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Through it, not to it

How the Northeast Track Club is using running to create community and roll with the changes in Washington DC.


In June 2020,  faced with the challenges of the global pandemic, a group of friends met (at a distance) to run fast laps on an empty track. Little did they know that finding that space for each other would offer a whole community so much more.


When DC friends Carl, Vonks and Mona found a way to be together, and run through the frustrations of 2020, they knew they needed to share it. Although they’re from widely different backgrounds, these friends share two common passions; running, and more importantly, community.



As the world faced the isolation of 2020, they saw a need to fill that void. “While COVID-19 brought many restrictions, it also brought a lot of opportunity,” says DC running organization veteran, Vonks. “To meet our runners’ needs for togetherness, community, competition, and motivation during a time when many have lost jobs, family, friends and more. We invited them to be with us.”


It all started simply enough. With a social media post. From there, a few more friends joined them the following week. And the week after. And the week after that. Nine months later, their community hasn’t stopped growing. The Northeast Track Club virtual community is now 400 strong, with over 50 consistent members in DC from all age groups, paces, sexualities and backgrounds.



Support and inclusivity are the cornerstones of the club. “From the onset, it was important to us to build a place where people could be themselves and run at their pace without intimidation,” says Vonks. “To continue fostering this environment, we also ask each of our runners to be welcoming, inviting, and to bring new people “into the group” the way they were brought in.”


Pace isn’t a key component in NETC’s rhetoric. Knowing that talk of speed can be intimidating, Northeast Track Club focus on the community element, and place their emphasis on the effort to be your best over anything else.


“NETC is for anyone who is seeking to be challenged and welcomed at the same time,” says Carl, photographer, community-builder and US Air Force veteran. “We will cheer you on and give you the space to improve, but we will also challenge you to dig deep. The way we see it, the workout is not done until everyone is done.”


“It’s special to watch our speedy runners finish their own workout and then help some of the others get to the finish line. When our runners see this happening, they feel supported and encouraged, but they also want to do the same for another runner to help them along.” — Carl



A hugely successful element of the Northeast Track Club running community has been the Better Your Mile program. Developed with coach and long-term member Ryan, the NETC founding crew created it to help runners take control of their training, drawing parallels to taking control of their daily lives in response to the pandemic.


Through motivational coaching lead by performance coach and NETC’s #HYPEWMN, Mona, runners were encouraged throughout the 8-week program to lean into what the pandemic could teach them. Rather than fixating on limitations, the focus is on what is available and what can be improved.


“During a time when all races are cancelled and most runners would usually be training for distance and endurance, we decided to give more meaning to our efforts on the track and beyond through the BYM program. We named it Better Your Mile with the intention to not put pressure to run your fastest but to get a little better on and off the track. With thoughtful coaching, and genuine care for our athletes we wanted to provide a space for them to thrive.” — Mona



Through the Better Your Mile program, NETC provided weekly workouts that offered fun, consistency, and a common goal to improve each runner's mile time. During the 8 weeks, NETC showed up on and off the track; and, at the finale event on November 13, 2020, 43 runners showed up to run their best mile. Almost all of them beat their original time.


“Through it. Not to it.” — Carl 


This motto was adopted early at NETC meetups, to encourage people to finish each workout with as much energy as they started with. 


“It’s the idea that what you get out of something reflects what you have put into it. If you only ever run to the line, that’s as far as you’ll ever go,” says Carl. “We encourage our runners to go beyond the line. Beyond the mile. Beyond the track. This is the mentality we want them to help us spread into their broader community, friendships, jobs and daily mentality.”



Throughout May and June 2021, Northeast Track Club will be bringing their trademark community spirit to guide us through an On Better Your Mile program. 


“For the 8-week training program, (there’s a real) emphasis on education and a steady progression of workouts in each week,” says Ryan. “Every participant that takes part in this global challenge will have fun challenging themselves to not only better their mile but be a part of others’ success in the process!” 


To get involved, and see the training plans, click here.

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