Running. For some the word elicits feelings of excitement, for most it sounds like a chore, something they’ll do tomorrow but not today. Like reading a book or meditation, on the surface it appears a solitary activity only for those with great willpower and spare time. But running crews have changed all that, run crews have made running cool again.
In theory, running crews aren’t too different from your typical running clubs (they meet up and they run together on a regular schedule) but in practice, they’re an entirely different operation. They’re loud and rowdy; they often run at night; they take over city streets, bridges and other urban spaces; and they have cool names like KRAFT Runners and Track Mafia. The first crew was started by New Yorker Mike Saes in 2004 and the influence of his Bridge Runners crew quickly spread to cities like London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. Growing so rapidly, the crews attracted a great deal of attention — even from local authorities — and caused disruption everywhere they went, however, as they’ve become more organized, these crews have gone on to disrupt not just the streets but the entire sport of running.
Attracting everyone from street artists and creatives to teachers and students, what really sets them apart is that they’re made up of unruly misfits previously uninitiated with the sport in any way. Scrap the image in your mind of the typical runner. Run crew members are tattooed, all ages, ethnicities, and builds, and wear Instagram worthy ‘fits every time they hit the streets. Crews are unique communities of seemingly incompatible individuals united over the thrill of running as a pack.
Nike has believed in the mission and supported run crews from the early days, helping take them from grassroots to global initiatives. At the recent Nike Fast Lab event in Berlin, street running enthusiasts gathered to celebrate the city’s urban running culture and discuss how it’s developed with the help of local crews. On top of other activities and talks, Highsnobiety’s very own Footwear Editor Chris Danforth hosted a panel comprising Track Mafia founder Cory Wharton-Malcolm, Patta Running Team trainer Jermain Breidel, KRAFT Runners co-founder Marco Pruefer, and Berlin Braves founder Joey Elgersma.
Led by Danforth, the conversation started by taking a deep dive into why running crews have been so successful. What’s obvious is that crew culture takes away the element of solitude, makes running a social activity, and provides additional motivations. But another appeal, as pointed out by Cory Wharton-Malcolm, is in the completely unconventional approach they take to running in general. Run crew founders are often as new to running as members, so there’s no elite coach guiding participants every step of the way, instead, everyone makes mistakes and learns as a group. And while each crew’s goals differ, times and personal bests often aren’t the priority, instead, the focus is simply on coming together, building the community, and having a good time while staying physically fit.
We run because it is an opportunity to meet our friends and spend time together. For us, running is more than a sport. It is the lifestyle we have chosen. It’s about community, vibe, and doing the things we want without limits. As a group, we also always say "good vibe, good people" and we mean it. That's partly how we motivate a group of 12 people to work towards the same goals.
In many ways, running crews have grown as a part of street culture and share its rebellious attitude and DIY approach to creating and making things happen. Crew runners are hip-hop heads, street artists, DJs, and when they’re not wearing Nike running shoes they’re probably wearing Nike x OFF-WHITE Prestos with some suitably steezy garms. Having launched out of Amsterdam-based streetwear brand Patta, one crew that knows this better than any is Patta Running Team. PRT trainer Jermain Breidel noted that this image is often what initially draws young people in but soon after they’re hooked by the positive benefits of running and uplifting community spirit.
Running grounds us and levels out our daily lives. When running the mind is able to float and it definitely helps with creativity. But mostly, it brings joy because we run in a group and we spend time with our friends.
If you’re reading Highsnobiety, then this won’t come as a surprise and you’ll likely already know that street culture has had a massive impact on culture more broadly over the last decade. Earlier this year NME declared hip-hop officially bigger than rock, the word streetwear has become almost obsolete as the clothing associated with it is essentially just fashion in general, and skateboarding has even become an Olympic sport. As part of this movement, running crews have been able to reach young people in ways traditional run clubs never could.
All four crew representatives also agreed that supportive brands like Nike have been an important part of this growth as well, and in more ways than one. The Nike Fast Lab event is just one of many the brand has hosted over the years to show its commitment to local initiatives. What's more, Nike designs running products that are both practical and 'fit worthy, meeting today’s urban runner requirements by helping them feel and look good at the same time. It also helps that Nike has been involved with running for decades and young people who appreciate authenticity don’t feel like they're being duped. When Danforth asked the Fast Lab panel if they’d like to see more brands get involved with the street running scene, the response was unanimous: only if they're genuinely connected with the culture.
Aside from brand involvement, where do running crews go from here? Some are working on their own clothing and products while others are looking to expand their network beyond their city and work on philanthropic projects. The KRAFT Runners crew will be hosting the first ever KRAFT Games on August 11 to celebrate sports within their local community. Open to people of all skill and ability levels, participants will have the opportunity to take part in a 200m sprint, long jump, CrossFit-inspired running workout, shot put, and one mile run. The sports program is accompanied by a lineup of music, street art, food, and drinks for observers on the sideline and athletes in need of fuel. Hit up the Facebook event page for more info.
For anyone else wanting to get involved with crew activity, the Nike Fast Lab panel explained that they hold weekly runs open to all as well as invite-only sessions for core crew members. Information and schedules are available via the Track Mafia, Berlin Braves, KRAFT Runners, and Patta Running Team websites. As for starting a crew, the KRAFT Runners make it abundantly clear that it doesn’t come without challenges but have some valuable advice for anyone committed enough.
"No one starts a running crew to get famous or sponsored by a brand. You start a run crew because of what we German's call "bock haben," meaning you really want to do something with all your heart. Generally speaking crews form out of the need for a hub, a cultural and athletic place to meet with likeminded people. We started the KRAFT Runners simply because we didn’t want to train alone for the Berlin Marathon. It can be challenging finding a good meeting point, somewhere the runners can drop off their clothing and change, so try to talk to cafes, hostels, sports shops. Another challenge could be the regularity of runs. People are creatures of habit, meaning that they need to be sure your crew meets up every week. Cancelling last minute is a no-go. Just show up. Make your runs a habit and create routines and rituals. Soon you’ll have other likeminded people who show up and share your philosophy!"
Find out more about upcoming local Nike events at nike.com and follow the crews' daily updates over on Instagram at @TrackMafia_, @KRAFTRunners, @PattaRunningTeam, and @BerlinBraves. Nike is also dropping a special edition Zoom Pegasus Turbo to celebrate Berlin running culture which you'll find here.