PROPELLING GROUP FITNESS TO NEW HEIGHTS
In the heart of New York City’s Flatiron District, millions of miles are tallying up on Woodway 4Front treadmills. Each stride is insync with the next—as in the with the stride pushing forward on the next treadmill over. Just as the ball of the foot touches down on the belt a flash of blue overtakes the room. “Core tight, here we go!” booms through a speaker cutting through the music that floats just above the whir of the spinning tread belts. Suddenly the room glows green, and there are runners down on their hands pressing through push ups before grabbing a kettlebell for single arm rows… and back up onto the tread.
This is Mile High Run Club. And this is their The Build class. While the class may be 45 minutes, with just 7 minutes on the treadmill in uphill intervals, the MHRC is supplying the planks and strength to build a strong running foundation—think core, back, chest and the rest of that upper body. (Rest assured, for a running boutique, they do cover shorter distance tempos—Dash 28—and longer endurance in—The Distance).
With each stride that hits the belt comes a purpose. For some it’s endurance, for others it’s strength, and then there are those chasing a sense of stability. As an ACSM certified personal trainer, Debora Warner the founder and CEO of MHRC values the importance of a wellrounded program … especially when it comes to group fitness (which wasn’t necessarily something she had ever envisioned running into—let alone bringing to new heights)!
Warner started Mile High Run Club to provide a motivating, fun training experience where beginning and competitive runners could train side by side with expert coaching, programs and instruction on running form.
“Since we opened our doors – November 2014 in NOHO, I have been so incredibly happy to see how many of our runners are benefiting from the guidance and challenge provided by our classes,” says Warner, “and then are taking that knowledge to the streets by applying techniques learned in the studio to outdoor runs and races.”
You took one of the most foundational fitness elements (running) and literally reinvented the wheel, particularly for group fitness. What were your initial thoughts when building out MHRC?
I had an independent coaching business when I had started developing the idea for Mile High Run Club, and I knew I wanted to create something bigger. The concept actually came to me when I was leading a group run in Central Park. A few runners were having a very hard time keeping up with a moderate pace, so I started thinking about how groups could train together in a less intimidating context where no runner gets left behind.
Training indoors seemed like the ideal solution. Applying a spin class format to running sounded like a no brainer to me, and I was surprised to find out no one had done this already. I didn’t realize until after we were open that some box gyms had actually experimented with treadmill classes as early as 2006, but no one had built a dedicated studio for training runners indoors before us.
When creating MHRC, how did you envision the program to look?
My thinking about the programming started with very traditional proven training strategies used at the track, such as repeats, ladders, and sprints. All can be easily translated to the treadmill using time vs. distance since it’s a group fitness class.
The treadmill also allows us to add incline, which is great. For the intensity we reference both race paces and perceived effort.
There are only two variables in endurance training – duration and intensity. How long? At what speed? We stick to the basic principles of speed training and build smart rest to recovery ratios in each program.
Who / What served as points of inspiration within the realm of group fitness programming when building out MHRC?
I was not thinking about group fitness much at all. I was a running coach, and I wanted to stay true to the sport of running. I felt if I approached this from a different angle, the experience would be compromised.
I’ve never been a huge fan of group fitness classes to be honest, and I wanted to make sure our customers understand this is speed training designed to help you become a better runner rather than simply a “workout.” We emphasize education over entertainment, but the classes are still really fun.
Running spans a large swath of the fitness realm, how did you go about hitting almost every niche; but not getting lost down all of these various paths along the way?
This comes back to how we coach the class. We make sure we speak to every type of runner in the room.
We started with only two class types – the DASH 28 & THE DISTANCE. I anticipated that our customer-base would be made up of serious runners and fitness-focused runners. I always keep the customer in mind first. I’ve worked with so many runners in my career that I have a good sense of the types of runners out there and what their needs are.
I had runners’ goals in mind for each different class type. For example, our 60-minute DISTANCE class is great for half marathon and full marathon race prep. Our DASH 28 is a foundation building class with a much shorter run, which is equally accessible to runners who are new to the sport (or returning runners), as well as the primarily fitness-focused demographic. We now have 6 different class types, and each of them draws a crowd!
When sharing your vision for MHRC, how did certain people within your life react?
- Family – my parents know how determined I am so I don’t think they doubted for a minute that I would do this
- Friends – friend were supportive and made introductions to my early business partners
- Fellow fitness professionals – I kept it hush hush among my fitness colleagues until it was much further along. Stealth mode!
- Fellow runners – a few challenged my point of view on indoor running as a fan of the treadmill as a training tool, but I had always created this with the intention to have an outdoor program as well, and we have a very robust outdoor training program.
- Investors – some investors were surprised to hear this concept hadn’t been done already, but generally there was considerable excitement.
How did you know this was the right time to get such a fitness offering up and running? Were there industry trends that tipped you off or was it all intuition?
The boutique model had already been proven, and I felt that there was still a need for more specialized training that was not about burning calories. I was also just really committed to creating a gym for runners with my clients in mind.
Hurdles along the way?
We lost out on a real estate deal in the Flatiron neighborhood, which set us back months on the launch. That was frustrating, because I was anxious to open. This hurdle sticks out as one of the more significant challenges. Securing any lease in New York City is already difficult for a startup. Once we were open there were quite a few unexpected struggles (and there will always continue to be struggles), but my sense of purpose hasn’t changed from day one regardless of the obstacles we have had to overcome. I truly look forward to going to work every day, and I feel so lucky to work with such a passionate team.
Make it your own! Focus on what you’re good at, and make sure whatever you’re doing has integrity.
Is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist in New York City. Ellen’s approach to training is that “anything is possible.” Endurance, Strength, and Stability/Agility training are at the core of her fitness programming. She holds a Master’s degree in New Media Publishing and Magazine Editing from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her media credits include print and online contributions to Healthguru.com, Men’s Fitness, Shape, TheCheatSheet.com, and Greatist.com. She serves as Editorial Director of Fitness Trainer magazine.