Many people think running is a solitary sport. It sure can be – after all, one of the great aspects of running is that it is a simple sport. You don’t need much gear and you can run anytime, anyplace, anywhere (with a few exceptions). But running can also be a social sport. There are many reasons to run with a group or club such as:
- Meeting new people and making new friends.
- Staying motivated with your exercise and training.
- Learning new things about running from the other runners.
- Sharing your knowledge of running with others in the club.
While there is a vast network of running clubs in the United States (and most other countries), there may not be one in your area. Or maybe there is a road running club and you want to start a trail running club, or vice versa. Here are 12 tips for starting a running club:
1. Get by with a little help from your friends. All it takes is one or two other committed people to make it a club. Round up 1-2 friends or training partners and your club has started.
2. The Name Game. This goes without saying, but you need a name to identify your club. It could be very general like “Chicago Trail Runners” or “Seattle Road runners”. Perhaps you are targeting a more specific audience and you want a tile such as “Phoenix Area Women’s Running Club” or “Los Angeles Marathon Runners.” I recommend a more generic name if you are looking for a larger group and plan to be more all inclusive.
3. Your Meeting Place. You need to create a club Web site, and the easiest (and free) way to accomplish this is to set up a Yahoo Group (groups.yahoo.com/). A Yahoo group will provide a central place for communication among your club members. You can send group e-mails, post pictures, and post scheduled runs to the calendar. The OCTR (Orange County Trail Runners) started out on Yahoo groups. However, we found that using a site like My Family (www.myfamily.com) better suited our needs even though there is small annual fee.
4. Search Yourself. People will search for your club by typing things like “Orange County Trail Runners” (www.theoctr.org) or “Chicago Running Clubs” in their favorite search engines. If you have a public Web page it will make your club MUCH easier to find via search engines. Put lots of key phrases on your public Web site such as “runners of all levels welcome,” “Chicago Running club,” “Seattle Trail Runners,” etc. Do some test searches yourself and see if your club page comes up in the results. A trick to presenting your page higher in the results is having people link to it. If your club members have blogs or Web pages, have them put links on their page pointing back to your club site. You can also post on messages boards, etc and have the link to your site in your signature.
5. Run! When you are just starting out, I suggest scheduling a run on Saturday or Sunday of 3-6 miles in length. Or if you are very ambitious schedule 2 runs: a short run for all levels and a long run. However, to get the most people joining your club you’ll want these runs on weekends. I have found that Saturdays are the most popular day for people to show up to a club run. When I started the Orange County Trail Runners one year ago we just had one short weekly run. As the club grew in size (more than 65 now) we have runs nearly every day of the week led by different members and for all running levels. Be patient in the beginning. As your club grows, so will the run options you can offer.
6. Attention and a personal touch. Make sure you give special attention to your new members. Many people get nervous when coming to a club run for the first time. If possible, run the entire distance with them (unless they are too fast for you). If you are faster than they, you can slow down and keep them company. Special touches like that and connecting with another runner in the club is what will bring them back week after week. Faster runners may get bored if they have to run slow all the time. Try to pair them up with someone (you or another member) so they can run their own pace. Same goes for that lone back-of-the pack runner who may get bored of finishing last and alone after every run. After all, these people came to run with a club and not by themselves.
7. Recruit & Advertise. Get your club listed on public websites such as The Running Network or Active. Talk to you local paper or weekly news magazine and see if you can get listed or maybe they can do a story on you. Put up fliers in running and athletic stores (if they allow it), or health food stores and other areas where healthy and active people spend their time. Maybe you can even get fliers in the goodies bags at local races. Be sure to tell other runners about your club when you cross paths while out running. When you club grows large enough you may want to consider designing and purchasing a club uniform or shirt to help advertise and give your members a sense a belonging.
8. Cheapskates. Don’t charge a membership fee. Initially you will want your club to be free. Keep it simple to grow your club faster. No fees, nothing to sign – just show up for the runs.
9. Get Social. Plan monthly or quarterly events such as parties, BBQs, outings for holidays, etc. Social outings helps people connect with other members in the club and gives them another reason to stay active and keep coming back for more.
10. Negotiate Deals & Discounts. Talk to local race organizers, running stores, or whatever else you can think of that might benefit your runners. See if they will give you a discount on shoes, apparel, race fees, etc. You never know until you ask!
11. To Structure or Not? Many clubs set up officers, weekly or monthly meetings, hold elections, etc. It all depends on the feel you want for the club. The Orange Country Trail Runners have never had any formal meetings, elections, or officers. We are all just runners. We all plan runs and lead runs. Everyone advertises. Everyone in the club is equal and there really is no iron fist calling the shots. We do have a couple of people who help make decisions in steering the club, making sure there are socials, etc. If you go the no-structure route make sure you are getting input from your members and making them feel like they are a part of the club. If you go the structured route, then once you get enough members you will want to hold elections for key officers such as president, treasurer, etc. Mostly it’s a matter of personal preference and the personalities that are part of the club.
12. Show me the money! As your club grows you will need money to covers certain expenses. You may want to buy insurance to protect you in case of an accident. You may also want to form your club into a non-profit organization which also has a cost associated. Monthly or quarterly socials may have food subsidized by the club funds. If you purchase shirts or uniforms it’s often easier for the club treasurer to write out one check and be reimbursed by members. There are many reasons you might need money once your club grows. You will lose some members once you start charging, but you will have a more solid core group among those that stay and pay. Don’t get greedy but find a reasonable price for membership. In the case of the Orange County Trail Runners, we invite people out to a run with us. If they like it, we have them send in a $37 check and upon receipt we give them access to the private club Web site.
You WILL be appreciated for starting a running club. There are many runners who would prefer companionship on their runs but don’t know where to look or don’t know how to start their own club. So what are you waiting for? Grab a couple friends and start your running club this week!!!