In the warm light of late morning, it’s easy to come up with good reasons to wake up before 5 a.m. to run: I love watching the sunrise; I get more time to spend with my infant son; I feel refreshed. I could keep going, long enough—I bet—to convince you that early-morning runs are wonderful, life-affirming things.
Here’s the truth, though: My brain forgets all those reasons when the piercing alarm goes off. Even though I’ve had this habit for years, in those bleary moments under the blanket, my mind thinks of way more reasons why staying in bed and skipping the run is a better idea. I’ve found there’s only one motivator powerful enough to overcome those excuses: the group of runners who I know are crawling out of bed at that exact same moment, and who will be waiting for me in the darkness. Community, for many of us runners, is essential.
For years, I relied on a group that—rain, shine, heat, or mist—showed up at the exact same spot at 5:30 a.m. We needed each other, not just as pacing partners or for friendly chatter; we’d convinced ourselves that training together, at this brutally early time, was worth more than an extra hour of shut-eye. Skipping felt like failing the group. There was power in our shared commitment.
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This became most salient for me in 2019 when my wife and I moved to a new neighborhood in southern Austin, Texas. My usual running group was now located too far away. I could have tried going at it alone—waking up early, finding new routes in the dark. But I missed the camaraderie, and I especially missed the accountability. The problem? My new neighborhood didn’t have a group to join. So I decided to start one myself.
Knowing how meaningful my old run club had been to me, I was sure it was going to be a hit. The first meetup of the St. Elmo Runners, however, had just two participants: my wife and me. Still, we were undeterred. We knew that in order to grow, we needed to be as welcoming as possible. So week after week, we told neighbors they didn’t need to consider themselves “a runner” to show up. I started each Wednesday 6 a.m. session with the same line: “We don’t talk paces or the usual running jargon. We’re just happy you joined us for a few miles.”
The group grew. Dozens of runners joined—from Ironman finishers to those who could barely run 100 meters without stopping. I could feel the power of community building. I had my reason to get out of bed again.
It’s been about two years since I started St. Elmo Runners, and pre-pandemic we’d grown to 30 members. We’re on the cusp of what I hope is a group-running renaissance. So I urge you to find a community of runners that will get you out of bed and out the front door, too.
If you don’t have a community nearby, let me be part of your group. As the newest Runner’s World+ coach, I want to help you find the motivation that keeps you consistent. I’m here (on Instagram at @runnersworldcoach or on the Runner’s World+ community page) to answer your questions and keep you on track.
Or start your own group. Finding like-minded neighbors who want to log some early-morning miles with friends is a lot easier than you think.
My best tip: Just keep it simple. Bringing people together and acting as a leader doesn’t have to be complicated. Many people are simply looking for an outlet and some accountability. “If you build it, they will come” is a quote I repeated to myself a lot in the early weeks. I focused on keeping it simple, straightforward, and void of intimidation. Here are some simple steps from three other running club founders that you can take to get going.
→ Be persistent
“Don’t get discouraged if not a lot of people show up at first,” says Marnie Kunz, founder of Runstreet, an NYC-based company that leads art runs—urban runs that pass by street art in cities across the U.S. When Kunz held her first art run in 2015, just one person came: a man on a bike. Kunz was disappointed, embarrassed, and considered canceling the whole thing. But the next week, a few more people showed up, and then a few more. Soon, word got out. Runstreet has since hosted hundreds of runs in cities all around the country. “Realizing that everyone starts from scratch really helps,” Kunz says.
→ Poll your members
Jessamy Little, who founded the Cass Runners Club, a 100-plus-person running group in London composed of her classmates while she was in business school, suggests asking potential members what days, times, and locations work best with their schedules. Some groups may favor an early-morning sweat sesh, while others may prefer meeting after work. “A recommendation for a newer club is to have two set running days,” Little says. “One during the week that is more focused on ‘getting it done’ and one on weekends that can have a more ‘fun and footloose’ vibe.” For Little’s group, the weekend runs were geared toward exploring new areas of the city.
→ Build an online presence
Kunz stresses the importance of having your own website that houses all information about your runs, along with photos. “Social media platforms can change—and not everyone is on every platform—so it helps to have everything in one place.” Keep your communication consistent across platforms to help create a streamlined brand.
→ Set expectations
Let people know what they are getting themselves into, says Scott Miller, founder of the Boulder Trail Running Breakfast Club. His Colorado-based group of 2,000-plus members meets every Saturday for a long trail run (anywhere from two to six hours) followed by a group breakfast. Because the group’s runs cover a wide range of terrain, he wrote several articles explaining the general types of conditions runners can expect and the group’s approximate pace, along with safety tips.
When a new person signs up, Miller sends them the reading material. “If your group is not a beginner group, you need to make that clear,” Miller says. “You don’t want people to show up and have a bad time. I try to be really descriptive about the time, distance, and elevation of our runs so people know what they are in for.”
→ Post photos frequently
Members of Miller’s group take photos and post them to the group’s page. Other clubs also leverage social media. Miller says it helps draw new members. “When people are looking for a running group and they see pictures of runs in amazing areas, people smiling—both men and women—they see that it’s a mixed group that likes to be social and have fun.”
—Additional Reporting By Jenny McCoy