Club Spotlight: Dashing Whippets

Back in the old days, New York runners had limited options if they wanted to join a competitive team. But it ain’t 2008 anymore.

In the past four years, a few upstart teams have breathed new life into the New York City racing scene, and none lead the pack more than the Dashing Whippets.

Founded in 2009 by Matt Wong and Rich Hsieh, the Whippets has evolved from a meetup group that started online into a team of nearly 250 dues-paying members, including some of the fastest runners in New York City.

“I imagined it as a competitive team,” Wong says of his initial vision for the Whippets, adding that he ran in college and is “competitive by nature.” But he’s quick to add that they welcome runners of all levels, an ethos that is reflected in the growth of the team’s group runs. “The first year was tough,” says Wong. “It was just two or three of us. Now we have as many as 25 to 30 runners at our workouts.”

In itself, that isn’t remarkable. But unlike most running clubs in the city, the Whippets are truly an intra-borough team. With workouts and scheduled long runs in both Central and Prospect Parks, the Whippets make it easy for most of its members to attend the runs without traipsing all over town. Wong believes this flexibility makes the Whippets especially appealing to people who work long, stressful hours and don’t want to add a long commute home after a workout to their already long days. And with annual dues of just $20, anyone can afford to join.

Several local runners offer proof that something about the team is working. In 2011, Adam Balfour was a 1:29 half marathoner; now he’s a 1:14 half marathoner and a 2:39 marathoner. Will Guzick joined the team last spring and has brought his marathon from 2:43 down to 2:36 — and he won the Central Park Marathon this year in 2:39. Tessa Benau, who does most of her workouts in Brooklyn, slashed nearly 20 minutes off her 1:50 half since joining the team. And Mwangi Gitahi has improved his 4-mile time from 27:08 to 22:06 in just two years.

All without a paid coach. Scott Batten provides some structured coaching and advises on marathon training, while certified-coach Simon Durkin offers input. But most of the team’s success can be attributed to the runners themselves. “It’s just a good vibe,” says Wong.

While the Whippets is primarily a road-racing team, the club hosted its third annual track meet at the East River Track on April 27th, a full day of distances ranging from 400 to 5,000 meters. “For a newer team like us, it’s easier to do a track meet than a road race,” says Wong, citing the logistics of timing and managing the various events.

This isn’t to say he wouldn’t like to stage a road race in the near future: “In a perfect word,” he starts to say before catching himself, offering instead a tantalizing — if cryptic — coda: “I have big ideas.”