I recently discussed the benefits of building a running community, because engaging with a host of other runners and athletes seems especially relevant right now. Spurred by recent worldwide events and a growing appreciation for the buoyancy that being surrounded by those of a similar mindset offers, such a community seems as important as ever. Let’s explore some ideas for creating your own community which may be especially helpful for athletes new to trail and ultrarunning or for those who’ve recently relocated to a new area.
Volunteer at an Event
Volunteering at a trail or ultrarunning race provides the opportunity to interact with a host of people who share similar attitudes about the outdoors. Nearly every race depends heavily upon volunteer support, so you will be playing a critical role for competitors and race organizers as you interact with new people. It’s also a terrific way to see firsthand how runners approach aid stations differently. You’ll also have an up-close-and-personal view of a new course or area. If you feel comfortable, offer to pace and/or crew another runner during the event, which is usually an option for races 50 miles or longer. Spending many hours traveling the dirt together is a terrific way to get to know someone. It’s easy to make lifelong friends by offering to pace or crew for a stranger. There are seemingly endless benefits to race volunteering and meeting other trail runners is surely near the top of the list.
Host a Group Run
You’re likely not the only runner seeking trail comrades, so invite others to join you on a local course. You may have a small turnout to begin with, but by keeping to a regular time and place, your group is likely to grow using old-fashioned word of mouth. Share these group runs on social media outlets since, as we all know, social media is an obvious and relatively easy way to meet runners who may be looking to connect with new trail friends.
Speaking of social media platforms, using ‘Strava Flyby’ is another means of meeting other runners. Assuming you’re comfortable turning on your Strava Flyby setting, you can see who you passed during your outings (applicable only when the other user(s) has their setting turned “on”). This is a convenient way to initiate an interaction from the comfort of your home without interrupting either of your runs in the moment.
Join a Local Running Club
This may be an obvious option for making new trail friends, but many areas have long-standing local running clubs so it’s an easy option. Members of such organizations will probably have an intimate knowledge of local trail networks which can be a terrific advantage for someone new to an area or beginning to dabble in ultrarunning. Often a running club will be partnered with a local sporting goods or outdoor-oriented store. The next time you need a new pair of running shoes or gear, inquire if there is a local running club. These clubs often host group runs and offer a variety of ways to become involved. Most running organizations are eager to have new faces join their ranks. As an added bonus to joining a local running organization, you may receive a discount on running gear if they have local partners.
You’re likely passing other trail runners on popular trails quite frequently, so be friendly, nod or wave or even start a brief conversation if the opportunity is there. If you run at approximately the same time most days, there’s a good chance that you’re passing the same people frequently. If you tend to be shy, are immersed in your own workout or don’t want to disrupt someone else’s workout, take the chance to say hi. If you find yourselves on the same trail at the same time of day often enough, you at least have that in common. I’ve met some of my most cherished friends and training partners during a trail run in passing. In hindsight, I can’t imagine how different my personal running community would be had I not slowed for a few minutes to make a new acquaintance. Making friends in this manner also gives each of you a great story to share down the road and it’s obviously a great point of connection to meet during the activity that you both enjoy.
If you’ve explored most of the suggestions above and have come up empty-handed, don’t give up. You may consider participating in non-running outdoor activities or events which may overlap with the trail running community. There is often a large amount of similarity between outdoor communities such as hiking groups, Nordic skiing, mountain biking or even rock climbing. As a bonus, you may have the chance to explore new trail networks by engaging in new avenues of outdoor travel.
Building your personal trail community isn’t necessarily easy, but the benefits of investing in events and other people that share your love of trails and ultrarunning are endless. Undoubtedly, each person will have a personalized approach to creating their group of fellow runners and perhaps not all the suggestions above speak to you. That’s okay. Still, try to forge your path in this venture. As a group, we are well versed in embracing difficulties, but we don’t always have to embark on our trail adventures alone. I venture to say that creating a network of others who share your passion is a worthwhile endeavor that will deepen your appreciation and experiences within sport and running.