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Young, old, families, students–people of all walks of life join together for weekly runs with the Lakeland Runners Club. This runners club provides more than just a sense of community to each other, it gives back to the community. 

The club started in 1974 as part of the Lakeland YMCA Running Club. In 1990, the group branched off and incorporated as Lakeland Runners Club Inc. 

LRC is best known for the five racing events they put on throughout the year. The MidFlorida Mayfaire 5k is a popular run, followed by the Watermelon 5k Series which is a 3-race series over the summer in June, July, and August with a goal of beating your previous time each race. 

The Aching Quad 4 Race Challenge taking place in September is 4 races in 24 hours with a 5k on that Friday night, 1 mile Saturday morning, 2 miles later in the morning, and another 5k that night. The Lake to Lake 10k in October is the oldest running race in the county, according to LRC member Rob Mason, who’s been with the group since 1977. The Double Down 5k in November is a 5k double loop.

Since its founding, the club has grown year over year, now with over 750 members. Membership is $25 for individuals and $35 for families. Members receive all their posts, a $25 voucher that is good for any of the races, a club shirt, and can attend their monthly meeting at Cleveland Heights Golf Club.  

The club has weekly runs throughout the week, according to LRC President, Gail Hardy. The runs are all a bit different–track workouts, running trails at Holloway Park, hill workouts, and runs on Saturdays starting at Mitchell’s Coffee House and Black & Brew.

Hardy is enthusiastic about the club’s goals, saying, “We try to keep people involved and keep them running, and healthy. That’s the whole idea is to bring people in to start running.”

Hardy has been running for a little over 30 years and got involved with the club when she moved to Lakeland 7 years ago. “That’s the first thing I did was join the running club because I didn’t know anybody. Now I have multiple friends because runners are the friendliest people in the whole world,” she said. 

The club has something for everyone from kids to beginners, to training Olympians (there are 2 people training for the Olympics in their club). They offer kid’s and middle school running programs as well as cross-country for kids. Members range from 5 years old to well into their 80’s.

“We actually have training clinics,” said Hardy. “Last year, we started our first beginning running clinic. We thought it would be small, but it had 75 people. This year we have 88 in the beginning running clinic.” There is a fee for the clinic, but participants are trained by a certified coach and get to run free in the Mayfaire 5k.

Giving back to the community is a priority for LRC. “Our club donates scholarships. We give $15,000 worth of scholarships to Polk County students. We try to keep everything in Polk County,” said Hardy. The nonprofit, volunteer-based organization also donates to the YMCA, the arts, and participates in the Rudolph Roundup at Christmas providing presents for children. 

Everyone has different motivations for running, different things they get out of it. According to Hardy, this is hers, “I’m retired now, but my job before was very stressful, so that would help. It makes me feel good. Sometimes people ask me what I’m training for, and I say, “For life,” because I want to be healthy all the way out.” 

“It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going, as long as you’re running,” she said. 

Hardy spoke about the future of the Lakeland Runners Club, “We want to grow in membership because I think we offer a lot. The more people that we can get involved, the more I think we can help the community.”

What about a few tips for novice runners? “Get ready to walk some. Don’t put too high of a goal on yourself initially, just go out there and get used to it,” said Rob Mason. 

Kristi Lawrence, who is on the board of directors and is the race director for the Aching Quad, added, “Start slow, start really slow, just start walking. Walk a block, walk a half a block, do whatever you can. When it gets hard, don’t quit, just stay consistent because it will get easier with time.”

To sign up for membership with the Lakeland Runners Club, ask questions, or find out more information about their races or weekly runs, visit their website. 


Lakeland Runners Club 

Facebook and Instagram @LakelandRunnersClub

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