One Step at a Time
The Aberdeen Area Running Club has created a community that has thrived even off the track.

One Step at a Time

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On a chilly fall morning 15 years ago, a contingent of local runners finished their informal group training session and settled in at a local coffee shop for their usual post-run caffeine and conversation. As the group chatted about running clubs taking off in other communities, the idea of forming one in Aberdeen took hold. Within days, the Aberdeen Area Running Club became a reality.

The non-profit was formed with simple goals: foster friendships, provide motivational encouragement, and support local running activities. For founding member Gaylan Lang, the club also provided consistency and accountability.

“I believe that people stay with an exercise program if they are with a group. It helps to know you are not alone on your quest, and keeps you accountable to the group,” Lang said.

For Pamela Monaghan-Geernaert, who moved to Aberdeen in 2019, the club offered a way to meet new people, engage in the sport she loves, and give something back. She came to Aberdeen with experience leading a large running club on the east coast, a skillset that would prove invaluable for reinvigorating the club’s activities.

She was elected club president just before the pandemic brought group runs to a halt. While the club could have fallen to the wayside as social distancing kept people apart, Monaghan-Geernaert was adamant about keeping the running club top of mind. She found creative ways to engage the larger running community, creating scavenger hunt runs to iconic community locations and encouraging members to post their results in the club’s Facebook group.

Under her leadership, the club expanded its scope to include a winter education series, inviting members to learn from each other and local experts. Speakers have presented on topics ranging from winter fat tire biking to ski skating and triathlon training.

Monaghan-Geernaert also helped introduce a number of new events to the Aberdeen community, like the Beer Mile held over Memorial Day weekend. Now in its third year, the event is open to one-, two- or four-person teams, and the winners must be both the fastest on foot and at chugging their drinks.

“It’s been a popular event, and it’s fun to watch. Lots of good runners are also good beer drinkers,” Monaghan-Geernaert said, laughing. “It’s a feat, and it’s super competitive.”

The club’s mission hasn’t changed over time, though the make-up of the membership has. Today, members include accomplished athletes with big races under their belts – Ironmans, ultra races, the Boston Marathon and more – and plenty of others training for 5Ks or just enjoy running casually.

“If someone says they want to qualify for those big races, we have members that can help you,” Monaghan-Geernaert said. “We can pace you and help build strategy. We have those seasoned pros who can help.”

That experience is a huge asset for runners with goals in mind, whether that’s gaining speed or distance, finishing a 5K or qualifying for a prestigious race. Club members are quick to share training plans, advice, and logistics that can make a big difference in helping newer runners feel prepared to tackle their goals.

“My most memorable marathon was the Twin Cities Marathon in 2009 where I earned a qualifying time for the 2010 Boston Marathon. I would not have accomplished that without the encouragement from other runners in our club,” Lang said.

For Hannah Carlson, who took the reins as club president in May, the club also provides significant motivation to challenge herself and reach for new personal bests.

“I went from barely being able to finish five miles at a super slow pace to running PRs (personal records) because I challenged myself with the faster runners,” Carlson said. “Everyone is at different ages and stages of life, but that’s the beauty of it – you can be fast or slow or competitive or relaxed and you can usually find someone in the club to run with.”

Carlson found her way to the club when she signed up for a triathlon with her husband, and felt running was her weakest part of the race. She says the club helped push herself to new limits and also provided a social outlet she was craving.

“I love that I have a consistent community of friends in the club who care about me and my family,” Carlson said. “Outside of my family and close friends in my church, my running people are ‘my people’. As a mom of small children, it is my main source of social time in my week, and I’m super grateful to have it.”

Outside of the health and wellness benefits of being an active participant in the club, members agree that the sense of community and camaraderie can’t be matched.

“I’m a professor, my best running friend is a hairdresser, and I get to run with a rocket scientist,” Monaghan-Geernaert said. “You get to meet a lot of people, and it’s a way to build a community and a diverse social circle. I love the networking aspect of the club and the work we’re doing to promote a positive running culture in the Aberdeen area.”

The Aberdeen Area Running Club meets for group runs several times a week, starting from the Kessler’s parking lot. Runners of all abilities are welcome to join in. For more information, check out the Aberdeen Area Running Club on Facebook. //