Run With It: Creating Connection, Creating Community

Runners Posing by Lake
Introducing Alejandro De La Cruz (he/him) @brownbeardrunning Today, he writes about his experience and motivation to create community through running. Alejandro became a member of the GTA running community when he moved from the USA during the pandemic. Alejandro has a love of running, fashion, and is part of the Brooks Run Happy Team. He strives to make running and movement more inclusive and accessible for all faces, paces, and bodies.

By: Alejandro De La Cruz

For most of my life, I didn’t consider myself a runner. Which is fair, because I didn’t run.

I tried many times, often failing, and giving up.  Running felt hard. I was uncomfortable. I did not know what I was doing and I had some idea it was supposed to be easier. I’m sure I always started running too fast in my haste, impatience and lack of knowledge.

Until a good friend, Jeremy, who happened to be a colleague and a mentor, brought me out on the trails in San Jose, California, for some Sunday trail running.

It was beautiful, sunny, warm, lots of animals, running water, and nature everywhere. And we just ran, easy, chatting about life, stress, and all the things! Within a few weeks we were running every other Sunday, often up to an hour or more!  Running was amazing!  All of the effort, discomfort, and lack of clarity I had running previously slowly started to fade away. This felt much more eased. Enjoyable. I think I was in love! 

Fast forward to March 18th, 2020 and I found myself making the stressful choice to pack a piece of luggage and rush to Canada to be with my family, before the borders closed. I barely made it!

In a new place, under an emergency order lockdown, I found myself lost. Desperate for running, and desperate for community, I did not know what to do or where to begin! 

After a month and a half of lingering without a plan, I grabbed my sneakers, my shorts, and a t- shirt and just started running.  I don’t know what motivated me to get moving again. Impatience, stress, the uncertainty of the moment? I started running once or twice a week. Then I was running 4 days a week, and finally five or six days a week! I ran all along the waterfront, guided by the shore line, running from Whitby, into Ajax, Oshawa, and as far as Pickering. Still, I missed the connection with others I found initially in running!  I was running alone. 

I wanted to continue to run and build some new connections in my new home!  So I decided to try and organize a group to start running.  I’m sure it would have been possible to join other running groups, and I would make time to do that.  I felt called to try and create something.  I knew it would be challenging, and after committing to training for a marathon on my own, I was clear that once I set my mind to creating a running group, I was going to do it! 

I used social media as a starting place to make new connections, since (still being in lockdown) I did not have a lot of options!  I created an Instagram account and between my new IG account and some old connections on Facebook, I started to meet (virtually) runners, community members, and athletes from across Canada! I learned about the Steel Town Athletic Club in Hamilton (a trail running community), and connected with Vincent Kuber, their founder, and received some guidance and mentorship about how I might create a running group in the East End!  He was amazing, positive, and really detail oriented and provided lots of support!

I met Melanie Murzeau, creator of the Black Runners of the GTA, someone who is now a dear friend, and she provided some additional support and brainstorming in those early days, back in the summer of 2021! She was one of the first people to come out and both support and run with the new found group I helped to create and lead, @running__waters

Photo Credit: Alejandro De La Cruz

As I was craving some community, and running, I also met Trynée Hancock, founder of Port Perry Run Club, and Amy Kettrick, founder of Whitby Running Group.

They provided additional direction, input, support and advice as I set out to try and build a small running group, meeting by the same waterfront I had spent the last 6 months running almost daily!  They also opened up their group to welcome me as I became a mainstay running member in their groups through the fall!

When things started to reopen in the summer of 2021, I launched our group, meeting first on Thursdays for an easy and welcoming 5k!  I wanted to provide a group that was accessible for both inexperienced new runners, as well as runners who have run thousands of times! 

I think the reward is often the community first, for me! Running is just the icing on the cake! 

We met weekly on Thursdays (eventually moved to Wednesdays), a handful of local people, coming from Whitby, Oshawa, Ajax, Pickering, Port Perry, and Scarborough!  Eventually I added some longer run options for folks who might want to run more than just 5k!

Looking back on it, I did a lot of leg work to try and get a sense of the people organizing running in the neighborhood, partly out of obligation, and respect, and also from general curiosity as a teacher and a learner.  I learn best through trial and error and so after discussion and crystalizing what I was hoping to cultivate in my own running practice and in helping to organize a running group, @running__waters was finally born.

Out of an added abundance of caution, I have made the decision to close the weekly runs a handful of times with new lockdowns and restrictions. When I can, I have continued to run with some of the other run groups I have mentioned.  Joining Brooks Canada this year and Endurance Tap has certainly provided me with additional opportunities to connect with runners and the run community and to continue to learn new ways to invite people in who might not consider themselves runners yet, or like they haven’t run in a while! I want to continue to find creative ways to be inviting and create a community of runners who run for fun and connection primarily.

We will be starting up again this month, on Mondays and hope to welcome new and old faces!  Running waters is about welcoming people of all faces and paces. I hope that we continue to deliver on being a welcoming space for experienced runners, as well as folks who are still uncomfortable showing up to outdoor spaces that they may have historically been excluded from! Running in community is such an important and beautiful gift and if I can support just one new person to connect with the activity and community I feel satisfied!

I have learned a ton in the last 2 years and I’m committed to continue to create a running space for the community to show up and run.  I am clear that if my goal is numbers, or paces, I will have lost the spirit that initially led me to create a welcoming and inclusive space! The focus will always be on community first! If I can continue to find and create opportunities for new runners to come out and join us, I will, and if I can find ways to encourage experienced runners to come back, that would be ideal!  I would love to continue to grow and look forward to building some additional co leadership in our runs, and in the future it would be amazing to offer a variety of runs for folks with different interest levels and skills! See you all out there soon!

Editor’s Note:@running__waters has started to resume runs. Please check out their instagram for the most up to date information. Lead Photo by: Alejandro De La Cruz