Key questions to ask so you can join a running group that fits your needs.
Nicole asks: I am thinking about joining a running group, but I am very new to running. What do I need to know? What kinds of questions should I ask? Most importantly, how do I find the right group for me?
As a program director for a large running club, I am always trying to find a good balance between keeping regular group runners challenged and engaged, as well as being open and welcoming to new runners.
Running with a group can be a very effective training tool and works well for many runners. Groups help maintain interest by making running a social experience. That can be the difference that keeps someone running. You are much more likely to get out and do your run, regardless of the weather or time of day when you are meeting others. Finding a group that fits your needs will be the challenge.
First, search for what options you have available in your area. Some cities may have several running clubs or groups to choose from, while others might have just one. In addition, check with your local running store about running clubs or groups in your area. They usually know what’s going on and may even sponsor a club or offer their own group.
Also, it’s important to think about what you might want from a running group. Running clubs range from meet ups to social clubs to those offering coaching. Figure out which type of group might work best for you.
When you find a potential group, feel free to reach out to them or ask questions before a run begins. These are my top pick for questions to ask:
1. What type of runners does the club have?
Specifically, you want to know if there are other runners matching your pace and distance. Be prepared to give the contact person your run pace in minutes per kilometre, your average weekly mileage, your most recent long run, recent race times, or if you are targeting a goal race or distance. Be honest about your current pace and distance! Stating a faster run time or boosting your mileage may get you placed with the wrong group, which would make for a miserable experience.
2. What days and how many times a week do they meet?
Groups usually meet one to three times a week. Is attendance optional or required to stay on as a regular member of this group? (And do these days of the week work for you?) There’s nothing more stressful to your running routine than regularly missing scheduled runs, so make sure the group schedule meets your needs as well.
3. What is the location of the group runs/what time do they meet?
Make sure you know exactly where this location is, especially if you are trying to find it in the dark – like in the early morning or after work. Also, does the group meet at any different times throughout the day, giving you some options? No matter when a group meets, try to arrive early for the run. You do not want to miss the start (this is my personal pet peeve!), so give yourself plenty of time.
4. Are you able to join them for a trial run?
More structured training programs have official start and end dates because they are targeting certain races, so joining that type of program may depend upon your current mileage, especially if you have missed the start date. Clubs that are more social in nature are likely to have a rolling enrollment, meaning you can join them at any time.
5. Are headphones allowed?
Many groups won’t care if you’re pumping your favourite playlist while on the run. Just be aware that you should pay attention to the route you’re on and follow all traffic rules. I recommend, though, that when meeting a new running group you take the headphones out so you can get to know the people running with you. Meeting like-minded people can make running very fun. There may be that ‘new kid at school’ feeling at first, but that goes away the more you meet up with the group.
Other questions you may want to ask:
- Are bathrooms available? (Before, during and after the run.)
- Is there water on the route, or does everyone carry their own?
- How far will you be running that day?
- Is parking available, and is there a safe place to leave valuables like keys or your workout bag?
- Are directions or maps given out for the run routes?
Groups taking on new members should be very open and welcoming, but don’t get discouraged if you feel a bit left out of the conversation at first. Yes, some established groups – both large and small – can become a bit cliquish.
When I am starting a new training session, I remind my alumni runners to be sure and greet all new runners. I ask them to recall how they felt on their first day and to learn at least one new runner’s name before the run is over.
Before long, you will be part of the group, but remember this experience so you can be the one to reach out and welcome new members when that time comes for you.