The rise of run clubs and how they have empowered women

Two women friends smiling in run club. (Getty Images)
Could joining a run club help to empower you? (Getty Images)

From those who have always loved running and now love doing it with others, to those who may have otherwise never put on a pair of running shoes, the appetite for community-based fitness has brought with it a rise of run clubs.

For women in particular, the emergence of more run clubs (and others willing to join with them), has helped many overcome any barriers they might have previously faced to running. For example, women are 9% more likely than men to cite a lack of safe places to exercise as a barrier, according to Strava data.

Sarah Campus, PT and founder of LDN MUMS FITNESS, has witnessed first hand just how much run clubs have made a difference to people, as someone personally engaged in several and working to start her own.

Having run her first marathon this year after being bitten by the 'run club bug', she encourages others who are keen, particularly women, to just try it. This is because the mum of three didn't find her love of the sport (or type of exercise, great for mind and body) until later in life and believes the camaraderie of doing it in a group makes it so much easier. In fact, runners are 83% more likely to snag a personal record while running in a group, according to Strava.

Here, we look at where the rise of run clubs came from and what difference they're making.

Group of young people competing in a race. Young men and women running on riverside promenade at sunset. They are wearing sport clothing.
There has been more appetite for community-driven outdoor exercise since the pandemic. (Getty Images)

"More people are taking part in run clubs as more and more are realising they offer a unique blend of social fun, fitness gains, and the kind of motivation that solo runs often lack," says Campus.

"Whether you're chasing a new personal best or just looking to enjoy the scenery with some great company, there's a spot in a run club with your name on it."

The personal trainer reminds us that running saw a significant rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. "People couldn't attend their normal gym or club sessions so running became a staple to both stay fit and get some fresh air whilst limited to a five-kilometre boundary." Remember Couch to 5K?

And with the drive for doing exercise outside came the community spirit. Strava athletes say their number one reason for exercising with others is social connection. In particular, Gen Z is 29% more likely than millennials to work out with another person.

"Run clubs now are offering a lot more – trying out new kit, meeting new people (even forming relationships!), having coffee or drinks at the end or even a little dance to a DJ. The opportunities now are endless!"

Sarah Campus has caught the run club bug and plans to start her own. (LDN MUMS FITNESS)
Sarah Campus has caught the run club bug and plans to start her own. (LDN MUMS FITNESS)

So, why did Campus first join a run club herself? "I wanted to try out running with other people as I usually run on my own. I have since signed up for races and some of the clubs are training runs associated with those races, so it's a good way to meet others who are going to be doing the same event," she explains.

"I also found it a nice way to try out a different running route and run at different paces. Plus the social aspect after the run club is very interesting and motivating to hear other people’s stories."

Runners taking part in a community fun run in the rain in Leazes Park in Newcastle upon Tyne, North East England. They are smiling as they run and follow each other on a path. The race is open to people of all ages and abilities and is also dog friendly. 

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Clubs can help to hold you accountable, motivate you and build confidence. (Getty Images)

Based on Campus' own experience, she believes these aspects are the biggest perks:

  • Social: Moved to a new area, want to meet like minded people, or just chat as you run

  • Support and encouragement as you run: Can help if you're struggling (which is okay)

  • Safety: Running on your own can feel uneasy, so with others is safer

  • Coaching advice: Mix with other experienced runners to get tips from

  • Competitive (if you want): You versus you, beat your own time, or try keep up with others

  • Motivation: Accountability to get a good run in of a specific distance

  • Local knowledge: Mix up routes, keeping it interesting and discovering new places from others

  • Mixing with male and female (if that's what you want)

Adorable little girl embracing her mom in her home office. Working mom smiling at her daughter while typing an email on a laptop. Self-employed mother of one working remotely.
There are likely many women who would like to run but are held back by anything from time to confidence. (Getty Images)

First off, these physically might include, according to Campus, "Pelvic pain, prolapse, incontinence, painful periods and many more issues stemming from this part of the body can impact women’s running routines as well as confidence on the run.

"Problems stemming from this area can be the reason many women runners give up. Women are also at increased risk for stress fractures. Areas that are at particular risk to runners include the metatarsals (long bones of the foot), the tibia (lower leg bone), the femoral neck (hip), and the pelvis."

This of course doesn't mean women's ability is less than, but for some individuals, they might have more holding them back or putting them off. Campus also points out non-physical barriers include:

  • Lack of childcare/support

  • Lack of time

  • Lack of clothing

  • Lack of role models

  • Don’t know where to start

  • Lack of motivation

  • Lack of self confidence

  • Fear of safety

A front-view shot of a group of female friends running outdoors by a field in Northumberland, England.
You might also want to search for all female run clubs in your area. (Getty Images)

"Clubs make a big difference as they help women to overcome many of the barriers – e.g. running with others so not alone, everyone motivating each other. And by having a set time it gives mothers an opportunity to arrange childcare should that be necessary so people can arrange their time as it has been scheduled in like an appointment and the run club will hold them accountable," explains Campus.

"Run clubs give women a great starting place and by surrounding yourself with like minded people who may feel the same, boosting confidence, giving people structure and direction which they may have been searching for and helping them kick start their journey."

An additional benefit is that there are others there to help and support should any physical problems arise or flare up. However, you should only run if it is safe for you to do so.

If you've been thinking of signing up for a run club but are nervous, remember it will be so much easier after initially arriving. "When women turn up for a run club, that is the hardest part and they should feel proud they have done it. Then when they start running any nerves, worries or anxiety hopefully should go or decrease with the feel good hormones and endorphins flooding the body. They should then feel even more proud of themselves once completed, and even sign up for another!"

While Campus believes more women are participating in run clubs – meeting friends and others along the way – and they are generally well catered to all genders, she acknowledges there is a demand for female-only run clubs too.

"Some don’t feel confident running with men, they feel self conscious and just want to be around women." And some may just want something that feels extra safe and supportive. Clubs like These Girls Run are helping to bridge that gap too.

So why does Campus hope to start her own run club soon? "I would love to motivate and inspire others and get like minded people together. For me, encouraging people to run and giving people the platform to build confidence and trying out new things just gives me so much excitement."