Come run. Come drink. Leave happy.
Every Tuesday, more than 100 runners, walkers and beer enthusiasts meet at Happy’s Irish Pub in downtown Baton Rouge at 6 p.m. Fifteen minutes later, they’ve hit the streets to run a 5-K as one of the largest running clubs in the country. After their 3.1-mile jog, they end up back at the bar to fill up their pint glasses and bask in the camaraderie of people from all walks of life.
In March 2008, Baton Rouge residents Michael Lang and Scott Higgins, along with Brandon Landry and Jack Warner, also of Baton Rouge, started Happy’s Running Club to combine a little bit of running with a little bit of boozing.
“I had read about some other clubs all over the country, and this was before downtown Baton Rouge really started its resurgence,” said Higgins, a native of New Orleans. “So we were like, ‘Alright, let’s bring some people downtown; let’s do something fun, very casual.’”
Lang and Higgins met when they played on the softball team of Forum 35, a program for young businesspeople aimed at bettering Baton Rouge. Lang, a Yankees fan, and Higgins, a Red Sox fan, bonded over their love of sports and community. The two formed their company, 2 Dumb Runners, which organizes Happy’s Running Club.
“We did a ton of races together, and so that was the genesis of our relationship,” said Philly native Lang. “We met through a casual athletic activity, and we said, ‘Wait, we love casual athletic activities, and we love the social side of sports, so let’s do a running club.’”
For $35, a member of Happy’s Running Club gets perks including two-for-one drafts every Tuesday at Happy’s after the run, a dri-fit running club shirt and 15-percent off at Varsity Sports.
“It’s a pretty damn good value,” Higgins said.
Since 2008, Happy’s Running Club now includes more than 3,000 members, making it one of the top-five largest “social” running clubs in the country. In 2011, the club had 850 paying members, but because of the relaxed atmosphere, many people just tag along.
“The number is hard to be specific on,” Higgins said. “We keep it casual, and I would rather someone hide in the back than annoy someone who is just a little late on catching up on their dues.”
As the club grew, Higgins saw the emergence of a new downtown – one that was more lively and full of people.
“Four years ago there was just not a lot going on downtown,” Higgins said. “There’s a lot more now, but we were sort of on the front end of that, which was nice.”
Happy’s Running Club brought crowds of people together to run, drink and see a part of Baton Rouge they may not have otherwise seen. Some Baton Rouge residents made it downtown for the first time ever because of the club.
Running club charter member Bobbi Joe Guerin said the group allows her to keep close to her Baton Rouge roots.
“Just experiencing downtown Baton Rouge is awesome because it’s now just becoming what it used to be,” Guerin said. “My family is from Baton Rouge, so now sometimes I feel like I’m experiencing the same thing that they were.”
The running club isn’t the only way Lang and Higgins became a part of revamping downtown. Through their company, Ethos Events, which plans races in Baton Rouge, the pair created the Happy’s 5000, an event combining exercise, food, music and art.
“We try to do things very differently, and we’re always trying to promote Louisiana culture,” Higgins said. “In the years past we’ve done it along Third Street, and we’ve basically made a block party out of it.”
To make the Happy’s 5000 different than other 5K races, the duo focused on features to make it stand out from the mundane.
“I hate getting a plastic bag with 15 coupons I’ll never use and a Gildan cotton, crappy t-shirt,” Higgins said. “So our goody bag is a pint glass with our race logo on it — that’s all you need.”
Along with the Happy’s 5000, Lang and Higgins created the Red Carpet Road Race, where runners trot a 5-K route downtown in tuxes and evening gowns. Both events make up the run Nightlife Series and always happen in the evening to counteract the tradition of early-morning races.
“We said, ‘OK, what are all the elements I don’t like about 5-Ks in town?’” Higgins said. “First of all, I don’t like getting up early on Saturday morning, so we decided we were going to do it at night, which no one does.”
The 2 Dumb Runners are also spreading the running club to Happy’s in New Orleans, bringing the meet, run, drink routine to the Crescent City.
When Lang and Higgins first started the Baton Rouge club, they knew meeting at the same place, at the same time and in the same spirit was an important part of bringing people together to enjoy hitting the pavement and slugging back some cold ones.
“We have met every Tuesday for over four straight years,” Lang said. “And every Tuesday you know that there will be a ton of people – fast, slow, black, white, young, old – it doesn’t matter.”
And every Tuesday, rain or shine, the assorted crowd breezes through the streets of downtown – sometimes even in costume.
“The Halloween parties are fun,” Guerin said. “Everybody dresses in great costumes, and runs in them, and then we go back and dance and cut it up.”
The mix of people with all types of athletic backgrounds is what Lang and Higgins believe to be a driving force in the group’s success.
“The level of runner that we have is from elite runners all the way down to a walker – and I mean a true walker,” Higgins said. “It’s just a huge, diverse crowd.”
Although the club is filled with people of all abilities and ages, a strong sense of community at the center of the group binds its members together.
“I think the friends that I’ve made through Happy’s will be a part of my life always,” Guerin said. “Runners have electricity about them. They’re just good, social people to hang around.”
And as the miles rack up with each slap of sneaker to pavement and the beer flows from keg to cup, Happy’s Running Club and its members continue the Tuesday tradition of a fun run, followed by a couple brews.
“It’s just really nice, laidback, casual people that like to get some exercise,” Lang said. “So come one, come all and come every Tuesday.”
And while some may be intimidated to start running in a group of this size, Lang and Higgins stress the importance of experiencing this group’s inclusive appeal.
“It’s weird. Usually you imagine a group of that size gets very cliquey, but it’s really not,” Higgins said. “Everybody is real welcoming. It’s just a happy mood; no pun intended.”
Happy’s Running Club – Route 1
Happy’s Running Club – Route 2
Happy’s Running Club – Route 3