When Ohio native Paul Smith retired and moved to Lake Sinclair two years ago, he was faced with the challenge of getting to know people in his new community. An avid runner, he was involved with a running group in Findlay, Ohio for several years. After asking around to find a similar group in the area, Smith struck gold when someone introduced him to the Milledgeville Milers.
“This running group is my way to sort of get in and meet some people,” said Smith.
Milledgeville Milers was started in 2017 by some faculty members at Georgia College. The group was born out of a loose-knit collection of exercise enthusiasts on campus alongside some like-minded community members. Over the years, both Milledgeville Milers and Bike Walk Baldwin have evolved alongside one another as resources for people looking for a social way to get outdoors and be active.
When the original faculty members who started the group left Milledgeville to teach elsewhere, Milers regulars John Johnson and Robbie Simpson stepped in to keep the group going. The group presently has a few dozen members who stay connected about upcoming events via email newsletter and social media.
Each week, the Milledgeville Milers meet up for various group runs. On Tuesday evenings, members gather outside Metropolis Café downtown, take a group picture, and then set off on routes ranging from three to five miles in length. Members meet back up after exercising for food, refreshments and socialization at Metropolis.
Smith said that one of the things that makes the Milledgeville Milers a special group is that it welcomes people of all ages and abilities.
“One thing that’s really important about our club is we are very inclusive,” said Smith. “That means anybody as a walker or runner is openly welcomed. Anybody that has any interest in meeting us or coming out is always welcome.”
The group welcomes novice and experienced runners alike, and some members opt to walk the routes instead of run. Members come from a variety of career backgrounds and a broad age range.
“Our group ranges from young people that are at the university, and our oldest member is 68 years old,” said Smith. “He’s impressive. He’s a real inspiration.”
Another weekly event is held on Thursday evenings. During the warmer months, Milers do trail runs at Bartram Forest on Thursdays. With the time change and it getting dark earlier, the Milers have shifted into their winter mode, with members gathering at 6 p.m. on Thursdays at the Baldwin County soccer complex on Meeks Road to run the track.
Members who prefer running longer distances can partake in the weekly Sunday morning runs. The group meets at 8:30 a.m. at the fire station off of Log Cabin Road and runs routes in the area around the Baldwin County airport.
The Milledgeville Milers also take pride in getting involved in the community in whatever way they can. Recently, group members participated in the Shatter the Silence on Domestic Violence Virtual 5K and the annual Thriller 5K. Earlier this year, members participated in a Full Moon Float event sponsored by Oconee Outfitters. Smith said Adam Heagy, owner of Oconee Outfitters, advertises the Milers’ events in the store’s regular newsletters.
“He’s been really gracious to let his group of people know about us,” said Smith.
Smith said that the Milers cherish their relationship with Metropolis Café as well. He describes the restaurant as the “home base” of the group and the venue for much of the fellowship that exists among them.
“When things were bad with COVID, we were all going there and ordering takeout as we finished our runs,” said Smith of Metropolis.
The fellowship of the group is as important to the members as their shared passion for outdoor exercise. The group also hosts monthly social events outside of their regular weekly runs. During the summer months, the Milledgeville Milers patronize local businesses by holding “pub runs” during which members run a mile, stop for a drink at a local business, then run another mile. During the winter months, the group schedules fun social outings such as their recent trip to Lake Country Lanes for bowling.
Smith said that he and his fellow Milers form bonds during these social times. He said friendships also form running alongside one another.
“You get out on these runs, and you get to learn so many different things,” said Smith.
Those interested in joining the Milledgeville Milers for an upcoming event can find them on Facebook (Milledgeville Milers) and Instagram (milly_milers). Those who want even more regular updates about the group’s activities or upcoming races around Georgia can request to be added to the group’s weekly email letter put out by Johnson.
Smith has been amazed by the connections he has made in Milledgeville since joining Milledgeville Milers, especially during a difficult year that has included the challenges of bitter politics and a global pandemic.
“Runners are very open people,” said Smith. “They don’t get caught up with the mess that’s going on. We just welcome runners and enjoy each other’s company.”