Back in late 2004, when Conyers resident Johnny Howard got the news from his doctor that his cholesterol needed to be lowered, he had two options -- medication or exercise. He chose the latter and that choice has led to the establishment of the Olde Town Runners club.
"Me and a couple of buddies decided we would start running," Howard said. "It's evolved since 2005. We met for a few years in Conyers and it's gradually grown. This year we went from five people showing up to 20 people showing up."
A group of runners and walkers of varying abilities, the Olde Town Runners meet several times a week to traverse the streets of historic Conyers for both physical fitness and social reasons. They also participate in local 5Ks and half-marathons, and have been known to grab dinner together after a hard night's run.
"It's not always about running. It's about camaraderie and fellowship," said Howard, who founded the group with three others including Chuck Reagan, Jack Gaches and Kurt Wheeler.
Olde Town Runners generally depart for their jaunts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and at 9 a.m. Saturdays from the Whistlepost Tavern, 935 Railroad St. in Olde Town. The group follows set routes of varying distances -- some folks run the prescribed paths, others walk and run, and some walk.
All are welcome to the Olde Town Runners, fast or slow, running or walking, men or women, stress the organizers of the group.
"Our philosophy is we want to get everyone in Rockdale County involved, even if they do one mile, two or three times a week. That's enough to make a change in our county," said Al Smith, a more experienced runner who joined the group six months ago.
Smith said when neighbors see the group running by, they inquire, and some inquiries have led to new members.
"We want to be out there and visible because running is something anyone can do, as long as you have a good pair of tennis shoes," he said. "Every single one of these guys involved with the group are really good guys and they love running. They'll wait and run with new people so they feel comfortable."
Smith, 36, competes in 5Ks and half-marathons, usually placing high in the races. Still, he likes to run with the group and is quick to offer advice to newcomers.
"It gives you support and running has a lot of pain to it, especially when you're running outdoors. We have people who can direct you, tell you to get the right shoes. If you're not careful, you can injure yourself," Smith said. "Even though I'm the most experienced runner in the group, I still like running with the group. It helps with my training."
Howard said that running as a group as opposed to individually is a motivator.
"If you're trying to do three miles for the first time, it can be discouraging and you might say 'I'm not doing it again,' but if you're running with others and chatting it up, it makes the time go a whole lot faster," Howard said.
The Olde Town Runners boasts about 54 members with a core group of about 15 who run regularly. There is no cost to join the group.
"We encourage anybody of any skill level to come join. We'll work with them," Howard said.
To learn more, visit www.oldetownrunners.com.