Love & Wisdom

Fitness and Friendship

Couch potato finds camaraderie in running clubs

By Megan Pavek August 16, 2023

Join inclusive running clubs

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

I never thought I would be the type of person to join a running club. Picture a subpar physique lacking in muscle and mental fortitude, throw in an admittedly too-long stint of smoking cigarettes, and add an aversion to hills as the cherry on top.

However, when I moved to Seattle, I quickly learned it might be difficult to meet new people through my usual activity of choice, lounging. Fueled by the excitement of experiencing the Emerald City, I left my previous Minneapolis neighborhood in a whirlwind. Deep down, I was cognizant of the holes being ripped into my once expansive social circle, but the prospect of escaping winter was all too exhilarating.

Friends warned me about the rainfall, high cost of living, and especially the infamous “Seattle Freeze.” It was easier to romanticize the weather and the $17 cocktails, but the lore surrounding the locals’ distaste for new friendships was puzzling, if not frightening.

Navigating this new landscape seemed to require a type of skill that I did not possess, in a post-pandemic world swirling with the ghosts of past relationships and social norms. For many newly-minted transplants, working remotely stands tall as another obstacle. Still, I chose to keep my head up and remain blissfully ignorant of the odds being increasingly stacked against me.

The Making Friends in Seattle Facebook page seemed like an underwhelming, slightly scary corner of the internet that should be avoided at all costs. Setting up a meeting with a complete stranger felt like I was asking to be catfished or lured into a weird form of a first date. Instead, I opted to download the Meetup App and stumbled across the Frelard Run Club. 

At the forefront of this group was the cheeky slogan #EarnYourBeer, which computed into my brain as “rationalize running three miles by drinking a beer afterward. Sounds great!” Besides, the club would serve as a way to spend more time outside and fend off the impending doom of seasonal depression. I would be equally remiss for not sharing that most of my motivation stemmed from using the club as an excuse to explore the Ballard Brewery District.  

I made my first nervous appearance on a drizzling Thursday evening, and was surprised by the crowd already outside Wheelie Pop Brewing. The setting was casual, and I had chosen a green hoodie adorned with a favorite sports team’s logo in hopes of catching the attention of a fellow Minnesotan. Admittedly, my outfit choice was further calculated as I didn’t want to appear as a too serious or “try-hard” runner. 

Running can seem intimidating, demanding seven-minute miles, excellent form, expensive gear, and marathon aspirations. However, studies have found consistent long-term benefits from leisure-time running, including better sleep, improved knee and back health, improved memory, and fewer colds. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that running in low doses — as little as five minutes per day — can help us live longer. 

Maybe if I had had more than one beer post-run, I would have been bolder in my social interactions that first night. The golden rule: When in doubt, talk about the weather and under no circumstances bring up umbrellas or the state of California. 

The next week I struck up a conversation with a lively fellow runner. Impressed by her ability to talk and run at the same time (I being out of breath and eventually having to stop), I made it my mission to catch up with her at Lucky Envelope Brewing afterward. On top of being amiable to the loser (me) still stubbornly wearing a cotton sweatshirt, Bonnie Chinh kindly recommended various running clubs throughout the city, maintaining that Frelard was her favorite. After drinking my Peanut Butter Cream Stout and observing the friendly, inclusive nature of the group, I could see why. 

This is exactly what Anna Friedman, Frelard Run Club’s founder, strives to create. Returning to Seattle in 2013 after three years of grad school in Colorado, Friedman wanted to bring pieces of her favorite Denver running clubs back to the Ballard neighborhood. She was also looking to meet new people who shared her love of the sport. Inclusivity and cultivating a community are the main priorities, and all skill levels are welcome. Walking is encouraged. Friedman’s biggest advice is to “just start moving” immediately, axing any prospects of competition or intimidation. 

Deciding to branch out and try a few other groups, I found myself charging up the Gas Works Park hill the following Wednesday. We hugged the edge of Lake Union before plunging into the heart of the Wallingford neighborhood, then looped back just in time for a group selfie with the Fremont Troll.

Organized by the Seattle Green Lake Running Group (SGLRG), this weekly evening run always begins and ends at the Brooks Trailhead Store on Stone Way North. The routes alternate through nine different neighborhoods or nearby scenic areas. I noticed almost everyone was running together at a leisurely pace instead of spreading out. At first, it felt unusual with a tinge of pack mentality, but over the course of four miles, it held me accountable and helped me finish strong. 

When I approach a new group for introductions, I try my best to avoid feeling like a lost teenager in a school lunchroom desperately looking for a place to sit. Cohost Craig Kohring cut straight through the awkwardness and offered a sense of comfort. He shared that he’s been running with this group for more than 10 years, and it was one of the few things that remained a constant through the bumps and shifts of life. 

SGLRG also originated on the Meetup App, with the intent of creating a supportive community to provide a variety of group runs, events, and other ways to connect with fellow runners. There is at least one run every day of the week. Whether it’s running through the city at 6 a.m., practicing laps on the Roosevelt High School track, or meeting at a Tiger Mountain trailhead, this group truly does it all. There are numerous opportunities to eat dinner, grab a drink, or have morning coffee and pastry, all post-run. 

Friends warned me about the rainfall, high cost of living, and especially the infamous “Seattle Freeze.”

Through this experience, it became clear how vast the network of running clubs is in this city. On any given day, there are multiple groups organizing different types of runs, and I relished the variety. Some runners are there strictly for exercise. Others are training together for an upcoming race. Then there are people like me who are searching for social connection. 

In hindsight, did I really expect to find my new best friends by trying out a few running clubs? No. But within each club, I found a welcoming community encouraging me to move my body and experience a neighborhood through a different lens.

Running through a pink carpet of fallen cherry blossoms surrounding Green Lake, watching the sunset cast an orange glow on industrial scenes over Shilshole Bay, feeling wind and rain on a dreary day off Lake Union, I feel more connected to the city every day. By forcing myself to try something new, run farther, and be bolder, I am slowly finding my place here in Seattle.

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