How a husband and wife team are changing the face of the running industry thanks to their shop and run crew
VRC Flight Crew, Vancouver, B.C.
Started merely a few weeks after the launch of their running-specific retail shop, Vancouver Running Company, the vrc Flight Crew run club is the brainchild of Rob Smith and his wife Becky, both enthusiastic runners with a penchant for all things innovative and community-driven.
Rob Smith remembers the first crew run like it was yesterday: “The first night we launched Flight Crew, the three of us [Rob accompanied by his two newly appointed run leaders, whom he had met just a few weeks previously] were standing there in our cotton t-shirts, waiting to see if anyone would show up. I think we had eight people show up and I remember right away thinking this is an amazing first step, and it just kept growing from there.”
Since the inception of the vrc Flight Crew back in the spring of 2015, the group has become one of the biggest and fastest in the lower mainland. Every Thursday, the Flight Crew heads out from the Vancouver Running Co. shop in the city’s west end for a 5k and 10k route around the area. Additionally, the crew meets up every second Sunday for a run on one of Vancouver’s local trails.
However, the objective since day one has always been to provide runners with more than just a social run crew. “One of the main objectives with Vancouver Running Co. is to push the running industry forward. We really don’t want to be your mainstream run-of-the-mill run shop and so we go out of our way to do things to stand out and give people experiences that they would not get from another run shop,” Smith says.
The first experience came under the banner of We Run The Night, a partnership with Adidas back in October of 2015, where people were invited to sign up for a nondescript running event, which sold out in under 10 minutes. “I was shocked. There were 65 spots, and they filled up instantly,” Smith recalls. “That was one of the defining moments where I realized that the running world really wants different stuff.”
As time went on, brand activations, clinics, beer launches, shoe-fitting animation videos and experiential events are what help put Flight Crew on the map. After the first full year of managing the shop and run crew, Red Bull approached Rob and his team to help elevate their Wings for Life event in Vancouver, an app run that helps fund spinal cord research and injury recovery. This marked not only the beginning of an important relationship with the brand, which led to subsequent events such as last year’s heli-drop trail run We Run The Sky and most recently the Red Bull 400 in Whistler, but also what kickstarted their charity involvement.
“Before we opened the shop, I used to volunteer a ton of time to the cycling world. But when we opened the shop, I didn’t have time to commit to that any more, so the Flight Crew became a vehicle for me to give back to the community,” Smith says, “I am a firm believer that if you want to be a good citizen, then you should really contribute to your community.”
Nowadays, the Vancouver Running Co. and its Flight Crew organizes upwards of ten events a year, the two main events for the run crew being the Summer Social, a pre-SeaWheeze Half Marathon community run and the holiday Winter Social to raise money for a local charity. Last year, with the help of the other run clubs in the city, more than $4,000 was raised for Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth in Vancouver.
Though run clubs and crews are somewhat at a pivotal moment in time now, people who started the run crews, such as Rob as Becky Smith, aren’t going anywhere. “Flight Crew will always be there. Everybody wants to run, and where it’s really going to keep evolving is on the coattails of the Vancouver Running Co. As we gain recognition in the run world, so will the Flight Crew,” says Rob Smith. “But the community component of what we built with Flight Crew, is what really brings me a lot of joy. Just seeing hundreds of people that have come through the doors to run with Flight Crew and that a lot of them are off building their own parts of the run world now, that is really what it’s about.”