Flint’s running and walking community find creative ways to exercise and socialize

Outdoor activities are among the safer options when it comes to things to do during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Flint’s close-knit and active community of runners and walkers are keeping the spirit of the annual Crim races alive despite the cancelation of the in-person event.

Historically, runners have been seen all over Flint in the summer, training for the annual Crim Festival of Races, one of the area’s signature events that attracts thousands into the city each year. However, the Crim Fitness Foundation recently canceled the in-person Crim races and replaced it with a virtual race. Many runners and walkers still plan to participate in the virtual event— and they’re also coming up with their own unique twists on how to do it.

Jori Reigle, a nursing instructor at University of Michigan-Flint, helped found the Civic Park Neighborhood’s CrimFit training group team three years ago. A huge component of participating in a Crim race is simply the camaraderie and community pride that it creates. Reigle’s group came up with its own way of celebrating that same spirit in their own neighborhood.
The Civic Park CrimFit group meets on Tuesdays and is planning to participate in this year's virtual Crim race.

“Yeah, the race won’t be downtown this year on Saturday, August 22, but we’re still creating our own version of a celebration,” Reigle said. “Joy Tabernacle (located in Civic Park) has outdoor church services, so we thought what a wonderful way of introducing our group to the rest of the congregation by doing our own version of the Crim that morning on August 23. After we do our miles, we’ll join their celebration.”

Brad Brown, owner of Complete Runner in Flint, is part of a group that meets each week on Thursdays and Saturdays for runs and walks of varying distances. He said that the group — which usually has between 5 and 20 runners each week — has been vital from both a fitness and a social outlet for participants.

“Flint is known for our running and walking community and a big part of that is the social element,” he said. “For us to get into small groups and still have that interaction while socially distancing brings back a little bit of normal. We get to stay in shape, get outside, blow off some steam, chat with friends, and meet new ones. That’s been a lifesaver for a lot of people.”

Brown and Complete Runner have also put signs around town reminding people that, as long as safety precautions are followed, people can still get outside and run or walk. The signs read, “Running is not canceled.” He said that his group is still talking about what they want to do for their virtual Crim miles, but he has been impressed with the creativity of other groups he’s heard from.

“The buildup to a particular race has now changed into people looking forward to their Thursday group with us, or to Crim training on Tuesdays or Thursdays,” Brown said. “It used to be a way to get into shape and build up to a race, but now the training is kind of its own race. People are getting out of their comfort zones and coming up with crazy ideas — like a 24-hour run around their neighborhood, or a run across Michigan. We can still do things virtually that are fun.”

In Civic Park, the goal wasn’t necessarily contingent on a race at the end. And in the midst of the pandemic, it has been a way to keep building neighborhood engagement.

[Related: Brownell-Holmes’ CrimFit Training Program is making sure residents get a chance to run the Crim]

“Working out should also incorporate socialization and healing together, even if we have to distance or we can’t touch each other,” Reigle said. “Every week, someone has to come up with a cheer (for example, their last one was ‘2.5 and we feel alive!’ at the 2.5-mile mark of their walk). Those things contribute to camaraderie and are absolutely essential for mind and body health. The CrimFit program offers that unique opportunity for people who may not otherwise interact to get together and talk.”

Participants in this year’s virtual Crim will still have a mechanism for reporting their times and distances and getting recognition for participating. The Crim will also be sharing courses of varying distances for people to try on their runs. Even if the summer in Flint will look significantly different without the Crim happening in August, the spirit behind it will still be present in the community.

“Running and walking means a lot to Flint and to us,” Brown said. “We want to keep that going safely, so it’s cool to see all the different groups coming together to keep that spirit alive even though we can’t get together. It’s pretty inspiring.”

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Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.