations based on the scenery, the run, how safe it is, we choose it based on craft brews, we choose it on the atmosphere of the bar, how well they're staffed and the quality of the service that they give us, and just treating the runners appropriately," he said.
It's that beverage - craft beer - and its growing popularity that McMahan says is helping drive clubs like his.
"We've grown loving good craft beers after a run, not Michelob Ultra, not Bud Lite, not Miller Lite, but good craft brews and meeting people in the community," McMahan told me after we had completed the 3.1 mile run.
Full disclosure: I think I ran the full 3.1 miles. I got a little turned around on the run from the Channel District over to Harbour Island, but I found my way safely back to the bar. This isn't an indictment of the club, which allows runners to run at their own pace; they provide route maps, but being a stubborn guy with no sense of direction to go along with my creaky knees, I declined.
While McMahan drank a double IPA from Green Room Brewery in Jacksonville and I savored a Sweetwater Brewing Company Blue ale out of Atlanta, I asked him at what point in a run he starts thinking of the beer awaiting him.
"About a mile into a 5K, I'm craving a good craft brew," he said with a laugh.
But for some participants, beer isn't at the top of the list.
Rachel Gaete, who moved to Tampa six months ago, came out to meet meet people while she trains for the Town of Celebration Marathon next January.
"I like running and Tampa's really pretty and when I saw this group, I wanted to see what they were about and even though I didn't know anybody, I felt comfortable that I would run with people with a common interest," Gaete said.
R.J. Phelps, who's been running once or twice a week with the group for about a year and a half, agreed.
"Mostly just the socializing and then the running. Beer?" he said, as he sipped on a cold Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier. "The beer's the icing on the cake."
And if you're not into running, the club doesn't shut you out. They offer a large number of other activities based around the fitness-beer-socializing concept, like Biking for Brews, Paddleboarding for Brews, and Skating for Brews.
That's because, while beer and fitness are fun, McMahan says the group is really about getting people together.
"It's all about creating a community, creating a sense of friendships and bringing people together," he said.
That's the same concept on display at the Wine and Chocolate Run held every Thursday night at FitNiche Hyde Park.
After a 5K that goes from the athletic shoe store to a route along Bayshore Boulevard, there's free wine at FitNiche, along with free samples and discounted candy at nearby City Street Sweets and wine and martini specials at the Wine Exchange next door.
With such temptation available, I asked run organizer, FitNiche general manager Sandi Lake, the most obvious question: doesn't wine and chocolate immediately after a run negate the benefits?
"That's irrelevant on Thursday nights. The wine and chocolate have no calories on Thursday nights, if you run first, just kidding," she said.
"It's a healthy lifestyle, running, but it's also social," she added, sounding like a true-blue Hasher. "It's okay to indulge in what you want to indulge in, lead a healthy lifestyle, everything in moderation, and it's just a great way to meet people and to have a good time."