On a Thursday night in early September, the Upper West Side Run Club met on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. It was 6:30 in the evening, and the temperature was hovering in the low 90s. But despite the scorching heat, more than 25 people, ranging from teenagers to late 60s, showed up to run a four-mile loop around Central Park.
They often stop at water fountains. They also played a game called “Liars” to take their mind off the harsh conditions.
Usually the group goes somewhere after venturing out with coffee or beer. It was the women’s semifinals of the US Open, so about three-fourths of them went to the Gin Mill, a gastro pub on Amsterdam Avenue, to cheer on American players Coco Gauff and Madison Keys. Still wearing running clothes, the crew, high on endorphins, drank beer and ate burgers, some staying until the matches ended after midnight.
“Every running club is different, but ours is very social,” says Maddy Nguyen, 25, a tech recruiter who started the club in February. “It was very comfortable and very easy to come with us.”
Running clubs — where people meet to run and often do something social afterward — have exploded in New York City, offering runners of all boroughs, skill sets and goals. opportunity to be part of a community.
Those who participate find not only health benefits — it’s easier to stick to a running regimen when you have people holding you accountable and helping the miles go by faster — but social ones. They meet best friends, neighbors, activity partners, even future spouses through clubs.
“I think it’s the combination of two things,” said Kristopher Imperati, 36, who works at a luxury hotel and lives in West Harlem. He head Front Runners in New Yorka running club for LGBTQ people and their allies, which currently has nearly 1,200 members.
“I think a lot of people ran during the pandemic because it’s one of the few things you can get up and do,” he added. “But the pandemic has also spurred the desire to be part of groups, to do social things.”
In fact, according to a Nielsen Sports reports released in the spring of 2021, 13 percent of all surveyed runners started during the pandemic. Twenty-two percent of respondents who were running before the pandemic said they started running more when it started.
As they experience growth spurts, New York running clubs struggle with how to keep their communities intact and deal with breakoff groups. Some clubs chose to organize with an elected board, sponsors and membership fees, while others criticized those moves as alienating or selling out.
Then there are the turf wars and rivalries that naturally arise with so many runners trying to operate in the same parks and spaces – sometimes annoying, as when other run clubs take a full course – and sometimes is polite.
“There’s this kind of unspoken code in run clubs,” says Ryo Yamamoto, 47, a creative director and a co-founder of Old Man Run Club, which converges on the Lower East Side. “It is understood Brooklyn Track Club Tuesday workouts are tracked, so we don’t take that space because that’s their thing.”
Turf issues have extended beyond social media’s most important handles. Ms. started Nguyen joined the Upper West Side Run Club in February because she was looking for people to train with for a marathon. “I made an Instagram page and posted a bunch on the Upper West Side Facebook group,” he said.
That exact same week, coincidentally, Oliver Barrett, 33, a classical musician who also lives on the Upper West Side, was trying to start a club for exactly the same reasons. “I was actually going to call mine the Upper West Side Run Club, and I saw it was available on Instagram, but I thought about it for a long time and when I went back to get it a week later, it was taken,” she said. he said with a laugh. He named his club that Runners on the Upper West Side instead.
‘You See People at Their Lowest’
Felipe Toribio, 35, who works in accounting and lives in Brooklyn, met his wife, Ting Li, 31, through a club named NYC Bridgerunners which runs every Wednesday night out of the Lower East Side.
“We met there once, and then he messaged me via Instagram a few days later and asked if I wanted to run with him,” she said, explaining that they were both training for the New York City Marathon. “Then we’ll meet at least once a week at the club. I really tried to impress him.”
“It’s very easy to get to know someone through running because it’s easy to get emotional,” he added.
For Sarah Sibert, 24, a film writer who moved from Indiana to Manhattan three years ago, in the first months of the pandemic, her run club, the Dashing Whippets Running Teamwhich has chapters in Manhattan and Brooklyn, his main community.
“I literally had no one in New York City — my roommate was even someone I found online,” Ms. Sibert, who ran in college. “Now everything I experience in New York City is with someone from the Whippets. We go to Broadway, we go to birthday parties, we go to bars.”
She says running is particularly helpful in bonding. “You see each other without makeup; you see each other tired,” he said. “Running is a mentally challenging sport, so you see people at their lowest. I think it creates this sense of security more than you have with other friends. It’s like family.”
Too Big to Bond?
In May, Will Truettner, 32, a creative producer who lives in the West Village, started the Village Run Club because he wants a sober activity. “In New York City, it can feel like the only way to socialize is to drink or go to a restaurant,” he says.
He came up with the tagline “New York’s Slowest Run Club.” “I want to feel like the average person can come and meet new people and have fun,” he said. The club runs three miles on the West Side Highway and is slow going.
The run club now has eight to 10 people coming out each week, which, for Mr. Truettner, seems like the perfect fit. “When we have seven or eight people running, everyone has a group chat,” he said. “But when it gets above 15, everyone starts separating into groups, and it becomes harder to recognize people,” he said.
In fact, other run clubs are seeing the effects of going too big.
Mr. Yamamoto, from the Old Man Run Club, used to pride himself on creating such a close-knit community. “We had a member who was going through health issues, and the whole running community rallied behind him,” he said. “They did a GoFundMe.”
Now that the club attracts more than a hundred people for each run, he notices smaller groups break off after the run to do their own activities. “I don’t want to say cliques, but there are cliques,” he said. “There are six people who always come to do something afterwards, and it kind of bothers me, because I like the idea of family.”
To Charge, or Not to Charge
“It’s an operation, for sure,” said Mr. Imperati, the president of Front Runners. The club has an elected board of directors and several committees (among them, social and instructional), and members pay $30 in annual dues. Dashing Whippets also charges $30 a year.
Mr. felt strongly. Yamamoto of the Old Man Run Club that runners in his club do not have to pay to participate. “It’s a free club, a come-as-you-are thing,” he said. The club, however, is supported by Nike and Oakley, so members get glasses and merchandise year-round, even though no one is required to wear them.
When Stephen McGowan, 37, who works in graduate admissions at Fordham University, started to BX Pints and Pavement running club in the Bronx in 2019, he swore off dues. “The membership fee makes you show up with an open mind,” he said.
“I think it’s really important in the Bronx that there’s no barrier to entry,” he added. “If you have a fee, even a small one, you prevent someone from participating, and then there’s no point.”
‘I Just Found My People’
While some clubs try to make a name for themselves by offering free merchandise, social benefits or “owning” a day of the week, others are content to just be one of the many clubs. in the city.
“I think, for me personally, a rising tide lifts all ships,” Mr. Imperati said. “If more people run, whether they’re with our club or another club or not, it creates more resources for others. There are more stores that cater to runners. Some of the clubs put on races.”
“I know people who are like ‘Upper West Side or die, I’m never going to another run club,’ but also people who attend more than one club because it’s a great way to meet new people. man,” Ms. Nguyen of Sabi of the Upper West Side Run Club.
But some people just find the right fit. “The first one you try is usually with you,” he says.
That’s what happened to Shahin Behnamian, 34, who works in cybersecurity, when he joined the Village Run Club. He was looking at other clubs, he said, but “I started with this one, and it’s been a great one. I just found my people.”