At its core, the act of running is really quite simple; it only requires you and the open road. So, the thought of joining a run club — running alongside dozens of others in a large, organized group setting — might leave you wondering, Why? What's the point? And coupled with the fact that these clubs have a reputation for being pretty intimidating, seemingly reserved for hardcore marathoners and the pros, it's enough to deter anyone from signing up.
As it turns out, running with a group is one of the best ways for beginners to gain their footing (pun intended), and contrary to popular belief, most of today’s clubs and communities strive to be inclusive of different levels and abilities. More importantly, they don’t require running a seven-minute mile to join. That’s why we teamed up with New Balance to explore these communities — both IRL and virtual — and the many ways they can benefit someone at the start of their running journey.
So, why join a run club?
Running with a group boasts a litany of mental and physical benefits. On the physical end of the spectrum, it can help you become an overall better runner. Mastering your form and adopting healthy training habits through the guidance of other, more experienced members is part of it, but running in a group setting can actually encourage you to run faster, for longer. “You’re a lot more motivated when you’re with a group, and at the same time, you’re held more accountable,” says Molly Hernandez, founder of in-person run club and virtual community Your Running BFF. “You end up pushing yourself much harder than you would if you were just by yourself.”
If you have loftier goals like, say, running your city’s next half-marathon, that extra boost to your speed and endurance will only positively impact your training. “I’ve had breakthrough races because I started running with people who were faster than me,” says Erin Bailey, a Greenpoint Runners run leader, who believes run clubs are not only a way to help you hit your goals quicker, but also make the entire process more enjoyable. “It’s way more fun to run hard miles or hills with people than slogging through it alone.”
But it's about community, too
Hardcore, performance-focused teams are out there (more on those below), but even more exist to simply bring together like-minded folks who want to move their bodies, regardless of fitness goals. This leads to members forging new friendships, finding a sense of belonging in the running space, and, in some cases, building unbreakable bonds. “In a way, your run club becomes your family; we look out for each other as if we were actual sisters or cousins,” says Sarai Perez, a runner and member of Harlem Run. “It makes you feel appreciated and seen.”
And run clubs can be virtual
Thanks to social media and other chat and community platforms, you don’t have to be a part of an in-person run club to reap the benefits. The last few years have seen a rise in virtual iterations, posing a solution for those who don’t live in close proximity to an in-person group or just simply don’t feel ready to show up IRL. Members may not be meeting in person, but they still make those important connections and find their place in the running space. Take Sad Girl Track Club, for example: What began as founder Izzy Seidel’s self-deprecating running content account (utilizing raccoon memes) eventually grew into an almost-1,300-member channel on chat app Geneva where runners can ask questions and give advice, share running selfies, and cheer each other on from afar.
How to find the right run club for you
In the case of in-person run clubs, it’s helpful to have an idea of what to expect before you show up — particularly whether they’re a social club with casual runs and meetups or a performance-based club that leans toward racing team territory. “There’s a major difference between the two,” Perez says. “The latter comprise very experienced runners who are likely very fast and training for races, which may not be a welcoming space for newcomers.”
Most groups have websites and a social media presence, which can be a helpful tool in determining whether they lean more casual or hardcore, how accepting they are of runners of different levels, and, generally, get a feel for what they’re all about (“#RunTok is essentially a search engine,” notes Seidel). Read through posts, comments, and hashtags for inclusive messaging and whether they state the pace and distance of their runs, as you’ll want to make sure it’s something you think you can handle.
Overall, the best way to find *your* club is to simply show up — which, at times, can be easier said than done. “You’ll never know if you’ll like a club unless you go, even if that is extremely intimidating in itself,” says Isabel DiGiovanni, founder of Slow Girl Run Club, a pace-inclusive run club that prides itself on being non-intimidating. “In terms of finding the right fit, it’s really trial and error, so try as many clubs as possible. It’ll never hurt to show up, even if you have to leave mid-run because it’s a little too fast. Put yourself out there and allow yourself to get a bit uncomfortable; it will ultimately be rewarding.”
And if you’re still intimidated…
Hernandez recommends contacting the club or one of its leaders beforehand and asking any questions you have. You’ll be able to confirm whether or not there’s a place for you there, and you’ll have a touchpoint with someone who will look out for you and introduce you to others, helping to alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with showing up somewhere new, alone. Alternatively, bring along one friend.
While both in-person and online running communities can provide a host of benefits and resources to novices and pros alike, starting with a virtual club can be a better option for anyone not quite ready for an in-person group run. Feeling like you have support and the necessary knowledge before you hit the pavement is key. “They also help runners of all levels see that they’re not alone,” says Seidel. “Despite being entirely online, you’ll still make those important connections with others — and that’ll help you feel that even if you’re running alone, you’re not training alone.”
Virtual run clubs you can join right now