Finding and Building Community

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(from Andi)

Who is part of the running community? Sure, it’s the runners themselves, but it’s also

every parent cheering a child,
every spouse pushing a stroller on the sidelines,
every kid banging a cow bell,
every friend waking up early to watch a buddy suffer (even if they can’t understand why),
every announcer hyping a crowd,
every physical therapist, volunteer, officer and deputy, coach, neighbor, and media team… 

And more.

So many more.

Clearly, the running community isn’t just runners. And the amazing thing is how much support, encouragement, and inspiration can be found in such a community!

How do you feel the support of the running community? 

First you pay attention. Who’s there? Maybe they’re there for you, maybe they’re not. But either way the energy is real!

As you’ve probably felt, the mind of a runner can be very focused on race day. Sadly, it’s easy to miss out on the community energy of an event. Sometimes when I raced in high school and college, I was so full of anxiety that I missed my grandparents who had come to support me. Or so full of my own goals and efforts that I missed the successes of those around me.

More recently, I try to engage. Take a breath and wave. Allow myself to feel the support. I realize every runner’s pre-race ritual is different, but even those runners who are highly focused and “in the zone” should consider the possible benefit of connecting in a small way on race day, of entering into this amazing community.

Ways to connect to the running community on race day:

  1. Invite. Let someone important to you know your goals and hopes for a race.
  2. Greet. Say hello or good luck to a competitor. You don’t need to swap life stories, but a connection before an event can bring a positive perspective to your experience.
  3. Thank. Expressing gratitude to volunteers and spectators honors their efforts.
  4. Acknowledge. During the run, you may not have enough energy to wave or thank someone who cheers for you, but acknowledgement through even a smile or a look will energize you both.
  5. Congratulate. Praise other runners at the finish. Sportsmanship builds great community.

Ways to connect to the running community when you’re not racing:

  1. Spectate. Be someone’s cheer squad. If you need convincing, read Why Spectate a Road Race?
  2. Volunteer. Be someone’s hero. The banana or water cup you’re handing out might not seem like a big deal, but it is!
  3. Encourage. If you can’t be there, text, call, track the race, or comment on social media. In all these ways you are part of your friend/relative’s community.
  4. Take pictures. Let’s be honest, everyone loves a good picture of themselves.
  5. Congratulate. As humans, we all like to have our efforts recognized. A “Good work!” and “Congrats!” elevate a runner’s community experience.

The Running Community in Action

To illustrate this concept, we engaged with the running community near our home town at the Reeds Lake Run in East Grand Rapids. There were many wonderful connections between the racers and the community surrounding them that we have compiled in the video below. We hope these quick glimpses of the running community in action will inspire you (they certainly inspired us)!

Why is it important?

One more thought (from Zach):

In most cases and for many people, the idea of community is somewhat incidental (my team in high school or college, the random people around me at a local race, the passers-by who happen to stop and clap for a few minutes, and of course, my family members and friends who do what they do because they love me, regardless of whether they care about the things I’m doing).

But I want to make the argument that to truly thrive (insert general life lesson), we all need community. 

My most compelling reason is from my own experience: I am better in all things when surrounded by people who can speak life into those things. Speaking in our current context, every aspect of my running experience is improved by community. I know this because I have lived in greater and lesser states of a running community and felt the difference. As many of you will agree.

And why does community provide that difference? Two simple reasons… 

Give and Take

Community feeds me. It solidifies my foundation and fuels my growth. It stretches and challenges me in countless ways while encouraging and supporting me in my pursuits.

And community gives me an opportunity to feed others. This is a too often overlooked essential in life to finding fulfillment. I do not suggest that this is singularly the path to fulfillment, but I do propose that no fulfilled person is such without the sense of contributing to the good of others. Community gives me that chance, for in the same manner that others grow me, I grow others.

To feed and be fed.

Family with DJ at Bayshore

Therefore, the most important point we make on this topic is to encourage every runner to seek out and intentionally engage with community. You will see this message threaded throughout the majority of our content in some capacity. That’s because we have realized the benefits for ourselves and have observed them equally in countless others. 

But not everyone. So we hope, in some small way, we can help remedy that.

As you might have guessed, making connections and building community is the goal of AtoZrunning. Stick with us to see where we can take this–for your own sake, if you find any value in our work, and for our and others’ sakes as you find opportunity to contribute yourself! Subscribe to stay in the loop and check us out on social media (below) or Strava (Zach) to get gritty with the day-to-day.

4 replies
    • Zach Ripley
      Zach Ripley says:

      Thanks! Yeah, that was a great pic (and I confess – sorry Elisa – that I did not recognize her when I watched the video).

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