What started on an April Fool's Day with the idea of designing a T-shirt to promote running in Greensboro has become one of the city's most special running treasures.
And Run The Boro, the brainchild of RunnerDude's Fitness owner Thad McLaurin and one he calls a "field trip for runners," will be back in session with an off-season series of free group runs on the next nine Saturdays, in September and October rather than the normal May and June.
"People keep telling me they've been waiting for it and they're glad we're having it," McLaurin said this week.
Run The Boro went virtual during the pandemic last year, although McLaurin has restarted Saturday group runs this year. But he wait for an in-person Run The Boro has been a lengthy one since June 29, 2019. At 7 a.m. Saturday, 798 days later, from the parking lot at Jaycee Park, McLaurin's pace group leaders will begin to guide runners and walkers in a sixth year of exploring their city on foot in Run The Boro.
McLaurin's runs, which have Volvo Financial Services as title sponsor for a third year and draw support from Bank of Oak Ridge, Omega Sports, Mango Dental and Revolution Mill, are coinciding with a race calendar that is revving back to life. Like those race directors, McLaurin is also conscious of keeping his runners and walkers safe during a pandemic that has yet to end.
"I think everybody is pretty good about knowing what to do and what not to do," he said. "People can run in their masks if they want to. From all the indications, outside stuff is supposed to be the safest, as long as you're not right in front of somebody's face. It's supposed to be the safest way to get together."
McLaurin, whose 2019 runs totaled about 700 runners and walkers and averaged about 350 each Saturday, took time to answer three questions about Run The Boro, including its inception, his favorite route and all of that history.
What Run The Boro is all about for McLaurin
"The biggest thing for me is just community, sense of community. And bringing runners of all different ability levels together, and walkers, because our walking section has grown tremendously. ...
"I was at a store in Raleigh (in 2016), called Runologie. And I saw they had T-shirts that had something to do with their greenways. ... And I thought, 'We should do this for here,' because we have close to 100 miles of greenway. So it started as T-shirt. I came back and was figuring out a design, and I'd call it Run The Boro. And then as I was doing the T-shirt, it was like, 'We should have runs for Run The Boro.' That was April Fool's Day. And so a month later, we had the first run.
"And I just did it pretty much for my runners. I promoted it on my different social media venues but expected most of it just to be my race trainers and stuff like that. And I think we had like 60 to 70, maybe 75, that first run. And then by the end of that first year, we averaged about 120. So we were pulling in more people.
"And that was just neat to see how it was spreading, and that was what it was all about for me, just getting more people exposed to running. We have a lot of different running groups here, lots of different clubs, the pub clubs that meet and run. But this is a way that all those people can come together and kind of see each other and mingle as well as learn about the history of Greensboro at the same time."
On his favorite route
"That's kind of hard to say because there are some things about each one, stuff that I personally didn't know about, like the historical mill village. I never knew that was right across the street from Page. So that's neat to run through there.
"But probably the funnest one to put together, the two funnest – can I do two? – one would be the monuments run. That takes you around some of the more notable sculptures and pieces of public art and monuments. The ones that people know about, but then some that people don't know about.
"And then the murals run; that's one of the funnest I've put together. It's getting harder to do because we have so many more murals now. It's like trying to decide which ones should we put in. I try to add some new ones in there. But some of the new ones – they're getting further and further apart from each other. So it'd be like a marathon run to try to get everything. Trying to keep it within 10 miles is a bit of a challenge."
The history lessons
"Preservation Greensboro has a lot of great information. The N&R (News & Record). ... But a lot of times if it's a neighborhood, I'll say 'Westerwood neighborhood Greensboro history' and see what comes up. A lot of these neighborhoods have publications, and they'll have a little history in there. Sometimes I'll just put 'Greensboro historical photos' and see what pops up. So it's a lot of digging like that. Several people have actually given me books about Greensboro, some they've had in their own collections that have been really helpful.
"What's neat is there's been people like Bill Cooke. When we do some of our Saturday runs through areas where he grew up, he'll join us. Otherwise, he's a Blueliner, tried and true. But he likes doing his life in run, so he'll run by different neighborhoods. But he told me after one of the runs that went down Cornwallis that he remembers being with his grandfather, traveling on Cornwallis Drive when it was dirt. He said when he was a kid, he and his buddies tromped all through the woods, which is now New Irving Park.
"A lot of people have told me they've lived here for 20 years, or their whole life, and never knew this about the town they live in. So that's pretty cool."