In an area that’s home to several military bases and training centers — which means a transient population and (I figured) not a lot of interest in plant-based diets — one of our most active, tightest-knit running groups emerged.
And from my first morning with the group, I understood why.
My First Experience with the “Energy Lab”
We got up early on a Saturday to meet at leader Andrea Denton’s house, where we piled five into a car and drove 45 minutes to a 100-mile Tour de Cure cycling event … not to race, but just to support three members of the group who were riding.
When we arrived, I was surprised to meet another four or five group members, also not riding, just out there to cheer on their friends from the group. We brought out a big sign they had made that says “No Meat Athlete Virginia Beach — Energy Lab” and set up a table with lots of plant-based fueling options that they had made the night before, and long before we saw our three riders, other riders came by to grab some food (homemade Glo Bars were a hit) and ask what No Meat Athlete and the Energy Lab were all about.
Conversations started, people were grateful, and the members of the group got a chance to talk about this lifestyle they love so much.
And in this single activity, they were doing everything I had hoped our groups would do:
- Cultivating friendships so tight that they’ll spend half a Saturday supporting each other
- Being visible — like with the “Energy Lab” sign and the shirts — but …
- Being seen as helpful (not abrasive) in the community, to attract and educate people who are curious
I love the Energy Lab idea — a VA Beach original — because it so perfectly fits their ethos of supporting each other (and in the process, supporting others and spreading the message). Here’s what Andrea says about the depth of the friendships they’ve created:
Our NMA Running Group is more than a running group. Sure, we are a group that runs, but we have really become family. We spend holidays together, we have built friendships, we celebrate milestones, we support each other in our athletic endeavors and we have grown as individuals.
Having a group like this has allowed us to become better versions of ourselves — better athletes, better plant-based eaters and better educated. Individuals who were trying to find their way alone now have a network they can reach out to for all types of questions. And we love to share our dinner ideas with each other on Facebook — our ‘running group’ page is full of pictures of whatever we are eating that day!
Potlucks — the NMA VB Staple!
When we started these groups, one of my goals was to make them very different from typical vegan meetups. Nothing against vegan meetups, they’ve just never been my scene, and I thought there was room for a different mindset.
So when several group leaders suggested potlucks — a very typical “vegan meetup” event — as a way for their groups to get together, I can’t say I was all that optimistic about how they’d turn out.
Once again, I was wrong. 🙂
After hanging out at the Tour de Cure event all day, the VA Beach group met again that night for their potluck at Andrea’s house, something they’d done several times before. Everyone brings a vegan dish (some made, some bought), there’s some beer and wine, and people get to know each other better than you can on a run or in a restaurant.
And what did we talk about all night? Running! Very different from other vegan potlucks I’ve attended, where the conversation is often about veganism and little else.
Our group truly flourished after the first potluck in my home. I think breaking bread in a home is more personal than a restaurant and it has allowed us to really bond with each other. A restaurant naturally restricts you to a seat and a limited menu—a potluck allows us to wander around and we eat so much more variety than any restaurant.
In cities where there aren’t a ton of vegan restaurants, I think this is especially valuable.
I noticed one big difference between our successful Miami group and this one in Virginia Beach: how they’re led.
Alex, Jeanette, and Annie are very hands-on with the Miami group — “nurturing parents” is the phrase that comes to mind for me. They decide where to run, they make sure nobody misses the turnaround, they make sure nobody is left behind. Not to imply that anybody in the group needs “parenting,” but in a city as big and busy as Miami, I think that level of order probably keeps the group cohesive.
But in Virginia Beach, while Andrea oversees everything and is my main contact there, the members of the group all do their part to lead it:
Another secret to our success is that our members take ownership of the group. They are very active in planning upcoming activities, and have come up with some great ideas, like the Energy Lab, which provided a table of plant-based snacks at a local marathon!
Of course, this doesn’t stop anyone from calling Andrea “Mom.”
There’s a final thing that stands out about the Virginia Beach group, and it’s that they race. A lot.
Virginia Beach has a solid running scene, and it seems like every weekend there’s a race that someone in the group is doing. And sometimes, the whole group: they’ve entered several races as a team, and twice they’ve placed and brought home medals.
But even when the whole group isn’t racing, the amazing support they provide each other — like the Energy Lab, or standing out for a few hours in the cold rain, like we did when I visited — makes it feel like a team.
In a Nutshell
When I visited, the things about the VA Beach group that stood out to me were:
- Potlucks at Andrea’s house: everyone brings a vegan dish (and yes, there’s alcohol)
- Local races: Virginia Beach has a lot of them, and the group has entered several as a team and brought home medals to show for it!
- The right mix of personalities. This one is tough to engineer, but Andrea said that the group really gelled after certain members joined and added to the volume in the Facebook group
- Meeting weekly, and sometimes even more often (and the frequency certainly shows in how close their friendships are)
- A very active Facebook page overflowing with jokes and food photos
A Few More Photos of NMA VB
To Join Your Local NMA Group …
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