Most people can agree that running isn’t that fun or appealing at first, especially in the thick summer heat of Jacksonville. However, if you throw in some post-run eats, a whole lot of friendship and camaraderie, then you just might be intrigued about a running group like Asphalt Junkies.
Asphalt Junkies, a Jacksonville-based running group, which includes walkers and bikers, for people of all ages and skill levels, was founded in 2013. Organizer Maria Kirk, wife of a retired U.S. Marine, and her running partners wanted to get more people involved in the sport.
“A couple of us were running together, and sometimes it’s hard to put the right times together that everybody could meet up, so we thought that if we could make it bigger then we could always have somebody else to run with,” Kirk said.
Now, nearly six years since the inception of the group, Asphalt Junkies has become a major social hub for military-affiliated people living in the Jacksonville area.
According to Kirk, over half of the group’s members are connected to the military and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in one way or another, be it active-duty service members, retirees, spouses, dependents or civilians who work on base.
One factor that has contributed to the growth of the group is a website and app called MeetUp, which allows event organizers with the group to create events on the page where members can RSVP in advance and post event details. The Asphalt Junkies’ group on MeetUp has over 750 members and has hosted more than 2,300 events since it began in 2013.
Certainly one of the biggest aspects of the group that resonates with the Jacksonville military community is the camaraderie that is felt amongst the members from the first event they attend.
“What do I get out of it?” Kirk said. “Great friends. I love everybody I run with. It’s a very close-knit group.”
For 1st Lt. Mylen Morales, an adjutant with 2d Marine Logistics Group, being a part of Asphalt Junkies is a form of free therapy and an opportunity to get together with people from different walks of life.
“After a long day of work, sometimes you want to do a workout, sometimes you just want to run,” Morales said. “Everyone is a different pace, but somedays we are with the same person for a bit and we just talk about life.”
Asphalt Junkies isn’t just about running or exercising; it’s about meeting people and discovering new areas in and around Jacksonville, such as The Garden Pavilion where the group had its first “3 miles then beer” Thursday run through the Aldersgate neighborhood, July 18.
Sometimes, events are more socially-oriented and don’t include a run, like seeing live music. Other group events may include larger-scale, long-distance runs like the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
Similar to Morales, Tarren Windham, Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman with Field Medical Training Battalion-East, embraces the community aspect of being involved with Asphalt Junkies.
“I appreciate this because San Diego [near Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton] has so many groups,” Windham said, who uses running as a way to relieve stress. “Whatever activity you are into, they have a group for it. You can go to the park and find somebody doing some kind of fitness thing, and Lejeune doesn’t have that. So I love that there are groups for this and I would love to see it expand more.”
Both Windham and Morales encourage other active-duty service members and civilians to get involved with the group because of its benefits like meeting new people, building relationships, discovering new places and staying physically active.
“A lot of times people don’t want to try because they don’t know anyone,” Windham said. “Show up, because you’re going to meet someone who will talk to you.”
“I was extremely intimidated,” Morales said of when she first joined the group. “I thought everyone was fast and setting PRs and Boston (Marathon) qualifications and stuff, but everyone is just here for the camaraderie, the friendship and to get better for themselves. Don’t be intimidated to try something new.”
Though Kirk admits that the name Asphalt Junkies did get some backlash in the beginning because of the negative connotations of the term junkie, it is a name that they decided to firmly stick by.
“It doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” Kirk said. “This is what we love to do. This is what we are out doing every time we get off of work, before work or on weekends.”