Can running make you care more about your city?

Can running get people more excited about and engaged in the city they live in?

Frankie Ruiz, the co-founder of the Miami Marathon, thinks so.

The race is celebrating 15 years on Sunday this year, and they’ve got more than 20,000 people signed up. The Brickell Run Club – and several other spin-offs across the city – regularly bring out hundreds for their weeknight runs.

While the marathon is perhaps what Ruiz is most known for, he thinks the run club he helped found has the potential to transform many Miamians’ relationship with their city, whether they run a five-minute mile for five miles straight or can barely get through one mile.

“At least for an hour and a half, you can find someone like-minded. We’re not all fast. I dare say we’re probably one of the slowest run clubs in the country. It’s not only one of the largest, it’s one of the slowest. And I like that, because it’s not about how fast you go,” he says.

A Brickell Run Club gathering (Courtesy of Frankie Ruiz)

He just wants you to hit the pavement, because that’s when the best and worst of Miami are put in sharp relief: the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets from Rickenbacker Causeway (who hasn’t had one of those “Damn, this city is beautiful” moments at the top of the bridge?) and the broken glass and fractured sidewalks of areas on the fringe.

“Everyone sees Miami, [mostly] at night, really, when they’re going to a club, going to a bar, going to dinner. But there’s something about seeing Miami with your feet and sweating over the sidewalks that are not done right or the roads that aren’t planned with pedestrians in mind,” Ruiz says.

“That gets you a little more motivated to be on the lookout for things that concern you and concern maybe one day your family. You start to realize how much better we can be.”

It’s an interesting experiment in civic engagement, but it’s one Ruiz is in a prime position to lead. He grew up in Miami, graduated from Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, studied public administration at Florida International University, and has worked for or with several politicians and public officials over the years. He’s got a whole Ted talk on the idea.

“I criticize politicians and elected leaders who don’t come out to see Miami when Miami is out playing or Miami is out doing things like run clubs. At 5 o’clock everyone goes and hides, but the real issues happen after 5 sometimes,” he says.

“Our roads need to improve, consideration for bikers and runners and walkers needs to get better, lighting needs to improve, the impediments on the sidewalk… there’s a lot that needs to be addressed. Runners cars get broken into while they’re running. Crime definitely is highlighted through run clubs. You run past homeless issues.

It exposes the good and the bad in the community.”