Run Dem Crew

After a high school career of competitive track and cross country, Charlie Dark stopped running and fell into DJing, writing poetry and making music, and subsequently fell out of shape. So when a London theater commissioned him for a one-man show, Dark obliged, but found that acting out the 20 characters over 90 minutes left him breathless. "I had a national tour to do but my aerobic fitness was poor,” he recalls. “I needed to do something to make sure I survived the shows. I basically had two options: Either start playing football again or go running. And football meant organizing my friends, who are slightly unreliable."

A dogged sneakerhead, Dark dug a pair of running shoes out of his closet and fortuitously stumbled upon a Nike+ system at a thrift shop a few days later. Without instructions, he began using it to track his runs. “It was late one night—about one in the morning—I’m the only person on the road and I’m hearing a voice in my head,” he says with a laugh. “It was either Paula Radcliffe or Lance Armstrong. I was like, ‘This is amazing.’ I hadn’t realized that the Nike+ thing was going to start talking to me. Then it goes, ‘Congratulations! You have just run your fastest 5K!’ I started jumping around in my street.” The experience and the unexpected reinforcement were revelatory. “I felt I’d discovered this thing, that only I knew about, that was going to transform my life. Then I was like, ‘Can I run tomorrow so I can have the voice talking to me again?’ For me, it was all about the voice.”

As Dark built stamina, he found himself seeking camaraderie in actual, non-pre-recorded people who shared his newfound interest. “Eventually I did a couple of races,” he says. “But I found them really boring. I thought, there’s got to be funkier angle than this. I don’t want to run in short-shorts, I want to run in long shorts and long socks. I want to wear a cool T-shirt when I’m running.” Since Dark is nothing if not multidisciplinary and inventive, he took fitness, fashion and music and remixed them into a collective called Run Dem Crew.

Based out of Nike’s 1948 pop-up store in LDN, Run Dem Crew tears through the city’s streets, almost always under cover of night, supplementing their gatherings with film screenings and workshops, as well as using the group to build relationships and mentor wayward youths. RDC’s members—a poet, a party promoter, an activist, a designer, a record label owner, a grime MC, a Norwegian sculptor, an Icelandic textile designer and a German-Caribbean magician—reflect Dark’s own diverse talents and have helped him realize that RDC may be his true calling. “I like the disbelief you get on people’s faces when you tell them that you’ve run between two far off points. I like that they can’t even fathom why anyone would want to do that that.” They must not hear the voices.

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