Building community in Silver Lake's hipster haven
The gentrified Los Angeles locale is a place for individuals to stand out - but Silver Lake Track Club is determined to bring everyone together. For the kids.
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I first noticed Silver Lake Track Club back in 2018 when they announced their Fall Classic event - a two-mile race around the eponymous reservoir that was organized, but unsanctioned and unpermitted. It was a bold, high-visibility move but the group - formed by a small group of local business-owning friends - just kept on doing things like that.
After the pandemic rudely put paid to 2020’s Spring Classic, SLTC engaged in plenty of very visible work for racial justice. In time, they started Sunday morning runs around the reservoir, and slowly added a track run and a pub run to form a weekly schedule - they became a real run club.
A 2022 race around the Silver Lake Reservoir raised over $3,000 for L.A. Saves Track. Last year’s addition of a 501(c)(3) charity organization is another step the run club is taking to help the local underserved population. This is the club’s path to becoming a true community pillar.
Taking it one step even further, Silver Lake Track Club captain, Howie Goldklang has recently opened a coffee shop, Makisupa, a quarter of a mile from the reservoir, and his aim is to create a space in his image to serve as a physical neighborhood hub for runners. I spoke to Howie about life and running.
Tell me about your first run
“In the spring of seventh grade, we ran a mile around some track. The second lap was where I remember I felt the accordion stretch happen - people started dropping off. Then, all of a sudden, there was that lead pack. I remember thinking I needed to stay in first because on that last lap, I was just gonna go.”
“I remember the decision-making, feeling hot, and holding up my shorts when I was running, and I remember the feeling of not wanting to lose. That was the race that got the attention of coaches.”
“I would participate in baseball and I'd have the worst batting average but lead the team in runs on bases. So I was always quick but I never was able to put it together in the context of running until then.”
Howie talks about the “prolific and colorful second wave of Nike culture” in the ‘80s, when Flo-Jo and Jackie Joyner-Kersee burst onto the scene. He talks about feeling starstruck when meeting the latter at a New York event as an adolescent.
“I felt the air leave me. Jackie signed my shoes, and I ran with them through high school.”
“The feeling of the first run was like being accepted by a sort of fringe culture. I was always drawn to things I didn't quite understand, and I remember instinctually, it was like, ‘These are some outsider weirdos.’ I was into it.”
RUNNING INTO ADULTHOOD
Howie tells me that he loves bringing those (us) weirdos together by creating a community around running. He says the friendships have been unexpected and rewarding.
“The group is constantly growing and to see people go outside of themselves - the vulnerability that people bring and that they share… I think it's pretty special, and I don't take that for granted.”
What’s the most difficult part of running now?
“It’s not the thing of moving my feet, it's finding the time to do it: sticking with a plan, and striking a balance with what's required at home, and what's required of work.”
Next, Howie explains how once your run club has been going for a while, the brands come to you in droves. Once you’re established, everything becomes a little easier; you can start to make bigger plans. And those plans have been crystallizing.
As well as the Classic races, which bring in 200 runners, SLTC host 10ks, half-marathons, and 34-team relays around Silver Lake Reservoir. Next? Something sanctioned and permitted. Something bigger. Something where Howie isn’t frantically egging on the final runner so he can pull the inflatable finish line down before the cops arrive.
We’re chatting in his box fresh coffee shop. Aside from the coffee, beer, and Deadhead-friendly burritos - all available at purposefully affordable prices - Howie also has Haruki Murakami’s classic running book in stock. He’s selling energy gels and SLTC singlets. There’s a bin for run club members to store their belongings while they’re running. He’s creating a welcoming, multi-purpose space.
He’s created an environment that he and his cohorts feel comfortable in, and if the community that he’s continuing to build, make some purchases, it all feeds back into that charity arm of the Silver Lake Track Club. It’s normal to build a brand up in order to sell merchandise. A charity, however, is a more benevolent move forward.
“I came to that realization in June of really shifting it from a gathering of people with race goals to focus on the why? Once that clicked into place it reached back to the story that got me onto the track, into the running world - through different charitable people.”
“Early in my life, they got me a bus pass, got me a uniform, got me shoes to go into the high school and run. Creating those moments for people around L.A. became a big focus for me.”
“The main goal is to get every marginalized, young runner in Los Angeles a new pair of shoes. That's our goal.”
Silver Lake has a long history of being a radical neighborhood. Most famously in the 1960s, it was one of the earliest communities campaigning for farther-reaching LGBTQ+ rights, and the art-filled streets have long given marginalized communities a platform.
If its resultant status as a fashionable East Side haven proved attractive to the oodles of well-meaning liberal creative types that L.A. so wantonly attracts [hello, it’s me], then every move towards forging real, meaningful community in the area is very welcome.
It’s easy to be cynical. It’s more difficult - more effort - to build something of worthy, and if our fringe running culture is an active part of that, I’m into it.
Ways to make running suck less covered today
Make a plan and stick to it
Find your work/life/running balance
Remember where and how you started, and pay it back
Build a rocking running community in the coolest part of town so that you can provide running shoes to kids who can’t afford them
Running Sucks Haiku of the Week
Thinking about merch
Got to make a logo first
Only took a year
Soon it will be time to offer you some wonderful cool things to purchase where people will see the logo and say, “Haha, yeah, running does suck, but I kinda love it and spend an inordinate amount of time doing it, tho. Where can I also purchase that cool [merchandise item]??”
Any merch item requests? I’ll make anything. I really like to screenprint stuff by hand, so…
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Silver Lake’s LGBTQ History [Guardian]
L.A. Saves Track [WEB]
Students Run LA [WEB]
More on the run clubs of Los Angeles:
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