Running Free

by Rachel Tavel, DPT, CSCS
Ex-travel writer turned Doctor of Physical Therapy
raised by New York, taught by the world.

Image: Curtis MacNewton

C. Greenblatt

C. Greenblatt


New York City is intense.

From the daily commute to ordering a coffee in the morning, this city can be cutthroat and unforgiving beginning the moment we wake up. But when it comes to working out, not everyone is operating at the same level. In an age of waitlists to reserve a bike in a spinning class and artistically adjusting one’s yoga mat to fit in an overcrowded room full of fine-tuned muscles and perfectly matched Lululemon outfits, running offers a welcome escape for cooped up New Yorkers hoping to break free from the fancy gyms and sweat it out in the great outdoors.

And what better way to do that than running? But…what if you’re not exactly “a runner” yet? For many New Yorkers, getting out for that first run can be intimidating. Luckily, there are several free (and judgment-free) running clubs in the city waiting with open arms to welcome anyone and everyone that wants to take those first steps towards becoming a runner, regardless of skill level, running goals, or anything else. 


Here is a list of 5 free (yep, free!) running clubs that will help anyone and everyone get started:  


The Most Informal Running Club, Ever (TMIRCE)

As its name suggests, this is a very informal running club comprised of the friendliest mix of veteran and beginner runners that you will find anywhere. On your first day, you will be greeted with warm smiles, introductions, and high-fives (the signature greeting of all its members). Perhaps more than any other running club in the history of NYC, it is completely judgment-free. On Saturday mornings, TMIRCE meets at the Whole Foods café in Union Square at 10am for bag drop before beginning a casual run ranging from 2 to 10 miles, depending on who shows up and what each person is comfortable doing. Like all good things, the run is followed by food (hence the name “bRUNch”) and all levels are welcome. Join them Thursday evenings for Tempo Thursdays, which meets at the Union Square Jack Rabbit store at 7pm for a series of paced first runs that will help you transition from a “beginner” to a “regular.” (,,, )

North Brooklyn Runners (NBR)

For those of you looking for running buddies in Brooklyn, enter: North Brooklyn Runners. This running group encourages “togetherness” and solidarity as they run in all weather without hesitation. The group has beginner-friendly runs on Wednesdays at 7pm and Mondays at 7:30pm. Described as “a very social & moderately paced run,” the Monday Night Easy Run meets by the recycle bins at the north side of the McCarren Park track and is open to anyone looking to run an 8-10 min pace. On Wednesdays at 7pm the group meets at the same location welcoming all runners, including those running more than 10min/mile splits (a very beginner-friendly pace). In other words, if you’re aching for a workout that may have you running in circles, but without people running circles around you, this is your group. Check out the amazing assortment of workout times weekly. You’re guaranteed to find a time that works for you. (

South Brooklyn Running Club (SBRC)

If you are just starting out, but you want to hit the ground running (literally) with multiple beginner runs right away, check out SBRC. They host beginner/learn-to-run classes every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at Carroll Park. As you add some mileage, join them for longer runs in Prospect Park, Fort Greene Park and Carroll Park, over the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, and even up to Columbia University. The variety of routes and the open, welcoming team atmosphere will have you feeling comfortable getting out there for the first (then second, then third, and so on) time. Plus, you’ll be inspired by all the beautiful places you’ll run. Beginner runs are led by experienced runners, so like most of these beginner running groups, all you have to do is show up. (

Niketown Running Club

With a name like “Nike,” you might think this group is super serious. In some ways it is. Beginners are encouraged to run their first miles under the guidance of running “experts,” complete with post-run Q&A time and a chance to analyze your running. But you’ll be in good company with a supportive mix of beginners and experts (including a partnership with Finish Line Physical Therapy) all doing what they can to help you become not just a runner, but a smart runner. They’ve taken care of the details. All you need to do is lace up, and show up. Details and schedule can be found on their website. (

November Project (NP)

You can’t talk about free fitness without mentioning this loud, huggy, almost aggressively cheery pack of regular people turned fitness fanatics. And many of them started out just like you: curious, intrigued, and willing to at least give it a try. But get ready to set that alarm… They meet most Wednesdays at precisely 6:28am at Gracie Mansion (on 88th Street and the East River), and Fridays at multiple locations (posted on Twitter ( and Facebook ( For such a fun crowd, you’ll be surprised how seriously they take waking up and running with their friends. And why not become one of them? There will be no going back. (