It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday evening. Despite the hour, heat radiates up from the blacktop at the Del Valle High School parking lot where Rogelio Rayos stretches, already sweating. But he’s not alone. Several other Del Valle residents are here too, warming up and taking a final pre-run swig of water. Even the last gasps of Texas summer can’t stop this new group’s dedication.
“When we started, we were in the middle of August, the dead heat of August,” says Rayos. “Some days it's just been the two of us, but I've never been by myself. There's always been at least one person show up since August 11, which is pretty cool.”
Rayos is the leader of the burgeoning group dubbed the Del Valle Road Runners. Every Wednesday they meet by the fighter jet at the Del Valle High School for a jaunty three mile run through the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s a chance for camaraderie and exercise in an area where finding both can be difficult. The closest gyms and running groups are in Austin, roughly 8 to 12 miles away. Rayos knew that for his neighbors, trying to stay motivated to work out while fighting traffic can be a tall hurdle to overcome.
“I think it was important for me to start something there to make it just more convenient for the people who live in Del Valle,” Rayos says. “I figured if people can just drive five minutes down the road to meet up, they're more likely to come out and run than if they have to drive 30 minutes into town.”
Rayos is familiar with the early morning trek into Austin to meet up with running groups. Since he got into running, he has enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere and motivation he got from meeting up with groups like The Morning Jo’s Run Club, but living outside of city limits came with challenges.
“Most groups meet either early in the morning or in the evening,” Rayos says. “So it's hard to fit that into your schedule if you're going into Austin and then having to come back and out to Del Valle.”
In search of other area runners, Rayos went to social media. But he was surprised to find there were no running groups in Del Valle, especially since he knew there were other fleet-footed folks out there.
“I would see people running in the community,” Rayos says. “I was surprised to find that there wasn't one person out of all of those people that decided, ‘Hey, we should start a run group.’”
Then Rayos had an idea: He would be that person.
He got a good response from Del Valle residents on the social media pages he created for the group. According to Rayos, 44 people started following the Facebook page after his first post. But he wasn’t sure how many people would show up for the first run.
On that humid evening, four community members came to see what the Del Valle Road Runners were all about. Rayos says their numbers have consistently been around four to eight since then.
“One of our members had been wanting to run with a group for a long time, but there's just nothing out there in Del Valle for her,” Rayos says. “She was super excited when she saw the Facebook post. She had been running by herself, but she kind of voiced to us that, ‘Hey, this is great because sometimes I need that motivation.’”
Maria De Léon-Arizpe and her husband Ramón Arizpe Jr. are both long-time runners and long-time Del Valle residents. They often jump in with various groups around Austin, but when the couple saw a post about a running group in their own backyard, they were immediately interested. They both love that not only is the drive to the starting point shorter, but that they also have more time to socialize with the group afterwards.
“You feel like you're part of the group really, really fast,” says De Léon-Arizpe. “It almost feels like we've known each other forever the way that we talk to each other.”
Rayos started the group with a welcoming atmosphere in mind. He wanted it to be accessible to runners at all levels and ages. That kind of open door policy was what helped new runner Antonia Facundo feel like the group was a place for her, too. Having just started running earlier that year and not knowing any of the other participants, Facundo wasn’t sure if there would be a place for her at first.
“I was nervous as hell,” she says. “I'm not like this, you know, full athlete runner…[but] they stuck with me.”
Facundo felt supported by the group, but soon she also found the other runners also kept her motivated.
“I found I was able to go a lot longer running,” Facundo says. “If I'm by myself, nobody's there to say, ‘No, no, no, keep going.’ It's way harder running on your own instead of somebody else right there nudging you.”
Rayos hopes to bring in other area runners who need a little motivation. His goal is for the group to continue to grow and to become more involved in the area. And they’ve already made inroads on community involvement–several runners including De Léon-Arizpe gave out candy at a Halloween event at Popham Elementary in October under the Del Valle Road Runner banner. But maybe more than anything, Rayos wants running in Del Valle to be recognized, both inside and outside the community, as a path for connection between neighbors.
“I wanted to start something in Del Valle,” Rayos says. “That we had our own thing out there and that we could sort of be proud of our own community and say, ‘Hey, like there's also runners out here in Del Valle. Don't forget about us.’”
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