Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stays these runners from the swift completion of their weekly runs. For 1,000 straight weeks, more than 19 years, the Grove Park Running Club has met each Tuesday night in Rehoboth Beach for a run. No matter if there's a nor'easter blowing through or if it's Christmas day, you can be rest assured there will always be someone at the Grove.
The club was born from the minds of avid runners Tim Bamforth and Bob and Pauline Porter in the summer of 1994. Turnout was low at first, but as word got out, the popularity began to snowball.
“I remember Bob and I were sitting at the Grove on one of those benches after we had just got done going for a run,” said Bamforth. “We looked at each other and said we should do this every Tuesday. One thing led to another, and we had some ideas.”
Bamforth used his Seashore Striders racing series to help promote the club and after a few months the club started drawing more and more runners. When the popularity of the Striders and Races2Run road races really began to pick up steam, Bamforth said, the club really started taking off, and now draws 30 to 40 runners each week.
“Bob really took the ball and ran with it,” Bamforth said. “I give him most of the credit. He came up with the ideas to get people there.”
After Bob stepped aside in 2004, a board was formed and Doris Hicks took over as president. The club has a number of annual traditions, including a hot chocolate run in Ocean City, roadside cleanup near Beacon Middle School twice a year and an annual $250 scholarship for a Cape Henlopen High School runner.
Runners typically run three to six miles each week, with the course taking them on routes down the Boardwalk and through Henlopen Acres. The club also welcomes walkers who stroll two to three miles. When the club first started and the numbers were still low, Hicks said the standard was six miles.
“When I first started coming in 1995-96 it was a very small group of mostly guys,” she said. “I would run all week just to be in shape to stay up with them on Tuesday night.”
But as membership grew, Bamforth said, the club drew a more diverse group of athletes.
“It's so much easier running with people,” he said. “I think that's what's attractive to people. At the Grove, you can always find someone at your pace, someone you're compatible with.”
Hicks describes the club as a “very congenial group,” and she has met a number of people who've helped her reach her running goals, whether it be her first 10-mile race, one of her 10 marathons or a 50-miler.
Some nights are more eventful than others, Hicks said. While running through Henlopen Acres one night a few years ago, Hicks said, she and the others heard someone yelling for help. They discovered a man had fallen into a water well outside his home while trying to turn on the water. A group of runners stayed with the man while the others ran for help.
“It was one of the more memorable nights for us,” Hicks said.
The club has nominal membership fees that cover what the club calls incentives. Runners who have attained a certain number of Tuesday runs receive a gift, such as a Grove Park Running Club T-shirt, sweatshirt or jacket. Incentives start at 10 weeks with additional gifts at 20 weeks, 40 weeks, 80 weeks and so on. Hicks is among the few who have reached 640 weeks. For the milestone, the club gave her flowers and a bottle of wine. She's attended 754 of the 1,000 Tuesdays.
The club isn't exclusive, however. Anyone can run at the Grove, without paying dues. Hicks said she often sees the same people every summer during their family's vacation.
“We encourage people to come,” she said. “They don't have to join. They can just try it out.”
To honor the club's big milestone, a celebration will be held Tuesday, Aug. 13, at Grove Park. Hicks is inviting all former members who may not attend on a regular basis anymore due to health reasons, age or other obligations. The group plans to hold an untimed 5K followed by a covered-dish picnic. They will also plant a tree honoring three members who have died. She hopes their families will attend the celebration and do the first 1,000 steps with the Grove runners.
Now that the club has reached 1,000 consecutive weeks, the question is what's next? Hicks said there is no specific goal; she just wants the streak to continue for years to come.
“People set goals for themselves,” she said. “As a group, we set a goal, and now we've reached a milestone, but it's not like we're stopping. We're going to keep going.”
“It's kind of amazing to think back to 1,000 times,” Bamforth said. “The great thing about the club is you never know who's coming. It's open to all shapes, sizes and abilities, and they're all there for a common purpose.”
In the club's early days the founders came up with a slogan – Groovin' at the Grove for the Health of It – and it still applies 1,000 weeks later.
“It's amazing. You see these clubs start off strong and then fizzle out,” Bamforth said. “You see it with teams, clubs, ideas. In society, that's what happens. But this thing has kept going every Tuesday night without missing a single night.”