Ian Gonzalez gets up at 4:30 most mornings to squeeze in a run upwards of 10 miles. For the remainder of the day, one can find him plugged into Last Lap Cornerstore on East 51 Street in Chicago’s South Side. Gonzalez plants himself there six days a week to offer an ever-growing community of runners with essentials — shoes, apparel, nutrition and recovery items — and overall support in the first Black-and-Latino owned running shop in the area.
A former DoorDash employee who described himself as a non-athlete growing up, Gonzalez never imagined his life would be ruled by running. He’s become a three-time marathoner, business owner of a specialty running store and co-founder of 7 On Sundays, a run crew based in the South Side’s historic Bronzeville district which boasts 50-plus members. Prior to opening Last Lap in September 2020, there were no running shops south of downtown Chicago. In fact, just a few years ago, running culture in the South Side was pretty much non-existent. Gonzalez wanted to help shift that narrative.
It started with a conversation in the breakroom at Nike Bucktown in September 2018. Colleagues-turned-friends Aaron Ingram, Craig Taylor and Gonzalez volleyed a discussion about their perception of running and their 12-mile commutes on public transit from where they lived in the South Side to join Nike Run Club in the North Side. Sometimes, their commutes could take close to 90 minutes.
Where they lived wasn’t exactly a runner’s world, as Ingram puts it. Rarely, if ever, would any of the three men see the South Side streets plugged with sweat-soaked people pounding the pavement for miles at a time, like they would across the city when they joined group runs in Bucktown and Logan Square. Streetball was the prime sport that brought the South Side community together. After all, basketball tradition runs deep on the South Side, where notable NBA stars Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Juwan Howard and Tim Hardaway grew up.
By Ingram’s observation, running culture was mostly foreign in their community, minus what he described as older men and women power walking around a local track in the morning. Ingram, Gonzalez and Taylor’s discussion in the break room ended with an agreement to do their own thing. “I wanted to create the running community,” Gonzalez says.
It became even more of a priority after Chicago’s Nike Run Club dissolved. “We wanted something like that to come back, but if it was going to be in our own hands, we would give it our own spin,” Ingram recalls.
Part of the inspiration for 7 On Sundays draws on the urban run crew scene in New York City, which Ingram had tracked from afar as it unfolded. “Knox Robinson is one of the first people I followed. Black Roses and Bridge Runners were big inspirations back in 2013.” He knew he could help make running more approachable in the South Side, unlike what he experienced growing up as a track athlete who would jog alone on the street as part of his training, becoming known as “the kid that runs.”
A VISIBLE MISSION
The effort started with Ingram, Gonzalez and Taylor linking up at 56th Street and Stony Island Avenue in Bronzeville on a Sunday at 7 a.m. to run seven miles before going to work together at Nike Bucktown. Bronzeville was a conscious decision as the meeting point because of what it means to the city. “It’s a culture hub for Black people,” Ingram says. “Like how Harlem is to New York, Bronzeville is to Chicago.”
After the first run in fall 2018, seven-mile runs together became a weekly Sunday ritual, and Ingram, Gonzalez and Taylor put a name to it: “7 On Sundays.” Ingram explains it’s not only in reference to running seven miles on Sunday, but also an ode to church, an important pillar in the community.
Of course, meeting at what they considered an early hour for a Sunday was an adjustment. “Saturday nights aren’t Saturday night’s anymore,” admits Ingram, laughing. “We understood though. It was a commitment.”
They wanted to show up for themselves individually as well as for each other and hopefully in the process, they would inspire others in the South Side to tag along. Their purpose was to expose running to the community, which they did with strategic routes. “We’re going to run down particular streets so the most people can see us,” Gonzalez says.
The trio doubled in members, then to double digits. Ingram comments that initially 7 On Sundays was perceived as a Black men’s running group; however, the group has since diversified its membership and leadership. Apart from Ingram, Gonzalez and Taylor, 7 On Sundays is also led by two women, Karen Thomas and Rosalie Shyu.
The ripple effect of the weekly runs has drawn runners as far away as 15 miles in Rogers Park as well as from Logan Square and Wicker Park, all in the North Side. Jeremy Hall, who learned about 7 On Sundays through Instagram, joined the group in June 2021 and commutes 10 miles to be part of the vibes. “Sundays are usually most people’s recovery days so it’s usually very relaxed with a lot of jokes. The phrase ‘No Pace Just Vibes’ has become a slogan of ours. We have people of all walks of life, too, which is really cool and leads to interesting conversations during runs,” Hall says.
Apart from the internal support the group offers, what Hall appreciates about 7 On Sundays is its support for the running community all over Chicago. The crew is known to promote other running groups and events and join them for runs. Hall says 7 On Sunday’s communal involvement has fused a stronger connection in Chicago’s running community as a whole.
“Chicago is a very segregated city,” Gonzalez adds. “When we came in [with 7 On Sundays], we were everywhere. We did everything. We were friends with everybody.”
“The average person will take on a 5K, but we were running over that consistently. I think we took down the angst and barriers that might come with long distances and made it fun,” says Taylor. “We just made it routine, and in doing that, running became very approachable.”
The group’s presence brought visibility and acceptance that Ingram admits he had worried about when he helped start the group. “There was a lot of intimidation,” he says. “I think the intimidation came from what it would look like when we did intersect with this running community [in the North Side] that is already rooted and is dominant and prominent. Would we get the same respect to exist in that space?” The answer has repeatedly been yes.
The co-founders of 7 On Sundays have no plans to stop. In fact, they continue to work on ways to evolve the group and running in the South Side. Ingram talks about potentially creating more programs to meet the community where they’re at in terms of their fitness. “Ultimately, we just want to respect the space and represent it well and serve the community,” he says.
Adds Gonzalez, “At first I was in a space where I wanted to create the running community. Now, I’m in a space where I want to protect the running community so people can come in and feel seen, celebrated and feel like this is a place where they can personally grow.”