helping people improve: an interview with fairmount running club founder bennett brookstein
find out why bennett is one of philly's VIRs
find out why bennett is one of philly's VIRs
Bennett Brookstein is the founder of the Fairmount Running Club.
Ian Campbell is the founder of eseo, an app that unites athletes in communities around Philadelphia.
Bennett and Ian sat down to chat about their mutual passion for running and how the community has evolved over the years.
I’ve been running since middle school. It’s been a long time. I was on middle and high school cross country and track teams. My goal was to run a marathon by 21 but I did it at 19.
I’ve been running the club for about 18 years now. At the time I started it in 2008 or 2009, there was only one running club in Philly. There weren’t many other options other than racing teams.
Nowadays, people tell us we’re fast, and it’s funny because we weren’t considered fast back then. We were the only option, pretty much.
We based everything on three things: social, safety, and volunteering. And running, of course.
So we started with a Wednesday night run and have grown to add or take away days since then.
With volunteering, we have many people asking for help with the organization of local runs and sports team events. We did clean-up runs too, which were great.
I love volunteering with children's organizations and charities, too. Give and Go Athletics is a great one that helps support after-school programs in basketball and other sports. They are fantastic because they get the kids out and moving and give them exposure to athletics. If you can give a kid a pair of sneakers, they can go out and try their best. That’s the best thing.
And then there’s the safety aspect, we just wanted people to run as a group instead of alone. It’s all about supporting the neighborhood and keeping everyone happy.
I used to quit everything. Baseball, soccer, basketball, I quit all those things. But with track, I decided to stick it out. I raced in middle school and high school and then continued after that on my own. I always calculate how many miles I’ve run down Kelly Drive throughout my life and those weird calculations are so interesting to me.
My other thing is that I love helping people. Getting other runners going and helping them improve so they can keep going on their own is what fuels me.
I wish I could calculate how many miles I’ve run in the city. I’m sure the number would be crazy. For The Broad Street Run, I have a streak. I’ve run it 31 times.
I’ve done the Philadelphia Distance Run so many times. I’ve run it in the early years, when the Rock N Roll acquired it, then more recently when it’s been back under local ownership. I’ll be pacing it this year.
So between the training, races, and group runs, I can’t imagine how many miles I’ve run. Now, I use Garmin Connect, and that helps. But I can’t go back and remember all those miles that have already passed.
Safety is a huge concern for me. That's why I insist on running in groups and adhering to running rules.
I recently experienced a dangerous event while running that made the news. That morning, no one was there for the group run but I figured I’d go out anyways. Running with a group isn’t just social, it’s for safety.
To avoid a similar situation, I don’t wear earphones either so I can hear my surroundings. You should be able to hear your breathing and the cars around you.
I don’t recommend running at night, either, but really there is no one hundred percent safe time to run on your own. It’s always best to go with a group, in the daytime or where it’s well-lit.
After the event, I still don’t run on my own. Since December, I've only done four solo runs. It’s tough. There are so many running groups now, so you don’t need to run on your own.
We run in groups and stay together. First, we group together, and sometimes we do a meet and greet. Then we debrief the run and set the pace. We give people options and offer to pick them up on the way back. Finally, we set a location to regroup at the end. Sometimes we do an afterparty, usually when it's warmer.
Since COVID, people have worn masks or buffs, and we stay together, even if we’re going slower from a lack of practice. Over time, we’ve all sped up together because the group stuck with it. The group has just meshed together. When you stay with a consistent group, it's great to see how the whole unit improves.
Our group just did the Mayor’s Cup, and next for us will be the Philadelphia Distance Run. I do pacing as well so I’ll be pacing the run that weekend.
We also used to have a tailgate party after that, so we might do that again.
In the fall, from the first weekend of October to the end of November, there’s one marathon after another. So we’re building to that right now.
Personally, I’m racing the Chicago Marathon, and then I’ll be pacing some of the other marathons. So I am excited to get the miles and to help others get them too.
This past summer, I challenged myself to run 51 kilometers for my 51st birthday. My friend and I did it in Atlantic City. We went from the edge of the city to the boardwalk. I don't know if I want to do another one, but I felt great. My friend does ultramarathons and he kept telling me to slow down, but I kept telling him to speed up. So it was pretty hilarious.
At eseo, we’re dedicated to creating a thriving community of athletes in Philadelphia. From hikers to spikers, golfers to goalies—if you can move, you’re an athlete. Download the app to become a part of our team!