Tortugas Run Club aims to make inclusive environment for slower runners

CHICAGO (CBS) — This weekend, thousands of runners from around the world will lace up their sneakers for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Running clubs across the city have been picking up the pace and training for weeks in anticipation of the big race. One running club in particular has exploded in popularity, even getting the attention of Nike.

The run club “Tortugas” – which means turtle in Spanish – has been meeting every Sunday in the Pilsen neighborhood’s Harrison Park since last summer.

Tortugas founder David Ruiz said the run club started with a membership of just one, and now has 50 to 60 runners.

“When I started running, I found myself in a run club, but I was still running alone, because I was slower. Everybody was ahead of me,” he said. “So I was like, ‘You know what? Let me start a run club, and then hopefully people my pace will come.’ And then, so it happened.”

At first, Ruiz said he forced his cousins and friends to run with him, and the club grew from there.

“Eventually, just people started coming. One day I look up, and there’s like 40 of us, 50 of us, 60 of us,” he said. “It just kept going, kept going, and now it’s like our group is very diverse. We’ve got people that walk, and we’ve got people that are done with our run in 10 minutes. You know what I mean? There’s people that take 30 minutes, and there’s people that take 10 minutes, and it’s just like afterwards we just all hang out.”

Ruiz said the run club is all about going at your own pace.

He got the idea for the name Tortugas, while focusing on a run club for slower runners, when he came across a picture of his mother in a family photo album from when she would run 5Ks with her sisters.

“They used to register as a group, and they used to call themselves Las Tortugas,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wait, wait, let me take that and make it cool. … Swag it out, give it some flavor.”

Ruiz said the main goal of the group is to introduce running to people who haven’t done it before, and keeping it from being intimidating.

“That’s why if you see our flyer, the first word you’ll see is walk,” he said.

The club has a new sponsorship from Nike, an accomplishment that left Ruiz speechless.

“It’s been unreal, I guess. I mean, growing up in the 90s, right? You wanted to be like Mike,” Ruiz said, referring to the ubiquitous Gatorade commercials featuring Bulls legend Michael Jordan.

Ruiz will be running the Bank of Chicago Marathon on Sunday.

“Sunday is going to be a real good vibe. I’ve got the whole city behind my back, and I love it,” he said.

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