Jogging clubs thrive since marathon got moving again
Patrice Matamoros expected some enthusiasm when Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon Inc. decided to create a running club in September 2011.
She underestimated the response. Within hours of its debut, the Steel City Road Runners club had more than 500 people registering to join.
"It showed that everybody really wanted something like this in the community," said Matamoros, race director for the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, which falls under Three Rivers Marathon's umbrella. "I think we were the largest running club in Pittsburgh in a couple hours."
Matamoros isn't the only one noticing a greater interest in running in the region. Operators of running clubs say more people have been joining their groups in recent years, particularly since the marathon returned in 2009 after a five-year hiatus.
"Pittsburgh has not always been known as the healthiest city in the world, but there is definitely a move toward fitness in the city," said Bob Shooer, owner and general manager of Fleet Feet Sports in Mt. Lebanon, which operates the Fleet Feet Flyers Running Club. "I believe the return of the marathon has just highlighted how accessible running is (for) anybody to get out and do it."
Running club leaders and members tout the benefits of joining one of the groups that exist in Western Pennsylvania.
"We see (the club) as our opportunity to help the running community thrive," Matamoros said.
While many running groups include people training for half- or full marathons, they include less-experienced runners.
Peggy Flowers said she only began running about a year and a half ago with a group of seven to 10 people. She wanted to get more out of running, and when she found out about the Steel City Road Runners Club, she jumped at the chance to join.
"I was just looking for a little more consistency," Flowers said. "I had questions about how I can build up my endurance (and) how I can go a little faster. I was able to get the answers I wanted from this group -- but more than anything else, it's the encouragement and information they share (that helps)."
Flowers' experience isn't unusual.
"There are 11-minute milers, and there are 7-minute milers (in our group)," Shooer said. "There are people who want to go out for four or five miles, and there are people who want to go out for 15 or 16 miles. Because of just the number of people, you're always bound to find someone to run with."
For runners who are training for long-distance runs, such as marathons or half-marathons, clubs offer a variety of training programs.
Many groups hold weekly runs, with longer distances available for people in marathon training. The Steel City Road Runners Club, for example, holds its distance run Saturday mornings, while the Fleet Feet Flyers holds distance runs on Sunday mornings. The groups provide turn-by-turn directions for different running distances.
In addition, the groups offer training lessons, such as how runners can take care of their bodies.
Steel City Road Runners Club member Vanessa Jameson, who has run three marathons, said a benefit of training for long runs with a group is the accountability it builds in runners.
"Running is one of those things that sometimes, five minutes before the run, the last thing you want to do is go run," Jameson said. "But 10 minutes after you've been running, you just feel like it's the best thing you could have done for yourself that day. Having someone that can take you over that five-minute-before-the-run hump is really important."
Club members say they enjoy socializing.
Flowers said the Steel City Road Runners Club had a get-together featuring food after its Saturday run on St. Patrick's Day. Members of the Fleet Feet Flyers have breakfast after their Sunday morning runs.
Among the more unusual clubs is the People Who Run Downtown, now in its 26th year. Although the name suggests it's strictly a Downtown club, members meet every Tuesday evening at a Pittsburgh-area restaurant and run either two, four or six miles in a loop back to the restaurant, where they have dinner and drinks.
"One of the reasons I (started the club) was to try to get people down into the city, to enjoy the city and know everything the city has to offer," said creator Dale Schwab, who got the idea from a group he encountered while working in Detroit in the mid-1980s. "People don't realize it if they stay in the suburbs or their one area of town and just run the same route all the time."
Schwab said People Who Run Downtown has visited 273 restaurants. "I've gotten to eat a lot of food," he said.