Every Thursday morning 15 to 20 runners converge upon a lake in the foothills between Oakland and Berkeley, California. Most weeks the coastal fog is drawn over the hills, smudging the dawn light into grey and blue pastels. In the winter, the sun rises late and the runners arrive to the lakeshore in darkness, their headlamps congregating in a constellation of LED lights. But no matter the weather, the group is always there for a run.

This is the Breakfast Club, a weekly group run that meets every Thursday for 7-8 miles of casual, early-morning running beneath the slopes of the East Bay hills. There are no entry fees or membership dues. People are free to join for the whole thing, cut the run short, or tag on additional miles. There are no paid organizers or advertising. And while the pace is on the quicker side, folks of all backgrounds, genders, and ambitions are welcome to join.

I’ve helped organize the Breakfast Club—playfully named after the John Hughes movie—since the autumn of 2014 and it has grown to become an integral part of my running life. The number of people involved in this running crew has slowly increased over the years, intertwining with other running clubs and local running stores. It has become part of the community.

A typical Breakfast Club run around Lake Temescal. Photo: John Zulim

As we approach the three-year mark of the group run, I wanted to share a few lessons I’ve learned on how to start, manage, and grow your own running crew. These include general guidelines and a few specific tips. So, without further ado, here are five principles for starting a running group and strengthening your local running community.

1) Find Your People

To start a running group, you need a core of fellow builders—reliable folks who are interested in joining you for runs and workouts. These allies need to have similar running abilities with comparable goals in terms of fitness and/or racing. This first step requires a bit of initiative. Ask your regular training buddies if they are interested in running more consistently together. Compare your work and family schedules to find times for running that work for all of you. Then commit to showing up come rain or shine.

Question: But what if I’m new in town and don’t know anyone?

Visit your local running store to learn about local group runs. Attend these and strike up some conversations before, during, and after the run. Alternatively, sign up for a local race. After you finish (and catch your breath), introduce yourself to the people who crossed the line around you. Runners are at their friendliest during the buzz of post-race endorphins. So ask them if they want to join for a couple miles of easy cool-down jogging. These are great ways to meet local runners. Finally, join Strava. The athlete-networking site features many regionally-specific “clubs,” like this group for the Oakland area, where you can find local runners and events.

Once you find a group of committed runners, the enthusiasm will become contagious. Photo: Doug Rhodes

2) Start a Weekly Run

Once you have found a core set of 2-4 runner friends, create a structural framework to build your crew. A great way to do this is by creating a weekly run that meets at the same time and place. I’ve found consistency to be the key with the Breakfast Club. We meet at the same hour and location. We run routes that maintain a similar distance and hilliness from week to week. This provides stability for everyone’s training schedule, and it helps new crewmates know what to expect.

Set ground rules for the weekly run. There’s no need to be overly formal, but state explicitly the run’s expected distance, pace, and route. The easiest way to derail a group run is if someone throws down unexpected mid-run surges or asks for numerous breaks that others don’t want. So make the run’s purpose clear to everyone. Are you out for casual and social miles? Or do you envision a hard workout or steep hill climb? Will you wait for slower crewmates or are you willing to separate if speeds differ?   

Question: When Should I Host My Run?

Weekend mornings generally work for group runs. However if you live in an outdoorsy area, other events and races will pull your crewmates in different directions. So pick a time that works best for your particular crew. College-age crews might have flexible afternoons. But an evening run might work better for crews of full-time workers. Given the packed running-event schedule in the Bay Area, my group settled on a Thursday morning pre-work run. People love it. We gather together for an hour-long loop before heading out to start the workday.

READ MORE: The Rise of Run Crews

3) Communicate Consistently

A couple weeks into the Breakfast Club I began a weekly email, reminding folks about our upcoming runs. This has evolved into a newsletter that drops into inboxes two nights before the morning run. The message reiterates all the relevant event details, including our expected pace and Strava data from previous efforts. This has proven to be a great resource as we can easily forward on this information to potential new crewmates. Email browsers work well enough, but Mailchimp and Benchmark offer free newsletter services that allow folks to subscribe to an e-newsletter. Alternatively, you can create a Facebook group, like this one for the Beer Bucket Runners, which allows organizers to post and control access to event details.

Keep things fresh by welcoming new runners, focusing on fun and throwing in a few surprises. Photo: That’s Fine Track Club

4) Build Excitement

The easiest way to encourage your crew is to be positive. Welcome new attendees and make an effort to chat with them during the run so they feel included. In my pre-run newsletter, I also include a few funny GIFs, images, and running journalism to motivate folks to wake up early for the morning run. After the run, extend the excitement to social media by sharing images on Facebook and Instagram. Encourage folks with GPS watches to upload their data onto Strava, which will build your crew’s visibility. Don’t forget that FOMO (fear of missing out) is highly motivational for crew members.

5) Demonstrate Value

It’s fun and rewarding to note the achievements of others. And you will get more engagement by highlighting the race and running accomplishments of crewmates. Give shout outs in real life and on social media to runners who have finished marathons or accomplished big race goals. This not only builds bonhomie and camaraderie among the group, it also implicitly suggests that being part of your crew promotes individual improvement and personal excellence.

People are craving community these days. So consider giving the people what they want and start a running crew in your hometown!