Ready. Set. Beer.

Wilson Beer Runners Club hits the pavement weekly

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Beer and long distance running are two things you might not think go together.

Think again.

All over the country, craft beer breweries are sponsoring running teams, and Wilson is no exception.

"We have been running as a group for 4 1/2 years now," said Chris Hawley, one of the founders of the Wilson Beer Runners Club. "We started at The Beer Store on Goldsboro Street that was open for two years. When it closed, we needed a new place to gather. We wanted to keep it downtown, so one night we came to talk to Tom (Curran), the owner of 217 Brew Works, and he said, 'Yeah. I'll open up on Wednesday nights for you.'"

Anywhere from 12 to 20 people arrive at 217 Brew Works on South Street every Wednesday night around 6 and start their run at 6:15. The group runs between 3 and 5 miles and returns to Brew Works to socialize and drink craft beer.

"Chad (Cato) came up with the idea for a running group," Hawley said. "We had run together a few times and run a few races, and then he suggested that we get together and run from The Beer Store. It was just a place to run from, and Wednesday nights were when most of us had some free time from family. We ran for a while, and eventually more people found out and would come and join us. After about six or eight months, we decided start a Facebook page and call it Wilson Beer Runners."

Cato, Hawley and Rob Hoyt were the first runners in the club. The first female runner was Jayme Daniels.

"This group is very low-key, very welcoming," Daniels said. "The good thing about Wednesday nights is that it is a 'conversational-paced run,' with most running a 9-minute mile, but some are faster and some are slower."

Daniels said runners range in age from people in their 20s to 60s. And not all runners are always from Wilson.

"We meet some people who are in town on business, and they come join us," Daniels said. "A lot of people find us in the newspaper or online. You can find us on "Strava," a website for runners where groups post their runs, route and pace."

And then there's the beer

"After you run and you're hot, the calories from beer are good for you," Daniels said. "But we just like craft beer and like to socialize together. We talk about races coming up, and we'll usually find ourselves signing up after drinking a beer or two."

"Beer is a good cool-down drink, a social drink, and we're supporting downtown Wilson," Hawley said. 

"Tom and 217 Brew Works have been really generous to us," Hawley added. "We used to use a fold-out plastic table, and he had this one built from the same wood (as the other tables in Brew Works) so we could all sit together."

Curran even had a "Wilson Beer Runners" sign made out of wood for them to keep their table reserved on run nights. Towels, water and snack mix are set out on the table for the runners when they return from their routes.

The Wilson Beer Runners Club recently ran the Mill Chill race at Rocky Mount Mills. 

"Last year, the Mills started a brewery challenge and sent invitations to compete in the run to all local breweries in North Carolina who have put together a running team," Hawley said. "We go and represent our brewery, and they score us by points. 217 Brew Works pays for our entries, so Tom takes care of us, and we take care of him. 

"This year, our ladies' team took fifth place, so they represented our brewery very well. So I guess running and breweries really do fit together."

Daniels said the group runs in all types of weather.

"We always run," Daniels said. "Hurricanes, snow, sleet, rain ... we run. When it starts getting dark early, we wear reflective gear."

Safety is important to the group, so they make sure no one runs by themselves, usually running in groups of three.

"We always take safety precautions," Hawley said. Some runners wear reflective clothing, some have flashing wrist bands, some have LED flashers on their shoes, and some run wearing head lamps."

"We haven't had any trouble running through downtown or anywhere else on the routes, although we've gotten a couple of cat calls," laughed Hawley. "Kids have even jumped off their porches and run with us for a little while."

Runners in the club seem to agree that not only has regular running benefited their health, but the comradery is almost as important.

"This group is a balance of athletic and social elements," Daniels said. "I ran the Boston Marathon two years ago and probably wouldn't have run it without knowing these people. Some of us even run longer distances on the weekend together. It is simply a fun competition to better ourselves."

For more information about the group, find them on Facebook under "Wilson Beer Runners" or call 217 Brew Works at 252-991-6959.