Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Runner: Find Your Pack in a Dallas Training Group

So, picture this: It's 1998 and you are high school track star, super fast and super hot. Flash forward thirteen years and fifteen pounds and your idea of "super fast" is how quickly the waitress hauls your order to your car at Keller's. Or, maybe you were the chubby kid who is now ticking items off of the "childhood traumas" bucket-list and you are looking for a really impressive challenge to fulfill your "I'll show them" fantasies.

No matter who you are -- or where you are in life -- it's not too late to take up (or re-take up) the ol' one-two hustle. Perhaps you will even become so inspired as to consider going the distance at the White Rock Marathon, Dallas' premiere running event, coming up on December 4. Ultimately, it boils down to taking that first step, but behind every successful quixotic aspiration is a rigorous game plan. Though running is sometimes considered a solitary sport, many runners (especially beginners) find a team's support and guidance indispensable, as well the mere company on those Odyssean weekend runs. And, despite Dallas' reputation for incensed Monster Truck drivers mowing down pedestrians at crosswalks, the city has several excellent running groups that strive to auspiciously fit almost every need. Find out about them after the jump.

The Dallas Running Club: Most major cities have a nonprofit club that works on the same model as the DRC. Yearly membership fees are nominal and include eight free races throughout the year in addition to several discounted races and other perks. The DRC sponsors numerous races throughout the year, but its seminars and running clinics offered at very affordable prices are perhaps its biggest advantage. Whether you are training for your first 5K, or want to take a big leap toward a 20-week marathon training course, the DRC will get you there. With over 60 pace leaders who spearhead group training, the DRC will set you up with a detailed training schedule and keep a close eye on you over the course of your program, monitoring form and instilling basic information. Most weekday training runs are held in the evenings, which works better for some schedules, and are at or near White Rock Lake. With programs offered in both spring and fall and pace groups brimming with cool and fun people, the DRC will have your inner pack-animal howling to take it up to the next level.

Park Cities Morning Running Group: PCMRG is the largest unincorporated running group in the metroplex, with over 600 members on its listbot e-mail service. Totally free of cost, the group (usually between 20-100 in attendance) meets at 6:00 am, five days per week at varying locations in University Park, Highland Park and Lakewood. Most runners head out for 6 miles on weekdays with a longer run at White Rock Lake on Saturdays, but some do a shorter, slower version.

Most members are business professionals, but there is a wide variety including soccer moms, college students and even a few silver foxes. PCMRG is a good option for anyone who wants to test the water without any long-term commitment or without spending money on membership dues or class fees. While it is a less formal way of approaching a big goal, it is a surefire way to build a strong base (daily miles logged) and learn from those who have trekked thousands of miles.

Run On! and Luke's Locker: Many readers will recognize Run On! and Luke's Locker, respectively, as boutique specialty running stores offering custom fitted athletic apparel and gear. If you need gels, gloves, or Glide -- or anything in between -- these stores are to runners as Q Branch is to James Bond. Similar in that both Luke's and Run On! are owned and staffed by experienced runners who are knowledgeable about the rules of shoe selection and the science behind training, their teams of gurus can assist customers with properly fitted gear to improve form and to reduce the chance of injury.

Both offer running programs similar to the DRC's, and while these programs are slightly more expensive, they are also more time-intensive (in a good way), offering a significantly more structured training schedule and more daily training opportunities.

Run On! is unique in offering their long runs on Sundays, rather than the more standard Saturday, and many running couples with small children can split the difference so that both moms and dads get a chance to work it on the weekends. In addition, all of their coaches are Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) Certified and assigned to no more than 15 runners per group. Run On! offers special class sales, discounts on gear, and provides a medical doctor on site for questions about injuries.

Luke's Locker was started by the Lucas family who help financially support the Katy Trail, Dallas Parks, YMCA and other area organizations for runners. All of the coaches have "walked the walk" by participating in a program themselves, and as Training Coordinator Kerry Little puts it, "Running is just one piece of what Luke's brings to the community." Luke's also supports yoga, crossfit and pilates. Plus, it has the equipment, apparel and staff knowledge to make you comfortable while you're doing it.

Team in Training: Philanthropy comes first with TNT, an international organization with an explicit commitment to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. TNT's training programs are similar to the DRC's in that they are less rigid, and are beginner-friendly, gently increasing mileage for endurance. Weekday training usually takes place on the Katy Trail in Uptown while weekend long runs are at White Rock Lake, and usually in the evenings, though recently TNT has incorporated morning runs due to the brutal heatwave.

What makes TNT unique is that runners fundraise -- differing amounts, based on specific events -- and costs for airfare, hotels, celebratory dinners, and race registration fees are subsumed within the total amount, with the lion's share going to support research in finding a cure. Coach Claire Oliver says that because many members have been personally affected by leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's Disease or myeloma, TNT's dual purposes -- fitness and altruism -- create a deep sense of community that feels bigger than pure social fun.

So, you're not an elite athlete? PCMRG's Roger Foster, veteran marathoner and adopter of stray newbies, loves to tell the story of Teresa, a woman he coached who, at over 400 pounds, began a walking regimen and, with encouragement and knowledge, ran her first 26.2 miles within 18 months. Bottom line? There's a runner in there, but it's up to you to take that first step. These folks can help.

Let us know in the comments which of these kick ass running programs is your favorite or tell us if you love one that we didn't cover.

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