When last fall we kicked off the No Meat Athlete running groups project, with 75 groups around the U.S. and world, I thought I knew pretty well which groups would thrive and which would have an uphill battle from the beginning.
Surely, I thought, the big, vegan-friendly cities that we all think of as such would provide the most fertile grounds for our running carrots to take root.
Turns out, I was completely wrong.
Eight months after starting, the running groups project has been a huge success, and for me personally, as fulfilling as anything I’ve done with No Meat Athlete. But in a million years I’d never have guessed who our most active groups would turn out to be.
To find out how these surprising groups have done it — and more than that, to hang out with amazing people and be a part of all that they’ve got going on — I’ve made it my mission to visit each of them. So far I’ve made it to Miami and Virginia Beach, and this weekend I’ll hop over to Oklahoma City after a conference in Denver (plus a run with the Denver NMA group while I’m there!). As for Sydney, right now it’s on the “one day” list … but I’ll get there. 🙂
Over the next few weeks I’ll post about these groups as I visit them, along with my thoughts and those of the group leaders about what exactly makes up their secret sauce. Partly, this is to help our other groups and to inspire new leaders (you, maybe?) to start new groups — but I also hope this information is useful for people who want to start groups around this cause that aren’t NMA related.
Because, as Seth Godin says, if the tribe isn’t connected, then it’s not really a tribe.
No Meat Athlete Miami
Fresh off the Holistic Holiday at Sea Cruise at the end of March, my wife Erin and I stayed an extra day in Miami to spend some time with the very first NMA group to distinguish itself as a standout.
The fun group videos that co-leader Alex Ruiz posts after their runs were the first thing to catch my attention, and in January the group even got some ink on a local paper’s website.
I could try to put it in words, but nothing quite captures that Miami feel like video. Here’s the one Alex made of our visit (there’s no sound right now, but we’re working on that …) :
One of the common denominators among successful groups is passionate leaders, and as we walked for a few blocks (vegan gelato in hand), I understood what makes Alex, Jeanette, and Annie such great leaders: they see this NMA group not just as a way to have fun and make friends, but as part of something much, much bigger. For them, NMA Miami is a way to grow the plant-based movement in their city, which they said had been slower than other big cities to come around on the lifestyle.
Case in point: Jeanette and Alex have so stepped into the role of plant-based ambassadors in Miami that they recently started a podcast, called Planted in Miami, where they aim to help the movement take root there (AHH, my puns are terrible!) by interviewing local business people, athletes, and others who are furthering the sustainable lifestyle in Miami.
It’s not the weather, it’s the people!
For our visit, Erin and I had budgeted the entire day, starting at noon, figured we’d be finished by 7:00pm to hit the road for a five-hour drive up the coast to our relatives’ house.
But after a nice, hot, three-mile run in the late afternoon and some delicious burritos at Choices Cafe for dinner, we found ourselves talking right on through our 7 o’clock departure time. Then it was eight o’clock, then nine … and finally we decided we couldn’t stay another minute if we wanted to make up the coast in one piece (as it was, we had to stop at a rest area for a nap around midnight).
In those few hours, we felt it. The weather, the vibe, the plant-based scene that’s just starting to come around. And the people: another trait among our successful groups is that perfect mix of personalities that you just can’t engineer.
Here’s what Jeanette says about the connections the Miami group has made:
Hands down what makes our group awesome are the people. We think it’s because we come together with the passionate goal of living a meat-free diet so we automatically have something that bonds us. There isn’t a get together where our diet and lifestyle isn’t discussed. But it’s a good thing because we have vegans, vegetarians, and veg curious people asking questions, sharing tips and stories and basically fostering a judgement-free zone. Many friendships have formed within the group. Just the other day we bumped into some NMA runners having lunch together and it warmed our hearts that they met through the group.
I particularly like what she says about the friendships within the group: someone told me that NMA Miami even spawned a spin-off book club among a couple members! I’ve heard lots of similar stories from other groups about sub-groups of people that meet for extracurricular runs and dinners.
What else makes the Miami group work?
As I said above, when we started these groups, it was easy to peg the big, vegan-friendly cities as likely successes. But in fact, the biggest cities have proven to be some of the most challenging, probably because NMA groups are competing for attention and time with so much else in those places. (I noticed the converse of this phenomenon on my book tour, where my events in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska surprised me as two of the most crowded.)
But as of the biggest metropolitan areas in the United States, Miami is an exception to our “smaller is easier” rule. When I asked Jeanette (who blogs at OM the Moment) what she thought made it work, she said:
We really try to build a sense of community in our group. For example, when someone misses a run, we make sure to text or email to check-in. Every time someone joins the group, we welcome them publicly on Facebook so they feel it’s more than just a running group. Each week, we also feature a NMA runner by asking them 5 questions to get to know them better.
We make it a point to get to know something about each member. Because the group has grown (148 people), it’s hard to speak to everyone at the events but Alex and I split it up and compare notes about people afterwards. We really try to not let anyone feel left out. But everyone is so interesting that it makes it easy to make conversation. We even have people bringing their kids in strollers to not miss the events. How cool is that?
From my visit and sitting down with Jeanette, Alex, and Annie, here’s what struck me as central to Miami’s success:
- The “Member of the Week” feature they do on Facebook.
- Meeting once per month on a Sunday morning — I suspect that meeting monthly, rather than weekly, is helpful in making a big city group work, where there’s always lots of other stuff going on.
- A “no runner left behind” policy — one of the leaders always stays in the back of the pack to run with the slowest runner. Also, at our out-and-back run, Alex stopped and waited at the turnaround to show new runners where it was.
- Alex records lots of each event with his GoPro, then puts together a short video, which he shares along with lots of photos on the group’s Facebook page afterward.
- Using an Instagram account and posting events on a local Meetup page.
- Going to the same place (Choices Cafe) for brunch after each run. They’ve also made arrangements with another local restaurant to make a special vegan dish for when their group comes in.
- An active Facebook page, with people sharing blog posts, recipes, and anything related (but this could be a consequence, rather than a cause, of having an active group).
And certainly, the Miami brand of winter weather hasn’t hurt, either. The scorching summer will be a challenge, but I know they can do it. Go, NMA Miami!
A few more photos …
Join (or start) your local NMA group
Check out the listing of all the groups and connect on Facebook. And if there’s none near you, here’s how to start it! If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with our groups coordinator, Esther Jaffa, at esther [at] nomeatathlete [dot] com.