Connecting a Community of Runners

This past weekend we hosted the first Michiana Running Forum at Potato Creek State Park at the beautiful Orchard Shores shelter. Eight of us shared our stories of past experiences while leveraging our shared knowledge to envision strategies to connect runners in the area.

Thank you Paula Turk for documenting our discussion. Before I get into the details, lets be clear, the Michiana area encompasses two states: Michigan and Indiana.

Michigan: Berrien, Cassopolis, St. Joseph, VanBuren, Kalamazoo

Indiana: Lake, Newton, Porter, Jasper, LaPorte, Starke, Pulaski, St. Joseph, Marshall, Fulton, Elkhart, Kosciusko

Hometown of Attendees

These 17 counties are the area we consider “Michiana” and within those counties there is an estimated 1.6M people – we want to help. From local influencers to running clubs, our goal is to help connect.

So the discussion began when we recognized a few things we know we have going on:

  1. We have many pockets of runners
  2. We have an opportunity for more collaboration among organizations
  3. Retail stores blanket the area with only a few engaging runners
  4. Healthcare facilities continue to support the running community
  5. Visitors to our area could have better access to good routes
  6. There are opportunities for would-be runners to get connected


With these things in mind the discussion was lead to a place of inquisition and moving forward. How can we get those would-be runners connected? More running groups in local neighborhoods would just create deeper divides between runners. When we are trying to bring runners together, we must focus on destinations for runners to meet. The group, the route, and the excitement surrounding the run will bring runners together.  With destinations in mind, we moved into the ‘areas’ of Michiana and the coordination between them.
Lets be inclusive. In order to do so, we must coordinate and promote. Sharing and supporting events going on is the first step in creating a blanket of knowledge within the Michiana area. Runners are some of the best people to be around and running groups are amazing when it comes to inclusivity and welcoming new ‘members’ to the group. Wether it’s trying a new route, new gear, a new routine, or a new group – runners welcome other runners and support each other in their journey. Each of us continued to nod our head as this discussion progressed; once runners get together, magical things happen, we must do a better job of collaborating to create, coordinate, and communicate the opportunities.
Where do we find new people and where does any runner find new opportunities? Lets begin with the former. We literally brainstormed ideas of places to find new runners. Understand one thing, if you don’t run yet, then you’re not a part of a running group etc… So here is our list of places we believe are good places to begin looking for would-be runners: Library, Any Gym, Weight Watchers, Curves, Churches, Church Groups, Schools, PTAs, PTOs, Guidance Counselors, Civil Service Workers, FFA, Hospitals, IUSB, Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Bethel, AM General, and Medium and Large Employers. A few additional ideas came out later included: Wellness Directors – Onsite Health and Get Fit/Get Healthy, Recovery or Addiction Groups – AA, CFH, Eating Disorders, etc.., and Girls on the Run.
Then to the latter, where can runners find new opportunities. Our discussion had some impassioned points when the existing opportunities were not yet being taken advantage of. We went back again to the communication and coordination of programs. So now you’ve heard about that three times! (Yes, Beetlejuice) Once that was through we got down to some specific points and Fleet Feet stepped up right away to offer their training runs. Having a structured training plan to join, we all agreed, would be of benefit for more area would-be runners to know about. This “menu of offerings” is quite generous! They are also setting up an ambassador program. This team will be an outreach arm for Fleet Feet, helping encourage and connect more people to try running. The cherry on top is that this team will be made up of veteran runners, fast runners, new runners, frequent race-runners, and volunteer-heavy runners – again focusing on inclusivity. The next idea is lunch-and-learn seminars to lower the barrier to entry for would-be runners. Schedule such events to reach people where they are at. The last actionable tactic is to ask people. All eight of us were tasked with getting more people connected to running by simply asking. The caveat is that our three people must be runners themselves already and we must empower them with the charge to invite three people on a run with them. So when the eight of us empower three people to become leaders, then those 24 people invite three people, we have 72 new invitations, and 24 new leaders. Lets keep it going : )

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