Some people join a run club as a training ground for a season of marathons. Some join because they’re looking for some accountability that will finally get them off the couch. Others just want to get outdoors, meet new people and have few laughs while they exercise. At Runners’ Edge in St. Catharines, runners can find a path to any one of these goals and more, but what they might not expect is to be welcomed into a community that is about so much more than running.
“Our run club is for the average person,” says Benny Ralston, the owner of Runners’ Edge and its clinic coordinator. A certified coach with Athletics Ontario, Benny brings his expertise and passion to a program designed to include every category of runner. “To us, the person that walk/runs a 10-minute kilometer is just as important as the 3-minute kilometer person,“ he says. “We take care of them all.”
One glance at the Run Club page on their website and that ethos is easy to see. Marathon clinics share the schedule with youth Learn-to-Run clinics; year-long memberships are an option right beside online coaching for when life requires a bit more flexibility.
You may even find yourself alongside some above-average talent. As of just recently, the club boasts two Six-Star Finishers of the Abbott World Marathon Majors (a series of the six most prestigious races in the world).
Club success stories transcend the track, like a number of members who are cancer survivors who have harnessed the positive energy found within the group; some defying the odds to run their first marathon – and several since.
What started as a core group of 26 people who just liked running together – and traveling to run together – has grown into a community of over 100 runners, most of which have been with the club for at least five years. Ten members have even stuck with it for 15 straight years, since just after the club was officially formed in 2001.
One of those long-time members is Leslie Ralston, Benny’s wife and Runner’s Edge administrator, communications czar, and behind-the-scenes guru. She and Benny met through the club, and since its start she’s watched the diversity of the club blossom. “Our group is 60-70 percent women,” she says proudly. “Our oldest member is 74, and our youngest is 16. And everything in between.”
A trip to the Chicago marathon was the kickoff to forming the run club, and the club has kept up tradition with frequent road trips to marathons in other cities, including an annual trip to the Capital City Half Marathon. Not only do they caravan down a group of around 50 runners each year, Runner’s Edge has also raised funds for important charities around Columbus.
“One year we raised $1500 to purchase a therapy dog for Ohio Health,” Benny says. “Another year it was funds to allow boys from underprivileged backgrounds in the area to run the 5K, and open the door to running for them.”
But it’s not just over the border where the Edgers are making a difference. Back home, the always popular Donut Run sees runners race six laps around the store’s building, wolfing down a donut per lap, all the while raising money for Big Brothers and Big Sisters in St. Catharines. “It’s usually not an elite runner who wins that one,” Benny says. “Just someone who can eat a lot of donuts.”
“Usually a teenager,” Leslie adds with a laugh.
It’s giving back like this that speaks to the heart of what the run club ultimately represents. More than a place to train, the club has become a mainstay in the community, built on inclusion, well-being, and friendship.
“It’s like a family. That’s the best way I can describe it,” Leslie says.
“We eat, breathe, and sleep running,” she adds. “And we know, each one of us at the store, how much we’ve benefitted from it. It’s changed all of our lives.”
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