From improved fitness to fitting into skinny jeans, we all know running is great. But one aspect of the sport you don’t always hear about is the incredible people you meet along the way. From your run club buddies to social media mates, running and lifelong friendships go hand in hand. Thinking of taking up the sport? The friends you meet through running might just enrich your life in ways you never imagined.
Run club companions
Anxious about joining your local run club? You needn’t worry. Affiliated running clubs may focus on athletics, but friendship and supporting your fellow runners are at the core. Head over to Run England to find clubs in your area.
‘Running clubs are definitely the best way to get to know like-minded people,’ says Emmie Collinge, a Translator based in Northern Italy. ‘Once you've done a few sessions with a group and even travelled to a race with them then you've probably secured friends for life.’
‘Embrace it and join a club,’ agrees Sandra Beattie from Edinburgh. ‘If you're nervous then find a running forum (such as The Running Bug!) and dip your toe in that way. You'll be so welcomed and before too long you'll be arranging to meet for runs, races or just socially. My running friend Susan was recently my maid of honour at my wedding to my hubby, who I also met through running!’
Running may be a solo pursuit, but in many ways it’s also one of the most inclusive team sports there is. The true test of a friendship or the birth of a new one can often be found between the start and finish line on race day.
‘I've met a bunch of people through running who I would trust with my life, and on more than one occasion have,’ says Wayne Singleton from Cumbria. ‘I pulled out of the Spine Race with hypothermia, and we were being supported by friends we met through running. I'll never forget sobbing and shivering in the back of their camper van as they drove me home!’
Run group friends
If the concept of joining an athletics club is intimidating, there are plenty of running groups aimed at total beginners that will gladly welcome you in. Running groups are not affiliated, so tend to have a more relaxed atmosphere that lends itself well to making new friends and discovering a mutual love of running.
‘Join a crew or club who are more into the fun than how fast you can run,’ advises Naomi from Manchester. ‘My running friends and I push each other to achieve more and have lots of fun! Running friends form a deep bond. To push yourself you have to dig deep and also be vulnerable, so I think this makes your friendships stronger.’
Sam from Brighton agrees. ‘Join a casual relaxed group first - I've discovered there are actually tons! Athletics clubs can sometimes feel intimidating to newbies, but casual running groups are very relaxed and very mixed ability. If you want to try your hand at regular races, find the local athletics club that is right for you - there's nothing like racing for your team!’
Sam credits both running groups and social media with introducing him to some great friends. ‘Through running, I have met lots of people whose company I really enjoy on and offline!’ Says Sam. ‘Two of my very favourite people are real life running friends, Emily and Kate. We go to races together quite often. And these usually result in post-race drinks and cake - plus race deconstruction. We talk about running 90 per cent of the time and food the other 10 per cent!’
Social media buddies
If you’re keen to take up running, social media is a great place to start. Sign up to Twitter, Facebook or The Running Bug and before long you’ll find like-minded runners of all levels happy to guide you through the process, offer sage running advice, or chat about the weather!
Kate Allen from Suffolk credits social media with transforming her running life. ‘I was nervous about doing my first ultra, I had no support at home and knew no one else doing it,’ she explains. ‘I asked on Twitter if anyone else would be there and my friend Conrad said he would be. It was like a lifeline had been thrown! Just knowing I would have someone to say hello to helped me hugely. Conrad has been a close mate ever since and a huge support.’
‘I honestly don't know how I would have got through the last year without my running friends,’ adds Kate. ‘I think it’s because we share the same passion for running that gives us an underlying empathy and respect for each other. We all have families that don't understand why we do what we do and the support we give each other instead is absolutely amazing. I would honestly drive to the other end of the country to help a fellow runner in need. I feel privileged to have met some people I am proud to say are true friends.’
Laura Steward from Warwick also has social media to thank for her running pals. ‘My friend Sarah and I got chatting on Twitter, then arranged to meet locally for a run back in 2013 when we realised we lived so close to each other,’ she says. ‘Then a couple of years ago, through Twitter, we put together a team for a 24-hour race. Those people are now some of my closest friends, although we live all over the country we still see each other regularly and constantly stay in touch.’
Friends for life
Regardless of how you come to meet your running buddies there’s one thing you can rely on, once you’ve shared the highs and lows of the open road, you’re guaranteed a friend for life.
‘Running friends understand you on a different level,’ says Michelle Burke from Limerick, Ireland. ‘They understand the importance of running in your everyday life and how a lot of the choices you make are focused on some crazy long term goal. They also get the struggle to keep everything ticking over while you try to fit in normal life like kids, cleaning, work and also get your runs and gym sessions in! I will never forget how blessed I am to be surrounded by such selfless people who will put me before themselves to help me reach my goals.’
'Running has a way of stripping you down and making you open up to people,' agrees Fiona from Glasgow. 'On the run you will start talking about your paces and end up talking about your hopes, your fears, your family and friends and sex life and work and everything else under the sun. In the best case scenario, you will form life-enriching friendships. And the worst case scenario? You get a new long run buddy.'
‘Everything about running friendships is special,’ says Helen Wyatt from Warwick. ‘Running has changed my life and made it better in so many ways. You'll run with your friends and you'll see the best of them, but also the worst of them. There are times of indignity (the occasional toilet stop), there are times of pain, there may even be tears, but there are also the things unsaid as you pound the streets, fields or woods that forge a precious bond.’