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Running Club A Step In The Right Direction

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Runners and walkers stretch out after a workout. "One of the biggest things that any individual or community can do to improve their health -- without relying on ACA, their nearest ER, the dialysis center -- is getting active," said Dr. Anthony Fleg.

It can be hard to get motivated to exercise. But what if your doctor wrote you a prescription for it? One physician in Albuquerque is leading the charge against inactivity.

About 50 people gathered in the grass at the University of New Mexico golf course on a recent weeknight. They had their sneakers on and they were stretching. Then, they were asked to walk up and introduce themselves to someone in the group they don’t know.

It’s part of making everyone feel welcome. It was Carla Chavez’ first day with Running Medicine. "Doing it on your own, it’s boring," she said. "You could just do a couple and you think you did it all. But when you’re with a group it’s a time limit, you know, it’s an hour to run, walk, do whatever you need to do with them. And you enjoy it because there’s other people working with you."

Chavez said she just finished chemotherapy, and she’s finally cancer-free. Her doctor wrote her a prescription to join the group and she decided to take the fight to her diabetes, even though it’s not easy. "I have arthritis in my spine, so it’s hard to do a lot of things," she said. "But I try to get into that spirit that you can do it. I try to give it the best I can do and go for it."

She’s got goals: "Maybe I could throw this cane away," she said.

The health risks of not moving your body are numerous, spanning all the way from anxiety and depression to heart disease and cancer.  Dr. Anthony Fleg would rather not be constantly sending patients to pharmacies to spend money on pills.

"I’m a family doctor. This is the type of medicine I want to prescribe," he said, gesturing to the gathering group of runners and walkers.

He helped found this club called Running Medicine, and its core mission is to create a culture of wellness. It started in the International District but is moving around Albuquerque. The group is as diverse as the city, Fleg said, and whole families come. "Kids watch mom and dad sweat," he said. "And mom and dad watch kids sweat."

It’s flexible, and all fitness levels are welcome. "A lot of people—believe me—have a love/hate with running particularly. We have as many walkers as we do runners," he said.

And it’s cheap, just $15. It can even be free if you don’t want a T-shirt. "Sometimes we make exercise prohibitively expensive," Fleg said. "Running and walking are one of the few things you can do with no overhead, no rental of a gym or even a field."

And for Dr. Fleg, Running Medicine feels like a step in the right direction. "A lot of days you hit your head against the wall because you’re looking for those bigger-picture breakthroughs," he said. "To me this is one of those realms of breakthrough, that if we could do more of this, all of our communities would be healthier."

Fleg split folks into groups: tiny kids, some with their parents, play running games. Older kids run together. Some folks walk and run. Some adults train for speed. There are coaches and leaders for each crew, like TwyManuelito. "I’m really competitive," she said, "especially with myself."

Manuelito hails from Acoma and comes from a family of runners. She’s been at it since she was 12-years-old. But even she hits the wall sometimes. "When I think I don’t have enough gas left, I get my second wind somehow, and I meditate when I run," she said. "I have a mantra that I repeat in my head. 'I can do it. You’re not done.' That’s what gets me through my toughest runs."

Credit Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Dr. Anthony Fleg shakes hands with a runner.

Later, sweaty runners made their way back to the meetup spot. The kids experimented with dribbling a little water on their own heads, even though it was not that hot out. Manuelito said this running club is unlike any other because it feels like a big family. "It’s a culture of acceptance and respect, and it’s very loving," she said. "The spirits here are absolutely caring and inspiring."

All the runners and walkers stretched, grabbed a drink and a snack. Then they shook hands.

The sun was setting. The families dispersed. They’ll all be back in a couple of days for their next dose of Running Medicine.


Running Medicine meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. at the UNM North Golf Course, and Saturday mornings in different locations. Find out more on their Facebook page.

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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