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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Flightless Birds: We run because we can’t fly; Everything else is a bonus

Members of the flightless Birds Running Club start their 3.25 mile run in downtown Cheney, Washington, on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Members of the flightless Birds Running Club start their 3.25 mile run in downtown Cheney, Washington, on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dave Cook For The Spokesman-Review

Contrary to public belief …

Some runners don’t run races.

Some runners don’t use Fitbits, Apple Watches or Garmins to track times, minutes, routes, etc.

Some runners don’t use Gu (if you don’t know what that is, you probably aren’t around marathoners).

Some runners don’t need the latest trends in running garb (however, the best shoes money can buy are usually worth it).

Some runners don’t train, count calories or drink enough water (color says it all).

Some runners just want to get the “stay the course” message from their doctor after their annual physical.

But some runners like beer (only to hydrate of course). And people. And clubs.

As the holy grail of running nears – Bloomsday XXXXIIII (close enough if wrong) – it’s a great time to recognize those fun-loving people out there who turn local watering holes – including one literally in a hole – into some of the best runs of a lifetime via a weekly SOCIAL running club.

And let’s state right up front that “runners” is only a broad term … walkers, those with walkers and four-legged friends are most likely invited as well. The more the merrier, beer lines permitting!

Of course, the Flying Irish in Spokane are the big Kahunas in these parts with their weekly Thursday runs. Like most clubs, they come complete with T-shirts after a designated number of runs, beverage specials, occasional food specials and giveaways, and a mix of runs that are open to tortoises and hares alike. The Irish even have a board of directors, which should make them eligible for stock trading.

The Irish are the penultimate running club in the area, with others established in communities and neighborhoods of tight-knit friends and co-workers. Many aren’t even advertised, just word-of-mouth amongst fellow runners.

Finding a club that fits you individually and for a couple/family can be intimidating, with so many relationships (stopping short of calling them cliques) already formed. The best way to fit in is to kick everybody’s butts on the course and then let them ask about your past/present Olympic career.

But, if you aren’t a four-minute miler, the best modus operandi is to find a running partner with a similar pace and do your best to run and chat at the same time. Or, if hyperventilating isn’t for you, order a post-run beer and break the ice in conversations about IPAs, lagers, pilsners, stouts, porters, or good old Oly. You can stalk everybody on Facebook later.

Kudos – or maybe “Gudos” to be runner-specific – to all the organizers out there who put in the time and effort to help our habits (running among them). Chris, Jane, Danny, Dom, Ben (and his assistant Olive), Dave, Brett, Aric, Heather and Peter are names that come to mind. Don Kardong, too, but that’s an altogether different club of about 40,000.

Cheney’s Flightless Birds (run on Tuesdays), The Lantern (Tuesdays), Iron Goat (Wednesdays), Flying Irish (Thursdays) and a summary of some of the rest will be profiled in the coming days. All of them will welcome you with open arms, inasmuch as providing a course for you to spend a half-hour to an hour-plus of your evening sweating, panting, aching and generally hating that roll around your middle.

But a run will never let you down. With the exceptions of a pulled hammy, a nasty fall, or a head-on with a bus (or large tree branch), you’ll always feel better with a run than without it.

Furthermore, beer always tastes better after a run (before is not desirable for obvious reasons). All clubs (and those with a board of directors) make those assurances in their bylaws – honest!

The Flying Irish claim that a run should be fun. And, of course, don’t forget the international runner’s club mantra, “Will Run for Beer.”

Flightless Birds

Our first home is now an auto parts store. And before that it was a Burger King with a giant indoor playground.

Those who live in Cheney know that businesses come and go, and change is inevitable. Unless of course you are Roos/Woodward Field, then you stick around – like it or not – for 50-plus years.

Our Tuesday runner’s club, the Flightless Birds, have had to roll with the punches since the joggers and walkers of a feather first flocked together eight years ago. But, knock on wood, we have found a solid home not built with playing cards. We are keenly aware, however, to always keep a short list of alternate venues on hand at all times.

The FBRC was the brainchild of EWU recreation professor Chris Cindric and his wife, Jane, who started the runs in the spring of 2012 at various parks. The club then moved weekly to a Mexican restaurant where the Modelo was cheap, the chips were free, our host Angel always friendly and welcoming, and the Mexican food superb. They even had a patio for those warm, sunny days we all long for, and we ate, drank and were merry for hours on end.

Then, suddenly, it became an auto parts store. Not surprisingly, most runners do not like the taste of post-run motor oil (although you have to admit some stouts have the consistency of 10-40W).

There were several new options for the club (at the time; remember, change in Cheney is inevitable), but the local corner pizza joint turned out to be the right new nest. Some will remember it in its early days as Savage House Pizza or even a movie theater, but it received a welcome renaissance for us long-time Cheneyites.

What started as Zentropa became Barrelhouse Pub and Pizza under new ownership (see, change is inevitable), and has provided a home for all. We even share the place on some Tuesdays with the Cheney City Council, and Mayor Grover is an honorary member of our club (not sure if he or anybody else knows that yet).

It’s an under-21 establishment, so families are always welcome. But please, have them leave before Tuesday trivia begins because no runner wants to find out they are actually NOT smarter than a fourth grader.

Runs begin at 6 p.m., sort of. Walkers are allowed to go early at about 5:30 p.m. so that we all end at more or less the same time frame

We are well represented by the Eastern Washington University community and their families, and EWU president Mary Cullinan is also a runner and an honorary member (again, this may not be common knowledge yet). We also have a bevy of birds from the State Patrol Crime Lab, so criminals are best advised to find another club if they know what’s good for them.

The courses are relatively tame and most are three miles in length, and it’s really, really hard to get lost in Cheney. There are the twists and turns and hills of Cookie’s Crumble (or the new Cookie’s Crumble version 3.30, replacing old version 2.97), but there are always real cookies at the finish to guide you home (sorry, no crumbs along the way).

Eight runs and you can buy a shirt, and wearing it (smelly with sweat or not) gets you beer specials. But first, you must provide a Flightless Birds fact as the initiation. Amazingly, over the years we’ve learned that EWU mascot Swoop is NOT the only flightless bird on this planet.

Thirty-three runs and you get to share a favorite story of your favorite run with the club. Usually, the common thread is the Modelo and chips we all miss so dearly.

Ninety-nine runs and you get to sing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall from beginning to end. Not really, but you and the rest of the 99ers do get to sing a little ditty written by the famed Irish limerickist “ChrispC” that goes like this: “We’re the Flightless Birds, We Run All Over Town, And If you Do Not Run With Us We’ll Pull Your Gym Shorts Down. Hey!” We’re a full ensemble now, ready to go on tour at a moment’s notice.

We’ve even had a few hit 200 runs, but, sadly, we haven’t come up with a ritual for that milestone. Not requiring hip/knee replacements is enough of an honor. But, perhaps, it could include permanent assignment to the board of directors.

The FBRC also spreads its wings and flies. Occasionally we’ll hit other clubs (most have running involved) as a “Get The Flock Out of Town Night.” Plus, we host an annual Cheney Wetlands Run, a half-marathon in November and a New Year’s Day run with a course that duplicates the numerals in that particular year (2020 here we come!).

There are also themed runs like Dollar Store Night, Rubber Chicken Run and the frightening Halloween Dress-Up Run (you just never know what spooky things happen on Taco Tuesday at Bill’s). And there’s that now-defunct El Camiño de Spokañe a Coeur d’Alene. Please, don’t ask. Word on the street is that it’s moving to Bend.

The other thing you don’t want to do is to not come (aren’t double negatives fun?). There is a secret “extinct birds” list and, well, there needs to be a consequence for getting on the list. So maybe when there is a board of directors we’ll find a more appropriate penalty than pulling somebody’s gym shorts down.

It’s been said on more than one occasion that the FBRC is a not a Running Club With a Beer Problem, but a Beer Club with a Running Problem (oops, somebody stole that from the Flying Irish). Either way, it’s giving us way too much credit. We run because we can’t fly. Everything else is a bonus.

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