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When I set the goal to run my first half marathon, I ran alone. I live in Pawleys Island, SC, a scenic beach community. Morning runs by myself were peaceful and meditative, accompanied by the sounds of the ocean. Then one morning, I got a wakeup call.

I decided to alter my normal route slightly. It was still a bit dark and I was a little bit afraid. I just kept telling myself to be brave; I needed these couple of miles. I rounded a corner and saw shadows move up ahead. Then, I heard it: a low growl followed by the angry barking of two dogs. I could not see them clearly but I could see their shadows suddenly bolt in my direction. I let out a blood-curdling shriek and ran for it. In that moment, I was not sure if I would be attacked or killed. It was absolutely terrifying. The dogs dropped their pursuit but I did not slow down for at least another mile. When I safely arrived back at my car, my RunKeeper app notified me that I had set a personal record for speed.

Woman running on the street in early morning

I made a promise to myself that I would never be so reckless again when it comes to running. I made a vow to join the Grand Strand Running Club. I joined the club for safety in numbers; I found so much more.

Until I joined my running club, I did not realize there were other intensely goal-oriented people who thought nothing of waking up at 5:00 a.m. to run. For them, as for me, it makes perfect sense: Get it over with early so the day starts out right and you beat the heat. New friends with similar goals are a major reason I LOVE being a part of my running club.

>> Read more: Redefine Your BFF: Best Fit Friends

I learned quickly that the running club helps keep me accountable. Waking up at 5:00 a.m. to run is NOT always easy. I am not likely to skip if I know there are people waiting for me at the regular meeting spot. The accountability of the group can even help during a race. One member of my running club once said, “Last September I almost didn’t finish a triathlon. At the point I wanted to call it quits I realized I couldn’t come home and tell all the people that had supported me so much that I didn’t finish. It wasn’t pretty but I made it to the end.”

Although some members of my running club joke about showing off their shoe collection or newest running gear, it is really about friendship, support, and inspiration. I have made amazing new friends through my running club. We come from different social circles but when we run, we are all on the same page. I have received fantastic advice and downright therapy from my running buddies. The opportunity to talk through some of life’s circumstances during a three- to 13-mile run has been awesome. You have to find something to talk about for all those miles!

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One last benefit of exercising with my running club is the improvement I’ve seen in my running. I sometimes see novice runners down themselves on our running club Facebook page by stating that they are like a turtle running through mud. They hesitate to join a group run for fear of slowing the everyone down. A great way to improve your running is to run with a group. The group will encourage you to keep going. Perhaps you will run a little faster than normal, since you will be caught up in everyone’s conversation.

If you are a novice or an avid runner, I encourage you to find and join a local running club. You will not be disappointed!