There’s nothing quite like the adventure of falling in love. Several years ago, while living in Seattle, I fell in love with Bill, a runner who lived in Bellingham. And love, sweet love, makes miles feel short and a freeway feel like a very happy road to travel, indeed. For a couple of years, we shuffled between our two homes on the weekends, making the best of the distance between us while maintaining our independent lives during the week.
But as will happen, love led to marriage, and marriage led to the necessity for one of us to make a decision about moving. Because my life was more flexible, I agreed to uproot myself and move out of the city – away from old pals, favorite haunts, and the Burke-Gilman trail and other running routes I enjoyed – so that Bill and I could be together.
Once I was settled in Bellingham, it didn’t take me long to discover a half- dozen beautiful and easily accessed running trails, and I soon realized that while I missed the bustle of the busy paved trails in Seattle, I also loved rugged trail running – being among the trees and encountering wildlife in the relative serenity of Whatcom County.
But I was lonely. One of my greatest fears in moving 90 miles up the I-5 corridor had been that I would feel isolated, that I’d pine for friends and feel anonymous. And in fact, I did feel invisible without easy access to comfortable, well-worn relationships. Phone calls to Seattle didn’t fill my longing for community; they only made me more acutely aware of how alone I was – too far away to grab a quick lunch or go for a movie after work.
One evening about three months after I’d moved in with Bill, we went out for a drink, and as I sat at the bar and looked at my beloved, I felt overwhelmed with a sudden realization that he was my only real friend in town, the only one who knew that I hated water chestnuts or that I was mortally afraid of walking over manhole covers. I didn’t know how I would meet other people or how I would build a community for myself from scratch.
Bill listened to me compassionately, but my husband is not one to dwell in self-pity (neither his own, nor mine). He’s a do-er and a problem solver, so before happy hour was over, he grabbed a community calendar from the circular rack by the front door of the restaurant and picked out several running events he intended to drag me to. That, at the very least, would keep me busy.
Although I’d been a solo runner for a number of years at that point, I was/am/have always been slow. I loved what running did for my psyche and my body, but was apologetic that I wasn’t “good at it.” I was sure I would embarrass myself if I came in last at a local race. Who would want to get to know the slow poke holding up the volunteers from getting on with their day? Besides, although I love human contact, I’m shy in my own way. I’ve always felt anxious about making small talk (who doesn’t, really?). That period between meeting someone and knowing them intimately is often full of awkward pauses while people grasp aimlessly for something to say. What I wanted was real friendship.
Bill wouldn’t be dissuaded, however. His answer to my fears was to pay my fee for the Greater Bellingham Running Club and to encourage me to join him at races around town (free to members).
My fears about coming in last were quickly abated when I saw that there were often walkers in the club-sponsored races. Any club that gives dignity to the walkers could put up with my 12 minutes-per-mile pace, I figured. And to my relief, I also discovered something I didn’t know as someone who hadn’t participated in many community events: Runners don’t need senseless small-talk to get to know one another. Runners, it turns out, always have something to talk about. The course, of course! Whether a short or long race, runners rehash every turn in the trail, every mile.
“I thought that hill would do me in,” one says.
“I know. I was on a steady seven-minute per mile pace until I got there,” another commiserates.
Shared experiences create a shared reality. And a shared reality is the perfect foundation for new friendships – another great adventure in life.
The Starting Line
Nine years later I sit across from Polly Favinger, the president of the Greater Bellingham Running Club. She isn’t a stranger to me anymore. I’ve been to her home, and she’s been to mine.
We sip on coffee and catch up on one another’s lives before our talk turns to running. I tell her that I’ve been reflecting on my early weeks and months in town when I was afraid I’d never make friends. And we laugh, because now being a member of the running club means, if anything, having a too-full life rather than a too-lonely one.
“It’s not just running,” she says. “It’s a whole community way of being.”
“I remember when I was embarrassed about my pace,” I confess.
“I worried at first about being too slow, too,” she replies.
This surprises me because Polly isn’t a back-of-the-packer like I am. I suppose we all just worry we won’t fit in.
As if answering my thought, Polly adds, “Until you let yourself into that world, you don’t know that you belong.”
“That’s it, isn’t it?” I say.
In anything in this life, whether it’s embarking on a long trail run or reaching out to find community, you have to push through your resistance and fear. It’s getting to the starting line that is the hardest part of the journey; once you’re at the finish line, you’ve got a shared experience with others that can create a bond between you.
There are running clubs in almost every community throughout the Northwest. Some focus on road races, others on trail runs, and still others on training or family functions. But all have this in common: Running in community creates bonds and friendships that can give us a sense of identity and belonging beyond the event or races that a club sponsors. Check out a smattering of some of the PNW’s terrific clubs (listed below). And if you haven’t made the connection yet, why not show up for one of their events and see what happens. You might just find out you belong.
Cami Ostman is the author of Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents and is a longstanding member of the Greater Bellingham Running Club. She is a traveler, runner, writing-coach, and the co-director of the Wind Horse Half Marathon (which raises funds for one of Bellingham’s sister cities). She lives in Bellingham, Washington.
Northwest Running Clubs
3 Rivers Road Runners – Richland, WA.
Most popular run/race: Several: St. Patrick’s Day Foot Race, 6-Event Multi-Sport Series, Tri-City Marathon
Cost of membership : $20 per household per year
Member benefits: Discounts at local running club, part of Google Group social interaction for workout coordination, free beer at monthly club meetings!
Arlington Runners Club – Arlington, WA.
Bellingham Trail Running Club – Bellingham, WA.
Bloomsday Roadrunners Club – Spokane, WA.
Cascade Mountain Runners – Bellingham, WA.
Cascade Running Club – Kirkland, WA.
Club Northwest – Seattle, WA.
Most popular run/race: Resolution Run 5k and Polar Bear Dive on the 1st of January and Firecracker 5000 on July 3-4th at midnight
Cost of membership: $50 Individuals • $75 Family • $40 Students (HS OR COLLEGE) • $40 Military • $750 Lifetime
A Northwest Runner subscription
A members-only t-shirt (new members only)
Regular e-mail news and updates on your local running community
Invite to quarterly social events and weekly Sunday Runs
Discounts to the following races:
Resolution Run – a discount of $15 (pre-registered on-line only)
Winter Grand Prix Two-Mile Series – save $10 on the series or $2 per single race
Magnuson Series – save $5 per race, up to $60 per year
Spring Break Open Track & Field Meet – FREE ENTRY
CNW Summer All-comers – $13 off the season pass, or $2 off each meet ($24 for all 12 meets)
PNTF Association Championships – FREE ENTRY – a $10 savings for track & field (June) and cross country (November) each
Firecracker 5000 – a discount of $15 (pre-registered on-line only)
Up to four cross country selection meets for the team (when competing for CNW in uniform) – FREE ENTRY – $20 or more in savings
Discounts at leading running specialty stores:
Super Jock ‘n Jill, our flagship store and longest running partner – 10% discount
Run26 – 10% discount
Everyday Athlete – 10% discount
Road Runner Sports – 10% discount
Sound Sports– 10% discount
Discounts from sponsors:
Free video gait analysis and functional screening from Sports Reaction Center Physical Therapy
20% off all services from InHealth Sports Injury and Performance Care
Brooks discounts at Super Jock ‘n Jill CNW member nights
Club Oly Northwest – Olympia, WA.
Columbia Gorge Running Club – Stevenson, WA.
Cowlitz Valley Runners – Longview, WA.
Eastside Runners – Bothell, WA.
Most popular run/race: Saturday Morning Runs (location changes every week) & Wednesday Night Track Workouts at Lake Washington HS (http://www.eastsiderunners.com/page/Saturday-Morning-Runs.aspx and http://www.eastsiderunners.com/page/Wednesday-Night-Track-Workout.aspx)
Cost of membership: $20 individual or $25 family
Member benefits: http://www.eastsiderunners.com/page/Membership-Benefits.aspx
Flying Irish Running Club – Spokane, WA.
Most Popular Run/Race: Our weekly run on Thursday nights. We meet from the first Thursday in March through Thanksgiving. This year we are averaging 465 runners to each of our runs. Our largest run to date was 633. During the season our most popular runs are our theme runs with such themes as: Prancercise, Cross-Dress, Pajama, Halloween and Luau.
Cost: FREE!! (minus the beer you buy after the run)
Member Benefits: We like to think that the socialization and meeting new friends is the biggest benefit but other benefits include:
On your 6th run you have to climb the stage and tell an Irish joke to be fully iniated into the Club and have the right to wear the club shirt.
Other milestone runs and special shirts for 50, 100 and 200 runs. Our first 300 runner is coming up in mid August.
Lots of free swag from local breweries as we have a rotating brewery every week/month.
Lots of free race entries as we promote a lot of local races.
Other awesome swag that is donated to us like GPS watches, iPads, cruiser bikes, beer cozies.
Being a part of the Club that set the world record for the largest prancercise group and also the first running club in the world to have a beer brewed for it with its name on it “Flying Irish Pale”.
Greater Bellingham Running Club (GBRC) – Bellingham, WA.
Most popular run/race: Chuckanut Footrace – race began in 1967!
Cost of membership (if any): Yearly membership runs January 1 through December 31 – Single – $30, Couple – $40, Family – $50, Youth/Senior – $10 *youth is age 17 and under, senior is age 65 and over
Member benefits (besides the chance to be a part of terrific group): Free entry into all GBRC race (10 per year); group track workouts with a coach March through July; 6 week XC trail run series August/September, Member picnic – August; Member Holiday party – December
Guerilla Running Racing Club – Olympia, WA.
Most popular run/race: Oly Trot (Olympia’s Thanksgiving Day footrace that benefits our local food bank)
Cost of membership (if any): FREE!
Member benefits (besides the chance to be a part of terrific group): Two free weekly community runs. Access to trained and certified coaches. Volunteer for a race, get a FREE entry to another GR event. When you represent GR at a race, we put $1 into a scholarship fund for local youth actively working to make the world better.
Hard Core Runners Club – Yakima, WA.
Most popular run/race: Frosty Four Miler (1st Saturday of February) & Yakima River Canyon Marathon (end March or first April)
Cost of membership (if any): $15 year. (includes all immediate family members)
Member benefits: Reduced entry fee for our races
Interurban Runners Club – Federal Way, WA.
Most popular run/race: summer 5k series
Cost of membership: $15 individual, $17 family
Member benefits: Interurban Runners Club is an organization for runners of all ages and abilities. The club provides the opportunity to meet other runners and improve running performances through regular workouts. The Club also organizes social gatherings and outings for members and their families and friends. Everyone is welcome!
Members get a 10% discount at the following locations: Seattle Running Company, The Balanced Athlete.
Awesome Christmas party every year!
Marathon Maniacs/Half Fanatics – Tacoma, WA.
Oregon Road Runners Club – Beaverton, OR.
Most popular run/race: We have a number of popular races, but are most well known for the ORRC Turkey Trot at the Zoo and the Hagg Mud 25k/50k.
Cost of membership (if any): $30 individual and $40 family/annual
Member benefits: An awesome member magazine, discounts on all ORRC races, discounts at local running stores, free weekly track workout, free annual banquet, and many awards opportunities.
Pacific Road Runners – Vancouver, B.C.
Palouse Falls Beer Chasers – Pullman, WA.
Plateau Running Club – Enumclaw, WA.
Richmond Beach Running Club – Shoreline, WA.
RunWenatchee – Wenatchee, WA.
Most popular run/race: Thursday Night Club Run, 200 runners/walkers weekly complete either a 5k or 10k route, self paced, no timing.
Cost of membership (if any): Free!
Member benefits: Once a runner/walker completes 10, 25 or 50 runs/walks, they receive a cool club shirt with logo and distinctive saying on the back.
Seattle Running Club – Seattle, WA.
Skagit Runners – Burlington, WA.
Cost of membership (if any): $15 for new members that gets them a T-shirt or singlet. Free for existing members as long as they remain active by volunteering for races and club events.
Member benefits (besides the chance to be a part of terrific group): 10% discount at Skagit Running Company in Mount Vernon, Winter Holiday party, group runs, newsletter, club meetings including free food and drinks.
West Seattle Running Club – Seattle, WA.