Running Together: Building a Strong Community of Runners in Your Local Area

Introduction

Community is inherently difficult. It is something that takes care, attention, and commitment. It is very hard to not only foster a sense of community, but it is really difficult to even just begin to imagine what a community can be when it doesn’t exist. As a pastor, I know the importance of being in a community with other people who share similar loves as you do.

One of the places that I enjoy community is on the run. This is true even if it is just other runners who are there supporting me on my running journey, and me on theirs. Building a community around running makes us better runners and stronger runners. It is not that we necessarily become faster, because we all join for different reasons, but better and stronger, yes, because the community makes it so. Physically, not completely, but mentally and emotionally, more than anything.

Sometimes you must be the catalyst to start a community, or it may even fall on you to be a part of a community that has begun and now you are a part of strengthening it. I want to tell you my story and help you understand the best ways to build strong communities around running, and why it is important for us as people who find joy from running and being in a community with others who do as well.

My Story

Believe it or not, pastoring can be a very busy profession. Even on top of pastoring, having a family (with two elementary-aged kids) can add to the chaos of life. However, running has always been a centering and therapeutic activity to take part in.

As an extrovert though, sometimes I tire of running by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I run by myself most of the time. However, for every run, every week, to be solo (to run by myself) very much bores me (remember extrovert here…). I just like looking for someone to run with or even knowing that others are running while I run and that there is a crowd to hang out with afterward.

In my early years of ministry, I often had to run alone. We lived in a more rural community south of Richmond, and I was not yet aware of “group runs.” Having run cross country and track in high school, I always thrived on a team. Even in college, I was in our run club at Randolph-Macon. However, adulthood felt different, and being in a rural community made it tough to find groups to run with.

I often found it hard to motivate myself, but during one year, a pastor friend of mine asked if we could run together while we trained for a Tough Mudder. A group of three of us ran three Tough Mudders together and kept each other accountable to running (even when my friend moved to a different church). While we didn’t always run together, the accountability of communal gains was a great benefit for me mentally.

In 2019, I finally found a running team in Richmond (well, I participated at their Chesterfield location, south of the city), and began to see the benefits of running together in the community. I enjoyed meeting folks at the start of group runs and chatting about training. I enjoyed logging miles with folks (even if it meant taking it at an easier pace). I even had the opportunity to do track workouts with them. This was great because, no matter the pace, every time we crossed paths on the track there were always cheers given and had.

Then 2020 happened, and on top of a global pandemic, I moved from my community in Chesterfield to Suffolk, VA. As I have recounted in a previous post (link here), I grew up in the Hampton Roads running community (of which Suffolk is a part). However, the community looked vastly different from when I was in high school, and I was on the outer edges of this community. It became difficult due to distance, time, and traffic to get to many of the running groups in the area. I began to think, that if I was going to have a community on “my side of the water” I would need to put in some leg work and begin to create it.

Fast forward to the end of 2023 (beginning of 2024) and I now co-lead an amazing run club that has carved itself a niche as probably the best run club in our area of Hampton Roads (I know, I might be a bit biased here). It began meeting weekly on a trail near my church (we were called Driver Run Group) and quickly grew before merging with a run club (named RunSomeMo) I went to that partnered with MoMac Brewing Company in Portsmouth. None of this was easy, and to this day we still make some mistakes. However, the greatest thing we do is make it all about community. We live into the vision of the communal spirit of running and want folks who join us to simply have fun on the run. We encourage our folks to take steps in the right direction to be their best selves.

*Certain aspects of this experience have taught me about the power of running in the community. I hope you can learn from them as you seek to build a community around running near you.

The Power of Community in Running

This community is beyond amazing because we have built it around this communal spirit. We never look for the fastest (though we know we have some fast runners). We celebrate the Boston qualifiers and the first-time marathoners. We party hard for the first runner and the last. We don’t care how long it takes you to get your run in; we wait for all the folks to get our group pictures. We give back to our running community knowing how much it has helped us grow.

Running communities can be a powerful thing because when we celebrate the collective, we all grow. It’s not going to make everyone in your run club the fastest ever (we are adults and we aren’t trying to win world championships). However, it will make us the most fun run club, and it can help all in the group achieve their goals (whatever they may be).

I love checking in with folks before and after fun racing events.

  • Did you have a goal?
  • Did you meet your goal?
  • Even if the goal was to just have fun and finish the race…did that happen?

Starting Small: Creating a Core Group

When I started my run group in Driver (before RunSomeMo existed), I started small. I used contacts I knew in the community and reached out to them, inviting them to my run group. Even over the first few months of RunSomeMo, we began to form a small core group from those who joined us early on and often.

I feel as though this is a natural occurrence for most groups that begin to form. The idea of starting small felt manageable, but as groups grow, the ones who are regular or there from the beginning become very important in extending the community. This small group and early community bought into the cause early, and that often gives a feeling of responsibility.

I like to think that what formed the group early on, the feelings and welcoming spirit, is the same feeling that those people will want to share as the group continues to grow. We have tried to impress upon those who have been with us since the beginning to help new folks when they come for the first time.

Organizing Regular Group Runs and Events

The biggest key has been consistency. We have someone (even if it is the beer-tender) who is there every Tuesday and Saturday. Just as with running, consistency is key. The hardest aspect of consistency is the consistency of being active on social media. I am not going to lie— I often fail to keep up with our social media channels. However, we make sure that folks always know we will plan to be there every Tuesday and Saturday when we meet.

The core group of “leaders” we have are the ones we often look towards if my primary co-leader and I cannot be present. We know the group is in safe hands even when we are unavailable. The importance of having a friendly face greeting people has been crucial and has added to the consistency factor.

We also try to do regular events. These events are either a part of our weekly group runs or we might join other events around the area. We always like to remain connected to the people in the club to find out what kinds of events people might be interested in. While we are not able to get to everything, we try to do what we can.

Inclusive Practices for Diverse Participants

Helping new people (anybody and everybody) feel welcome is a huge priority for groups. Being a brewery-run club can be difficult, especially for people who may not drink alcohol. However, we try to remain open to anybody who comes. Diversity is about making sure people feel welcome as soon as they walk through the doors.

We want to make everyone feel welcome when they come. I will welcome folks when they get to run club and often will learn a bit more about them, even trying to match folks up with a run buddy if they would want one.

We try to help newcomers find their way around the trail and even have folks at several different paces who can help lead folks and show them around. We have also known, for myself and our other leader, to just do a group run with whoever wants to join and the only rule is easiest pace sets the pace.

Partnering with Local Businesses and Organizations

I love the idea of being more than a run club. Run club communities do more than run together—we love to have fun together and even help others together. As a brewery-run club, we have a very good relationship with the brewery that hosts us. This relationship gives us much more than a place to meet, but also gives us relationships in our local community.

We seek to help our community on the run and beyond. These partnerships have helped us in many ways as we seek to help one another and our community grow. We help by supplying food pantries with food, we donate school supplies, we help by cleaning the trail we run on, and even help local non-profit organizations. These become fantastic relationships for building community.

Conclusion

Building a run club and building a community has been a great experience. Beyond creating community, being a part of the community has been the true gift. Running has become so much more than just a physical activity that I use to care for myself and as a therapeutic practice.

Building a strong community of runners in your local area goes beyond the physical act of running. It’s about forging connections, inspiring one another, and creating a supportive network that extends beyond the pavement. By embracing inclusivity, utilizing technology, and organizing regular events, you can turn your local running community into a thriving, dynamic force that benefits everyone involved.

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