Perhaps the most important piece of gear on a cold, dark winter morning is a running buddy—or a pack of them—waiting for you (see all the Benefits of Group Running for some inspiration). Organize a group with these get-started tips.
Keep the meeting time and meeting place consistent and convenient for the organizer(s). Agree beforehand how long you'll wait for stragglers. "We go on Friday morning at 8:30 because that works for my friend and me who started it," says running coach Kathy Butler.
More: 4 Tips for Group Runs
Make the route accessible for a range of levels, and make it clear if you're going to stop to regroup every few miles or meet at the end. Jana Resch cofounded a running group at her church in Corona, California. "We have a 3- to 4-mile route that is suitable for all levels," she says. "If you've got a longer run plan, you can cover it twice or build it into your workout."
If the group gets large—Resch's posse has 175 members—nominate one or two people to organize and host the run. "If you have too many people steering the boat, it can get chaotic," she says.
Start a Facebook group and/or Twitter account so you can announce the details of the runs and know how many runners you're expecting. (Find out how social media can help you become a better runner.)
Pay It Forward
As the holidays bring out the generous sides of all of us, consider donating something free and invaluable: your time. "There is nothing better than helping somebody get across their first finish line," says Resch, who has been a part of Team in Training for three seasons. "I love it."
More: Run for a Cause
A volunteer commitment can range anywhere from a couple of hours—slice oranges or hand out water at a local 5K—to a few months when you mentor or guide a runner. Simply raise your virtual hand to volunteer at a local race, or ask at a local running shop if they have beginning runners who might be seeking a mentor. In addition, here are some national organizations:
Achilles International: Help a disabled runner, including veterans and children, across the finish line; more than 65 locations; achillesinternational.org
Girls on the Run: Coach a team of third- to eighth-graders (a 10-week commitment) or be a running buddy for the end-of-season 5K; 200 chapters; girlsontherun.org
Kick Start: A program that matches up beginner runners with more experienced ones, and gives the latter the tools to help the former through a 5K; skirtsports.com/kickstart
When you're paired up with a newer runner, let him or her set the pace and be sure to gauge how much cheerleading they want. "If they're struggling up a hill and you're not shutting up, it might be too much," says Resch, who adds that she often tells the runners she mentors that she'll talk but they don't have to answer. "It keeps their mind off of running, which can help," she says.race.