ST. PETERSBURG — Like many runners, Nicole Huau needs a little help sometimes to get going, especially during the summer months, when Florida's heat and the humidity can make exercise unbearable.
But the 38-year-old St. Petersburg resident hits the pavement anyway, hot as it may be, because she can't wait to see her friends.
"It's always more than a run," said Huau, who works for a brokerage firm. "Afterward, we sample some craft brews, talk, socialize ... It's always a lot of fun."
Huau's friends all belong to a group called Running for Brews. The organization, which is free to join, started in Dunedin in 2010.
A second chapter started in Tampa shortly after, and now there are more than 20 clubs in Florida, plus some west to Arizona and north to Chicago.
"We typically get anywhere from 30 to 120 people for our weekly runs, depending on the location," said Huau, who handles marketing for Running for Brews. "And you don't have to be a great runner to join."
The runners club meets in Brandon and Clearwater on Wednesday nights, Dunedin on Tuesday and Thursday nights, St. Petersburg on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and Tampa on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.
And for those who wonder whether this is a healthy combination, rest assured that the group puts running first and drinking second.
"It is usually a 5K route," Huau said. "And even if you don't stay afterward (for the beer), it's still a great way to get a good, safe run in on a predetermined route with other people."
While competitive runners may enjoy cruising with the Running for Brews crew, don't expect a hard-core workout that will trim your 10K time. Road racers would benefit more from more intense workouts, such as coach Joe Burgasser's Tuesday night speed sessions at the St. Petersburg College track.
Running for Brews often teams up with local running shops such as St. Petersburg's Fit2Run, whose store manager, Gary Robinson, also participates.
"It can be hard for people to find running partners," said Robinson, a former college runner and football player. "These organized runs will not only keep you motivated, but help you develop friendships that may carry on outside the weekly run."
Robinson's group meets Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. at Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, but members often get together on their own for weekend runs.
"It is easy to blow off a Saturday morning run," he said. "But it is a lot harder to not show up for a run when you know that you have a buddy waiting for you to run."
Chris Corbo, owner of the American Running Company in Clearwater, has a group of 60 runners that meets every week to work out, then heads next door to the Sea Dog Brewing Co. for microbrews.
"We have had people who, when they started off, couldn't run a mile," he said. "But they walked, ran a little, walked, ran a little ... and now they are doing 5Ks."
And sometimes, the tail does wag the dog. Tampa's legendary Irish pub, Four Green Fields, has a club that advertises itself as a group of "drinkers with a running problem."
The weekly runs, begun several years ago by several members of the military stationed at nearby MacDill Air Force Base, follow scenic Bayshore Boulevard every Tuesday evening.
"Then everybody comes back to the pub," said Randy Burns, who has been pouring pints of Harp and Guinness for 19 years. "Of course, running develops quite a thirst."
Terry Tomalin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.