Not long ago, Pam Burrus and a few girlfriends were new moms walking while pushing their baby strollers to get back into shape after having children.
Their walks eventually turned into jogs. When those jogs led the four women to finish their first 5K together, Burrus knew it was the start of something special.
"That's when I realized it needed to be a club—it needed to be something bigger than just us," recalls Burrus, 34.
In March 2011, Burrus launched Moms Run This Town, now She Runs This Town, an all-women's running club that began with a small group of mothers in a suburb outside Atlanta, Georgia. Thanks to social media and word of mouth, the club—which is free to join—has grown to 700 chapters nationwide and has some 20,000 members.
To make sure all women and girls feel included, the club is also known as She Runs This Town.
"When I came up with Moms Run This Town, I really had any town, any woman in mind," Burrus says.
Ladies on the Run
The popularity of Burrus' running club comes at a time when women's participation in running events is exploding.
In 2014, 10.7 million road race finishers were women, making up 57 percent of all finishers, according to Running USA.
By comparison, 1.2 million race finishers in 1990 were women, and men represented 75 percent of all finishers that year.
As female participation soars, so does the need for running groups where women—especially beginners—feel welcomed and comfortable.
Burrus remembers ditching a run with a local club years ago when she saw the crowd.
"When I saw this group of older men, my first thought was, 'They are competitive, they are faster than me, and they won't understand me as a new runner,'" she recalls.
Kelly Bither, running coach and the founder of the Runner Chick Training Club in the Portland, Oregon area, says it's common for women to feel intimidated to run with men at first.
"A lot of women are self-conscious about the way they look," she says. "They feel like they have weight to lose. It's not as intimidating to run with a group if you feel like they are your peers."
Bither, 50, started running in her late 30s and formed the Runner Chick club in 2011. Tapping into her coaching expertise, the club offers structured training programs designed for women preparing for their first 5K, 10K or half marathon.
Bither says coaching women helps to motivate her own running.
"It has kept me running," she says. "My best friends are from my running group. There are so many friends I wouldn't have if I wasn't doing this."
As group runs become longer and more frequent, many women develop strong bonds with their running pals.
"It's almost like a sisterhood—it's become way more than a running club," says Becky Duncan, a member of the Schweddy Belles of Breakaway Running in Memphis, Tennessee. "We celebrate birthdays, we go on trips together. It's a unique friendship."
The club with the clever name formed two and a half years ago after Allison Shelton met a group of women at a summer running program for beginners.
"We all clicked together, and we decided we wanted to keep it up after the program was over," says Shelton, a Schweddy Belle leader. "We needed the motivation."
Shelton, 35, started running several years ago and has since lost 130 pounds.
"I did it for fitness, and the friendships were a bonus," she says.
The club has around 50 members, and they meet several times a week at Breakaway Running, a retail store in Memphis that supports the team.
The ladies take a light-hearted approach to running, and that's obvious from the club's witty name, which is a reference to Tennessee's sweltering summers and the legendary Saturday Night Live skit.
Though the club is centered on women, occasionally a husband will tag along.
"If a guy wants to come and run with us, we'll call him a Schweddy Beau," Shelton says.
The camaraderie of all-female clubs gives women the confidence to challenge themselves, says Shawn Ladda, a kinesiology professor at Manhattan College in New York City and the past president of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport.
"You see other women able to do perhaps what you think you couldn't do, and you think, 'Heck, I can do this,'" she says.
Running together also gives women a chance to discuss their daily personal struggles, and help each other through problems.
"Other women have the challenges you have," she says. "Here is a support group, and it is feeding the body, spirit and mind."
For some, such a group becomes even more important after they have children.
"It gives them an identity outside of being a mom," says Burrus. "We get so wrapped up in what our kids accomplish—we need something, too."
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Running Club FAQs
Why should I join a running club?
Running with others can keep you motivated, encouraged, and consistent. Joining a run club can help push you to run faster than you might if you were alone. The atmosphere can also boost your spirits and keep you positive about your running, even when you aren’t in the mood for a workout.
Are running clubs free?
Yes, most run clubs are free. Some local track clubs may have a membership, but most running clubs hosted at the neighborhood brewery or running store are free and open for anyone to join.
How do I find local running clubs?
Check with your local running store. They may host a running club or know of ones nearby. You can also search the Road Runners Club of America.
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