People often think of running as a solitary sport; something which TV and film often reinforces when you see people out for a run through a park with their headphones on. It’s not entirely wrong either, and in most cases at least some or all of your runs may be this way, and maybe even on race days. For some being away from people is what makes it appealing to them – they don’t have to worry what other people think, it’s just themselves and they can be themselves.
If you watch Netflix’s House of Cards then this is something you see in the character of Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright). For all the couple’s scheming to get power you can see that when things aren’t going according to their plans the one thing Claire always wants to do is run – and she does this alone (much to the dismay of their security). Yet this is one show where they also show the other side to running – with others, and this is something she does with Frank Underwood on occasion.
Running is my private time, my therapy, my religion.
— Gail W. Kislevitz
Just because you like to run on your own it doesn’t mean though that you have to. All over world there are running clubs which you can join and run with so that at least one day a week you know you’ll be able to train with others. Maybe some weeks their plans don’t suit yours, but the option is there. It’s a group of like-minded individuals who may be there if you need them, and builds a sense of community with other local runners within the club.
Personally, what I imagine (and not from experience), is that it would change how you think about running. I see clubs having friendly competitions with other clubs meaning that you’re no longer just competing against yourself. I have thought about it a few times in the past, but have felt that what I want to do wouldn’t fit in with what club runs they’d do and when they’d do them. In avoiding this, it means the sense of being part of a running community is lost. In doing so it meant a lot of my early races I’d turn up to alone, stand around on my own, take part in the race and then go home. That was it – occasionally I’d be lucky though and I might know the odd person there.
Human beings are born solitary, but everywhere they are in chains – daisy chains – of interactivity. Social actions are makeshift forms, often courageous, sometimes ridiculous, always strange. And in a way, every social action is a negotiation, a compromise between ‘his,’ ‘her’ or ‘their’ wish and yours.
— Andy Warhol
This is where #UKRunChat changes the game. This hashtag is the “calling card” of an online community on Twitter and Facebook which was started by Joe Williams and Jeff Weigh in 2013. What they’ve created is an amazing nationwide community of runners who are mutually supportive of each other, and can provide advice from their own experiences or areas they are qualified in.
So all of a sudden it takes you from being in a small local group of runners, which you can still be part of, to being part of a much larger world of runners. By adding the #ukrunchat hashtag onto a tweet it means that anyone who searches on this hashtag, or follows @UKRunChat if it’s retweeted, will see it. This means you get to share your running stories with like minded people, find out about races, congratulate each other on a race or a new personal best, get input from a much wider number of runners if you need advice, or just generally talk. Even if you run alone this suddenly makes running a very social experience.
Every week there is a #UKRunChat hour on a Wednesday and Sunday from 20:00 until 21:00. At least that’s what the plan is – those in the community are such a talkative bunch that the “after party” often carries on for hours of talking afterwards. The talking isn’t limited to those hours tough – you can be sure that no matter what time of day it is there will nearly always be someone about to tweet. I think a lot of this amazing community spirit is down to the UKRunChat ambassadors who each bring their own unique personalities, experience, and knowledge to encouraging conversation.
There’s even a competitive side to it as well for those that are interested – #TeamRed and #TeamBlue (go blues!) who will regularly compete as a team against the other by recording their runs on Endomondo towards a specific goal (which is often distance based). This creates some fun conversation, but it’s also created something else which I think symbolises the community perfectly – #OneTeam. The #OneTeam colour is purple, obviously the combination of blue and purple, and represents everyone. It doesn’t matter where you are in your running journey, or why you run – we’re all runners together. No matter which team we’ve chosen, we’re still all one team (and it helps it’s a good colour!) who are there for each other.
From regularly talking to other runners on #UKRunChat I’ve made a lot of running friends, some of which I hope see me as a friend as well. It’s not just the online world either – this has led to race starts no longer being a quiet time before a race, but a chance to meet up with those I’ve spoken to on Twitter and to meet new people. It’s meant that a weekend away for a race no longer means sitting around on my own either – it’s another opportunity to meet-up with other runners for food, something which I’ve done a number of times now. After a race it’s a chance to talk to friends about the race as well. Running no longer feels as solitary as it once did.
There are now training weekends with them a few times a year as well, and the one I went to in 2015 in Eastbourne was one of my favourite weekends of the year and made friends with other runners who I now see at races on a fairly regular basis. Comparing this to a regular running club it’s easy to arrange to meet-up to run with people you might not otherwise have ever had the chance to run with, such as when you’re separated by geography but are about to find yourselves in the same area such as at a race. This is not something you’d usually get with a traditional running club!
Online communities may seem a strange way to socialise, but it’s worked! UKRunChat has changed the world of running and from what I can tell they’re going from strength to strength and are now even directing their first race – the Shrewsbury Half Marathon in June 2016. I imagine this to be another amazing, fun event for those that stay over for the entire weekend. I for one am thankful that such an online community exists.
Thank you Jeff and Joe for creating something truly amazing.