WORDS BY LIKE THE WIND – PHOTOGRAPHY SUPPLIED BY NEW BALANCE AND RUNNING GROUPS (UNLESS CREDITED)
If you were somehow able to gather all the runners in the world in one place, what do you think you would see? Probably the most striking aspect of this sea of individuals would be the diversity – the sheer range of people who call themselves runners. That is one of running’s best qualities: it is for everyone and for every reason. Just based on that fact alone – that runners come from all walks of life – can there be a “right” way to run? Or should each runner run their way?
New Balance believes that everyone should approach running in their own way for their own reasons. And, as an expression of this belief, the brand is supporting six running crews, spread the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, on their journeys to the TCS London Marathon this year. These crews are perfect illustrations of diversity in running and the threads that connect all of us. Meeting some of the people at the heart of the crews, it’s easy to see how running is for everyone.
In 2018, with the support of New Balance, Lewis Rees created Run The Boroughs in London. He describes the group as people who ran “to earn the pint we’d have afterwards”. The early members were not devoted to running, but once the group began to meet regularly, numbers grew when friends, and then “friends of friends”, joined. Everyone who joined became part of the family.
For Nadeem Freeman, the start of his group was perhaps less expected: he was not a runner before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the lockdowns, he and his brother started running simply as a way to stay in shape and to get outside. But, on returning to work towards the end of 2021, Nadeem realised he was hooked. Not finding a running group that he felt was for him, Nadeem arranged for a few friends to meet for a weekly Wednesday evening run… and Liverpool-based 2-Step Collective was born.
Lynette Low, the founder of We Run Edinburgh, in the Scottish capital city, was looking for women who “loved running, but not in an official running club way”. When the crew formed in 2017, the aim was that the community would explore the hills around Edinburgh in a relaxed way and also provide safety for one another. “Forming a group was perfect to allow us the freedom of the city again,” explains Lynette.
“Running is something we do individually, but collectively we can achieve so much more and really push together”
– NADEEM FREEMAN, 2-STEP COLLECTIVE
In London, Harmander Singh created Sikhs In The City when he recognised that the way he ran was changing, from being a competitive runner during the 1980s to something more casual and community-based. Harmander wanted to create a group that would “…inspire everyday folk to take up running and achieve their dreams that have been displaced by other challenges in life”.
Manchester’s Snappy Runners was founded by Charlie Watts in January 2022. The idea was based on the intersection of running and creativity. “I work in the creative industry making branded content; my first love is filmmaking and photography,” explains Charlie. With creativity as a base, the emphasis of the club would not be on pace or distance. “We wanted to create something that was fun, social and brought people with similar interests together,” says Charlie.
One of the groups that New Balance is supporting has been established for a decade. Birmingham Swifts was formed as a way for like-minded LGBT+ people in the UK’s second city to run and socialise together in a welcoming, inclusive space. In fact, inclusivity is so integral to the Birmingham Swifts that their weekly runs involve everyone regularly looping to the back of the group so no one gets left behind.
A common theme among all the groups that New Balance is supporting is the importance of community. For Lynette in Edinburgh, community is defined as “…being supportive, encouraging and progressing, never leaving anyone behind”. She goes on to say that: “For too long, women have been encouraged to be each other’s enemy or competition. We try to be each other’s cheerleader, celebrating our wins and being supportive when things don’t go to plan.”
Nadeem at 2-Step Collective in Liverpool echoes that sentiment. “I believe that community is about creating a support network,” he says. “Running is something we do individually, but collectively we can achieve so much more and really push together.” Nadeem is also clear that 2-Step Collective can give its members a sense of the wider community in Liverpool, through initiatives such as Black history runs, which explore landmarks and areas of the city that are important for understanding the significance of the local Black community.
Lewis at Run The Boroughs says that community is hardwired into the group he created, which manifests itself as a sense of family. “I hope members get the feeling of being part of a family,” says Lewis. “It’s a huge boost for people to run as part of a club, and the camaraderie and encouragement helps you stay motivated to run regularly. We also try to help our members grow in confidence and ability, and we look to bring them in further if they feel ready. For instance, once they’re comfortable, they could have a chance to lead or help pace our runs. It’s this sense of trust and responsibility that creates the camaraderie and family feel.”
Charlie at Snappy Runners wants to forge a similar connection to place in Manchester, creating varied routes around the city that show the runners areas with which they might not be familiar. This is all part of the concept of community, but the crew has also established connections within itself. “We have so many runners now that came as strangers and now have really close friends within the club,” explains Charlie. “We have even had people move in with each other from meeting through the run club.”
At Sikhs In The City, community is all about being part of something bigger. As Harmander explains: “At SITC, our running community is extremely diverse, with some members also belonging to other local running clubs… but at events we are all a family, as all other local clubs participate in our events.”
For Ian Bush at Birmingham Swifts, the crew being free to join is a big step towards ensuring as many people can be part of the group. “We are the only LGBT+ running club in Birmingham (as well as part of the International Frontrunners organisation of LGBT+ clubs), and we work hard to make it as welcoming as possible to all – including our straight allies when they want to run with us!” he says.
Through the connection with New Balance, members of the six crews have been given the chance to run in this year’s TCS London Marathon and have received kit to support them as they train. But perhaps the greatest benefit has been how the individual groups now feel a part of something even bigger. Nadeem says that thanks to New Balance’s support, members of 2-Step Collective have been inspired by a new goal. And he is looking forward to meeting the other groups in London to share that inspiration.
For Lewis and the fellow members of Run The Boroughs, support from New Balance is “huge”. One of the most important aspects of this support is the trust the brand places in the group’s leaders. “They trusted us to do it our way,” explains Lewis, “which is what makes it so genuine. And they’ve given our people countless opportunities along the way – we’ve had the chance to feature in global campaigns, we’ve been kitted out with shoes and clothing and we even have opportunities to run major races like the TCS London Marathon.”
Harmander says that New Balance’s relationship with Sikhs and the City is important because: “…it has the effect of exposure that will exponentially increase our presence in the running world globally. The publicity generated will open doors that we, the club, can only benefit from.” And Lynette in Edinburgh agrees. “Working alongside New Balance, as well as the other run clubs involved throughout the UK, is exciting,” she says. “To glean some inspiration from them and share ideas will be a great way to keep us developing and progressing.”
Through six running crews – from Edinburgh to London, via Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester – it is possible to see the diversity that exists in running. And at the same time, the commonalities. And perhaps the most common aspect of all is that we are all runners. We just have to run our way.
Find out more at www.newbalance.co.uk