By Jessica Carroll
If a person spends a Saturday morning at a popular trailhead in town, one finds hundreds of individuals getting after it with headphones on and GPS watches tracking. To run is to be solitary, this has mostly been true. But I think back to when running meant survival. Running alongside tribe members to outrun food, predators, elements of weather, or disease.
We don't have to outrun much these days in order to ensure our survival. So, when we decide to take up this ancient activity, why does it feel good to do so alongside others? Is this ancestral practice related to our natural human yearning for the connection? Is connection what carried us down the path of survival? ?
I feel this powerfully within a running group during the few wordless moments of feet scraping trail and breathing forced from lungs. We're together to find something, something better inside ourselves.
To build community is to understand this yearning - then grow the heart straight out of it.
Upon moving to Austin in the spring of 2017, I began to brush my fingertips over the building blocks of a running community. When I chose to fully immerse myself in what the community had to offer I fully became an architect.
Austin's running community is vast and varied, as many are in large cities. I've never seen such an eclectic group of people willingly spend so much time together doing something so seemingly miserable, so many days a week. We joke that we seek the suffer together but we know that it is only with one another that we grow stronger.
I was able to tap into this essence of transcendence with one of the first running groups I joined in 2017 - the East Side Beer Runners. It was a small but mighty group of all ages and running levels. Big heart. Free beer. I was hooked.
Soon, just showing up every run didn’t feel enough. I slowly but surely became devoted to telling the story of these runners through social media, found myself taking on a leadership role within the group, and joyously watched as the group grew to over 50 people per week.
The seed I planted to ensure our growth was the power of connection. I watered that seed by capturing photos and videos of our runners cheering each other on as well as the well-earned post-run beers, sweaty hugs, and candid laughter. . The community matured with each affirmation and reassurance captured on film, so much that any person could walk up to our group and know what to expect. I found humor, ease, and welcome blooming from each word of encouragement. . I witnessed community and friendship fostering despite challenging hill repeats, track workouts, and tempo runs. Naturally, workouts felt tangible. Finally, I sought to prune fear from the idea of running with a group. I was eager to tap into the ancestral kinship through movement in order to keep us all getting out the door every day.
Creating space for runners at every point in their running journey is a delicate recipe of genuine people, welcoming atmosphere, and ease in the approach of the workouts. Frequent visibility of a running community via social media and word of mouth cultivates longevity and belonging. Once the first mile's step is taken and smiles are exchanged - they'll know their home.