What This Philly Running Group’s Growth Says About Philly’s Running Culture
A few weeks ago, I came across a poll on Women’s Running that was asking women to vote for the best cities for runners, to be released in the magazine’s May issue. I scrolled down, on the hunt for Philly amongst the 30 or so cities they said their “experts narrowed down to the best locations” for running. I didn’t see us. I scrolled through again. Nope — nothing.
This bummed me out for a variety of reasons, the biggest of those reasons being that Philly’s fitness scene is so often overlooked. (You can’t see me, but I’m giving cheesesteaks boatloads of side-eye right now.) Of course, once people are in Philly, they realize that the fitness scene here — running world included — is awesome. I mean, as a fitness editor, I’m happy to say that it’s hard to keep up with everything going on, from the seemingly endless list of outdoor yoga options in the summer to impromptu snow-day beer miles in the freezing-cold winter to the endless chatter that goes down on the Run215 Facebook page all year long. The people in this city never stop.
I rolled my eyes at the Women’s Running post and moved on with my life. And then, a little while later, I had a “Take that, Women’s Running” moment while chatting with City Fit Girls co-founder Kiera Smalls.
City Fit Girls, which launched as a boot camp series in 2013, has morphed more into a community for women who run, with weekly group runs in Philly on Wednesdays. They have a “no runner left behind” rule during their group runs — and while that might seem like something you just say but don’t actually stick to, they really stick to it. (If you came to our Be Well Philly Underground Rum Run to La Colombe, you know.) As Smalls tells me, “We’re creating a safe space for all women to feel empowered and inspired to reach their fitness and running goals. A safe space for women to talk about their questions about running. Like if they have questions about sports bras, they can leverage each other’s knowledge to get the information to be successful with their goals.”
This safe-space vibe for female runners has resonated. City Fit Girls has nearly 9,000 followers on Instagram, around 80 or so women join in on their weekly runs in Philly, and — here’s where that “take that” moment comes in — they’ve recently expanded to doing weekly and monthly groups runs in three of the cities (Chicago, New York, and D.C.) that are on that narrowed down list of the best places for running according to the experts at Women’s Running. When I asked Smalls what the response in those new cities has been like, she told me, “A lot of people are like, ‘Finally!’ We also have women who contact us asking, ‘Hey, can you start a group in Rhode Island?’ or wherever they are.”
Take that. But in all seriousness, I’m not mad at Women’s Running for that list — I’m sure those other cities are great for running! But my point is: City Fit Girls has created a fitness resource here in Philadelphia — one that really reflects the helpful and inclusive vibe of the Philadelphia running community as a whole (I mean, has anyone ever asked a question on Run215 only to receive 7,948 sincere and helpful answers?) — that runners in other cities wish they had where they live. So awesome, right?
But those ladies in Rhode Island will have to wait for City Fit Girls to come their way. Smalls says she and Takia McClendon, the other brain behind City Fit Girls, aren’t rushing to expand into other cities quite yet; right now, they’re working on building communities in Philly and the three other cities they’ve already expanded to. Like Philly, their Chicago run club meets weekly, while the D.C. and New York runs happen monthly, until they can find run co-leaders whose fitness values are in line with the City Fit Girls mission to lead weekly runs in those cities. “We want to gradually build these cities and make them self-sustainable, then we’ll think about other cities,” Smalls says.
When it comes to Philly, you can join City Fit Girls for their free group runs on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., or you can join them for their seasonal pop-up boot camps; the first one of the year is going down at the Art Museum next Monday (you can sign up here).
Now, let’s go ahead and give ourselves a pat on the back for being one of the best cities for running — even if we’re not on the list.
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