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Create a running/walking group

1. Add Running to the culture2

Parkersburg’s River City Runners and Walkers hold dozens of events every year. When there’s an adult run, there are children’s events too. “This is becoming a running town,” said longtime board member Sharon Marks. “We’re making it easy to start running.” Photo courtesy, River City Runners and Walkers

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When the Shepherdstown adult runners have a run for grownups, they often pair it with a kids’ event. “The kids events are mostly for fun,” said Dr. Mark Cucuzzella. “We want the kids to learn to love running and associate it with a good time and good health.” Photo courtesy Mark Cucuzzella

Parkersburg’s River City Runners and Walkers Club offers more more than 30 events a year, including their national award-winning beginners’ clinics. More than 1,000 people – including more than 400 kids - participate each year.

And after 20 years, the club is still all volunteer-run. Each of the board members take responsibility for directing at least one event.  They have organized running clubs in all the high schools.

“We wanted to make running part of the culture here, and you can’t do that if you just have a few events a year,” said Sharon Marks, longtime board member. “You need to build something that’s there for people week after week.”

“It’s great to attract people from out of town to your events, and we do that,” she said, “but our main focus has always been the people who live here, helping them run and walk and get fit from week to week.”

The group posts daily runs for people who want to run with somebody.  “This not a clubby, exclusive group,” Marks said. “We’re very accessible. We never say, “Oh, you don’t look like you can run with us.” If you fall behind on a daily run, we’ll come back and get you.”

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Women of the Lincoln County’s Mud River Volunteer Fire Department had no track, gym or nearby grocery. But they dramatically improved their health by forming their own group, walking every day and working out at the fire station to exercise videos. “Our doctors told us we needed to do something, and.we just decided OK, we’re going to do it,” said group member Melisa Ferrell. In six months, they lost an average of 70 pounds apiece. Photo: Kate Long

Regular club events are an answer to the teenage complaint of “nothing to do,” she said. “We have a blast.”

Read more: www.rivercityrunners.com

Read the rest of the Sharon Marks interview here.

River City Runners may be the state’s oldest running group, but other groups are growing fast.

  • In Jackson County, more than 700 people joined Moovin’and Groovin’ in 2013, a walking, moving and healthy eating group organized through the county health department and Medical Reserve Corps. They had children’s games and got the senior centers competing against each other.  They hooked into various local businesses that gave discounts to anyone who had a group card. “It’s been just great,” said organizer Wendy Crawford. https://www.facebook.com/JacksonCountyMoovinandGroovin

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    When the Jackson County Health Department invited the public to join the new “Moovin’ and Groovin’” program, they hoped for maybe 200 members, nurse Wendy Crawford said. They got more than 700! “People are hungry for something like this,” Crawford said. Photo courtesy Moovin’ and Groovin’

  • In Glenville, volunteers parlayed a $3,000 grant from West Virginia on the Move into Gilmer County on the  Move, a running and walking program that now has hundreds of members. “From that seed, we’re still going,” said organizer Jeff Campbell. https://www.facebook.com/gilmercountyonthe.move?fref=ts
  • In Shepherdstown, the organizers of their huge once-a-year Freedom’s Run organize events and almost-weekly clinics all year for children and adults. Every year, they donate the proceeds (net about $15,000) to build running trails at schools and support a hiking program for middle-schoolers at the National Park. http://www.freedomsrun.org/
  • In Mingo County, the Tug River Road Runners team up with the Mingo Diabetes Coalition to offer every-month 5Ks for local residents in Williamson, to help the build the running habit. “When people know there’s going to be another 5K the next month, they get out and do daily runs, so they can beat their time,” organizer Alexis Batausa said.  See  http://mingodiabetes.com.

Want to start or expand a running/walking club?

Here’s advice from people who are already doing it:

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With a few thousand in seed money from West Virginia on the Move, Gilmer County created Gilmer on the Move, which is still going. “We want to make exercise visible, so people see it as just part of what we do,” he said. “When it hasn’t been that way, you have to do it deliberately.” Here, racers run through the middle of Glenville. Photo courtesy Nancy Tompkins

  • Make a list of people in your community who run or walk regularly. They care about running/walking. They may be interested in helping start a group that will make it easier for others to run and walk. Bring those people together to talk about it. Attract them with tasty, healthy food.
    • Go beyond people you know. Try www.meetup.com. Search your zip code to see if there is a walking group in your area. If not, put up a notice that says a new running/walking group is organizing. Tell where the meeting is.
    • Schedule some run/walks, informal “let’s walk or run together” events. This is a good first step to a community group. Put notices in the newspaper and in social media.
  • If you type “how to organize a community walking and running program” into a search engine, you’ll get a wide variety of useful resources. Here are some of the best:
    • A readable guide from the Complete Running Web site. http://completerunning.com/archives/2007/07/23/how-to-start-a-running-club
    • The Road Runners Clubs of America guide to starting a running club is more comprehensive and is probably the guide. and http://www.rrca.org/club-directors/start-a-club/. Many local WV running/walking clubs are affiliated with this organization.
    • The RRCA’s “runner-friendly community” program  lists the steps a community needs to take to reach that designation. It is a roadmap to becoming a model community program:  http://www.rrca.org/programs/runner-friendly-community

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      Mingo County’s Diabetes Coalition encourages running in a variety of ways, with a daily practice run advertised on their facebook page almost every day. They also organize the Tuesday Night Track group, which anybody is free to join at any time. Photo courtesy Mingo Diabetes Coalition

  • Try West Virginia University Extension Service’s “Wild Wonderful Walking” packet gives you what you need to start a X-week walking program. It can be a stepping-stone to an ongoing program or an ongoing program can offer it. To get the free kit and materials, contact Extension’s Elaine Bowen: EPBowen@mail.wvu.edu; 304-293-8584. Or go to http://fh.ext.wvu.edu/health/heart-health/love-your-heart-movement/lyh_activities/wild-wonderful-walking-group
  •  Make a way your group benefits local charities. That motivates people. River City Runners and Walkers donates a portion of each race’s proceeds to a different charity and raises money for running shoes for kids who can’t afford them. Read interview with Sharon Marks about the organization of River City Runners and Walkers here.
  • Here’s a guide to organizing single walk/run events: http://www2.ca.uky.edu/HES/FCS/FACTSHTS/HEEL-LR-919.pdf  (Kentucky Extension Service)

Start a children’s running program.

Parkersburg’s River City Runners and Walkers holds at least one children’s event each time they have an adult event. Children get a T-shirt at the first one, and an iron-on star for all afterwards. At the end of the year, if they have four stars, they come to a childrens’ party at the Y. Photo: Kate Long

Put up a Web site or facebook page that lets people know what’s happening, when the next 5K is, the routes and times of daily runs. Examples:

  • The Tug River Runners let people know almost several times a week where a run will start, so people can join in:
  • Wheeling Runs does the same:  https://www.facebook.com/TugValleyRoadRunnersClub
  • River City Runners and Walkers has an extensive Web site URL  and a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/149514338481

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    Retired Mingo County teachers Debbie Young, Mary Ann Elia, and Dru Simpkins started walking together when the Mingo Diabetes Coalition started lunchtime walk challenges. Two years later, they were walking four miles a day to keep in shape for the monthly 5Ks in Williamson. Photo: Kate Long

Plan a monthly program, not just a couple of days a year. If there are events every month, people can build a running or walking habit. It provides the support needed. See the Schedule regular events page.

Go visit a West Virginia club. A few years ago, there were only two or three. That situation is changing fast. Some clubs are active every week, others less so. Most West Virginia clubs are affiliates of the Road Runners Clubs of America. It’s an easy way to get started: www.rrca.org.

Keep up with West Virginia running events. Here are calendars:

 Want funding for your group? See $$$ page.

 Related Try This pages:  Start a kids’ running program, Run-for-fun programs in the schoolsCreate a trail system, Girls on the Run, Community walking/running challenges, organize beginner running classes

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