Kalamazoo Area Runners has found a way to make running a social event while helping to enrich the community.
For an organization that boasts a membership of nearly 1,300 people—making it the largest running club in Michigan—the extent and reach KAR has within the community beyond running can sometimes be understated.
KAR Board President Bonnie Sexton said the organization’s impact goes far beyond the physical.
“The mission of Kalamazoo Area Runners is to promote the sport of running as a source of physical, spiritual and social wellness while enhancing the quality of life within our community,” Sexton said.
She said KAR’s community impact comes from events to benefit other nonprofits within the community.
“We offer a number of large-scale events within the community,” she said. “Some of them benefit other nonprofit organizations. For example, the Run Through the Lights benefits Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes and the Kalamazoo Classic benefits MRC Industries.”
Sexton said the events KAR coordinates help people get active while raising money for the community.
“Our events not only promote the sport of running and get people out and moving, they also help to benefit other nonprofit organizations,” she said.
Although KAR is very active in terms of community development and fundraising, the organization is still primarily about running. Sexton said KAR holds training programs throughout the year.
“We have the Fast Track 5k and 10k program coming up and through that program we have a beginner program as well as a more advanced program,” she said. “Those programs enable people to get involved in the sport of running.”
KAR Executive Director Joy Mills said the variety of training programs offered provide a way for new runners to be healthy.
“We present different training programs for our members and for the community,” Mills said. “It’s just a way to encourage people to get out there and run and be healthy.”
Sexton said the training programs also give people a starting point for exercise.
“The programs are structured for a sense of security and support that’s needed to begin a running program,” she said. “We will provide the training necessary for a beginning runner to learn how to do it right.”
Sexton said the structure of the training programs truly gives runners a year-round experience.
“We also organize the beyond half and full marathon training program in the winter months, which helps people prepare for spring,” she said. “In the summer we partner with Gazelle Sports to organize the Safari half and full marathon training program to prepare runners for a half and full marathon.”
Sexton also highlighted the social element of running.
“The other thing that’s really important is the social support,” she said. “Through running together and learning and achieving goals together, runners get to know each other and they build social bonds that go well beyond the running. Many of them become lifelong friends.”
Mills echoed Sexton’s sentiment, saying KAR programs help keep runners informed.
“It’s a great way to find out what’s going on in the running community,” Mills said. “You can find out about different events and the training programs. It’s a great way to meet other people.”
Sexton said the training programs are great for runners of any level because runners are usually grouped according to their ability.
“Most training programs group people according to their ability so there are other runners who have the same goals and are of the same ability levels as you,” Sexton said. “It can be intimidating to just show up for a group run and run with a group of people. The training programs actually have a lot of structure to them so that runners are grouped with people of similar ability.”
She said the runners who get involved in KAR tend to stay affiliated with the program in some scope even if they leave Michigan.
“Runners who join Kalamazoo Area Runners and do get involved in the group runs or the training programs do tend to become lifelong members,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll have people move out of state or out of the area and they’ll come back and one of the first things they’ll do is contact us and say ‘when’s your next run?’ because they want to come back and reconnect with the group that they’d been a part of before they relocated.”
Mills said running is unique because it provides an equal playing field for everyone involved.
“I think running is kind of an equalizer,” she said. “If you’re out there with all of these people it doesn’t matter what your background is, you’re all taking part in this common event together. You’re all out there working towards that same goal.”
For more information on Kalamazoo Area Runners, visit them online HERE.
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