Charlie Dark, member of Gymbox and founder of the infamous running community Run Dem Crew, talks to us about his recent Ted Talk, what he loves about training with us at Westfield Stratford, and what it feels like to have created a community that has now spread world-wide.
Hi Charlie! You're a member of Gymbox Stratford, what do you enjoy most about training with us?
I like the versatility of the space and the variety of the classes. The instructors always give it 110 per cent, and there is a friendly and positive atmosphere in the gym. It's on the doorstep of the aquatic centre and the Olympic Park, which means you can spend the whole day immersed in a world of fitness.
Great! For those who don't know, what is Run Dem Crew?
In short, Run Dem is a community of people who share a common love of running and creativity. We also actively engage and mentor young people through our RDC Youngers projects taking them from sofa to finish line of both physical challenges and creative dreams. Think of it as a running club remixed for people who thought they didn't like running.
Amazing. We saw your Ted Talk on running, tell us about that
As Run Dem has grown over the years, there have been more and more requests for me to share our story with a wider audience. Ted came calling and the rest is history. It was a really interesting experience, and nice to be given a platform to share my theories on running on such a prestigious platform.
We were impressed. Were you nervous?
I wasn't nervous until I stepped onto the red circle in rehearsals – and then it hit me. Sometimes you dream about moments and work really hard to make them happen, but often when they finally reach fruition you forget to embrace them. I did have to take a moment out to think about the task ahead and how far I'd come. The feedback has been really positive, especially on an international level, and lots of doors are opening as a result. I'm just happy that I'm being allowed to do my part to get people up, out and moving.
How does it feel to see Run Dem Crew grow from a small bunch of friends to an international brand?
There are still days when I look behind me on a run with the crew and I'm amazed at how many people have joined our little Friday night idea. I'm happy that it's managed to cement itself in the community on a local and global level, while still keeping the essence of family that has a chance to catch up, and share positive times. I've worked hard to make Run Dem what it is today, but you can't have a crew without the people. To have the support of a global audience is a blessing. Around three times a year we meet up with all the other global running crews in a city somewhere in the world and run a race together, followed by some serious partying. The Bridge The Gap events draw crews from all around the world and are testament to how much the idea has resonated with people.
What was the defining moment for you when you yourself got off the sofa and started running?
I had a friend who kindly informed me that I was getting a bit portly around the middle and I also needed to get in shape for a one man theatre show I was touring. Funds were low, so running was the best option. After a few failed attempts at running around the park in the daytime it all clicked into place once I started running at night. I feel in love with a London I'd never knew, and the rest is history.
There must be loads of inspirational stories coming out though the RDC runners – can you give us some examples?
I've had the pleasure of running with thousands of people in my time, and there have been many stories to inspire the soul, but I'm most proud of our latest batch of RDC Youngers. They've overcome so many obstacles just to attend our sessions, and to see them go from sofa to triathletes in less than six months has been awe-inspiring to watch. I truly believe that giving time to a young person is more valuable than money, and the way that Run Dem has nurtured and incubated its younger members brings a big smile to my face.
How do you think running –and fitness in general – helps them?
Running is a great metaphor for life, and it brings structure to disorganised people. It's one of the easiest sports to access, and it gives quick results to bored minds. It builds both physical and mental strength and will teach you things about yourself and others that you can't learn in a text book. Running rocks big time.
How has running changed your life?
Where do I begin? I actually can't imagine how my life would be now if I hadn't started running and I feel blessed that it discovered me when it did. Running has taken me all around the world, allowed me to work with my favourite sports brand, and given me an army of friends across the globe who inspire me to be a better man. The community that running has allowed me to be part of has brought a positive change, not only to myself, but many people around me.
You come from a background in music, do the worlds still collide in any form?
The fitness and music worlds most definitely still collide especially as we have a number of DJs, MCs, musicians and producers in the crew. I also say that sport without music is just a game, but add an audio soundtrack – be it commentary or emotive music – and it becomes a memorable occasion. I still run with music and love putting together playlists for my runs. Lately I've been back in the studio working on my own tracks to run too which has been fun. There might be an album in there one day.
You have now created Swim Dem Crew – any plans to reach out to any other areas of fitness?
The potential for offshoots is endless, and we are trying not to get carried away, but other than Swim Dem we've got a yoga and strength and conditioning project called Stretch/Strong Dem that is bubbling along nicely – and a potential bike project on the cards. Our main concern is building communities around the unknown and opening them up to people who really could benefit from them most. Seeing the way Swim Dem has jumped off into peoples consciousness is really refreshing.
You have recently qualified as a PT, what made you want to do that, and how's it going so far?
One of the main things I've noticed about the Urban Running movement is that people go from sofa to finish line in a really short space of time, fall in love with the sport, then get injured, become disillusioned with rehab, and then never return. It got to the point where so many of the big characters had gone AWOL that I thought it best to start learning a bit more about the science behind training to help prevent the ongoing casualties. At the same time I wanted to learn more about my own body, and how it works, in order to really discover its real potential.
What does the future hold for Charlie Dark?
The future is bright, the future is Run Dem. Stay tuned.
Follow RDC @rundemcrew