Social movement: urban running crews and how they’re changing running

TrackMafia // LONDON

‘We started this little thing for no reason other than we wanted to run, we wanted to have fun and get faster,’ says Track Mafia co-founder Cory Wharton-Malcolm (aka @bitbeefy). ‘So three of us started running around the track and over the years it’s progressed and grown into this beautiful thing.’

Wharton-Malcolm, who along with being an effervescent trackside presence is a qualified running coach, leads the signature track sessions on Thursday nights from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at Paddington Recreation Ground in West London. It’s an open invitation to ‘like-minded souls in search of madness’ and although the atmosphere is laid back with plenty of laughs, the sessions are a serious mix of running drills and interval work which left some sore legs in the RW office the morning after we joined for them for a session.

So how does Wharton-Malcolm explain the appeal? ‘If you believe in something that is infectious. And it’s all geared towards engaging a different demographic who, for whatever reason, wouldn't end up at a traditional running club. To me it’s not necessarily about getting faster and smashing PBs. It’s about feeling better about yourself and being happy with the way that you move and the way that you run. My goals are more for my community, more for my friends, more for my runners and I guess the goal for us is to keep exploring, keep doing our utmost to push this sport on.’

As well as track Thursdays, there are also regular offtrack Sunday outings, other sessions and events, and members travel all over the world together to race and support crew members racing. One big, slightly crazy, but very happy family.

WORDS WE LIVE BY: ‘We want people to fall in love with their ability to get from point A to point B with a smile on their face.’

WHAT WE WEAR: 'Track Mafia clobber isn’t compulsory, but it looks so good it would be a shame not to.'

WHO WE ARE: ‘We look for attitude, a willingness to embrace discomfort, and of course, those with an eye for the outlandish and ridiculous,’ says Wharton-Malcolm.

FOLLOW US: On instagram @trackmafia_

Resident Runners // NEW YORK CITY

To run in New York City is to run through chaos – to time the lights, to hurdle fetid puddles, to enrage cyclists. To do it alone could be a burden. But to do it alongside 25 others, all of you swarming past pedestrians over the Williamsburg Bridge at dusk on a Thursday, marking your progress by graffiti and strange smells (fried fish?), pushing yourself faster than you thought you could – well, that's the challenge and joy of Resident Runners.

‘Yeah, it's a little reckless,’ says Rahsaan Rogers, who leads the crew (founded in 2013), along with his friends Eric Blevens and Raymond Hailes. ‘But it's part of running in this city. That's how we do it.’

How they do it is this: They run fast – tempo pace, whatever that speed is for each runner. ‘We tell people to chase whoever's a bit faster than you,’ says Blevens. They don't wait for stragglers. They don't talk much. And yet, despite the aggro facade, they keep the mood light. Because the run is the prelude to a party. Even if you get left behind, Blevens says. ‘We're gonna be there at the end, and we're gonna hang and get beers.’

Or tacos. Resident may be most famous for its monthly Taco Runs, relaxed five-milers that end with 40 to 60 runners cramming into Brooklyn Taco joint Gueros for the Fried Avocado and Jalapeno specialty. Frozen margaritas, however, are ‘the underlying theme,’ says Blevens. ‘They're quite large, quite strong, and we have quite a few.’

WORDS WE LIVE BY: ‘There's nothing better than getting lost in New York when you're running – it's how you figure everything out,’ says Blevens.

OUR NEMESIS: ‘The biggest beef, honestly, isn't even with the cars – it's cyclists who hate us,’ says Rogers. ‘There are a lot of times when we're running in the bike lanes, and some guy will come by and curse us out. It's a nonstop battle.’

FOLLOW US: On Instagram @residentrunners

 

 

Paris Running Club // PARIS

Don’t be fooled by the ‘club’ here, this is most definitely a crew. Founded In 2008 by Jay Smith with the intention of creating something different to the existing Paris running scene. ‘I started to run with a bunch of friends and creative people in Paris, to have fun and to try to reinvent the way we run in cities,’ says Smith. Fun may be high on the agenda, but they also take their running seriously. ‘Since day one I’ve worked with Renaud Longuevre, the head coach of the French Olympic track and field team,’ says Smith, ‘and our philosophy was to adapt professional running methods to beginners without a track or a stadium. The city was our stadium.’

Every Tuesday evening the group meet for this mix of serious training in an urban environment, running around the 11th district along the river Seine with sessions involving ‘warm-up, pain, suffering, smiles, sweat, more smiles, drills, intervals… you name it,’ says Smith. And if Paris on Tuesdays doesn’t fit with your schedule, it’s well worth ‘joining’ via their Instagram feed. ‘Social media is a playground for us,’ says Smith. ‘We are trying to show different kind of images – you might have classic session pics, but also more inspirational ones, and a lot of artistic shots, too. It’s not only about running.’

So what sets them apart from other groups ?‘I guess it’s the humour and the sense of self deprecation,’ says Smith. ‘We are not cocky, we are open and smiley, and we really love to run together.’

WHO WE ARE: ‘It’s a big split, there are crazy fast runners and beginners. Most come from the Paris creative scene…communication, fashion, marketing, music etc.’

WHAT WE WEAR: ‘Black and white. Only black and white. No neon!’

WORDS WE LIVE BY: ‘We want to have fun with attitude; we want to run with attitude.’

GIVING BACK: ‘We organise solidarity days where we raise money for the immigrant community in Paris.’

FOLLOW: On instagram @paris_rc

 

 

Unnamed Run Crew // BOSTON, USA

The Unnamed Run Crew (UNMD for short) was created as ‘an act of defiance,’ its founder, Leandrew Belnavis, says jokingly. He wanted to promote the diversity and friendliness he felt were missing from Boston's hypercompetitive, traditionally preppy running clubs.

Today, the UNMD's group runs of three to five miles, which start at a high-end ‘sneaker boutique’ called Laced near the city's Back Bay neighbourhood, are energetic and loud and designed to attract attention in whichever neighbourhood the 30-plus members –

‘of every possible colour, Belnavis says – are passing through.

‘What the f--k is this?’ Belnavis wants observers to say. Followed by, ‘You know what, I'm gonna drop what I'm doing and join you.’

And people do. Over the summer, two random women, visiting from New York, spotted the UNMD doing track relays and demanded to join right then and there. It was raining, and they didn't have running gear, but that didn't matter. They ran.

Which is exactly why the crew was created. Belnavis wants everyone to join weekly rambles through the city's different neighborhoods: the fast, the slow (‘sexy-pace runners,’ Belnavis calls them), and everyone in between. ‘I want them all to feel like rock stars at the end of the session every time.’ 

WE DRESS TO: Impress. What you put on your feet matters to Belnavis, who plans the runs out of the sneaker shop Laced to reflect his sneaker obsession. He appreciates ‘any type of collaboration between fashion and function.’

DON'T RUN WITH US IF: ‘You have derogatory things to say about the LGBT community, find racial remarks appropriate in normal conversation, believe feminism is a joke,’ Belnavis says. ‘But if you care about community, celebrating diversity, and getting fit, there's a place in this crew for you.’ 

FOLLOW US: On Instagram @unnamedruncrew

Ghetto Run Crew // RIO DE JANEIRO

In Zona Norte, the gritty north side of Rio de Janeiro, ‘things are difficult, more slow,’ says Junior Cruz, founder of the Ghetto Run Crew. The government and police are of little help, he says, so he often asks himself, ‘How can I do more?’ His answer: running.

He founded the crew in 2013 as a movement for Zona Norte women to connect, get healthier, and feel energised. ‘Women from the north side need to fight much harder to win in life than those from the rich parts of the city do,’ he says.

Quickly, the crew blossomed and has since expanded to include all genders. Roughly 50 runners show up for twice-weekly nighttime ‘corres’ (jogs), and as many as 300 join two mass runs a month. ‘We don't invite people – people just come,’ says Cruz. ‘If you want to run, come with us. The door is open.’

Scan the crew's Instagram, and you'll understand why: the images are breathtaking. Runners wear black T-Shirts, charging past graffitied retaining walls, down narrow alleys, across chain-link-fenced overpasses lit by distant street lamps – it's a romantic vision of sport conquering inhuman infrastructure. ‘It's a social movement,’ says Cruz. ‘In the end, they run and the sport wins.’

WORDS WE LIVE BY: ‘We run where others don't walk.’

WE WERE FOUNDED: ‘To show that the ghetto is much more than a cliche,’ says Cruz. ‘And to show that the women in here can do much more than they can imagine.’

 

WHY WE RUN: ‘The search for equity has become our real flag,’ says Cruz.

AFTER A RUN, WE'RE: In ‘the bunker’ – a.k.a. Cruz's place. ‘There, we can be real people, talk about economics, art, marketing, and people's personal lives.’ But sometimes, he adds, ‘we go to the bar and drink, drink, drink.’

FOLLOW US: On instagram @ghettoruncrew

 

 

Blacklista // LOS ANGELES, USA

L.A. is a city built for cars: the freeways, the winding canyon roads, the sun-bleached strip-mall parking lots. But for the last four years, every Monday night at 10pm, up to 300 runners roam on foot with BlacklistLA, in search of eye-popping murals, public art, and graffiti.

‘It's like running through a museum,’ says Erik Valiente, the 29-year-old former Nike retail worker who started the crew in 2013. ‘It keeps your head on the swivel and makes the run more interesting.’

While each run may pass multiple pieces of public art, there's usually one destination mural. Past routes have featured Tristan Eaton's "Peace by Piece" – a commentary on conflict located at The Container Yard in the downtown district – or work by the famed French street artist JR.

While the art runs are BlacklistLA's big draw, the crew is at heart about getting Angelenos to appreciate all aspects of their city. On Wednesdays, members will design routes that run through up to six different neighborhoods. And once a year, the crew puts on the HBD LA 5K – a sanctioned race that commemorates the city's founding – which starts and ends at the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. ‘We wanted to make sure that we trace the founders' routes when they walked in to declare this city a city,’ says Valiente. 

OUR CITY IS: ‘Untapped. LA is car-centric, and people arriving here simply rent a car to get from point A to point B,’ Valiente says. ‘They don't realise you can run two or three miles through urban scenery, end up at Griffith or Elysian Park, do some workouts there, then run trails, see the Hollywood sign, see the Valley, and finish – all within seven miles.’ 

DON'T RUN WITH US IF: ‘You're impatient waiting at lights.’ 

WORDS WE LIVE BY: ‘Echale ganas. Give it your all.’ 

FOLLOW US: On Instagram @blacklistla

Patta Running Team // AMSTERDAM

'We don’t take everything too damn serious,’ says Edson Sabajo, who started Patta in the summer of 2008. ‘Of course we want to go all out and break personal records, but we also like to party, have a good glass of whisky, or have a long stroll around a museum. We are just showing other people that, no matter what you do, your age, weight or the weather you can do this.’

On Tuesdays the Patta crew run intervals, Wednesdays are easy and Sunday is long run day, but they’re not slaves to structure: ‘Most of the time we just call up somebody and say “Hee, you wanna run?”,’ says Sabajo.

The group’s welcoming philosophy creates a diverse mix, ‘in running speed, height, weight, gender and age,’ says Sabajo ‘Work environment doesn't matter either – we have members who are lawyers, police officers, you name it! As long as they have fun while running and do their best, everything is fine. If you want to join the group just come and train. Everybody is welcome as long as I have space. Crewlove, all day, every day!’

WE'RE INSPIRED: ‘I want to give a special shout out to Mike Seas and Charlie Dark from Bridge Runners and Run Dem Crew who planted the seeds of this global social running movement,’ says Sabajo. ‘And to the crews pioneering the Bridge The Gap movement: NBRO, Berlin Braves, Paris Running Club and Moscow River Runners. Keep doing what you are doing and we will meet on the road somewhere in the world!’

WORDS WE LIVE BY: “S’avonds een man, s’ochtends een man” is a Dutch expression that basically means that if you party hard you should also be prepared for the consequences in the morning…

FOLLOW US: On instagram @pattarunningteam

The Nine Four // CAPE TOWN

In 2014, Paul Ward founded The Nine Four – a name inspired by the year South Africa became free, and symbolising the freedom for mixed groups of people to run together, in any area. They’re a group of people aged 20 to 30 who are creative, listen to the same music, and party together. The crew run through the urban streets at night, and afterwards, they hang out together at their base – a clubhouse called The Burrow, in the heart of Cape Town. Half of it is lockers and showers and the other half is a living room with couches, table tennis and an X-Box.

Sometimes, events are hosted at The Burrow – it’s a platform for DJs, cooks and the odd sneakerhead to collaborate. ‘Although running is the core, building a family that supports each other is vital – not just in running, but in all aspects of life,’ says Ward. ‘That’s why we’ve limited our number of members to 30.’

WHO WE ARE: ‘My friends and I are a group of creative people: artists, illustrators, designers, sneaker-shop owners, models and bloggers,’ says Ward. ‘We come from all over the city: Bishop Lavis, Tamboerskloof, the city centre and the southern suburbs.’

WHAT WE WEAR: Black T-shirts and reversed caps, emblazoned with a white rabbit logo – which symbolises an animal that you can chase, but you can’t catch.

HOW WE CONNECT: The Nine Four is part of the Bridge The Gap movement (search #bridgethegap #btg on Instagram), which connects running crews from around the world.

FOLLOW US: On Instagram @theninefour

Run Wild Cle // CLEVELAND, USA

‘What should we be hitting on this rep?’ ‘How far should we be running on this long run?’ These were the types of ultra-specific questions that Tim Kelly was hearing all the time – and realised not everyone wants to hear them. A coach for marathon and half-marathon programmes at 2nd Sole, a running shop in Lakewood, Ohio, Kelly felt that too many of his runners were missing out on running's free-form joy. ‘When I run for fun, I don't need a watch,’ said the 27-year-old Cleveland native.

So in the winter of 2015, Kelly launched Run Wild CLE, a crew dedicated to weekly workouts that can be as wacky as they are grueling. Think games of Duck Duck Goose, ‘but instead of sitting on the ground you're doing squats, you're doing burpees and lunges.’ Or relays where you sprint up a grass hill, roll halfway back down, just like you did when you were 10, then dash dizzily down to tag the next racer. Along the way, Kelly's groups of 40 to 90 runners make use of overlooked aspects of Cleveland's urban environment, like the grass terraces next to the state courthouse, the benches and grass field above the convention centre, or the sand dunes on Edgewater Beach.

DON'T RUN WITH US IF: You only want to run. There will be body-weight work, and silliness. ‘People are thrown by that,’ says Kelly. ‘But they leave happy.’

WHAT IT COSTS: Nothing. ‘It will always be free,’ Kelly says. ‘But the payment is, you have to do one good deed in the week to follow.’

WORDS WE LIVE BY: ‘Run wild, do good. #rwdg’

WHERE YOU'LL FIND US: Friday night at different locations around the city. ‘Not everyone wants to go out for dinner and beer on Fridays.’ So that's when they run, and have the city to themselves.

FOLLOW US: On Instagram @runwildcle

Thesis run crew // SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA

Thesis (in this case, ‘research to illustrate a new point of view about street culture’) began as a streetwear and lifestyle brand – with a small shop in the Sowetan township of Mofolo Village, selling T-shirts and bucket hats inspired by youth culture in the streets: art, graffiti, music.

Founder Wandile Zondo used the shop as a base for his training runs – and as more people living in his neighbourhood noticed, they wanted to join him. The group hang out at the shop after their runs, and even have BBQs at each other’s houses.

The crew prides itself on being beginner-friendly. ‘Londiwe was a complete beginner when we first saw her, running in Pimville,’ Zondo remembers. ‘She was overweight and had a long way to go; but we helped her to improve by sharing our knowledge of nutrition and training. Now she’s in marathon training.’

OUR PHILOSOPHY: ‘Anyone can run, from bankers to creative souls. As long as you’re passionate about running, you will be accepted into our movement,’ says Zondo. 

A LEARNING CURVE: ‘There’s always someone in our crew who’s more experienced than you, and who’s more than happy to share their expertise.’

WE LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER: ‘When I sustained a calf injury, my friends encouraged me to forget about achieving a silver medal in the Soweto Marathon, and instead focus on healing and rest. If I hadn’t listened to the advice my crew shared, I might still be carrying that injury with me today.’

FOLLOW US: On Instagram @thesisruncru

Braamfie runners // BRAAMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA

Braamfie Runners began in 2012 as an invite-only club for influencers and celebrities. But as more and more ordinary people became inspired by the club’s running posts on social media, it expanded into a fully-fledged running crew, which now has in excess of 50 members.

It’s an informal group with stacks of personality: artists, medical students, DJs – you name it. ‘Our members are young, fashionable people who love to express themselves in the way that they dress for a run,’ explains member Netswa Ngwenya. ‘They’re more concerned with socialising than smashing a PB.’

The crew runs from their base in a popular hub in Braamfontein, where there are funky, trendy spaces like the Neighbourgoods Market and the Bannister Hotel. Many of Braamfie’s urban runs are connected to events, and to spaces such as museums and stadiums. And members are treated to a BBQ on the first Thursday of every month.

Braamfie Runners train in large groups, which makes the streets safer for women runners – and they’re free to wear any gear they like, without fear of heckling or negative comments.

OUR PHILOSOPHY: ‘Our T-shirts are emblazoned with the Bridge The Gap (a movement that connects run crews from around the world) motto: ‘Run. Party. Repeat.’ ‘The message is that you can have fun while running,’ says member Stuart Hendricks.

OUR EXPERTISE: ‘We have a few accomplished runners, some of whom have run Comrades (a 56-mile ultra-marathon) in under eight hours. Among our members are physiotherapists and biokineticists,’ says Ngwenya.

BESIDES RUNNING: The crew is involved in community projects – one event was a charity drive for a shelter in Yeoville.

FOLLOW US: On Instagram @braamfierunners

The 504TH // NEW ORLEANS, USA

This bayou city is like nowhere else. It's a constant party. It's hot, flat, and humid. Its neighbourhoods – some well-to-do, others less so – are tight-knit and full of personality.

And through them all, the 504th runs. The young crew aims to unite New Orleans's disparate aspects. ‘For me,’ says Trey Monaghan, a restaurateur who is one of five co-captains, ‘this crew represents family – like a gang. Some gangs fight, but we're fortunate enough that my gang just runs, and we run all over the city,’ from the touristy French Quarter to the Lower Ninth Ward.

Though some of the neighbourhoods aren't used to seeing group runs, they've welcomed the 504th. ‘We get curious waves from neighbours,’ says Monaghan. On a recent jaunt through Hollygrove (home to Lil Wayne), one kid rode his BMX bike alongside the group, popping wheelies.

‘Folks are already adjusted to seeing a crew of people roaming together,’ says Marquest "Quest" Meeks, another co-captain. ‘The quizzical part for them is seeing us running, with nothing to run from. But they see our togetherness, and you don't need to translate that.’

WORDS WE LIVE BY: ‘Get out and explore,’ says Monaghan.

 HOW WE RISE: New Orleans may be flat, but Monaghan says there's a workaround: ‘For elevation we've found the best thing that we can do is run in the parking garages and hit the ramps.’

OUR CAUSE: Youth Run NOLA, a programme in 30 schools around the city that encourages kids to log miles. (504th co-captain Denali Lander is the organisation's executive director.) The training culminates in the Crescent City Classic, ‘which is an amazingly fun, fast 10K,’ Monaghan says.

FOLLOW US: On Instagram @the504th

VOLTWOMEN // COPENHAGEN, DENMARK

‘We formed Voltwomen in 2013 out of a desire to support each other in pushing our physical and mental barriers,’ says Julie Hyld. ‘We wanted to challenge and support each other as women and found this widely echoed others’ experiences, like a dormant force ready to be unleashed.’

‘We also felt a need to highlight a different type of female runner who was not present in marketing imagery. We wanted the show the effort in running, the work and the reward, the toughness and vulnerability. There’s a certain look in a person’s eyes when they unlock a hitherto dormant strength. Running has become a tool that allows us to uncover latent potential of both body and mind.’

Voltwomen extends way beyond its home city, connecting and inspiring women runners with a shared perspective all over the world. ‘We are not a crew per say,’ says Hyld. ‘We are a digital social platform, that connects women from all over the world. We engage and inspire women to learn from the strength from elite runners, or the powerful statement of women from Jeddah and Dubai running in Hijab. We do not want to control others, but to help them thrive with respect and autonomy with the help of this supportive sisterhood.’

Male runners shouldn’t feel excluded from this inclusive movement though: ‘Men support by following us and observing a different story - women who work hard to be better, explore challenges and push boundaries,’ says Hyld.   

WHAT WE WEAR: ‘We don’t have a kit, but we have a logo that we all had tattooed the day we founded Voltwomen. And now others are getting the same tattoo - which we love.’

AWAY FROM RUNNING: ‘We work as mediators and consultants on projects that need to understand the true power of women. We have a very unique network – we engage with the projects people share and encourage that entrepreneurial energy.’

WHO WE ARE: ‘Strong women doing all kinds of sports, pushing limits and breaking barriers.’

WORDS WE LIVE BY: ‘We see running as a tool for growth in life and acknowledge that the impact and change that can come with pushing yourself filters into life.’ 

FOLLOW US: On Instagram @voltwomen