So sometimes people ask me for advice about joining a New York City running club. For those of you who don’t know, in NYC the New York Road Runners serves as an umbrella organization, organizing most races including the ING NYC Marathon, and then most runners also choose to belong to a smaller club.
When I first moved to New York City in 2000, I lived in Astoria, so it was easy to choose: I joined the excellent Astoria-based Hellgate Road Runners. But once I moved to Manhattan in 2002 I found the number of options overwhelming. I visited several different club’s websites often to try to figure out the “best” one, but never managed to make a decision, and ended up training for the NYC Marathon in 2003 on my own. I didn’t join the Flyers until late 2005. This is very silly, as there are numerous benefits to joining a club: training partners, group runs, speedwork sessions, discounts on merchandise, camaraderie, cocktail parties and happy hours, and even the occasional scenic run through Westchester County.
But other people get paralyzed by the number of choices, too. (The NYRR web site lists around 150 running clubs). One woman I talked to told me she even went to far as to make a spreadsheet to compare various clubs. The problem is is that you can get so bogged down in all this research and never actually make a decision.
So here is my advice to people. First, don’t overthink things. There really isn’t one “best” club, so don’t do too much research or think you have to go on every team’s group run to pick which one is right for you. If you join a team and end up making some friends, you’ll probably be happy, but that takes a little time.
Second, don’t think that because you’re paying more you’re getting anything extra. The NYRR, Urban Athletics, the Running Center and other organizations offer speedwork classes that are much more expensive than the speedwork classes offered by nonprofit running clubs. (Speedwork is interval running designed to make you faster.) Those organizations charge between $90-$200 for 10 weeks of classes, or even as much as $35 a session, while a running club will charge maybe $100 a year or include it with the nominal cost of membership. I mean, it’s just running, it doesn’t cost a lot to organize, right? You get what you put into it, and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to design a good workout.
Anyway, after the jump, my impressions of some of the NYC clubs:
- New York Flyers. This is my club. The Flyers is the biggest NYC club, with I think over
200650 members, and it makes an effort to be inclusive to both faster and slower runners. The average age of members is a slightly over 40, I believe, but there are plenty of younger members. The team organizes a lot of training runs outside the city, in Westchester County, etc., that are really nice and pretty. (and free, you just have to chip in for gas/gatorade). There’s also frequent social events, happy hours, etc.
- The Reservoir Dogs. They have like 70 active members and I think is a more younger club. They make a real effort to recruit slower members, but they do have a number of fast runners. “If you are an elite runner and want to be challenged by your teammates on a daily basis,” they say on their Web site, “then we are probably not the club for you.” They also hold brunches and happy hours. I have some friends on this club as well and they all like it.
- Harriers. They have about 150 active members and also do social events. It is a fairly serious club as far as running goes, but they do have some slower members. Their web site says, “The Harriers love to run hard and to race well, but have no interest in being subjected to hard-core, traditional methods of coaching. That is, some Harriers don’t respond well to being ordered around by anyone (some of us have, in fact, been accused by former coaches of being ‘uncoachable rebels!’ … a fact of which we are most proud).” If I weren’t a member of the Flyers, this would probably by the club I’d join.
- Central Park Track Club. I don’t know as much about this club, but I do know it is pretty highly competitive and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a serious runner. They also do less in the way of social events, if that’s something you’re looking for in a running club.
- Greater New York Running Club (no Web site). This is Bob Glover’s club and again it is for v. serious runners. I think it may be invitation-only? I have heard that while Glover is a good coach, his personality is perhaps a little rough around the edges.
- Running Divas. Formerly Moving Comfort. Women-only, I believe invitation-only as well. And very competitive. They are sponsored by Running Divas the clothing company, so get free gear.
- Warren Street Social & Athletic Club. I don’t know very much about this club, but do see members at races. Their Web site says, “We have always welcomed everyone from the non-runner to the very fast. Warren Street offers no cost membership, coaching and best of all, camaraderie!”
There are a number of other good NYC clubs but they are all specialized in some way: either based in the outer boroughs, like Hellgate, the College Point Track Club and the Staten Island Athletic Club; company-based clubs like the firefighters and United Nations; or with a non-geographically based community like Polish runners, gay and lesbian runners, or Mexican runners. (The Los Compadres Team; I frequently tend to run neck-in-neck with a few of their runners in races).
P.S. For the average Manhattan-based runner who runs 10Ks in like eight or nine minutes per mile, I’d recommend either the Flyers or the Rez Dogs. The Flyers have our speedwork sessions on Tuesday night; the Rez Dogs on Wednesday. If you’re faster than that than maybe the Flyers or the Harriers?
P.P.S. (4/6/2011): I’m happy to answer specific questions in the comments. But if you want to know when different clubs meet, you can find that information on each clubs’ website. Don’t ask me that! Do your own research! And kinda the point of this post is that there’s no “best” club… and really, it’s not like I could even say that the clubs have any specific “personality.” It’s not like one club is filled with Wall Street types and another with artsy ones. The Flyers always have lots of people joining and dropping out each year; there’s constant “churn,” and I assume that is the case with the other clubs. So my advice is, if you’ve read this entire post and read the comments, and there’s a couple of clubs that seem equally convenient as far as when they meet… don’t overthink this! Just toss a coin! Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by choice!
P.P.P.S. (8/16/2011): I’m also quite impressed with the Williamsburg-based North Brooklyn Runners, who didn’t even exist when I wrote this piece and now are quite a formidable and well-organized team. The Dashing Whippets, a Meetup-based running club, is also worth noting, too. Ahhh, the power of social media…
P.P.P.P.S. I’ve quit the Flyers and am now running with North Brooklyn Runners. They are a great group, a little more “hardcore” than the Flyers, and full of interesting personalities.