Join the club! Rise of the running revolution


Communities of runners without credentials are mushrooming all over the country and millions are reaping the benefits. So, what’s the draw? Writer Isabel Mohan finds out


There was a time when it felt like running clubs were only for the keep-fit elites, a place for Lycra-clad superheroes to rock up after work and casually crush their PBs on floodlit tracks.

While these athletics clubs remain a crucial way for the superior physical specimens among us to hit their goals, recreational runners may struggle to keep up.

The good news is that there’s now a run club for pretty much everyone. Until the late 1960s, running as a hobby was considered unusual.

But as jobs in the western world rapidly became less manual, a craving for physical movement gradually turned running into an industry in its own right, with more events, more participants – and even more high-tech trainers.

Social historians cite the 1972 Olympic Games as the true catalyst for the running boom – it was widely televised and inspired millions to give running a whirl for the first time since cross-country PE.

You don’t necessarily have to already be a runner to join a running club”

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Vitality Ambassador

As road running was still considered quirky, a great solution was to form groups based at athletics tracks.

But for a long time, this remained exclusive and these ‘clubs’ were largely populated by men training for races. In recent years, the world of running communities has opened up, with thousands of clubs of more informal run crews, popping up around the country.

It means that runners from all walks – and runs – of life can find a safe place to connect and exercise: older runners, total beginners, postpartum runners, walk-runners, runners with dogs and runners from different faiths and cultures. It’s fair to say that, whatever your lifestyle, background or level of fitness, there’s a running community to suit you.

And if there isn’t? Why not start one yourself.e o

Rise of the runner

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill might have retired from athletics, but she’s still a keen runner and feels passionate about the power of bringing people together to form communities through fitness.

“These days you don’t necessarily have to already be a runner to join a running club,” she explains. “You can start at any level and find a group for you.”

Jessica believes that joining up with others can create the accountability to keep going, which sometimes feels tricky as a lone wolf.

“Running with friends has an impact on how you exercise,” she says. “You can rely on other people in the group, and they can rely on you. It’s an amazing feeling when you find a group of people that you can enjoy something new with – and get fit on the way.”

Psychologists say it takes 66 days to form a new habit – so having a regular commitment with a club is a good way to make running stick, even if, like many beginners, you hate it at first.

“If you don’t normally run regularly, for those first few weeks, your body is going to be a little bit sore and you might feel tired,” says Jessica. “It can make it hard to keep that level of motivation going, but if you make a commitment, it helps. Soon, your new routine becomes like second nature.”

“Not only is parkrun for people of all abilities, you don’t even have to run at all - parkwalk is now a fixture”.

“Many of the women who join This Woman Runs have never run before

Mel Bound, founder of This Woman Runs, formerly This Mum Runs

Running in groups is a proven strategy to improve wellbeing, with remarkable new research showing that it can be as effective as antidepressants for transforming mental health.

Not only can it boost serotonin and dopamine levels, but self-esteem and confidence too – as well as providing obvious benefits for physical health.

Some workplaces have cottoned onto the trend, making run clubs part of their wellbeing toolkits. It brings teams together and breaks the day up with fresh air and activity.

Mel Bound, founder of This Woman Runs (TWR), formerly known as This Mum Runs, a Vitality partner, didn’t intend to start a nationwide movement when she posted on her local Facebook group in Bristol back in 2014 – she was just looking for a running buddy.

The response was so enthusiastic that 75 mums turned up to run with her, inspiring her to start a club. This Mum Runs has spawned 55 digital communities, powering 80 running groups – and it’s been transformative for thousands of women.

“Many of the women who join This Woman Runs have never run before and some have been inactive since school,” says Mel.

“They don’t identify as ‘sporty’ and that can have a huge impact on their confidence and willingness to give it a try. We aim to remove all the pressure to perform a certain way, and just enjoy the feeling of reconnecting with our bodies and moving a bit more regularly.”


Mel puts the success of This Woman Runs down to how accessible the community makes running, by not focusing on pace, distance or competition.

“Even the most experienced of us secretly worry about being the slowest and holding people back, and the jargon-ified ‘join the 6, 7 or 8 minute mile group’ can be confusing to anyone who is new to running,” she explains.

“At TWR we deliberately focus on the number of minutes moving and the feeling of running – headspace and freedom – rather than how far or fast we go. It’s a radically simple approach but breaks down barriers, creating an inclusive environment where anyone feels they belong.”

Just as This Woman Runs has impacted so many people, so too has parkrun, with hundreds of thousands of people gathering globally every Saturday morning to walk, jog and run a 5K or to volunteer.

It started back in 2004, and over the years the finishing time has got slower – something the organisers are proud of; a sign of how inclusive the event has become.

Not only is parkrun for people of all abilities, you don’t even have to run at all – parkwalk is now a fixture, plus volunteering is a great way to soak up the atmosphere, make meaningful connections and get outside on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

Jessica is also a big fan of how parkrun normalises movement. “Even when my husband and I aren’t running, sometimes we just go down with the kids to watch,” she says.

“It’s such a nice atmosphere and getting out to the park at 9am on a Saturday is a great way to kickstart the weekend. It means the kids are seeing a variety of people exercising and enjoying it – running with buggies, walking, jogging and just mixing it up a bit.”

And that’s the beauty of running in a group: not only is it a chance to get out, feel good and meet new people, but you could even find yourself being cheered on by a World Champion athlete. 

Join Jonny Kibble, Vitality's Head of Physical Activity & Exercise, on a post-run cool down:

Related: 5 things to do before a run

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Vitality members with health insurance and life insurance plans can earn activity points for running, walking and volunteering at a parkrun event. 

Visit the Vitality UK member app to find out more.