Mary Chen: When I moved to Portland 3 years ago, I was looking for a social running group, but surprisingly it was hard to find … until NoPo run club. The founder had a similar club in Austin (Texas) and decided to bring it to Portland. “Running, beer, friends” … it was a fantastic idea that grew into a Portland phenomenon!
I lived and worked in North Portland, so naturally I wanted to play in my own neighborhood. Mississippi Ave was an up-and-coming area, so it was the perfect outlet for all of NoPo RC needs.. Race events (Bridge to Brews and the Craft Dash), local breweries, craft beers, food carts, restaurants and Full Court Press for our club shirts!
Mississippi Studios became our home bar and has been an awesome sponsor. NoPo RC started out with 6 Portland transplants from PA, CO, TX, SC and one local Oregonian. We had one rule: We DO talk about NoPo run club. As each week passed by we quickly expanded from 7 runners to 15 runners, then 25 … and now we have 1,285 members. It’s amazing to see the progression of this group.
I’ve been part of this group since Day 1, and even though I’ve become the official organizer, this club is organic and belongs to everyone. NoPo thrives on the energy and enthusiasm of each runner.
Run Oregon: Are there club dues, or is it more like a casual “if you can make it” thing?
Mary Grace: No club dues! Come whenever you want. Attendance is completely unregulated, but it is tracked. After signing in for eight runs, you get a club card that gets you $1 off drinks at Bar Bar, our sponsor location. At that point you can also purchase our logo T-shirts, with our mascot “Pinty!”
Run Oregon: About how many people come to the runs?
Mary Grace: In the rainy, cold, winter months we have seen around 20 but in the summer we can get over 150! At this point in the year we’re at about 70. There’s always a core group of “veterans” (as I like to call us) who come pretty consistently … probably 25-50% veterans and the rest all new folks [any given week]. It’s pretty fluid and organic. We always have those few folks who come just once or twice a year, but then at the same time, our group of regulars is getting larger and larger.
Run Oregon: So what type of runners come to these runs?
Mary Grace: That’s another super cool thing about this group; no discrimination whatsoever. I’ve met people who are just out of college and then we have 50 and 60-year-old regulars . I’d say the majority are in their early 30’s but we’re all so open and social that there really is no separation, groups, cliques, etc.
And as far as paces, we are all over the place. We have the 5-6 minute milers and the 11 minute mile folks. The cool part, although we start together, we end up forming this massive line depending on our paces. No one cares if you are the first to finish or the last. The early finishers may get in line earlier for a beer, but it’s also become tradition now to cheer and high five everyone coming in to the finish line.
Mary Chen: We had one high school student join us in the summer, she was visiting her mom. It was very cool, we tried to inspire her mom to run with us too, but she just cheered us on from the sidelines! I think most of our seasoned runners are in their 60’s … but they party like they’re 20 years old!
This group is becoming more and more diverse because it attracts a lot of transplants who already have that Portland mindset – running, drinking and meeting new people. Most of our new members are U.S. based, but we’ve had some visitors from the UK, Japan, and South Africa as well. Friends who come to visit, or tourists that are looking for fun events often find us by word of mouth or online and want to join in our group.
Run Oregon: Can people bring dogs on leashes? Kids in strollers?
Mary Grace: Sure! There are always one or two dogs on the run each week, but the strollers are less common. Bar Bar’s outdoor patio is the perfect place for a pooch. They get a ton of loving from the group.
Run Oregon: How many in the group stay for the beers?
Mary Grace: I’d say 98% stay for a bit of socializing, whether they drink or not. I’d venture to say that more people come to run club for the social aspect than the exercise.
Run Oregon: What is it about NoPo Run Club that has kept you so involved?
Mary Grace: We are more than just a once-a-week club. We are a community. When I moved to Portland 2.5 years ago, I knew no one. I found this group on meetup.com and liked it because of its unique combination of healthy, active, lifestyle and laid back, beer drinking fun. I wasn’t nervous at all on my first showing and was immediately welcomed by a group of gals who, two years later, are my best friends.
This group transcends a “meetup” and is a verifiable part of our lives. We love to organize social events outside of the Wednesday and weekend runs, although usually running related. For example, a couple weekends ago 15 of us rented a house and took a 4-day weekend getaway up to Whidbey Island for the half and full marathon. We’ve had such fun events as Beer Mile, running event cheering stations (which was amazing for me, in last October’s PDX Marathon when 30+ of the group were cheering at mile 21!), and fundraising events. This year we have two Hood to Coast teams, one of which is a charity team, charged to raise $16K for Providence Cancer Center.
On a personal note, this group and the people in it helped me rebuild my life after a pretty devastating breakup. There’s something about the people who keep coming back each week and I really think it has to do with the mixture of athletics and socialization. We’re all healthy, positive, open people who value life, enjoy it thoroughly and want others to have that outlook on life as well: not pretentious, no drama, just genuinely good people. And who can beat Mississippi Avenue for a location?!
Mary Chen: There are so many layers that make this club great, I’m humbled to be part of this group and extremely grateful for all the support I’ve received. Now it’s our turn to pay it forward. I think there’s been more overlap between PDX run clubs, so I’m hoping to collaborate with them and create a NoPo race to raise money for a larger running event open to the public that will sponsor a charity focusing on high risk youth and children with disabilities. I want to get involved with these non-profit organizations to give these kids the opportunity to experience a community of runners who know the value of being social and active!
Want to learn more? Here’s a promotional video for NoPo Run Club and here’s a video from their last Beer Mile. The video below was created by the makers of the documentary “What Moves You”, a Portland based film about why runners run. They came and filmed the NoPo Run Club’s Halloween run last October: