It's the oldest and largest national association of running clubs, running events, and runners. It has more than 2,300 member clubs that represent 250,000 runners. In the last nine years, the number of clubs and events has jumped 300 percent, RRCA executive director Jean Knaack said.
"The clubs are always such interesting cross sections where it brings people from very diverse backgrounds to one organization," she said. "They all have a shared commonality through running, but they're there to socialize and have a good time."
Julie Morrison is president of the Bryn Mawr Running Club, which was founded in 1996 and has more than 250 members. She joined the club after she moved to the area.
"I started meeting more people and moving up from one group to a faster group and then I trained for a marathon," she said. "I have become a much better runner because when you're running with other people, they push you, they encourage you. It just makes such a difference having others around you."
Twenty-five members are training for the Philadelphia Marathon, and the group will again man a Manayunk water stop at the marathon this year.
The Gloucester County Running Club was formed in February 2013 with a different goal: to provide children under high school age with year-round running opportunities, president Brendan Burke said.
"There really wasn't anything for them other than typical track and field and cross-country," he said. "There wasn't a consistent club-type atmosphere."
Now the club meets twice a week for group runs, and holds children's races in the summer that coordinate with the West Deptford 5K series. They also travel to youth cross-country events in Philadelphia.
Their 65 members include both children and their parents. "We formed the club to be really geared toward the kids and for passing on that love of running to them," he said.
This year, I joined the South Jersey Athletic Club for that social aspect Knaack highlighted. I usually run alone, but when I set out to do my first long run of this marathon training cycle, I knew I didn't have to do it alone. I joined an SJAC group that carpooled for a run on Forbidden Drive in Wissahickon Valley Park, a run followed up by brunch and running talk.
Running can be a lonely thing, and I often enjoy that solitude, but there are a lot of miles in a half-marathon or marathon training cycles. Groups such as these, and the Little Rock Road Runners in Little Rock, Ark., and the Knoxville Track Club in Tennessee make sure some of those miles are with other people, whether at home or running in another place. It's nice to know that wherever I go, I'll never need to run alone.