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In the Early Morning, Run Free Hartford Takes Over the Riverfront in Hartford

On a recent Wednesday, Larry Selnick rose around 5 a.m. in Cheshire. Temperatures hovered in the teens, it was pitch black and he had 35-minute drive into Hartford ahead of him.

He had a 6:30 a.m. can’t-miss appointment with Run Free Hartford, a small but dedicated group that hits the pavement on the banks of the Connecticut River every Wednesday. Was there any chance Selnick wouldn’t make it this week? None.

“It’s become like a Wednesday family,” he said.

Run Free Hartford can trace its roots back to September 2016, when a group of employees from Fleet Feet’s West Hartford location hosted the inaugural workout at Riverfront Park. Modeled after the November Project — the Boston-based, globe-spanning free community workout group — Run Free Hartford adheres to only one rule: Just show up.

Multiple people have taken the reins helping organize the workouts, which typically involve running flights of stairs, completing set after set of burpees, or doing push-ups and other dynamic exercise.

“It’s fun to just have a group where everyone gets along and nobody’s in charge,” Mary Burton, an active group member, said.

Regardless of who designs the week’s workout, the basics remain largely the same. Anybody can show up. There are no requirements.

“I’m all about running being inclusive,” she said. “If there was a group where you had to run a certain pace, I wouldn’t do it, that’s not my thing.”

That attitude has helped Run Free Hartford attract a wide swath of people. Some, like Selnick are looking for a way to jump-start their fitness regimen. Others, like Wethersfield’s Laura Lentz, who moved to Greater Hartford from Boston, are looking to build their social circle. .

“There’s something nice about how comfortable the group is,” Lentz said. “Everyone always introduces themselves when you walk up if you’re new. It’s not even a question.”

In addition to fostering a small but dedicated community, Run Free Hartford has also made creative use of the riverfront. During the winter, ice and snow has limited the area in which they can use the plaza’s unique layout, but scroll back through group’s Instagram feed and you’ll see the creative use of the plaza, and further to the north, Riverfront Park. In September? It was the playground. October? It was the footbridge that spans I-91.

Regardless of the workout, or location along the river, Run Free Hartford has meant different things to different people.

“It can be so many things all in one package,” Burton said. “For Laura [Lentz] it was like ‘Hey I want to meet more people around here because I moved back to be with my family but I don’t have a ton of friends around here. It’s something different for everybody else.”

After learning about November Project from his son, who was a regular participants the organization’s San Diego offshoot, Selnick sought out similar groups in Connecticut, and came across Run Free Hartford. Selnick, 60, originally was striving to take control of his health, but after a few weeks Burton had other ideas.

“I said, ‘Hey Larry are you doing any races’ and he said he hadn’t really done any races since high school,” Burton said. “Like dude, you’re doing all this stuff you could totally do a 5K.”

On Dec. 3 Selnick ran West Hartford’s Blue Back Mitten Run with a goal of finishing in 30 minutes. He nailed it in 28 minutes, 41 seconds. Now Selnick has his sights on the annual Bolton 5 Mile Road Race in March.

After Wednesday’s workout and the stairs were climbed, the burpees done and the push-ups finished, it was time for a group photo. There was no need to plan for next week — everyone knows where Run Free Hartford meets.

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