As the popularity of run clubs spikes, here comes the hate - but is it fair?

We are changing lives but apparently there's an "actual issue" on the footpath, writes Tara Meakins.

As I sit here typing, my body is in a world of pain that only runners will understand.

But amid the sheer exhaustion and agonising pain of running the Runaway Sydney Half Marathon on Sunday, my heart is absolutely bursting and cup completely overflowing because I did it with the support, enthusiasm and spirit of the Coogee Run Club.

The Coogee Run Club (left) and several of the Coogee Run Club members (right) including Tara Meakins on the right.
The Coogee Run Club took on the Runaway Sydney Half Marathon on Sunday. Source: Supplied

It’s been almost two years since my co-founder, Hannah Gandevia, and I launched the free social run club in an effort to make local mates who enjoyed running along Sydney’s epic coastline.

Since then, run clubs have been popping up all over Australia, but it turns out that not everyone is happy the because according to a recent article on the Courier Mail “there is an actual issue here”.

“If you think traffic is bad on our roads, you should try getting out of your car,” the story read, before detailing the “fallout on the footpath” with runners out in force.

And God help us if we show any enthusiasm on our morning jogs because apparently “it’s just too early to be that cheerful”.

But to be honest, I’ve actually been bracing for this kind of reaction as run clubs continue to gain popularity, because I’ve seen it first hand.

Hannah Gandevia and Tara Meakins (left) and Hannah and Tara with some of the Run Leads (right).
Hannah Gandevia and Tara Meakins co-founded the Coogee Run Clun in May 2022 and now have 13 Run Leads who volunteer their time to support the growing group. Source: Supplied

Whether it’s the tutting under their breath as we pass by, the loud complaints about us taking up the footpath, or the two emails I’ve received in two years, I know the way some people feel about run clubs on footpaths.

From being accused of not taking walkers into consideration, to “charging” at them as a “large group of intimidating people”, one person told me that it was “totally unfair for those going in the opposite direction”.

While another asked me if we could move our speed session from a 400 metre section of a footpath that encircled a very large park to the grass so that dog walkers could take their usual walks.

A 400 metre section. Of an entire park. That we use for 30 minutes once a week at 6.30am on a Wednesday.

The Coogee Run Club (left) and the Speed Sesh (right).
The Coogee Run Club's monthly Newbies Night always draws the biggest crowd while the Speed Sesh helps improve runners pace. Source: Supplied

Firstly, I am so sorry that some members of the community feel that they’ve had a poor experience with our group, and I do apologise for any negative impact we may have had on their routine.

But they don’t own the footpath either.

I appreciate that we can seem like a force when we are running as a pack, and I do understand the congestion when we pass by.

But we’re also dealing with walkers, prams, children, dogs, and those who just stop in the middle of the path to have a chinwag.

The Coogee Run Club in front of the beach (left) and the Coogee Run Club on the Coogee Rainbow (right).
The Coogee Run Club was born out of a love for running along the coast. Source: Supplied

From the very beginning, we have always communicated a message of respect and safety to our runners.

“We are a friendly force and not footpath hoggers,” we remind them before every single session, as well as the importance of watching out for others.

Since our rapid expansion, we’ve also doubled down on safety measures, breaking the team up into pace groups and recruiting more Run Leads to help us lead sessions, positioning them at certain locations to urge runners to keep left.

“You’re entering a single file zone,” we enthusiastically yell at our lot. “Follow the leader!”

Tara Meakins in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (left) and the Coogee Run Club in Coogee (right).
The Coogee Run Club's motto is 'all faces, all paces, all welcome, always'. Source: Supplied

So while I do understand where the complaints are coming from, I ask that those who feel like their walk is “ruined” by the minute or two it takes for us to pass, to please share in our values of inclusivity, community and kindness.

And to appreciate that it can be pretty tricky to manage a group of endorphin filled runners, just so happy to be out running with their mates.

But most of all, I would love for others to consider what we're bringing to people.

While run clubs may have exploded in popularity recently, we’ve been getting together five times a week since 2022 and now have over 2,000 members. Because it’s never just been about fitness for us. We’re focused on creating a community.

The Coogee Run Club helping with Clean Up Australia Day (left) and volunteering at Centennial parkrun (right).
The Coogee Run Club is passionate about giving back to the local community and regularly takes part in beach clean ups and volunteers at the Centennial parkrun. Source: Supplied

From being a warm and welcoming group that attracts runners of all abilities to including a social post-run coffee, breaky, dinner or a bevvie after every single trot, from the beginning our blueprint was clear.

We wanted to foster a lifestyle that benefited physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and we've managed to make it happen.

From the members who can’t wait to share their exercise wins, their race times and their new personal bests (even if that’s just hitting the three kilometre mark), to the sheer transformation as our runners become healthier and happier humans.

From those who’ve turned strangers into family, flatmates or even partners, these are people who now spend the holidays together with growing friendships that you know will last a lifetime.

But it’s the quiet word to me after a run, or the message shared in private, about how the Run Club has changed their life — and even saved their mental health — that brings me, my co-founder and my wonderful team of 13 volunteer Run Leads the ultimate joy.

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