An Ode to the Running Club

I had a jarring experience recently. Someone asked me what the difference was between a meetup group and my run club. I wasn’t taken aback by his inquiry necessarily. I got what he was driving at. He ran with a meetup group or a running crew previously, but had never been part of a club. He didn’t know what the difference was. But, the idea that someone had never been part of a club is ultimately what I found jarring.

For most of my athletic life, I have been involved in clubs. I played soccer for most of my childhood on a club. When I played tennis, it was often as part of a team. I got into running as part of a club — the cross-country team. Clubs were largely how I got into sports.

But, clubs have been largely supplanted by their younger, hipper, edgier brother (or sister), the crew. There are countless crews that congregate (casually and informally) all over the place. I haven’t spent a lot of quality time in a running crews. But, my read of most running crews is they are generally loosely structured, low-commitment, social gatherings of people with shared passions. They also tend to be free.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this. I get the appeal of the crew completely.  But, In my experience, getting better at running requires structure, commitment, and a certain investment (of time, energy, and possibly money). So, if you want to run faster, stronger, and longer, a running club might be worth a look.

Coaching expertise

A crew might be led by someone who is a fountain of wisdom, experience, and expertise. But, it might not. If you don’t really care about this kind of thing, a crew may be perfectly fine for you.

But, a club of any kind typically has one (or more) seasoned, certified, experienced coaches. These coaches have likely been in your shoes countless times, dealt with whatever challenges you will encounter, and can help you navigate your first or your fiftieth race.

Sure. There is tons of great content you can find online. You also might get some perfectly solid advice from those running with your crew as well. While I’ve received some great running advice from a number of friends, the best running advice I have ever received came from a coach.

A great coach can give you much more than just the nuts and bolts. She (or he) can motivate you, hold you accountable, and maybe even inspire you. A coach that educates and inspires isn’t guaranteed in a club, but it’s not unlikely.


I’m not advocating for an over-abundance of structure. I think too much structure is a bad thing. It can lead people down the rabbit hole of thinking they simply MUST blindly adhere to the structure laid out on their training plan, torpedoes be damned. But, running well generally does require some structure.

If your running is going nowhere (and if this bothers you), you might need a little more structure. Showing up and logging a few miles here and there with your crew might be great for maintaining some decent running fitness. However, it might not be enough for you to nab that next personal best.

I can’t speak for other clubs, but my club has a very definite structure. Sure, we meet a few times a week just like every crew. But, we’re following a gradual, progressive, methodical plan. Mileage gradually increases. Intervals gradually increase. It’s a loose structure that is designed to help facilitate better running, faster times, and more PRs.

When people stick to our schedule/structure diligently for 10-12 weeks, they become better runners. Again, a crew can help you get better too. But, if your crew isn’t helping you get a personal best (and you want one), give a club a look.


Being part of a crew generally requires little real commitment. There are (typically) no membership dues, fees, or payments of any kind. There are no required meetings or paperwork to fill out. Nothing wrong with this.

But, there is something to be said for getting some skin in the game. What happens when you sign up for a race? You almost instantaneously become more committed to your training. The simple act of committing to a race triggered this.

Joining a club can provide the same kind of commitment catalyst. Once you sign up (and pay for) a club, you’re going to likely feel far more inclined to actually show up and get what you paid for.

I host free events on occasion. I can get 100 people (sometimes) to sign up for a free event. But, I know nearly 50% won’t show up. Why? Because there is no real commitment there.

It’s much easier to rationalize sleeping in, getting brunch, or doing just about anything else when you don’t have any skin in the game. Committing some time, energy, and money to a club will likely help you stay more committed to your running.

The other stuff

Most clubs offer plenty of perks and amenities to their members. You can typically count on race discounts, shoe/apparel discounts, massage/bodywork discounts, and more.

This might not sound like much, but if running is a big part of your life, a few meager discounts can add up over the long haul. The average pair of shoes is $100. The price of the average race continues to climb. The average sports massage runs about $100. Why not save a few bucks?

Independent of discounts, most clubs provide their members club shirts, socks, or hats. Again, it might not sound like much. But, if you keep running, these items will inevitably become some of your most prized possessions.

Lastly, there’s the inevitable social connections you’ll make. I’ve been witness to countless friendships, more than a few romantic dalliances, a few marriages, a few babies, and the list goes on.

You might already have all of these things with your crew and be happy with it. More power to you. But, depending upon what you need, a club might be worth another look.

If you happen to live in San Francisco. the summer season of my run club gets rolling on Saturday at 9AM at ARM SF! If you want to hear what some folks think about it, CLICK HERE.

Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at!

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