It’s late afternoon in the River Arts District section of Asheville. The early fall sunshine radiates from bluebird skies above. And while most cars filling up the enormous dirt parking lot at the Wedge Brewery are there for a fresh handmade craft beer, several vehicles pull up at the far end of the property.
Dozens of joyous souls emerge, all adorned with bright workout clothing and running shoes. They converge, shaking hands and welcoming each other during a quick stretch or with friendly banter about how their day went. A voice in the crowd gives the signal and they’re off, down Lyman Street, along the French Broad River Greenway, and through nearby Carrier Park.
Welcome to the “Thursday Night Wedge Run.”
“There are so many beautiful trails around us, but we wanted to also create a flat stretch of road where we could go as fast and far as we wanted,” said Mark Driscoll.
As social media coordinator of the Asheville Running Collective, which coordinates the weekly Wedge Run, Driscoll looks forward to meeting up with friends and curious runners alike every Thursday for a steady trek around the RAD, cradling the French Broad River that flows through the city.
“Up at the front of the pack can be fast, and for some people that can intimidating,” Driscoll said. “But we try to make it as casual and open to everyone as possible because at the end of the day we’re all just going for a run.”
The Wedge Runs became a natural byproduct of the ARC. In 2011, knowing how deep the running talent pool was in Asheville, ARC President Frankie Atkins decided to create a club where enthusiastic runners from all backgrounds and sponsorships could work and achieve their training and racing goals together. The idea originally stemmed from the arduous and majestic Blue Ridge Relay.
A 210-mile mountainous trek (with 18,000 feet of elevation gain and 20,000 feet of elevation loss) from southwestern Virginia into downtown Asheville, the hometown team had a lackluster showing in 2010, with Atkins rallying all the local talent he could to win in 2011. The success of that first victory led to subsequent wins in 2012, 2014, and 2015.
“The mission of the ARC is to fill a gap,” Driscoll said. “Where we can be that next step for someone looking to hit new professional levels, or someone looking to compete and keep running post-college.”
Now a certified nonprofit organization (which raises funds to send athletes to competitions), the ARC wanted to build on its vision so it could extend its welcoming spirit to all. Thus, the Wedge Run came to fruition.
“One of the coolest things about running is that you have a shared connection with all runners.” —Mark Driscoll, Asheville Running Collective social media coordinator
“Anyone who has experienced running scenes or communities knows that one of the coolest things about running is that you have a shared connection with all runners,” Driscoll said. “Yes, some of us can go on and on about races times, workouts, and splits, but if you hang out after the Wedge Run with us you’ll hear talk about everything else besides running.”
And the folks lining up each Thursday for the eight-mile out-and-back route (though you can turn around whenever you’d like) are as varied as their personalities. To the left, you might have someone training for the upcoming Olympic trials. To the right, a husband and wife going for out for a laidback evening jog. They are lawyers, doctors, carpenters, journalists, and nurses, among an endless array of career pursuits. It’s a family where the name of the game is camaraderie, with all culminating at the finish line in front of the Wedge for a post-run beverage.
“We’re a team here, whether it be achieving goals in running or in life,” Driscoll said. “We’re people who want to improve on a local, regional, or national level. Once running gets in your blood, it’s something you’ll always want to do.”
Grabbing a seat at a table on the Wedge’s vast patio, Driscoll and his friends, new and old, all salute another great Thursday run of well-earned sweat and jovial laughter. It’s just one of the innumerable reasons he and everyone proudly call Asheville home.
“We live in an eclectic city where you’re a block from a great farm-to-table restaurant, café, craft brewery, and music venue, and yet are also just 10 minutes from the Pisgah National Forest,” Driscoll said. “Just get outside and run at whatever pace and distance you want. I’ve met my best friends and wife through running—it’s all about that sense of community.”