The Power of the Running Community
Yea, running is an individual sport—but when you surround yourself with the right people, you'll never run alone.
Before I moved to Denver, I mostly ran alone. The run clubs in New York (at the time) were either too fast or too big, both of which were intimidating to me. So I did my own thing, logging hundreds of miles around the five boroughs (well, four; no one runs in Staten Island except during the NYC Marathon). I loved exploring the city by foot—but it was lonely, and my desire to live somewhere where activity was a more central part of the lifestyle played a role in my pre-pandemic exodus to Colorado.
It’s not easy to make friends as an adult. One of the things I love about running, though, is that it can turn strangers into confidants over the course of a single long run. There’s a sense of shared vulnerability that occurs; not just because running inherently invites comparison and suffering, but also because you’re kind of at the whims of your body (nothing brings runners together than emergency bathroom horror stories). During my first group runs in Denver, I was deeply insecure about acclimating to altitude and afraid I couldn’t keep up, but even though the group I run with isn’t a no-drop group, no one ever left me behind. I was so grateful for that sense of inclusivity—something I hadn’t experienced before in running—that I made a commitment to myself to show up every Saturday until people might miss me if I wasn’t there.
I was looking for a social network, a way to ground myself in a new place—and I found that. But there’s so much more that comes with being part of an active community.
On a very surface level, I’ve gotten faster; my marathon PR is partially thanks to two friends who jumped in at miles 17 and 21 to keep me going despite the fact that I had nearly given up on myself. There’s power in sweating together: Athletes in pairs went longer in both time and distance than when they were solo, and often longer still in a group of three or more, according to Strava’s Year In Sport 2022 report. (I can’t tell you how many early morning long runs I would have slept through if not for the friends I knew I had to meet at 5 a.m.) That’s especially true in the winter months, when group runners recorded 78 percent more active time than solo runners.
Even online running communities—where I first found my people when I started running—can have that kind of effect. After analyzing five years of daily running patterns of more than one million people who logged their runs digitally on a global social network, researchers found that on the same day, on average, an additional kilometer run by friends can inspire someone to run an additional three-tenths of a kilometer and an additional ten minutes run by friends can inspire someone to run three minutes longer.
Being a “better runner” is about more than just improving your times, though. The friends I’ve made through the sport have helped me through some dark times, pandemic-related or personal. There’s something about running side-by-side—read: no awkward eye contact—with someone that allows you to open up in a way that isn’t as easy when you’re not moving . But sometimes, it’s just about being with someone else. Working out in a group actually lowered stress by 26 percent and significantly improved mental well-being, and emotional stability in a 2017 study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
It’s all a kind of education, a way of bettering myself though the sport to— hopefully—make the community that surrounds it better, too.
Those benefits extend outward as well. When I was running by myself, I only cared about my journey. As part of a bigger community, I want to see my friends succeed, too; over the past few years, I’ve traveled to races just to cheer, I’ve jumped in to pace friends to PRs, I’ve started coaching other runners, and I’ve used running to raise money for local causes. Sharing running with others has helped me enjoy the process more; and the more you enjoy something, the more you get out of it.
By the way, I don’t believe “community” applies just to the people you run with on a regular basis. I’ve met so many people who are deeply entrenched in the running community that I know that even if I show up solo to an event—whether it’s the Falmouth Road Race in Cape Cod or The Running Event in Austin—I’ll find a familiar face.
The bigger my running community gets, the more of a fan I become of the sport. When I started, it was just about ticking off the miles. I didn’t know who Eliud Kipchoge was, or why running your easy runs easy was important, or how different shoes can help your performance. Now, I make bartenders turn on the marathon during the Olympics; I follow the pros and their coaches to learn more about training; and I devour books by running experts to fill in the blanks. It’s all a kind of education, a way of bettering myself though the sport to—hopefully—make the community that surrounds it better, too.
(I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t run alone; if you prefer that, you do you! I do still run alone sometimes, and those runs can be incredibly cathartic and fulfilling in different ways.)
The running community is growing, and as we approach the time of year when more and more people decide to give it a try, I want to celebrate the idea of that community. You don’t have to look a certain way, be able to run a specific pace or distance, or even be training for races to identify as a runner. We’re all just trying to put one foot in front of the other in the name of fitness, mental health, whatever. And I think we’re all stronger when we do that together.
P.S. I’d love to hear what makes your running community so special! Shout out your run fam in the comments :)
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Brooks Heat Shield Vest
The temperature really dropped in Denver last week, and I’m so happy I got this Brooks vest at TRE. It’s made with lightweight Thermolite insulation, which is super warm—even when temperatures dropped to the teens—without adding bulk, and has strategic wind-resistant panels that come in super handy because I basically only run around a single lake. But I’m mostly obsessed with the pockets. There are five: two drop-in side pockets that are deep enough to hold my gigantic iPhone, two hand pockets, and a zippered chest pocket for my keys. I’ll be wearing this all winter.
Running While Black by Alison Mariella Désir
Despite everything I wrote above about the running community, there is a distinct lack of representation of people from different racial groups, sexual identities, and body types. As Alison Mariella Désir details in Running While Black, that doesn’t make my running experience any less valid—but there are so many other experiences out there. I really appreciated her writing, which was at times full of anger and frustration (understandably so) but also hope. Désir did a wonderful job contextualizing her personal story with actual history, not just on a global/national level but within the running industry and community. And she did so without implying that the reader should feel guilt or shame, but that change starts with awareness.
Under Armour Flow Velociti Elite
When Sharon Lokedi won the 2022 New York City Marathon wearing a prototype of the next iteration of the UA Flow Velociti Elite, I knew I wanted to try the current version. Unfortunately, even though this shoe was designed to stand up against the top competitors in the market, I didn’t find it to be comparable to other $250 racing shoes. It’s certainly a pretty shoe, and it’s got a dual-density midsole with a full length carbon plate and a snug, super breezy upper. But it lacked the energy return and the cushioning that make other super shoes feel a) fast and b) more protective of my lower legs. I’d wear this for short, fast runs, but certainly nothing over half marathon distance.
It’s become the norm to see runners lining up for two or three marathons in a season, and Maegan Krifchin has recently been getting a ton of attention for doing three in one month—and PRing in her final one, the California International Marathon. There’s some good advice in this Runner’s World article on what the average running should consider before attempting back-to-back marathons. I think it’s important to remember that Krifchin is an exception to the rule—I raced Chicago 2021 and New York 2021 and Berlin 2022 and New York 2022 back to back, and it’s not something I’d really recommend; if you’re going to run two close together, it’s better to pick an A race and a B race and plan accordingly (I wrote about how to recover between back-to-back marathons for that same mag).
Running is the sneakiest team sport ever. The running community is so inclusive and so accepting. It's running's secret weapon to keep growing.