Rhema Hedgepeth’s first interaction with the Mad Miles Run Club must have been divine. Instead of taking her usual route to Bible study, she drove past Camp North End and saw about 100 Black people running.
“I immediately thought to myself, ‘Who are all of these Black people running, and why am I not there?’” she recalled.
As fate would have it, a friend posted about the club on social media later that day. The following week, Hedgepeth joined the club’s Tuesday meet-up.
She is now one of more than 400 runners (and walkers) who regularly participate in the growing club.
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Some who have joined say the club is about more than just running — its a way to connect with friends and meet new people. Some have even joked of looking for love.
Hedgepeth joined, she said, to stay active, but what she also found was kinship.
“I feel like as soon as you come, you’re a member,” she said. “You don’t have to come a certain amount of times for them to embrace you.”
The face behind the club
The Mad Miles Run Club was created by Cornell Jones in 2020, inspired by his love for running.
Jones, a Manassas, Virginia, native, comes from a family of runners. Both his father and older brother ran track in college. He got his start around age 5 when he began Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) track and continued running through high school.
Jones attended Winston-Salem State University, where he had hoped to play football.
“[The coaches] said, ‘You need to put on 20 pounds and keep your speed,’” he told the hosts of the Running Around Charlotte Podcast. “I told them, ‘I’m just gonna go to the track coach’s office, and we’re going to have a discussion over there.’”
True to his word, Jones joined the Rams’ track team as a walk-on and earned a scholarship the following year. He was later encouraged by his coach to run cross country, which was his first distance-running experience.
After graduating in 2011, Jones moved to Connecticut to start a job at ESPN. He was later promoted, and his schedule became filled with late nights. That left little room for his regular runs and turned into days-weeks-months of not being active.
As Jones entered his late 20s, he began to understand the importance of caring for his physical health, even if just for 10 minutes a day. At the beginning of 2019, he challenged himself to run a mile a day. Others soon joined his challenge.
The following year, Jones moved to Charlotte and started the run club as a way to connect the local Black community and get people active.
“During the pandemic, everyone was looking for something to do,” he said. “I told them we’re going to run virtually together on Tuesdays.’’
The beginning of something big
Amid the pandemic, Jones posted his progress on social media. Others would join in, sharing their own runs. Word spread and the Mad Miles Run Club was born.
Jones said he came up with the name because some people called him crazy for being willing to run each day. The name also stems from his original challenge to run a mile a day.
The club made its virtual debut in May 2020 with just 42 runners.
Participants would record themselves running and post the clips on Instagram. Jones would then repost the videos to see how many more people would participate.
The club’s first in-person meeting was at Marshall Park in uptown Charlotte. As participation grew, the club moved to different locations and, more recently, made its way to Camp North End.
The runners meet twice a week, once on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Camp North End and again on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Elizabeth Park.
Jones said an average of 400 people come out for the Tuesday run, and about 200 on Saturdays. On the club’s anniversary run, it drew more than 650 participants.
Love is possible
Dani Canada, one of the club’s newer members, said she joined because it was a fun way to get some extra cardio and find “good fellowship.”
“I liked the sense of community, and the energy is always great,” she told QCity Metro.
And although Canada said she not looking for love, she does appreciate the view.
“There are some men who run through there who have caught my eye,”she said. “I’m not even in that type of mode to spit any game, but my eyes are opening.”
Trey Crumlin has been with the club since February. He joined to reach his fitness goals but said finding a relationship is also obtainable.
“I’ve spit my game and tried a few things,” he said. “But if that’s what you want, it’s definitely out there for you.”
Romance aside, Crumlin said the club’s atmosphere is filled with “positive, beautiful, Black energy.”
In the wake of Ahmad Aubrey’s murder, Bilal Vaughn found solace in knowing that there was a place for him to feel supported.
Vaughn originally joined a predominantly white run club but became discontented with the lack of representation.
“African Americans are usually left out when it comes to fitness clubs,” Vaughn told QCity Metro. “But Mad Miles lets us know that there are others like us.”
Jones and his team plan to expand the club by hosting pop-up runs in local and large-scale cities. They want to continue to drive the narrative that Black people can run longer distances.
The weekend before the Aggie-Eagle Classic, Mad Miles will be partnering with Duke’s Mayo to host a run for people to represent their HBCUs.
Later into the year, Jones and his team will launch an official membership program, and members will receive special perks for joining.
He credits the motivation to move the club forward by the personal growth and fellowship he’s seen amongst the runners.
“It’s the stories that I hear weekly of people struggling, and they come out to a run and meet somebody that gives them hope,” he said.
The team also plans to support the community by hosting fundraisers and other community events.
“There’s so many different things that are formulating and working, that I’m just really excited about the future,” Jones said.