Finding your running tribe: why it's important, how to do it

Plus 10 Italy half marathons you'll love running

“Every single one of us possesses the strength to attempt something he isn't sure he can accomplish. It can be running a mile, or a 10K race, or 100 miles. It can be changing a career, losing 5 pounds, or telling someone you love her (or him).” — Scott Jurek

We’re hitting the middle of the racing season — my favorite time of year — with big events like the Chicago Marathon and several big-city half marathons just behind us, and races like the New York City Marathon and Runner’s World Half Marathon coming up in the next few weeks.

It’s a time when I hear from a lot of you with questions about individual races, as well as tips on how to train and whether (and how) to fit in a number of races in a short time frame.

But what has also been interesting is the number of you who write in who’ve never run a race at all, or at least have never run a distance beyond a few miles on your own.

That made me realize I haven’t talked in a long time about the ways beginners can get started and become a part of these races we talk about each week.

This is hard for a lot of people, I gather from the emails I receive, and I think it’s due to a couple of reasons: there are so, so many races out there that it’s hard to choose one that’s right for you; and it’s hard to stay consistent with running if you do it alone.

I was lucky to find a group of people I loved running with soon after I first got serious about running, back in the 1990s, when I was in my mid-twenties. They really were my running “tribe,” whom I ran with every weekend without fail, rain or shine, and together we explored places like Bermuda, Big Sur and the Florida coast.

Today I still keep in touch with them, albeit not nearly as often — we were all single and childless back then, and that’s all different now! — but they’re still part of my tribe.

What I’m getting at is that, once that group formed, running wasn’t something I had to push myself to do anymore, like it was when I first started pounding the pavement under the hot Atlanta sun. The group pulled me toward it, so running was something I wanted to do and keep doing, to keep up with them.

But what if your friends aren’t into running? That was my problem back then, too, and I’m lucky I found a running group that was. It doesn’t have to be an obstacle for you, however — if you live in a city of any size, you can find your tribe too.

Here’s some ideas to point you in the right direction:

Join a running/track club

If you live in a city of any size, chances are there’s a track club, running club or triathlete club that you can join, usually for very low or no cost.

Here where I live, the Atlanta Track Club organizes races throughout the year and training programs for a range of distances, from the 5K and 10K all the way up to half marathon and marathon distance.

Clubs like these also need race volunteers, often many of them — so if you have free time for a race you don’t feel you’re ready to run yet, volunteering to staff an aid station or the start/finish line is always needed.

Running store training programs

What if your hometown doesn’t have a big, organized track club? Many running stores also offer training programs, usually in the spring and fall. These are ideal if you prefer running with smaller groups that give you the chance to get to know your fellow trainees.

These groups also offer you a way to get together with fellow runners on a weekly cadence without the need to up your distance every week, if you want to run regularly with a group without having to train toward a race.

Run for charity

My first marathon was part of a fundraising effort by the Arthritis Foundation called “Joints in Motion,” for which I raised $2,500 for a trip that took us to run the Bermuda Marathon.

Their program is now defunct, but there are a range of others like:

These programs give you the best of both worlds — the chance to train with people who are at the same running level as you, and to train with coaches who can help you get better, all while doing something good for a worthy cause.

(If you want to participate but would rather walk than run, here’s a great list of charity walks.)

Back on My Feet

If you haven’t heard of it, Natalie DiBlasio wrote about this wonderful program that combines running with combating homelessness for us back in 2014. It’s grown a lot since then, and now offers runners the chance to connect and run with their groups in 12 cities across the U.S.

What it offers is the chance to go on a run with people who are, just as the program says, trying to get “back on their feet.” You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping change someone’s life while you’re changing your own, too.

Those are just a few of the ideas that have worked for me and our running writers — what has worked for you? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Have a great week, and as always, keep in touch.

Your friend,

— Terrell

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