As the social distancing continues and runners are looking for ways to stay connected, now is the perfect time to help cultivate a local running community. Interested in starting your own virtual running group or an in-person running group? Runner PJ Thompson shares his experience with founding his own running group, St. Elmo Runners in Austin, TX, and gives advice on how to start one of your own in your neighborhood or city.
Q: What inspired you to start a running group?
A: Convenience and community. In my southeast corner of Austin where I live, there were no running groups conveniently located for me to run at 6:00 am that also fit my schedule. The redevelopment of the St. Elmo area also inspired me to start the group so that my community could grow along with the neighborhood as a safe, welcoming, and fun space for all runners.
Q: What's the biggest lesson running has taught you?
A: The biggest lesson I have learned from running is that small and fairly consistent efforts add up to large and often positive outcomes. Doing the little things in running and applying those same principles to personal relationships and business creates strong foundations to build upon in all aspects of life.
Q: How can running groups help create an opportunity for inclusion and change?
A: I believe in meeting people where they are in their fitness and lifestyle. In an already intimidating sport being welcoming means not just being a running group, but also thinking outside the box on how you can incorporate the group into the everyday lives of your runners. When people see the group participating in causes and giving their time to foundations bigger than just running they feel a greater sense of connection with the group. As for creating opportunities for change, these same points ring true. Groups need to demonstrate their willingness to address not-so-easy topics ahead of any interest in just getting more likes, followers, or running group members.
Q: As a Black man and avid runner, in what ways did creating a running group help you feel more connected to the greater Austin and running community?
A: As a Black man, running groups helps me in getting over the mental barriers many people of color live with today. Running groups allowed me to connect with so many Austinites who have helped bring more people from diverse walks of life into the sport. Leading a running group gives you the unique chance to proactively engage with people from all different backgrounds and, in turn, form a running community that truly reflects all runners.
Q: If someone wanted to start their own running club, what are some steps and tips they need to know? Walk us through the process!
A: Identify a community in need first. Where is there an absence of running groups? In addition to physical location, what communities ( women, communities of color, LGBTQ, of different nationalities, etc.) are underrepresented and deserve an outlet such as a running group in their community?
Consider the running routes your group will take. Early on, my group, the St. Elmo Runners, would rotate routes week to week, which was a mistake since one route had too many turns for a dark 6:00 am run, whereas the other route was straight, flat, and an out-and-back option. Think about helpful and memorable milestones on your routes that participants not only know easily, but that allow for fun photo opportunities as well.
Have a plan for your run that includes: how you welcome new runners each week, warmups, descriptions of the routes, cooldown drills, what activities the group does afterward (like meeting for coffee or tacos), and what type of group culture and environment you want to encourage. Early on, my route knowledge of certain streets wasn't the best and I was inconsistent with our cool down exercises. Overall, it is important to over plan, no matter how serious or casual of a running group you want to create.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who may be interested in joining a running group?
A: Doubts of belonging and the feeling of "everyone is looking at me" will inevitably exist, but the beauty in feeling those feelings is that everyone has likely arrived at their first group run with the same things in mind. Believe in yourself and the fact that you’re taking a chance to find new friends, a new community, and to become the potential source of motivation for someone else within the group.
Q: Is there anything else you think our audience should know?
A: I believe that we should all understand every runner has the ability to encourage others, to help get other runners over the hill, and to help people simply get started. Growing personally, as a leader, and as a part of a community of people willing to put their best selves forward is a true gift.
Follow PJ and his running journey on his Instagram.