Coconut Grove Run Club setting the pace

On a steamy Wednesday in Coconut Grove, about 200 people clad in athletic gear are milling around Peacock Park preparing to sprint. They are young and old, male and female, slim and stocky.

They are the Coconut Grove Run Club.

And like the Grove, they have grown quickly with the help of celebrity participation, edgy social media and clever marketing. In just a short time, the run club has attracted over 2,000 runners, more than 12,000 followers on Instagram, and a reputation that has rolled like a tidal wave across South Florida.

“I think its marketing is insane,” said Brandon Chang, a Miami runner who discovered the club through its social media posts. “That’s why it has grown very quickly.”

The club was founded in 2022 by four friends who wanted to add something new to the traditional running scene in the city.

From left, Amner Pereira, Caro Mengotti, Piper Francis and Christian Diaz. The four founders of the Coconut Grove Running Club. (Photo courtesy of Amner Pereira)

Amner Pereira, owner of the Workout Spot Gym, met Christian Diaz, a marketing specialist and triathlete, when they trained together at his gym. “We just became really good friends, and then one day we were like, you know, let’s start a community run,” said Pereira. “Since we’re running, we’re training. Let’s get a big group to join us… It was like a match made in heaven, pretty much.”

When looking for other fitness enthusiasts, they first involved Piper Francis, a track coach at Ransom Everglades School and a runner who has qualified for the Boston Marathon. They also roped in Carolina Mengotti, a personal trainer.

“My friend Christian asked me if I wanted to start a run club at the Grove, because there wasn’t one,” said Mengotti. “I wasn’t a big runner, but I’m super into sports and when they approached me, I thought it would be a great opportunity to build a community.”

The club has used social media and marketing knowledge to reach a broader community. As part of its strategy, the club includes different influencers, speakers and professional athletes to coach its runners in a more dynamic way.

Michelle Atherley, TEAM USA Heptathlete. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Atherley)

Michelle Atherley, a Team USA heptathlete since 2022 who is in contention for this summer’s Paris Olympics, has served as a regular coach for the club since they invited her as a guest coach in February 2023.

“As a professional athlete, I’ve had to sacrifice a lot in terms of building a career,” said Atherley. “I have been blessed to meet the Coconut Grove Run Club and to be a part of their development… and to bring people of color into running.”

Pereira says the participation of big names like Atherley “is great because it gives the runners some incentive for being there.”

In January of this year, the club invited Jake Paul, an athlete and influencer with more than 25 million followers on Instagram, to host an event called “5K & Hangout.”

The event started with at least 400 runners led by the celebrity running through the Grove. Later, some enjoyed a cocktail at SipSip Rooftop at Mayfair Hotel & Garden.

Runners starting a 3-mile run at Peacock Park in Coconut Grove. (Photo courtesy of Grecia Pacheco)

The City of Miami has also aided the club’s growth, Pereira said.

“The city has a big role,” he explained. “We use the park and we host community runs and they make sure that everything’s working.”

The Grove’s waterfront has also played a part in the club’s success.

“The Grove is one of the nicest places in the county for a run,” says Pereira. “You have the marinas, you have the bay… It is a very peaceful place.”

Chang, the runner who praised the group’s marketing savvy, has been running with the group for a little over a year. “My favorite things are the views,” he said after running three miles with the group. “I love running by the water, and getting to see the community.”

From left, Brandon Chang, Caro Mengotti, and Alexandra Alvarado. (Photo courtesy of Grecia Pacheco)

Another local athlete, Alexandra Alvarado, has been with the club for nine months.

“I feel great running with the club,” she said. “Everyone is cheering you up, although it’s never easy, it’s nice to have people around you… You can become close friends.”

The club meets three times a week: Wednesdays at Peacock Park at 6:30 p.m., free for all levels; Thursdays at Cobb Stadium at the University of Miami with a fee and only for advanced level; and Sundays at Bayshore Club at 7 a.m., free for all levels.

FIU student Grecia Pacheco wrote this story as part of a cooperative agreement between FIU’s Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media and the Spotlight. Click here to read the original article published in the Spotlight.

Grecia Pacheco is a senior majoring in digital journalism. Appassionate with the truth and the news reporting, her career pathway is orientated to politics and international relations based on her goal to keep people informed about the importance of democracy and its impact on modern society.