As much as running is an individual sport at heart, nearly everyone that runs on a regular basis has a running community which they are a part of. This is certainly not a new trend. There have been well-established running groups, clubs, and communities for decades. This said, it certainly does seem as though there are more trail running communities today than ever before. There is seemingly not a city or region anywhere in the country that has access to trails that does not have some form of trail running group. Nearly every avid runner I meet (myself included) seems to be of the opinion that their local running community is vibrant, well established, and somehow unique. I suppose in some way every running community is a bit different than all others, but more than anything I think this speaks to the reality that many runners are drawn to the communal aspects of the sport, such that when we find a community that we fit in with and we experience the nourishment and satisfaction that we get from that community, we tend to believe that it’s a very special thing, which of course it is. But what is it about these running communities that is so special that it can add so much substance and satisfaction to an individual sport?
On the surface it’s easy to look to the notion of being drawn to a running community as a way to meet and interact with other like-minded people. The realization that you might not be the only one in your local town that likes to go out and run 10 miles (or 10 hours) in a rain storm can be a very comforting and attractive thing. This seems to be the general basis for most communities based on any specific interest: “Hey, we all like quilting. I bet if we get together at Mary Beth’s house every other Tuesday and quilt together, it will add substance and nourishment to the experience.” And thus, as runners, when we move to a new town so many of us seek out the local running community as a way to get more nourishment out of our experience of being a runner in that town. Interestingly though, we don’t always gel with every running group we are introduced to. This then points to the reality that not all running communities are exactly the same, and that there is something more we are drawn to than just finding other people who like running in the same way that we do.
The shared interest in running is what brings us together into organized running groups, but in my experience what makes a running group satisfying and nourishing to the point that it is something that we continue to seek out are actually the differences (rather than the similarities) between the individual runners within that community. Sure it’s nice to find runners who have the same ideas and preferences about running as we do, but it’s somehow even more satisfying to find runners who have the same passion about running as us, but who may have some very different ideas and preferences as to how to carry out this passion. In other words, it’s not the running groups in which everyone seems to be on the exact same page that are the most vibrant and substantial, but instead the ones in which everyone seems to be a unique individual who has their own style, interest, and approach. The more random, eccentric, and unique each individual piece of the group, the more valuable the group becomes as a whole.
This notion has become significantly more clear to me through my involvement with my Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps the past few years. Every session of camp has been very nourishing and enjoyable, but undoubtedly the most interesting and satisfying sessions have been the ones in which the individual participants have been the most different from each other in terms of how and why they run. The more the group seems to be made up of ‘odd balls’ the more they seem to become a community that every participant benefits greatly from. Luckily we have always have plenty of odd balls in each group.
There are so many different types of runners, but it seems like the most enjoyable running communities are the ones that are made up of runners from several of the different types. Not that every runner can be labeled and fit nicely into a specific type, but there is a reality that most runners do seem to fit fairly closely in with one of a half dozen or so runner types. In much the same way that a large holiday gathering is somehow more enjoyable when it includes people from all different walks of life who might not otherwise have many similarities, a running community somehow seems to thrive when it has as many odd pieces as possible. You might have a handful of the type who wear a watch on each wrist and track every run they ever do on Strava, a handful of bearded shirtless runners who have never owned a watch (or at least not admitted it), a handful who carry a 12 liter pack crammed full of stuff on every run, and a handful of whatever type of runner you happen to be. Doing runs with only one of these types might feel fairly one dimensional, or even boring, but when you mix them all together you end up with a community that can and often does make running more valuable and nourishing for everyone who is a part of that community.
In addition to my experiences of my running camps I’ve also been made much more aware of this reality through my running the past few months. I’ve been fairly regularly getting out on long outings in the mountains with several different folks from my local running community. It’s been a great stretch of mountain running made much more rich and nourishing by how unique and different each of these folks are from me and from each other. As great as they all are as individuals, I’m not sure I would necessarily gain all that much from doing these outings with a group of folks that were relatively similar to any one of them. Mix them all together, though, and they make one of the most satisfying, valuable, and nourishing running communities I have ever been a part of. A group of runners that I feel fortunate to be a part of, no matter how odd ball and eccentric they might be. Or rather because of how odd ball and eccentric they are.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- What is your running community like? Can you describe it?
- Do both the differences and similarities of your running community add to its vibrancy, as Geoff says? If so, in what ways do both similarities and differences bring you together?
- Does being a part of a running community in some way make you a better runner?