The days are shorter and drearier. The weather can be downright frigid and snow is piling up. The temptation to bury yourself under a blanket and binge-watch a favorite show is tempting, throwing those New Year’s fitness goals right out the window. But walking and running clubs can help keep folks moving during the winter months.
“It gets even more fun when the weather turns dark and snowy, and the camaraderie of running with the group in crazy weather is a fun bonding experience,” said Paulette Ference, member of the 3 Rivers Outdoor Company’s (3ROC) Trail Run Club. “I love that 3ROC holds the trail runs year-round to enable us to stay motivated and excited about getting outside.”
3ROC’s Trail Run Club meets every Tuesday. The shop also hosts several walking events per month. “We have at least two pace groups each week, typically a 10-minute and 12-minute group,” said Sarah Carr, 3ROC’s events and social media manager.
The different paces are appealing to Ference. “I run with the no drop group, or as we like to call it, ‘the fun group,’” she said. “The group run is really about connecting with people, having great conversations, and enjoying nature along the way.”
Runners meet at the shop at 6 p.m. and run different routes through Frick Park, returning after approximately an hour. “Following the runs, there is time to network and share beers. The size of the running group varies largely based on the time of the year and weather conditions,” Carr said. While there is no cost and no attendance requirement, headlamps are required this time of year.
Ference joined the club soon after moving to Pittsburgh in 2019. “One of the main reasons was to meet running friends and to get engaged in the trail and outdoor community here. The community has been a huge highlight of living in Pittsburgh, and something both my husband, Kevin, and I look forward to each week,” she said.
“I enjoy that every Tuesday, I know where I can find friends to run and hang out with; the routine of the weekly run group is a huge benefit,” she added. “It’s provided a way to meet new people after moving to a new place, which is a huge benefit because making friends as an adult can be tough.”
While 3ROC doesn’t have an official walking club, they do have several events that take place on a monthly basis. “Our hugely popular Full Moon Headlamp Hike takes hikers into our beloved local park at night to explore familiar trails by the light of red lamp headlamps,” Carr said. The group hikes together for two hours, covering approximately four miles of trail on moderate terrain. This event requires a $5 registration, and typically sells out, capping at 50 hikers.
Another popular event is the Citizen Science Walk. “Local librarian Tess Wilson walks to different parts of Frick Park with small groups of individuals, conducting important citizen science research using apps that are available to download to smartphones,” Carr said. These walks are drop-in, free of charge, and require no preregistration. All events are listed on https://3riversoutdoor.com.
North Park Trail Runners (NPTR) is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to trail running and hosts several runs per week. According to Suzette Cappola, president, runs are usually three to six miles with varying paces.
“To accommodate all paces, some runners will relax their pace, as well as stop at different locations on the route to regroup. We never leave anyone behind,” she said. Group sizes vary anywhere from five to 30, depending on the time of year and the weather. All runs are listed on their Facebook page as well as the website http://www.northparktrailrunners.com.
NPTR also has various ‘pop-up’ runs through the week posted on their Facebook Group page, where runners can reach out via social media on their own. “Someone may post, ‘Hey, I’m running 20 miles if anyone wants to join me for the partial or entire 20,‘” Cappola said.
The runs are, as their name says, on trails and usually in North Park. However, pop-ups may take place at other locations.
Learning the trails and having companionship while running are key advantages to joining an organization such as NPTR, Cappola said. “It can be intimidating the first time you are on a trail just learning where it goes and how to read the blazes, and this way you know that you won’t get lost, and you are safe.”
Of course, meeting people that share the same interests is always a plus. Additionally, many who belong to the organization join to learn more about running training tips, equipment, and camaraderie via social media.
In addition to upcoming events such as The Frozen Goat, which features several distance lengths for participants, NPTR gives back to the park. “We recently purchased and planted 300 trees,” Cappola said. Currently, NPTR has approximately 500 official members with over 2,000 followers on their Facebook Group page.
Appalachian Running Company’s Wexford location hosts a walking club throughout the year, starting at the shop location or in nearby North Park. While meetings are weekly during the spring, summer and fall months, they do maintain the walks throughout the year.
“Most hikes are two to three miles at a nice brisk pace, but not speed walking,” said Mark Wagner, store manager and walk co-leader. The walks take place on Tuesday evenings during the warmer months, but are held on Sunday mornings in the winter to avoid walking in the dark.
Usually, 10-15 people participate in the free walks and are treated to water, Granola bars and gummies, Wagner said. Appalachian Running Company also works with several vendors who supply giveaways for the walkers. “That is always fun,” Wagner said.
Along with his colleague, Bob Dummer, Wagner helps lead the walks and has seen several friendships form over the miles.
“It’s kind of cool because I see a lot of walkers who have shown up by themselves, but now they have close relationships with other walkers,” he said. “I think exercising with someone else naturally forms bonds.”
The Appalachian Running Company will sponsor their January walk on Sunday, Jan. 23 at 10 a.m. at JC Stone Field, North Park. For more information, visit https://apprunco.com or follow them on Facebook for walk information at https://www.facebook.com/apprunco.wexford.