Fitness instructor Grace Thompson leads a class of students (front to back) Catherine Potter, Emerald Becker and Suzy Goldenkranz at the Athleta store in Georgetown. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Running shoes and sweat-wicking clothing won’t make you an athlete. But the stores that sell them to you might. Group runs and other free workouts offer motivation, a place to stash your stuff and frequently some extra perks, such as snacks and prizes. I spent five days sampling as many store events as physically possible.

Day 1: Sunday

Fleet Feet Sports (1841 Columbia Rd. NW, boasts the longest-running store run club in Washington; it was founded in 1984, when Phil Fenty opened the Adams Morgan business. His son Shawn has kept the Sunday morning tradition alive: “We call it the church of the open road.”

There were only a handful of parishioners gathered by 9 a.m., when Shawn explained the five-mile route into Rock Creek Park, past the Watergate and through Dupont Circle back to the store (the run is always five miles, but the route changes). In case we got separated from the group, he encouraged us to jot down the turns on pieces of paper he then covered in clear tape, as sweat protection. And I was glad to have the taped-up piece of paper. If a nice gentleman named Ray Bingham hadn’t doubled back to find me, I would have done most of the run solo.

Day 2: Monday

There was no chance of getting left behind with the run club at the Logan Circle Lululemon (1461 P St. NW, Just as people pack into the store on Sundays for free community yoga, a huge bunch run together every Monday at 6:30 p.m. Organizer Elyse Braner, in pearls and a running skirt, explained that the 40 of us would be splitting up by distance, running three miles, 41 / 2 miles or six miles. She recommended the last group only for folks who could maintain a seven-minute-mile pace. Three miles sounded good to me, as did our route: the “five states run,” which followed a circle of state street names. Team leaders Andrea Rutledge and Eva Lee ran at the back of the pack, offering chitchat and support to anyone lagging behind. Awaiting us at the finish line was a spread of hummus, cheese and fruit, and the chance to work out our abs with Braner.

But I had to dash over to Nike Georgetown (3040 M St. NW,, which transforms into the Nike Training Club every Monday at 8 p.m. Between the doorman — making sure you’re there to sweat, not shop — and the music from DJ Chris Styles, it really felt like a club. Or maybe it was the crowd of 100 people crammed into every inch of floor space. Instructors Deanna Jefferson and Ingrid Nelson tag-teamed, with Jefferson up front and Nelson weaving through the folks struggling with body-weight-based exercises such as squat jumps with 180-degree turns and single-arm push-ups from flat on the ground. For a partner exercise (one person held plank while the other jumped back and forth, performing a burpee on each side), I worked with Hayat El-Bereir, a 26-year-old student who says Nike has become her entire fitness program since the store opened in October. “You should come as much as you can,” she said, suggesting I also join the Nike+ Run Club at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and (for women only) Thursdays.

Fitness instructor Grace Thompson leads a class of students (front to back) Catherine Potter, Emerald Becker and Suzy Goldenkranz at the Athleta store in Georgetown. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Day 3: Tuesday

For people who work downtown like me, it might be most convenient to get to the 6:30 p.m. run club at City Sports (1111 19th St. NW, The route we took, however, was not so convenient. Fifteen of us took off after organizer Brett Sidelinger toward the Kennedy Center, through rush-hour traffic, and we had to stop at nearly every light. But that wasn’t all bad, because it prevented the group from spacing out and gave us more chances to talk. What I quickly learned was that these folks ran for more than just faster race times. It seemed like everyone could brag about some swag — running shoes, a pint glass, a hat. Most goodies came courtesy of the brand reps that frequent the club, allowing participants to try out gear and often raffling prizes after the runs. City Sports supplies official run club shirts that are available to anyone who asks, along with the water bottles and granola bars that were waiting when we returned to the store after the three-mile outing.

Day 4: Wednesday

The new trail running club out of Patagonia (1048 Wisconsin Ave. NW, was tempting — it’s scheduled for Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. through the end of May — but I felt good about heading instead to Cleveland Park’s Potomac River Running (3513 Connecticut Ave. NW, when I met Jessica Kuney. The 30-year-old has been compiling a spreadsheet with her findings from various run clubs across town, comparing data points, including ease of parking and availability of bathrooms. So far, the PRR group is tops on her list, and I can see why. Volunteer organizer Thea Calder helps pair up people by pace, so everyone had buddies for the route. (She offered a 5.2-mile and a 5.6-mile option, and generally PRR runs vary between three and six miles. My buddies invented a four-mile option.) After the run, most of the 15 participants lingered over Gatorade.

Day 5: Thursday

The racks at the Georgetown Athleta (3229 M St. NW, are on wheels, so clothes and mannequins can be pushed out of the way to make room for classes. I signed up for the 5:45 p.m. boot camp with trainer Grace Thompson, one of the rotating offerings at the store. (On tap in the next month: a beginner bike class, more boot camps and several styles of yoga.) When I saw the setup, I asked my classmate Suzy Goldenkranz, 26, whether shoppers would be watching us while they browsed. “It’s less weird than you’d think,” she told me as we launched into squats to warm up. Within a few minutes, none of us could pay attention to anyone other than Thompson, who was ordering us to do mountain climbers, lunges with a medicine ball and every version of plank imaginable. Because of the small size — the class is capped at six — she was able to give personal attention and modifications. Everyone looked pretty exhausted by the time we got to the cool-down, which is when I had to skedaddle.

Next up was Pacers (1427 P St. NW, Every branch of the local running store has several group outings a week, both before and after work. What makes the 7 p.m. Thursday time slot different here is that it’s focused on different kinds of training runs — track, hills, tempo or fartlek, in which you play with quick bursts of speed. Organizer Elyse Braner (yep, she’s the queen of P Street) got the 15 of us psyched for the night with a cheer, “1-2-3-track!” before we jogged north to Cardozo High School to work on 400-meter repeats. This kind of workout is especially good for beginners learning how to pick up the pace, Braner said encouragingly to us newbies, to prepare us for a series of four loops around the track. (The speedsters dashed off a few more.) We celebrated by jogging back to Pacers and regrouping at Whole Foods for snacks and socializing. After this week, I wasn’t sure which I needed more: a coconut water or a glass of wine. So I ordered both.

@postmisfits on Twitter

Hallett edits the Fit section of Express.

Also at Read past columns by Hallett and Lenny Bernstein at . There, you can subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter to get health news e-mailed to you every Wednesday.