It was Alex Mai's first time running, walking and jogging with a group of Mercedians down Main Street at midnight Thursday.
The 19-year-old, who said he doesn't often get a chance to go off campus from UC Merced, would definitely do it again.
"It's nice because when you're in a school environment, you are surrounded by students," he said. "Here, you get to meet new people."
"Midnight Run" lets Mercedians of all ages burn off a few calories and get together and jog or walk about two miles around the heart of downtown Merced. About 25 people showed up at 11:55 p.m. Thursday to partake of the cool night air and old-fashioned exercise. The run followed a course down Main street toward R Street, up the other side and around G Street.
Anyone can join in on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights by meeting outside of J&R Tacos.
Andrea Fujii, 21, echoed Mai's enthusiasm for meeting new people in the community. She also said she runs to stay fit. Thursday night was her third time on the run.
Melissa Kelly-Ortega and Janna Rodriguez, co-founders, came up with the notion one night in May while sitting at the Coffee Block. "It was all Melissa's idea," Rodriguez said. "I ran into her, and we were talking about what kind of healthy options we have, can we exercise, and so we were just discussing about that."
She wished she had more time to exercise since she was cooped up in a lab on the UC Merced campus during the day and at J&R Tacos at night.
"Everything started right there, and I texted her that night to see if she wanted to do it," the 28-year-old mechanical engineering junior said.
"For a long time it was just Janna and myself," Kelly-Ortega said. "And then we had a consistent four or five people showing up."
She said those numbers have swelled to between 13 to 20 since then, but "every time I see more than five people, I am surprised and shocked."
Kelly-Ortega said Thursday night was the biggest crowd she had seen since the run began.
Elias Ruiz, 18, who's going to attend school in Mexico, had always wanted to join the run. He got his chance to begin shedding 10 pounds off of his 165-pound frame. A self-professed "slim" person, he said he already runs three times a week along the Bear Creek trail.
Marissa Martinez, 19, who was jogging with Ruiz, laughed, claiming she can eat all day and then run it off at night.
Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, local director for Anna Caballero's campaign for state Senate, said it was nice to be around young people.
"Quite frankly, I'm usually up at this hour," she said as she walked down Main Street. She noted the peacefulness of Merced during the late hour.
Thanks to two hyper women, it seems a new day is literally dawning in downtown Merced.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.