How to start a community run club - from someone who knows
When you think of run clubs, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Formal track-based athletics and cross-country clubs? Matching kit? Intimidating times? How about community-led spaces for like-minded people – of all ages, speeds, races, genders and sizes – to gather, and simply run together?
Aiming to bring people together, foster inclusivity and transform the way we approach running, there’s a growing trend towards more informal run clubs – and they’re changing the landscape of the running community.
From complete beginners to seasoned marathoners, pavement pounders to rural adventurers, competitive athletes to social joggers – run clubs are a powerful force, providing support, motivation, and a sense of belonging to runners of all levels and backgrounds.
Jess Robson set up the run club ‘Run Talk Run’ five years ago. She was struggling with depression at the time and found London an overwhelming place to be. Running was her outlet. Run Talk Run took a little while to properly launch – Jess says there were months of ‘no shows’ where she would turn up to run, wait in the cold outside Monument Station and end up running alone. Now, Run Talk Run is a global community, with over 170 groups in locations worldwide and she’s on a new mission: to uncover the many compelling stories behind community-based run clubs – and offer a resource aimed at supporting run club leaders.
‘The Run Club Collective was born out of my own experience of being a run club founder,’ Jess tells me. ‘When I started Run Talk Run, I was very much in the dark about how to go about getting it off the ground, how to attract new members and how to get risk assessments in place – I craved having a space to turn to for support and advice.’
This is exactly what she’s hoping the Run Club Collective will offer. A resource for run club founders on starting, sustaining and growing a run cub.
‘Now I'm less involved with running my own club, I have time to create that space that I needed for run club founders to support one another,’ she says. ‘In a nutshell, it’s a community of run club founders and leaders who interact with one another and learn from one another.’
Alongside a dedicated WhatsApp group for run club founders to share both the highs and lows, Jess is also creating a space online to celebrate and recognise the work these community-based run clubs do. ‘I’m speaking to run club founders individually to find out what challenges they’ve faced and what their greatest successes are – mainly because their journey fascinates me but also to shed some light on how different they all are.’
So far, Jess has spoken to the likes of Black Girls Do Run, Puresport Run Club and Camino Ultra. ‘I’ve interviewed about 14 clubs so far – mainly London based, but also a couple based in the US, as the idea is this will be a global resource,’ she explains. ‘All of them are just so wildly different. Each run club is totally unique with its own vibe. I think the most inspiring clubs to me are those that have used their own setbacks in life to support other people.
‘One of the funniest conversations I had was with Lionel, who’s set up the Original Propaganda Athletic Club in Philadelphia, in the US. It was very much a drunken decision to start his own club, but now, 10 years later, is the most phenomenal, impactful movement over there – his ethos is ‘all faces, all paces’.’
Some runners may have experienced turning up to a running club and feeling like they don’t belong. Not fast enough, not wearing the right trainers or kit, no connectivity. But one of the biggest challenges that comes with setting up a run club is ‘understanding that you’re not going to be for everyone,’ says Jess. ‘You’re not going to please everyone and there will be people who don’t ever come back and that’s OK. Runners might come once and realise it’s not for them and that’s all right.’
Jess wishes someone had reassured her that Run Talk Run didn’t need to be for everyone when she first set it up. ‘I think that’s where having a community of other run club founders would have really benefited me – to have that support network in place to express those anxieties as they came up,’ she says.
At the moment, the only support for run clubs comes from England Athletics. ‘But the process of getting accredited by England Athletics is quite long and requires money and things like having a board of trustees,’ Jess explains. ‘Most community run clubs aren’t accredited – but there are so many people trying to do a good thing and offer a space for like-minded individuals to come together and share their love for running. The goal for me is to offer run club founders all the resources they’d need, as easily as possible, because the accessibility to running thing is something I’m deeply passionate about.’
The growth of more amateur community-based clubs seems to align with a gentle shift away from competition and focusing on the social aspect of running. Sure, there will still be those gunning for PBs, KOM segments on Strava and first-place spots on the podium. But when the world feels lonelier than ever before, many of us are longing for connection. So perhaps the rise of non-traditional running run clubs echoes the fact that when runners run together, we feel more connected, less lonely, more accountable and tend to go farther and stay out longer. We’ve always known it helps to have a training partner. Why? People keep people active.
Interested in joining a run club? Keep scrolling for some of our favourite community-based running clubs. And if you’re a run club leader and want to find out more about the Run Club Collective, visit runclubculture.com
Run Dem Crew
Who? Set up by DJ, poet and writer Charlie Dark (@daddydarkrdc) as an alternative to more traditional running clubs, Run Dem Crew caters for runners of all abilities with runs split into groups according to fitness and pace.
Where? Brixton Street Gym, Tuesdays, 7pm
Cost? £12pm membership to Brixton Street Gym, plus £1 per session
Your Friendly Runners
Who? Informally established three years ago by Oliver Hooson, a photographer, and Matt Horrocks, a marketing manager, Your Friendly Runners offers four runs a week and prides itself on offering a running club for people who don’t consider themselves ‘runners’.
Where? Tuesdays – 6.30pm track session at London Stadium Community Track. Fridays – 7.15am sunrise run at Pavilion Cafe, Victoria Park. Saturdays – 9.15am social run at Forno, Hackney. Sundays – 9am long run, location varies.
Black Girls Do Run UK
Who? Founded by Tasha Thompson in 2019, Black Girls Do Run UK is both an online and in-person community that aims to motivate more UK-based black women to run.
Where? Tuesdays, 7pm, North West London
This Mum Runs
Who? A global community of 200,000+ women (not just Mums!) who support and empower each other to be healthier and happier by connecting with - and running with - other women where they live.
Where? All over the UK
Your Town Runners
Who? Taking place across three towns in Hertfordshire, Your Town Runners is a community of runners that meet weekly for a free social 5k run – suitable for all ages and abilities.
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