Geoff Schmidt started running about three years ago.

He’d been a smoker and was overweight when he started. He was also determined.

He bought a pair of running shoes and started using a training app. He also entered runs, including the last two TMC Meet Me Downtown 5Ks.

This year he’s running as part of a team — You are a Champion, which is a running group he started earlier this year. It’s one of 60 that have signed up for Meet Me Downtown, an evening run that has become an unofficial summer kickoff celebration.

Now in it’s ninth year, the event is on pace to have about 3,000 runners and walkers cross the finish line Saturday. That will include Jordan Chipangama of Flagstaff, who set a course record time of 14:22.7 last year.

Most of the runners and walkers will be taking it much slower. Schmidt’s strategy for dealing with the crowds and the heat: “Go slow, smile, cheer others on. All of these things will help a first-timer or a salty veteran get through this race without too much trouble. Just be kind to yourself and others.”

The Workout

Schmidt started the free running group earlier this year after friends started asking him for advice. It felt good to see other people making progress.

“It totally motivates me when I see someone so excited about running, and taking their life in a new direction,” said Schmidt, who also spread the word with fliers posted at the University of Arizona’s Student Union.

The group uses an app through Active (Couch to 5K) for a once-a-week meetup in the Hi Corbett parking lot as well as honor-code runs throughout the week.

The sessions start with a short talk about different stretches or strengthening exercises, and include an interesting guest speaker — there’s been an Olympic marathon hopeful, an ironman, a retired Marine and ultra runner, and a Boston Marathon alum, Schmidt said.

The workout starts slowly with a five-minute warmup, then alternates a minute conversational-pace jog with a minute and a half walk for about 20 minutes followed by a cool down.

“The goal is to have fun, challenge yourself without pushing yourself and to take steps you’ve never taken before to go to places you’ve never been before,” he wrote in the team’s race registration.

“It’s a really unique race,” Schmidt said of Meet Me Downtown. “I love that it’s right downtown and there’s so many people.” Including neighbors who cheer on the runners and offer cooling sprays with garden hoses. “And at the end you get a free beer — it’s a win-win situation.”