New Runner Series: How to Join a Run Group When You’re A Solo Runner

Running Group

I have an embarrassing confession: I’m afraid of running groups. I find them intimidating and in my mind, I’ve always felt that I’d be too slow, too casual, too awkward or too “something” to join one.

Like many of you, I prefer to run by myself because it is easier to schedule a run at any time of day. I like the autonomy and efficiency of not having to plan a time to meet up or drive to a start location in what feels like an already crammed schedule.  Like many of you, running is my “me” time to disconnect and focus on clearing my head and decompressing. Running solo allows me to concentrate on my own breathing, pace, and distance with no pressure to keep up or anxiety of “coming in last”. 

However, I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out though. If I see so many people running in groups, they can’t be as scary as my mind has made them out to be right? 

How do you start if you’ve always wanted to try one but have felt too slow, too shy, too self-conscious or too busy to join? Over the past month, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and answer those questions. Here are some tips for those looking to make a plunge into running with a group. 

Tip #1: Try out different running groups

Looking for a running group is like purchasing a pair of running shoes–each run group will offer something different and feel different for each person who tries it.  Just like a running shoe, a run group may serve its purpose but not feel like the right fit or comfort level for you. For example, if you are a casual beginner runner joining an elite run group, you may feel a bit out of place. Consider each group’s schedule, vibe, and purpose when picking one that suits you.

In testing out running groups, what was important to me was finding a conveniently located group. As such, I tried a local fitness group, TPCFindYourFit, led by a local church (which I’m not a member of) which offered both an in-person and virtual option to help keep me accountable. I also tested out We Run North York, a group that offers speedwork/hill sessions once a week on Wednesdays and a Saturday morning long run led by crew members at various distances, routes, and paces. What I liked about these groups was that they posted the routes beforehand and the leads stuck around at a designated point at the end until all members were back at the finish. An added bonus: they started from an area that has free and ample parking.

Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to ask questions

It can seem daunting at first but it’s important to know whether a run group will be a good fit for you just as you’ll be for it to create a lasting relationship. 

Before you join a run group, hit them up through social media, Strava, email/website or an existing group member. Ask questions that are important to you and your running identity as running groups are mini-communities and reflections of the larger community. For example, 

  • Are there active meet-ups currently (some run clubs may still be on hold or have adjusted times due to the pandemic)?
  • Is there a membership fee or commitment to joining the group (not all run groups are free, some request volunteering)?
  • What kinds of runs are offered during the week and when are they offered?
  • Where do runs usually occur?
  • Is there a minimum pace? How do you adapt for people who are faster or slower?
  • What do you do to keep the group feeling safe? inclusive? diverse?
  • What other events do you hold besides run meet ups (socials, charity events, etc)?

Don’t be shy, the more questions you ask, the more certain you’ll feel about joining.  In my search for running groups, I messaged numerous running groups via social media and email to ask about their runs. All the runs groups I messaged responded within about 1-2 days and from there I could sort out what run groups would work best for me.

Tip #3: Be prepared 

It’s hard to predict what experiences good or bad you’ll have in joining a running group. If keeping up is a worry for you, you might want to think about a plan B to keep you in the right headspace. You can still enjoy the social aspect of the run before and after. Or you can bail (just let someone know so they’re not waiting around for you).

To test my comfort zone,  I decided to hit up a run crew I knew nothing about, Night Terrors Run Crew which meets at the Stackt Market near  Bathurst and Front St. I joined on a Thursday which was their social night with intentions of joining both the run and social afterwards (they have track nights and long runs during the week as well). The leader and crew itself were friendly and welcoming with other new individuals coming out on the same day I did. There were various distances and modifications to the route. While my intentions were good, nothing went as planned (to no fault of the group) and so I was happy I was prepared with a friend by my side and a pair of headphones to finish the route. 

Similarly, I joined Chix Run The Six for a run out of the Riverdale neighbourhood. The leader ensured that the group stopped periodically so that people had the chance to catch up and I was grateful to have found someone who also ran my pace.  The day I joined, the weather was cold and miserable and while it had not started raining when I left my house, I was grateful that I had brought a spare rain jacket and hat in my car to weather the downpour and wind. 

Photo Credit: Nicole D

Tip #4: You are a runner no matter what your pace is

Some people are often hesitant to join a run group because they are worried they won’t be able to keep up. YOU ARE A RUNNER. Be confident in your experience and your ability no matter your experience, your pace, or your distance. You may not be the fastest when you join but certainly there are many different aspects you can enjoy. 

With Bad Ass Lady Gang Toronto, I found a group that embraced the belief that everyone was a runner and where the focus was inclusivity regardless of ability. On the day I joined, there was a route that was looped so that everyone could run at their own pace and meet up after each loop. After each loop there was an intentional question to reflect on and I found the leader of the group making sure that no one was left behind without a running buddy so that everyone felt like a runner no matter where they were in their running journey. 

With Black Runners of the GTA, I found not so much a structured running group but a diverse group of like minded and inclusive runners who were open to creating impromptu running dates. The run itself was casually scheduled and ended like many of the other groups I tested with a nice social meal after the run. 

Tip #5: Try a Run Group Or Don’t

Group runs are not for everyone — you may find you like to join them periodically or not at all. You might find that some are for you while others aren’t quite your cup of tea. I do recommend everyone give it a try. It is what you make of it. Go in with an open mind and intent.

(Admittedly it can also be awkward joining a bunch of strangers and striking up a conversation before, during, and even after a run. Just remember, if you’re having trouble starting a conversation, if there’s one thing that runner’s like to talk about it’s running.) 

While I may be a solo runner, many runners in our recent ROT6 poll voiced the benefits of group running. They enjoyed group runs as a way to stay accountable to their training; it helped them run a little faster or work a little harder than if they were left on their own. To others, it was a way to slow down, to chat with someone and to compare training notes and catch up. Running with a group provided energy and helped pass the time during a long run and also helped people switch up their workouts too.

So if you’re new and interested in joining a group, my last words of advice are some from a Billy Idol song: “you have nothing to lose and nothing to prove” and if you need to, you can still be “dancing running with yourself”. 

If you’re interested in joining a run group (that I haven’t talked about above), you can check out our run crew page or some of the crews that the ROT6 community runs with:

  1. Parkdale Roadrunners
  2. High Park Rogue Runners
  3. BlackToe Run Club
  4. Etobicoke Valley Running Club
  5. Stridewise
  6. Running Room
  7. Culture Athletics/The Runway
  8. Unleashed Running
  9. We Run Club (WERC) (Hamilton)
  10. Steel Town Athletic Club -Every Body Crew (Hamilton)
  11. Burly Trail Runners
  12. Beaches Runners Club
  13. Runtobeer
  14. Midnight Runners

Lead Photo by: Nicole D