We sat down with Charlie Dark of London’s Run Dem to learn more about the crew’s humble beginnings, their gradual evolution and what they’re up to now that they’re over 200 strong on the regular.
To get things straight from the start, Run Dem is not a running crew. Instead, they are a family and community whose passion for running hard and fast goes hand in hand with their passion for creativity. To celebrate the release of Nike’s “Genealogy of Free” pack and the Free Breathe, Run Dem organized a a five-kilometer run through the busy streets of London. To learn more about the project and the creative community’s number one endorphin-releasing outlet, we sat down with Charlie Dark, the mastermind behind the Run Dem Crew. Check out our full interview with the London creative below.
Let’s start from the beginning. Where did the idea come from?
Ok, so there’s a couple of reasons I started the running crew. I live near the Olympic Stadium and when they were building it, people in my community were actually encouraged to use the facilities. We’ve got an amazing park now, an amazing swimming pool, stadium, great running trails, but more importantly I just fell in love with running. I started running to get fit for a theater role and I just loved it. I was running around London late at night, making mixtapes, rediscovering London and seeing it in a different light with different smells, different scents, meeting different people and I wanted to share that with as many of my friends as I could. And basically the idea for the crew came through that. Also, it was a way for my friends to physically meet each other at least once a week. Whereas before it’s always been these virtual relationships, social media relationships, where we just follow each other around the world via our Twitter accounts and our Facebook accounts. I just wanted to be like, you know, “my man’s cool!” I actually want to see him. And that’s how it came about.
And the word just spread from there?
Yeah, yeah. I mean when we first started we very deliberately didn’t do any press, didn’t tell anyone for like the first year and a half. That was something I’d learned from being involved in other things kind of in the music industry – where people had ideas and they become very cool very quickly and they burn out. So my thing was kind of, I want this thing to last as long as possible, and a way to do that is to not tell anyone what we’re doing and to let people naturally, organically find out. And that’s what kind of happened.
Is creativity still part of the crew’s concept?
Yeah. I always say running is the least important part of the running crew story. The creativity and the idea of family that we’re trying to build and community is far more important. We just made a short film which we just saw this week and we’re in the studio making music for our next big race; we’re gonna make our own Finish Line music and a mixtape for it, so we’re starting a record label as well; we got an art exhibition planned for next year based on running. So we’re basically trying to make people understand that just because you’re being healthy and running and taking care of yourself doesn’t mean that the rest of your life stops. You know, it’s all part of a lifestyle.
How do you think running or sports in general relate to creativity?
I think the lessons that you learn from following the training schedule, where you’re working towards a race, are very similar to the steps you take when you’re trying to execute a creative idea. So what we find is, a lot of people who get into running suddenly find some crazy level of creativeness, because the wider the mind thing starts to change, it becomes a lot more methodical. i.e. if I get out and run ten miles on a Sunday, I know then that basically that’s setting me up for my Tuesday run or my Wednesday run, and because I’m following the training schedule I’m seeing the progression. In the same way, this helps people who have great ideas, but no idea how to execute the idea or what steps you take to make the idea happen. So running and creativity basically go hand in hand.
How many people are you guys now?
We generally are now getting around 200 to 250 people.
And how do you divide the different skill levels?
They’re all divided into five different race groups. So we have the tortoises, hares, greyhounds, cheetahs and the elites. So the idea is basically that no matter what level you are, there’s someone who’s always gonna be able to run with you. My thing is about encouraging people to run.
How do you decide the route?
We don’t really run routes, we run to destinations. So I’ll be like, “Ok we’re gonna run to Big Ben but how you get there is up to you.” So your group leader will take you different ways. So the idea is, each time you go you’re trying to discover a new way of getting to that place. And then we meet, we take a photo and go back a different way.
Do you personally have a favorite route?
Yes! One of my favorite routes is running from 1948 in Shoreditch down to Millennium Bridge and then running along the river and coming out at one of the bridges.
Do you plan to expand Run Dem to other cities around the world?
I don’t want there to be loads of Run Dem’s around the world. I want people to basically be inspired by the idea and go their way and do their own thing. Because I think each city, the way you’re running in New York, you can’t run that way in the UK, in London. What you run in London is different from what you’re gonna run in Berlin. So each city has a different kind of obstacle that you have to overcome.
I think the lessons that you learn from following the training schedule, where you’re working towards a race, are very similar to the steps you take when you’re trying to execute a creative idea.
So you just plan to stick with London for now?
Yeah. We’re in London and we’re affiliated to other crews, but there’s not gonna be Run Dem Birmingham or Run Dem Manchester. That’s like going to a restaurant that’s really amazing and then the second one you go to is not quite as good and then it kind of…
Waters down your concept.
Yeah, yeah yeah. I want people to be inspired from what we do and to go away and start their own things. I think that’s really empowering. The thing is, people look at Run Dem and they see all these people, but they don’t realize that for the first six months, it literally was myself and five friends operating out of a kitchen and going running and we couldn’t even run a mile.
Because you physically couldn’t run any further?
Yeah, we couldn’t run any further than that. But we liked running, so we just ran and then that one mile turned into three miles and then that turned into a 10k. It’s baby steps, you know, that’s the thing.
What about the name? Where did that come from?
I listened to a lot of reggae music, like the Scare Dem Crew, and I just thought I didn’t want to have a traditional running name. My whole thing was kind of trying to take the aesthetics from music and from every other art form apart from running and apply that to running. So my idea was basically I want to remix running culture, to make it more for people like myself, who I think could really benefit from running.
My thing was, why do people have to wait until they start losing their health before they actually start waking up and taking care of it? So why wait ’til we’re thirty to look in the mirror and be like, “Oh my belly’s a bit big so I’m gonna start running,” when actually you can do that in your twenties and just incorporate it into your lifestyle. I always say to people, “all we’re trying to do is basically build bodies for the cities that we live in.” So I know that if there’s a tube strike it doesn’t affect me because I can just run to work. If I go to the tube station and there’s a queue for the escalators, I’m gonna run up the steps. Why? Because I trained my body to do that, because I want to basically be fit enough to live in London or live in a city and enjoy that city.
What is it you guys are up to with Nike today?
So obviously the launch of the new Nike Free and for crews like ourselves that run in the city, the Nike Free is probably one of the most important running shoes of our movement. Basically, it’s changed the way we’re running, it allows you to connect to more of your city. This is a shoe that I can wear to running, I can wear to raving, I wear to clubbing, I can wear to work, much more of a universal shoe. So it fits our philosophy being, you know, fit for life. For us, it’s great to be embraced by a company such as Nike, who recognize and appreciate the small bit we’re doing to change our little world of running, which hopefully in some way will influence the running world as a whole.