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Hitting Their Stride: Run Clubs Pave New Ways to Fitness

By:  Tana Bosshard Aug 26, 2013
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Members of the West Midtown Run Club in Atlanta, Ga.

Members of the West Midtown Run Club in Atlanta, Ga. 


Every day, Tes Sobomehin weaves throughout the hilly streets of Atlanta, Ga., followed by hundreds of others. She’s leading a movement that’s growing in numbers across the United States and around the world: the emergence of the running club.

Sobomehin joined her first running club three years ago through Facebook. She saw a need for more community exercise groups and was inspired to organize her first club in 2011 under the Black Girls Run umbrella.

West Midtown Club members stretch together before taking off.

Ready, Set, Run. Members stretch before taking off. 

She has since left Black Girls Run to create the neighboring West Midtown Run Club, which has grown from a core group of five runners to up to 30 people meeting every week. And although Sobomehin dedicates most of her time to the West Midtown Run Club, she continues to organize special monthly events for groups throughout the Atlanta area. 

Why are clubs -- where initiation includes shin splints, blisters and chondromalacia (aka “runner’s knee”) -- so popular? “It’s the consistency and accountability," Sobomehin says. "They meet at the same time regardless of how many people show up or what the weather is that day.” 

Not only are running clubs a source of ongoing motivation, they provide results. According to Rodney Dishman, professor of exercise science at the University of Georgia, “Studies show that (exercising) in groups fosters adherence.”

He says unlike a race, there is no competition within the group. As it turns out, running clubs motivate individuals to push themselves harder, inevitably quickening everyone’s pace. Then there’s the social benefit people gain from working out with friends, as they look forward to their weekly group runs. An added bonus is that these runs come without the expense of a gym membership.

Running With a Purpose

While running clubs host athletes of all abilities, many focus on connecting people of similar backgrounds, race and gender. “Running clubs are a great way to serve any underserved group,” says Sobomehin. “Running has become overwhelmingly popular for women, and they are the majority of participants in road races,” she says. Black Girls Run chapters, for example, bring together African American women  in more than 60 U.S. cities.

Running with West Midtown Run Club

Running clubs cater to athletes’ specific needs.

The structures of run clubs differ in size and leadership across locations. Some bigger clubs like North Brooklyn Runners offer multiple runs a week that cater to people with different schedules. According to member Beth Rodgers, “We have about two runs every day of the week. We have morning runs and evening runs almost every day. There is not a lot of oversight of the club, so we welcome people to plan a run at different times of the week.”

In New York City alone, there are nearly 60 registered running clubs. 

Rodgers, who is travelling to Uganda in a few weeks, found several clubs in the area where she is staying. "If you can find one there, you can find one anywhere around the world,” she said.

Finding a Running Club

Whether training for a marathon, running a 5K or looking for a reason to start running, clubs are designed to cater to runners’ specific needs, offering safe and friendly environments for athletes of all abilities. Run clubs operate for free year-round and are available all over the world. As Sobomehin says, “We (running groups) are always happy to welcome newcomers.”

Searching for a running club in your area? Here are a few tips:

  1. Search clubs online that are close to where you live or work. Proximity will likely play a role in successfully committing to a club.
  2. Ask around at a local athletic or running shoe store. Even if the club does not host a running group, most of the time employees can recommend a club to join.
  3. If you are a mom, visit seeMOMMYrun.com, a free group for moms of all ages.
  4. If you are a student, many colleges offer free organized running groups.
  5. Join an online runners’ forum to get tips on where to find a running club or how to start your own.