I t’s still early on a recent Saturday morning, and while most are embracing the lazy pace of the weekend—still snoozing, or maybe enjoying a leisurely breakfast—the sneaker-clad, all-ages bunch meeting at soundRUNNER in Branford is about to run a five-mile route in training for the Branford Road Race.
The group is part of soundRUNNER’s even more caps-locked RUNSTART program featuring an exercise plan geared toward both beginning runners and those who are getting back into the sport after an extended time off. The idea is that after completing the program, participants will be able to complete the road race, which was held on Sunday, June 16. $150 gets participants a detailed training regimen, group runs, one-on-one coaching and nutritional advice.
SoundRUNNER encourages running as a communal experience, and the RUNSTART program is just one example of that. The store holds casual group runs—also on Saturday mornings—throughout the year (weather permitting), which are free and open to runners of all levels. The approach is so easygoing that the group only decides its route and duration once assembled, taking into account the varying endurance levels of individuals.
The store also organizes enticing “pub runs,” wherein participants run from one watering hole in Branford to the next. It’s a good sport for those who love to chase their beer, literally; to burn off their consumed calories almost immediately; and to balance fitness with indulgence. Given that “we want to be a meeting place for people,” as General Manager Preston Ranton, who often leads the group runs, puts it, the pub runs seem an especially logical move.
Running can be a rather solitary affair, after all. While pounding the pavement for a few miles, swathed in headphone-pumped tunes and alone with one’s thoughts, has its rewards, it’s definitely more fun with company.
Some of the connections that have been forged through the shop’s programs endure beyond the running trails. Nikki Quist, who is 61 years old and began running when she and her sister joined the RUNSTART program three years ago, tells me that she “made some of her very best friends” during the group runs. She’s referring to a close-knit group of six women who’ve run half-marathons together and shared non-running life events, too, comforting each other through the tough times and celebrating the good.
It’s easy to see the dividends of socializing the sport when I’m running with the RUNSTART crew. “Woo-hoooooo, great job everybody!” shouts Gretchen Carlson at roughly the three-mile mark that Saturday morning. RUNSTART participants—who’ve gathered from both of soundRUNNER’s locations, in Branford and Old Saybrook—have stopped at a large bush in a residential neighborhood, where Carlson stashed a gallon of water and plastic cups earlier that morning.
While we hydrate, we chat about the run so far, which has taken our rather large group of 20ish away from the center of Branford and along the shoreline for some glorious views. We’ll give each other a big, gratifying round of applause later, at run’s end.
As dictated by the program, meant to build stamina as the weeks pass, that morning’s run includes timed periods of walking. This year the group began training in April, and with the road race—their “graduation run”—only two weeks away, it’s clear that they’ve come a long way. There’s an excitement in the air, and the coaches (a.k.a. employees from both stores) are all bubbly enthusiasm and helpful tips.
That positive attitude is catching with the rest, and none too soon. The Branford Road Race course isn’t easy; there’s a pretty significant hill halfway through, and the general heat of the season amps up the intensity. Plus, for those used to running the more common 5K, the extra two miles makes pacing more difficult.
As runners crossed the finish line of the road race this past Sunday, so did they complete this season’s RUNSTART program. But Saturday group runs will continue at soundRUNNER. And with road race season in full swing around Connecticut, there are plenty of good incentives to get outside and move those feet.
1088 Main Street, Branford (map)
Mon-Wed 10am-6pm, Thurs 10am-7pm, Fri-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.