Getting up out of a perfectly warm, comfortable bed in the middle of a frigid February weeknight to go run 12 miles is by anybody’s definition an unnatural act.  For most, the notion is downright inconceivable to be honest.  For a special fringe of fitness fanatics at Club Julian however, it’s just Wednesday!

Welcome to the wonderful world of Club Julian’s Rising Runners!

The group started inauspiciously enough in the summer of 2016 when friends and Club Julian co-workers Jennifer Pearson-Ka (38) and Chelsea McNeil (29) decided to have some fun and run Pittsburgh’s Great Race (6.2 miles).  As “Super Jen” and “The Amazing Chelsea” trained on the treadmills at Club Julian and ran the trails of Pittsburgh together, their cardio capacity grew.  As did their friendship.  “We were both single at the time, having fun, and running races.  What could be better?” explains Jennifer.

As time went on the Rising Runner training circle grew to include new members like Gayle Mammay (53), who started her distance race training on Club Julian’s indoor track and progressed rapidly from there.  And when Rebecca Knepp (35) joined Club Julian 24-Hour Fitness in January of 2018, she almost couldn’t help but notice the earnest Rising Runners trio during her early AM workouts at Club Julian.  “Almost immediately I saw Jen, Gayle and Chelsea working out together…laughing, sweating, working hard – just having a great time!” says Rebecca.  “They were always friendly and several times they invited me to join them.  Finally, after a week or two, one them said something like ‘we’re doing four miles on the treadmill tomorrow, see you at 5am?’  From then on, I was hooked!”

Over the next year the group continued to expand to include running enthusiasts from ages 23 to 63!  Family members like Gayle’s son Alex (23) and Jen’s new husband Mignane (35) joined the group, as did CJ members Kristy Cloonan (45), Manya Riddle (46), Elizabeth Clement (50), and experienced marathoner Linda Diskin (63). The Rising Runners also took advantage of Club Julian’s free personal training the accomplish their goal, in addition to the expert advice and guidance of CJ Trainer Mike Salamon, a certified running specialist and highly regarded race pacer.

As time went on the Rising Runners logged countless tough training hours and racked up race medals for everything from community 5K’s to half marathons in Maryland.  But their ultimate goal was still out there to be conquered.  Like the Great White Whale or Mount Everest, 26.2 miles beckoned, challenging the group to one of the ultimate tests of endurance.  And in 2019, members of the group answered the call and took the leap by registering for the 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon.

As any veteran marathoner will advise, the first training experience is a real eye-opener in more ways than one – and for the Rising Runners that meant 5:00 am workouts six days a week either on the road or at Club Julian.  But when you have friends to keep you both focused and accountable through 18 grueling weeks of sweat, sacrifice, soreness, snowstorms, and sunrises – the regimen becomes a little more bearable.  “There is no way I would have done this without the Rising Runners,” says Rebecca.  “They made me laugh, encouraged me to do my best in this and everything in life.  And there’s no judgement – ever.  Plus, they love a good Saturday breakfast as much as I do!”

Through it all, the Rising Runners relied upon each other to get through winter training and all 26.2 miles of Pittsburgh hills, bridges, and even some unpredictable spring weather!  By early afternoon on Sunday, May 5th their quest was complete and the Rising Runners were officially marathoners – a distinction that no one can ever take away once achieved.

“Running a full marathon was humbling, rewarding and one of the hardest things I NEVER want to repeat,” says Gayle, who battled through late stage training injuries to finish.  “There were times during our training when someone would want to quit on a run or had self-doubts.  That’s when the group would be there to pick that person up.”

“What else would get you out of bed at 4:00am?” says Jen.  “So much honesty and support.  Yes, there were tears and meltdowns along the way.  But none of us wanted to disappoint the group, so we kept going knowing that we were there for each other.  We got this far because we have each other.”

Congratulations to Club Julian’s Rising Runners.  And long may you run!

If you’re interested in running, find the Rising Runners and other CJ members and friends over at the Club Julian Running Crew Facebook page!