Photo via @milehighrunclu Instagram

The Class That Helped Me Not Hate Running

Still working my way up to like

“It’s like SoulCycle, but with treadmills.” This is how I’ve described the concept of Mile High Run Club to anyone even mildly interested. To which I’m usually met with: “Sounds terrible.” It’s not! I promise! Would I be sitting here writing this story if it was? No, because I am a journalist with high standards and a low tolerance for workout classes.

In actuality, there are many differences between MHRC and SoulCycle, which is more cult than class. Aside from the group setting, the machine use, and the Top 40 tunes, that’s where the similarities stop. There’s no machine spot hierarchy (beginners in the back, regulars in the front), no isolated movements that make you feel like the opposite of all of those on beat memes, no passive-aggressive competition. What Mile High Run Club does offer is a judgment-free setting for both wannabe runners and regular runners alike.  

A little about myself: I am a chronic workout class trier-outer. This means I’ll go to a class once (usually when I get a coupon or gift card of some kind), only never to return again. It’s not that I don’t enjoy working out. On the contrary, I very much enjoy the idea of being in shape. It’s just that I haven’t found a regimen I enjoy enough to shell out $30 or more per class—the average cost to take one in good ol’ New York City. Or, maybe, it’s because I never truly cared to become a yoga, cycle, or Zumba regular. Becoming a runner, though, always felt aspirational for me and, in turn, MHRC seemed like it was worth my time (and money!) more than others.

Debora Warner—a runner and long-time trainer herself—came up with the idea for the class a little over two years ago after leading a group of runners in the park. One got left behind, and they ended up losing her, which is when the lightbulb moment happened. “I was already working with runners, and I thought that there was a need for runners to do speed training in a group without the pressure of keeping up with a pack,” she tells us. “It just made sense to me, to create a home for runners because I felt like runners should have their own gym.” And that’s exactly what MHRC is.

There is a range of classes you can choose from, depending on your level of running expertise. Dash 28 is a 45-minute class that includes about 30 minutes on the treadmill and 10 minutes working out off the machine with kettle balls and a one-minute plank challenge that I was completely unprepared for. Dirty 30 is treadmill only and covers about two to three miles. High 45 is the same but, you guessed it, you’re running for 45 minutes. And The Distance is for seasoned runners who can somehow run for an hour straight.

My poison of choice for the past couple of weeks has been Dash 28. The speed training that Warner mentioned earlier is at the core of the classes. It basically means that, instead of running at one pace the entire 30 minutes, we alternate between faster speeds, recovery periods, and the occasional hills. Doing this keeps things interesting, that’s for sure, but it also forces you to push yourself, something you might not be doing if you’re going on a casual jog. “Speed training really is the only way to get faster and also improve endurance,” Warner says. “It helped me improve as a runner, and you can't really enjoy running until it gets easier and this is the way to make it easier.”

And it does get easier, especially if you stick to a schedule, Warner says. If you’re running six days a week, you should be coming to MHRC twice a week. If you’re running three times a week, one of those days should be spent doing speed intervals. And then, if you’re feeling ambitious (or just when you get to this point), you should incorporate a longer run on the weekend. In an effort to be transparent, I’ll admit, I didn’t get the schedule memo before testing out the class. But I did go to the gym for my first treadmill workout outside of MHRC the other day, and it was noticeably easier than my usual attempts. I ran three miles, only stopping to change the song on my iPhone once (this is a constant struggle of mine, by the way. If someone has a great running playlist, please let a girl know). It’s worth noting that I also managed to do this while hungover and in the beginning stages of a cold. Imagine if I was at peak health! Oh, the places I could run.

This is the point in the story when the reader whines, “Well, why don’t you just use an app?” And, yes, there are plenty of running apps out there that can act as your digital trainer (I’ve used a handful!), but there’s nothing quite like running at full speed in a room full of fast-moving treadmills lit up by brightly colored lights (this is probably my least favorite part of the class, if I’m being honest), as an instructor counts down, reminding you to lean into the hill or keep your arms moving all while Nas’ “I Can” plays in the background.

At MHRC, you’re encouraged to go at your own pace but to challenge that pace when your body allows. “Running is a motion, not a speed,” my instructor, Ryan, says before every class. It’s about effort and feel, not what number your treadmill reads. As a girl who, in high school, would pray every single day that we didn’t have to run the mile during field hockey practice (we always had to run the mile during field hockey practice), I never… ever ever ever thought I’d see running as anything other than a means of torture. And maybe it is, but unlike other not-good-for-you vices, this one is actually beneficial. Oh, and that runner’s high everyone talks about? The MHRC version is even better.