Running by yourself can be lonely and boring, even with the most carefully curated playlist. It can also feel a bit scary, running solo at dusk or in the dark. You may well stick to the same safe but dull route, rather than venturing into new terrain, and keeping up the motivation to improve your speed or distance is tricky when no one’s there to see but you.
Put simply, joining a running club can put the fun back into your run before you find yourself giving yourself excuses and making a date with your TV remote instead of committing to that 5k run. Yes, it sounds daunting; turning up to meet a bunch of total strangers in lycra who, you imagine, are quite literally going to run away from you.
Not a bit of it, insists Jen Slater, a fitness blogger at www.eclecticcake.com. “I’ve never known such welcoming and supportive people as a group of runners,” says Slater, who’s also the community manager for #neverstoplondon, a community for London trail runners. “Everyone was a beginner once. It might be hard to imagine that seasoned members won’t be looking at your times or your technique or your experience or your four-year-old shoes but they will be genuinely happy that someone else ‘gets it’ and has chosen their precious club.”
Slater suggests some social media channel sleuthing to see if a potential run club sounds like your sort of people: “You’ll be able to get a feel for the atmosphere in the club before having to lace up. Also look out for open days, where clubs welcome new members and you won’t be the only one.”
Bethan Taylor blogs about physical and mental health at www.aprettyplacetoplay.com and pounds the pavements of South London. She agrees with Slater: “Join a run club! Seriously! Running clubs are much more inclusive than you’d think, and many run sessions for beginners where you’ll find lots of people who feel just like you. I promise after a couple of sessions you’ll have so much more self-belief and be raring to go and see what you can do! It can be daunting showing up to your first session, but runners are such a friendly and inclusive crew you’ll quickly be wondering what you were so worried about, and I promise you won’t get left behind (as a run leader I have a strict ‘no man left behind’ policy, as do most leaders!).”
So you won’t be Billy No Mates trying to keep pace with people who run marathons before breakfast or be left wheezing to a standstill in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.
Celebrity personal trainer Dan Roberts points out: “The best way of making new friends quickly is around a hobby. In a running club you will all have at least one thing in common and you’ll find people tend to be very supportive and you can motivate each other.” He also adds that in many other sports the socialising comes afterwards, but with running you can chat at the same time (dependent on fitness!), so you’re ticking that multi-tasking box – getting fit and making friends at the same time. Win-win!
And of course, you can socialise afterwards too. Many running clubs finish at a pub – a drink tastes so much better when you’ve earned it! – and have pretty impressive social calendars with summer and Christmas parties, picnics, quizzes and film outings too. And running can be more than once a week, whatever commitment you want to make. So you could see your social life gather apace with your fitness levels.
There’s a running club to suit everyone, bringing together people with much more than a shared love of running shoes. For example, the fabulous London Frontrunners is the UK’s largest LGBT+ running club, “welcoming anyone who identifies as LGBTQA*, their friends and even people who just love running and are happy to look beyond labels” while Run Dem Crew prides itself on being much more than personal bests and macho culture but a “community of creative people who enjoy running and the change it can bring”.
“Run clubs are an amazing way to make friends,” says Taylor. “I’ve met some fabulous, like-minded people through running who I might not have crossed paths with otherwise.”
When you’re on the sometimes relentless work-home treadmill, becoming part of a community with its own camaraderie can become a high point in your week. You may join as a way to commit to a regular run, but you’ll find you’re actually looking forward to letting off steam, having a chat (whether geeking out over running gear, cunning solutions to fitness niggles, sensible career advice or a giggle) and being with different people from all walks of life but with a shared passion.
So if you want to make new friends, whether future soul mates and besties or simply people you can enjoy spending time with, then give a running club a go.