Road Runner Sports Adventure Runs take place the first Thursday of every month. Photographs by Ben Fabella.
It’s 6:25 on a Thursday night, and 100 people are jumping and dancing around in the Road Runner Sports parking lot in Falls Church. The Rocky theme song blares from speakers, and an announcer asks, “Are you ready for an adventure?” As the crowd cheers, a giant map is unveiled, with 12 markers identified as “checkpoints.” Segments of the crowd begin to sprint out of the parking lot, pulling up GPS navigators on their smartphones as they go.
Confused, but not wanting to be left behind, I blindly follow the most assured-looking runners I can find. The crowd consists of young professionals and hip moms and dads, who have all gathered for a grown-up treasure hunt of sorts. And what are we in pursuit of, exactly? Raffle tickets, the allure of free goodies—and an ice-cold brew. Yes, runners are greeted at the finish line by smiling volunteers handing out Solo cups of Sierra Nevada beer.
This was the scene at the inaugural First Thursday Adventure Run, which has come to Falls Church as a way of putting some fun in your everyday run. Participants have an hour to hit as many of the 12 checkpoints, most of which are local businesses, as they can before returning to the starting parking lot. For each completed checkpoint, you receive a raffle ticket. Some checkpoints even have required challenges to complete before you can receive your ticket, such as a fitness station where you do a series of burpees, medicine ball throws, and weight carries. Visiting every checkpoint within the hour amounts to a 7.6-mile run.
The prepared few who had the map sent to their phones became instantly popular, as hordes flocked to them to find the route. Amid shouts of “Hey, do you know where the next checkpoint is?” and “Is this where we can get beer?”, friendships were formed. I found myself exhausted within the first 15 minutes, both from my faster-than-usual pace of running and from doubling over in laughter.
“Our main goals for the run are to push health and wellness through the sport of running, expose the community to local businesses, and show people what our company is all about,” says Adventure Runs rep Nick Graling. “Adventure running is a fun, energetic, and positive event.”
As 7:30 neared, runners trickled back in groups, and the buzz seemed to be mostly positive.
“I’m really not a runner, so I was a little hesitant to go, but I had a great time,” says Arlington resident Heather Harmon. “You can run at your own pace and pick whatever checkpoints you want. And even though I didn’t win anything, the raffle and after-party were fun too.”
Other runners, such as Arlington resident Katie Rippy, enjoyed themselves but saw room for improvement.
“The run itself was great; however, we were unaware that smartphones were needed and therefore didn’t have a way to know the checkpoints,” says Rippy. “While it wasn’t bad trying to follow others, it was somewhat frustrating that we didn’t know where to go or how to get back in a timely manner.”
Still, Rippy says, she’d do it again, since “the deejay and volunteers were all awesome”; she just hopes maps will be provided in the future.
Graling says he has a lot of fun themes planned for future runs, such as a summer beach party complete with a slip ’n’ slide challenge; a pig roast; and a Halloween costume run.
“I think our niche is people who enjoy running but aren’t taking it super seriously,” he says.
Thursday Adventure Runs are the first Thursday of the month for the rest of 2012. Runs start at 6:30 PM; preregister here by 3 PM on race day for a complimentary beer ticket. The next adventure run takes place April 5 at 1120 West Broad Street, Falls Church.