"Follow the Leader" is our new and continuing interview series highlighting the founders of run clubs from around the globe working to evolve the sport in their city.
This week's edition of Follow the Leader covers Iwona "Vonks" Kesting, the Co-Founder and driving force behind the groundswell running movement making waves in the District of Columbia.
Name: Iwona Kesting, but everyone calls me Vonks.
About Vonks: I was born in Poland and I've lived in DC for 13 years now. I moved here after graduating from JMU and took up running because it was a free, fun way to get to know the ins and outs of the city. I ran my first race after someone gave me a bib when they got injured–and that finish line feeling never really left. Along the way, I found and married my husband Matt, and 4 months ago we had our first baby, Charlie Grace. Off the track, I lead the marketing team at a global law firm. The dream is to merge my two worlds and be the CMO of a running company one day...
- Club: Northeast Track Club (NETC)
- Date founded: Our first official run was on June 9, 2020
- Club size: 2,000 virtually; 300 at Track Tuesdays; 100 on Saturday long runs
- Membership dues: No dues! NETC fully runs on monthly donations
- Meetups: Track Tuesdays @ 6:30 PM for a 4-7 mile workout; Saturday long runs at 9 AM from small business coffee shops throughout DC.
We started with 5 people meeting at KIPP track in DC in June 2020 at the height of the pandemic. We jumped fences to run together as gyms closed. Each week someone brought a friend who brought a friend. One of my co-founders, James Majewski, threw up an Instagram account (capriciously calling it *Northeast* Track Club – which stuck and became our name) and runners came out of all corners of the city to be together. Safely. Outdoors. Often in masks. In an underground, competitive way.
Since then, the world has opened back up, and our numbers are stronger than ever. There was never a plan to start this team, but it felt like a responsibility we owed to the city when we saw how much people needed it. How much they love it. We’ve carefully trained a leadership team of 13 (3 founders, 4 captains, 6 pacers) to keep our sessions streamlined, organized, and to always be respectful of the spaces we use to run. Our leadership meets monthly to discuss the happy and the crappy, ways to improve, what’s on deck for the coming months, programming, and what we're hearing from the community.
Our goal is to never be caught standing still – figuratively and literally. There were 13 run clubs in DC before we started. The void we fill is not offering the city a run club– it’s offering the city a community, a team to be part of, a network to train with and celebrate with. A group that we believe has disrupted the DC running scene in the most necessary way.
If the club were a tv show or movie, what would it be?
“Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” Anthony traveled the world to uncover lesser-known places and to explore their cultures and cuisines, bringing an understanding and perspective not usually found. We know our team is the sum of our parts. Each runner has a story they came with and a story about NETC they’ll leave with. As we go, these stories shape who we are as a team and who we want to be.
What are you most excited about this year for the club?
The NETC Clubhouse. Once you say it, you’ve gotta do it, right?
Favorite club memory?
Our first “Better Your Mile” finale event in the Summer of 2020. The club had grown to about 50 people and we trained for 8 weeks to rip one mile on the track. Everyone took it seriously. David Kilgore came down and paced a group. We ran hard and celebrated the rest of the weekend. That was the catalyst and gave us more momentum to keep this growing. More memories just like that.
What’s your goal for the future of the club?
Again– the clubhouse!
AND– more unsanctioned events and activations to keep the city moving. Stronger ties with other run crews in DC (and globally), building off of the incredible momentum and friends we have made over the past few years. A renewed focus on community service projects, including with Special Olympics DC. An affiliate program to help our runners access brands and organizations we support (love you @Bandit), and to share our platform with those that can benefit our community. Strategic partnerships with brands that have reciprocal benefit for us and the brands we work with. More swag—gear that keeps us standing out as we show out. And above all, to continue challenging those who offer running in any form– to make it about more than running; build a home. Build something people are proud to be part of.
Rob Perez is running The Speed Project solo. He’s been around since we started this thing, so to see him go off and live this dream is incredible. To support him through it in even the smallest ways is an honor. In addition to Rob, we have a relay team of 6 running The Speed Project again this year. Being able to wave our flag at this event is special. We’re proud to be there; We’re stoked to show up for ourselves, but also to show other teams who we are as we support them too.
Dream club activity?
Still the clubhouse. And all the chaos that will happen at the clubhouse. And probably a global retreat of some sort. So maybe we also need a private jet for 300. We’ll save that for 2024.
How often is the “Oval Office” joke made at track practice?
Once already on our Instagram, which converts to about 573 IRL if our math is right.
Checks out. Thanks, Vonks!! <3
Also special thank you to James, Matt, Rob, Sarah, Joelle, and the whole D.C. fam for the support. We'll see you guys soon!