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Find Your Tribe

by Yvette Casallas on March 30, 2024

I've lived in London all my life, but I never considered joining a run club or hanging out with a group of runners. I happily trained on my own doing solo miles through the concrete busy streets of London and local parks. I only did fitness classes or used the gym equipment at my old job. So using the facilities at work was the only 'group activity' I did. It was never social or felt like it had a sense of community atmosphere. The instructor who came to our office to train us mentioned he was a coach for a community that was part of an outdoor brand at the time. He told me to pop along one day and try it out. I wasn't sure whether I would like training with a group in public spaces and I didn't think it would appeal to me. However, despite my reservations, it was an opportunity to meet people, branch out a bit and do something different to my usual routine, which felt quite monotonous anyway. 

And so the story begins...


It can be a bit daunting not knowing anyone, an option would be to bring a buddy for moral support, but I went alone as I didn't have anyone that would be keen to try the session. The moment I turned up, I immediately felt welcomed and soon realised they did more than just train outdoors in the local park. They hosted monthly trail-runs, workshops, athlete events and indoor climbing. Suddenly I felt like I'd found something that interested me with great curiosity. It was refreshing to try something different and the people I met had opened up my mind to what I had been missing the entire time. It was simply, being more outdoors! I felt happier being in an outdoor environment, in nature, so trail-running became my favourite activity. I just didn't do enough of it or know how to get to the trails beyond London.


I had found a group that I could connect with, it made me want to embrace this community as I had a good feeling I would learn so much from them. It fuelled a passion to explore more. I was immediately inspired by others who had various outdoor experiences and knowledge from climbing, mountaineering, navigating, trail-running to going on multi-day adventures. It occurred to me that I was living with blinkers over my eyes in my own city, I'd become stuck in this repetitive routine and forgot that I was once that intrepid explorer who travelled the world backpacking with friends. I was once a free spirit, but rapidly got trapped into the city-work-life pattern straight after university. Too quickly I got sucked into an office environment and forgot who I was and had no goals or ambition. Being part of this community gave me a sense of purpose and belonging. It also allowed me to discover new hobbies, develop new skills, learn about exploration and outdoor gear and most importantly challenge my abilities. It also gave me the courage to sign up to my first trail race event in Dorset in preparation for a race in the Dolomite mountains.


My first experience of mountain running gave me the urge to do more and push the boundaries. Fast forward a few years, as my confidence grew, so did the distances I signed up for. Since that first race, I've taken part in mountainous, technical ultra races around the UK and Europe. Years of being part of this wholesome community taught me a lot, discovering I was far more capable than I realised and was really good at endurance running. I felt more fearless of the unknown. The people I got to know became life-long friends and are still close to me 7 years later, continuing to plan races and adventures together whenever possible. I have never felt so attached to a community of like-minded people who shared the same values.



I recall when COVID had a deep impact on running communities. Everything came to an immediate halt and we could no longer mingle in person and train together. Weekend adventure plans were on hold, we were trapped in our homes. That's when I truly realised how much I depended on a community. How meaningful it felt to belong to a group and regularly meet up with people. For some of us it was our outlet, it was an inclusive shared space, a social-gathering and a form of escapism.


As we were progressively allowed to return to group activities, by that stage the pandemic had led to a lot of changes already. People moved away from cities to more greener locations. In other cases, some had to make career changes. Running communities weren't the same anymore, the dynamics had changed. Attendance numbers had to be limited, there were still the odd restrictions and the main core people had left.


As for the outdoor group I was very closely involved with, it unfortunately came to an end. Around about the same time, I was faced with making a tough decision. My boyfriend wanted to move back to his hometown in Bristol and start a new career. I always thought I would settle in London forever, so moving cities and leaving my friends and family behind was hard to let go of. However, with everything that was happening, maybe it was the right opportunity for me to start a fresh. Place my roots somewhere else for a change and see what would happen! 

It wasn't easy leaving behind the friendships I had gained and the network of people I knew. It was also all the memories and connections I had with the city and people. Equally, it wasn't easy moving to a new place that I knew so little about and had no circle of friends or acquaintances. I moved to Bristol with no job, moved into a new flat that had to be renovated, and had no idea what I wanted to do or if I would feel happy with my decision. I felt anxious and wondered if I would build a similar life that I had in London. But I saw this as a new chapter to embrace.


I heard Bristol was a great place to live in, and I was looking forward to a different pace of life and making a few new changes. I was totally removed from everything I once had or was a part of, so just like before I was back to square one - Finding my feet again in search of a new community to join. It was lonely at first, it took time to adjust and adapt to a new environment. I was back to running alone exploring my local area for a while, getting to know my neighbourhood and learning to navigate my way around central Bristol.



What I hadn't taken into account was how hilly Bristol was compared to London! The transportation isn't exactly reliable, therefore you were quicker on foot to reach places. I loved the fact that I had trails on my doorstep such as Blaise Castle, Ashton Court and Leigh Woods and running around the Harbour was scenic. As much as I liked being in my own company running alone for endless miles, I did miss the social meet ups and community element. Bristol was like London; a vibrant, diverse and energetic city with history, culture and buzzing with all sorts of events and festivals. So I had no doubt that I would find plenty of things to do and come across various communities to check out. 


Eventually, thanks to the power of social media and some people I followed on Instagram who I knew lived in Bristol - I was able to allocate various running groups. To my surprise, there were so many I think I counted around 15 running groups/clubs - you could practically turn up to a different session every day of the week and your calendar would be full of events! No matter where you went in Bristol you would always see a bunch of runners in formation either doing hard efforts or chatty miles. What I liked about the variety of these clubs was that they had their own vibe, priorities, unique values and set up. Whether you are a beginner or experienced runner, road or a trail-adventurer, there are so many options to try out, you will find the right community to suit you. Some are free to attend and other clubs you need to sign up to become a member for a small fee.


I came across a few clubs closer to where I lived that were on my radar and have attended a few times; Queens Square Run Club (QSRC) and Left Handed Giant Run Club (LHG Run Club). Both have such an awesome presence, mega-social, inclusive and diverse. LHG Run Club are all about no egos, no show-offs and just good vibes. They stand for equality, empowerment and community and enjoy a post-run beer and pizza. QSRC are donut obsessed, love dogs and social-runs. Both encourage people to join in no matter the ability, focusing on supporting and motivating each other and sharing their love of running. They’re super friendly, enjoy a good time and have a camaraderie atmosphere.


I did officially join a road and cross-country running club called Westbury Harriers, established in 1924 (recently celebrated their Centenary) and have been inspiring runners since the start from under 11s and Juniors to Seniors and Masters. They combine structured training sessions as well as social midweek/weekend runs and take part in club competitions competing in races and leagues. This club has so much history, the current members are from Bristol and have been coming to the club for many, many years. Westbury Harriers has had many successes, it’s great to be part of a well established club with so many talented runners, and I proudly wear my club vest. . For someone who's never had a coach or been to structured training sessions before, this club has helped me improve my speed and performance and encouraged me to compete in the XC Gwent League for the first time. A lot of the time, running groups and clubs will influence you to do something for the first time, and once you've tried it, 99% of the time, you will want to go back and do it again. 


If you've moved to a new area and find yourself feeling a little lost, lacking motivation or in need of a social network, then start with researching your local area for running groups and clubs. Don't be shy in reaching out to them to find out more about what they do, or just be bold and turn up. The majority of the time, people will welcome you and immediately make you feel part of the crew. I think it's great to join these communities because you learn and gain so much and there are so many positive reasons why I encourage you to Find Your Own Tribe. It may be a little nerve-racking meeting strangers, seeing people you don't know, but without a doubt you will meet others that you can relate to or have common interests with.


Before you know it you're building friendships and connections. Joining a running group or club will provide motivation, support, inspiration and guidance. It’ll give you something to look forward to, hold you accountable to show up, help you to stay consistent and having the social element is an added bonus too. Equally it will provide huge mental and physical benefits training with people. Helping each other to focus on running goals, improve fitness and wellbeing and feel safe in a group environment. It's about teamwork, sharing and celebrating the successes of one another. 

Whether you're looking for a social fun group with post-run beers or needing specific training to improve your running performance, want to run competitively or just want to blaze through muddy trails, you will find a run club or group that is right for you. The outcome will always be positive and you won’t regret joining a community. Running doesn't have to be a solo journey, it can also bring people together and become a shared experience. 



Words by Yvette Casallas // Images by David Altabev