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why running groups form

posted by
Ian Campbell

why do running groups form?

The marketing leader of a run specialty shoe brand recently asked me – why do running groups form?

It seems like a simple question, so I responded intuitively, answering that people like to run and while running, many people prefer to run with others. As it came out of my mouth, I realized my intuition had misled me.

My response was poor not because what I said isn’t true, it’s 100% true, but that what I shared explains why people run in groups and not why running groups form.

What seems like a minor tweak in words requires a different explanation and one that I was not prepared with at the time. As the leader of Philadelphia’s first community sports resource, this embarrassed me.

Since being asked, I’ve given the question a good deal of thought. I’ve contemplated the founding stories of Philadelphia’s new running groups. I’ve reflected on conversations with Philadelphia’s run community leaders. I’ve remembered my 30 runs in 30 days. I’ve thought about my experiences as part of Philadelphia’s run community. If I could go back and respond with two words, I’d tell the marketing leader:

Passionate leadership.

I believe that passionate leadership, more than anything else, is why running groups form.

If I were given more than two words, I’d list seven things.

To keep me honest, I’ve added case studies discussing a Philadelphia run group with each. All but one of the groups listed has started since March 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is intentional. COVID has altered many aspects of our lives including work styles, exercise routines and community gatherings, so it seems most useful to focus on running groups that have formed since these alterations.

A few notes:

This is not a comprehensive list of Philadelphia’s run groups. To see a list of run groups you can visit 22 run groups in Philly (courtesy of eseo) or Running Groups in Philly (courtesy of Philadelphia Runner).

This does NOT suggest that the clubs listed as case studies are the only in Philadelphia to exemplify the associated characteristic. That is not the case! Philadelphia’s running scene is full of run groups exemplifying many or all of these characteristics. The group mentioned in the case study is simply meant as an example to support the point being made.

#1 Passionate Leadership

Without passionate leadership, run groups don’t form. A leader’s drive, energy and purpose generate electricity, attract a following and build a community. Typically, the passion is not only displayed in the leader’s group, but spreads into the broader community. In Philadelphia, run group leaders regularly attend other groups and build relationships that bridge communities and neighborhoods.

Swagga House Run Club (SHRC): Josh Perez & Ron Pichardo

Josh tells the story of a brother-like friend committing suicide while training for the 2019 Philadelphia Marathon with love and purpose. In July 2020, Josh and Ron channeled those emotions into Swagga House Run Club (SHRC). Josh leads with authenticity and brings hype to not only SHRC events but also to the larger philly run community. The energy created at 8am on a Sunday morning during a recent SHRC event was so strong that a stranger gave me a dumfounded look when she learned the event was free for everyone. That is passionate leadership!

#2 Purpose

While many run groups share similar values, a run group typically forms with a unique and authentic purpose. Purpose can mean many things, from the belief in a mission or support of a cause to forming meaningful relationships, being entertained or trying something different. People crave experiences with purpose so when a run group’s purpose strikes a chord, runners carve out time and travel distances to participate.

Mural Miles: Craig Oppenheimer

Mural Miles started in 2021 with the mission to inspire human potential through community fitness and art. Craig led a group of 5 at the fist Mural Miles run and less than two years later, the group’s following has grown into the thousands. Well over 100 athletes attended the recent unveiling of a mural titled “Equilibrium” by Erik Okdeh depicting Aaron Leon Nixon and Valentina Viana in movement. Inspiring human potential through community fitness and art – that is purpose!

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#3 Community

With much of our lives experienced digitally, run groups remind us of the surrounding real-life community. It feels good to connect in person with fellow members of the Philadelphia athlete community (if you can move, you’re an athlete!), even if initially there might be some awkwardness. When the run group is welcoming, supportive and embodies the culture of nearby areas, the community feels more vivid.

Midnight Miles Summer Series: Michael Gagliardi (aka Gagz)

Inspired by the beauty of running through Philadelphia on summer nights, Gagz started a midnight miles summer series in 2022 that included monthly themed runs from 10pm to midnight. A competitive ultra-runner, host of the running times podcast and four-time defending champion of the Loopy Looper 12‑hour in Pennsauken Township, Gagz discussed history, music and sports through fun anecdotes while running through the Philadelphia streets. The “all faces, all paces” run was sponsored by HOKA and achieved a true community feel – bringing together all types of runners at a unique time and sharing fun and informative stories that served as reminders of the surrounding community.

#4 Likeminded Athletes

When likeminded runners live nearby and don’t have a group tailored to them, one tends to form. Combining likeminded athletes creates a motivating aura and offers runners a unique opportunity to build trust, have fun and push one another in a loving way. Many people use running as a time to clear their head. Surrounding oneself with a group of likeminded others can support that process – whether it’s elevating others to 6-minute pace marathons or offering a compassionate ear while jogging to a local pub.

Liberty Track Club (LTC): Veronica Eder & Carey Celata

In 2022, Liberty Track Club (LTC) was founded to provide dedicated and ambitious post-collegiate athletes with a team atmosphere for pursuing running goals. As former collegiate athletes, Veronica, Carey and others at LTC seek to create a team environment and accountability with training so that all members reach their running potential. The group encourages participation in competitive opportunities and their orange tops stand out at Philadelphia races. Hats off to LTC for creating a place where likeminded ambitious runners can progress on their running journey post-college.

#5 Health

Running and community have a positive impact on health, so new run groups form to ensure that everyone has a group they feel comfortable attending. Running and community not only have the power to improve one’s health, but also to change one’s life. Many run journeys begin as a coping mechanism following a life shock like the death of a loved one, divorce or other hardship. An uplifting, inclusive and welcoming environment that encourages activity and connection can make all the difference to an individual’s health, so run groups form to ensure that everyone has one accessible.

Queer Run: Cain Leathers

Cain founded Queer Run in the spring of 2022. A member of the LGBTQ+ community, Cain never found the right running group prior to Queer Run, which was founded as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Given the importance of running to Cain, who has openly shared his mental health struggles as a teen, it was important to build an inclusive and welcoming community so others could benefit from running in the same way. In Queer Run’s first 7 months, the group has grown like crazy and recently announced a partnership with HOKA. Cain and fellow Queer Run leaders have created a welcoming organization that will no doubt provide lasting health benefits to the Philadelphia community and beyond!

Interested in getting a newsletter written by Cain delivered directly in your inbox? Sign up for eseo’s weekly running newsletter.

#6 Safety

Running with others is less dangerous than running alone. Even small groups of two or three runners together create an extra layer of safety that helps to scare off potential predators. Terrifying stories like the Christmas stabbing of Bennett Brookstein, the stalking of a Philadelphia woman runner through Facebook rsvps and the kidnapping of Eliza Fletcher provide horrific reminders that running in a group is a safer option than running alone.

Women Run Club West Chester: Danielle Perna-Amari

After moving to Chester County during the pandemic, Danielle founded Women Running Club West Chester to create a safe space for women to get active in the West Chester community. One of the group’s founding ideals was to provide women a spot to run while being safe. The women only “tribe” contributes to community health and provides a safe space for women, especially due to its women only nature that prevents potential unsafe feelings that might arise from male group members.

#7 Convenience

The convenience of a trusted location consistently full of runners drives run groups to form. With more of our lives and expectations on-demand, the existence of clearly labeled locations where run groups can congregate provides less uncertainty and promotes run group formation.

Philadelphia Runner (PR): Ross Martinson, Liz Pagonis & Team

Since 2004, Philadelphia Runner (PR) has been the hub of Philadelphia’s run community. An independent business that has invested in Philadelphia and its running community, PR oversees training clubs like Team Philly Race Training and Philadelphia Runner Track Club, is involved with local races like Run Fest, PDR and The Philly 10K and launches community-based run groups from its Center City, University City, Glen Mills and Manayunk stores. The only group profiled that existed pre-pandemic, PR is not only a place to find running gear, but also a convenient spot where athletes in Philadelphia can learn about their run community in-real-life.


At eseo, we love running groups. As we head into 2023 and beyond, we’re excited to continue working to empower run groups, their passionate leaders and the Philadelphia community!

Thanks for reading.

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why do running groups form?