I sat in the car outside Ringside Sports Bar last First Friday, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. Somehow I’d managed to volunteer to cover Run A Tab, a 5-mile pub run that loops through downtown San Antonio every First Friday, stopping frequently at local bars and restaurants. Though I’m a runner and a drinker, albeit separately, the adventure sounded like it’d culminate with me spewing a bellyful of alcohol all over art enthusiasts on the crowded Southtown sidewalks. Regardless, I laced ’em up for the September run to get a firsthand look at the novelty of drinking downtown in shorts, a T-shirt, and

Once inside Ringside, our starting point, a glance around conffirmed my biggest fear — this recreational harrier was standing amid a group of about 30 competitive runners, some talking about marathons and 15-mile training runs. Gulp! Fortunately, the crowd was overly friendly — not to mention already chugging beers — and several regulars assured me that Run A Tab is primarily about having fun. I relaxed a bit once I found that recreational runners and walkers were also representing their position on the athletic spectrum.

I decided to pass on a drink until we hit our first stop, and finished stretching on the sidewalk as Edgar Gonzalez, the co-founder of Run A Tab, described how we’d be keeping track of our drinks. “Who’s got the Sharpie?” he asked. “Write your name on your arm. When you have a drink, we’re gonna mark your body with one line. A circle is a shot. The only reason we do that is so we can recognize you as a pub runner when we see you lying on the side of the road!” After some nervous laughter from the newbies, we were off, running at a brisk pace toward Alamo Plaza and Pat O’Briens. My small bag carrying a recorder, camera, and notebook bounced maddeningly against my side as two girls zipped past me, holding margaritas in plastic cups. Note to self: Lose the bag next time.

Our tittering ranks took over Pat O’s decidedly empty piano bar, and runners clamored at the counter, ordering beers, drinks, shots, and even the almighty Hurricane. These people are crazy, I thought. Multiple Hurricanes would land me facedown in the street! I opted for a vodka soda. Edgar waved a “Close Your Tabs!” sign in the air just as I finished my drink and we hit the pavement again, running down Houston Street to Vbar inside the Hotel Valencia. We burst into the swank hotel sweaty and boisterous, much to the surprise of well-dressed tourists in the lounge, but the bartenders were happy to see us flood in among the slow happy-hour crowd.

Stopping for about 15-20 minutes at each bar, we ran through downtown to Drink on Navarro, headed south on South Alamo to Luca, hit the edge of Southtown at Azuca, and stopped in at Casa Chiapas for the full-blown First Friday melee before the group started to scatter. All of the venues were lively stops, but Azuca was particularly bumpin’ — the runners jumped right into the mix on the dance floor, and one even took a seat behind the drum kit. Delicious mojitos were the drink of choice there; unfortunately, I only had time to suck down one.

At this point I’d definitely caught my buzz, and was starving. I hoped some kind of food would materialize inside the Blue Star Arts Complex, but the swarming crowd forced us across the tracks to La Tuna, where beer lines were still more than 20 deep. Our group was splintered beyond repair, so I headed back to Drink with a pack that was leaving. Wobbly and laughing, we ran nonstop through Southtown from Probandt to Navarro and got our best workout of the night. We opened the door to raucous cheers from runners who’d beat us there, and joined the party. Drink has turned into the unofficial endpoint of the run; groups run back at their leisure and stay to socialize and cheer the stragglers in.

Almost every newbie that I met said they’d be back, and the group is now 60 runners strong after just four short months. Edgar said the rising participation could demand a new course that can accommodate more runners, but says downtown will always be his personal favorite spot. “We’re helping to transform the perception of San Antonio as an unhealthy city,” he said, describing tourists who are surprised to see locals running in the area on a Friday night. “It’s a slow process but I’ve seen some dramatic changes, more people running here and using our parks. This pub run wouldn’t have been as successful as it is now if we’d have started it four or five years ago.”

Interested runners meet up at Ringside Sports Bar, 1161 E. Commerce, at 6:30 p.m. every First Friday. Arrive fully clothed with license, credit/debit card or cash, and car keys in a ziplock bag. Info: http://werunsanantonio.com/running-a-tab-3