When Scott Higgins moved west from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he couldn’t find a single meetup for him.
He looked into the Varsity Sports Running Club, but it was a training club for serious runners. He wanted something with a lower barrier of entry, and something for people like him who fell in the gap between transient college students and lifelong residents with their own established social circles.
His friend Jack Warner owned Happy’s Irish Pub and the Roux House downtown at the time. They met up at Schlittz & Giggles, and Higgins pitched his idea: a running club that was also a social club, for casual and serious runners alike. Plus, beer.
Warner immediately suggested, “Why don’t you do it at Happy’s?”
An institution was born.
Ten years later, Happy’s Running Club has its own weekly 5k, a roster of hundreds across all ages and an emblematic presence downtown every Tuesday night. You can catch members of the club running, jogging and walking one of five rotating routes they’ve mapped through different parts of downtown—a strategy that keeps things fresh for runners and increases traffic to different neighborhoods. At the end of each run, they’ll all head into Happy’s for a beer or a well-earned water break.
It doesn’t matter how fast you go, Higgins says. Just show up.
“When we started, we weren’t superstar athletes, so people felt more comfortable,” Higgins says. “[Co-founder Michael Lang and I] weren’t leading the runs. We had someone else leading the runs, and we were in the middle, saying ‘hi’ to everybody.”
The come-as-you-are vibe has given Happy’s staying power since 2008. Some families run with three generations, grandparents pushing “Happy babies” in strollers until they’re old enough to run on their own.
At least five couples have gotten married after meeting at the club, and countless more have formed lasting friendships around racing to get the first beer.
There’s even a sub-club, the Car Bomb Club, whose members stand atop their seats inside Happy’s at
7 p.m. after each run, do a reading from a book of Chuck Norris jokes and drink Irish Car Bombs together.
Club director Bobbi Jo Guerin, a cross country and track coach at Live Oak High School who sends out emails every week to rally the runners, says the club is the largest running club she’s been able to find in the country with around 1,000 total runners. She’s never found another club with the kind of bond that Happy’s creates, either.
“I could sit here and name 50 runners off the top of my head who have been around since ’08,” Guerin says. “We’re a family.”
HOW TO JOIN
Visit happysrunningclub.com, register for a membership and meet for the Tuesday night runs at 6 p.m. at Happy’s Irish Pub on Third Street.
Click here to head back to our club headquarters.
This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of 225 Magazine.