7 Great Ways to Pay it Forward (in Your Running Shoes)

Post written by Susan Lacke.

There’s an amazing camaraderie among runners that’s unlike what you’ll find almost anywhere else.

Tell someone you’re a runner, and often you’ll get back an excited, “me, too!” If I see someone wearing compression socks at the grocery store, I’ll talk his ear off about the 10-miler I just finished while I escort him to the coconut water.

Does it make me crazy? If I were an outsider, I’d say yes. But I know it just makes me one thing: a proud runner.

Sometimes, though, we get so hung up on our individual goals (PRs, BQs, LTs, and MHRs) that we forget we were once newbies to the sport, asking other runners for help.

Those runners paid it forward. They knew what it really means to be a runner, and it has nothing to do with PRs. It’s about being a role model in health and fitness and a member of this great, supportive community of runners.

So step outside of yourself for a moment and pay it forward — your fellow runners appreciate it, and you’ll build up good running karma. Here are seven great ways to do it:

1. Run for a reason

Running can be a great way to bring awareness to a cause. There are organizations to help runners raise funds for important causes, such as cancer research, suicide prevention, or physical education in schools. Get people to sponsor every mile of your marathon by donating to an organization you are passionate about. As my mom says when she donates to my charity runs: “I ain’t running a marathon, but I will run up my credit card.”

As a very relevant, timely example, Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder, Gene Baur, will be running his first marathon this weekend in DC. He is (of course) raising money for Farm Sanctuary; you can read his post about it here. Even more fun: this also happens to be the same race our No Meat Athlete group is running, and Gene will be joining us for our pre-race dinner at Cafe Green!

2. Coach the next generation 

Many schools have cross-country or track and field programs that need supportive adults to mentor running youth. Or, if you’re looking to recruit and motivate brand-new runners, see if your community has a Girls on The Run chapter. This organization works with girls aged 8-13, to build self-esteem by combining 5K training with lessons on positive social, emotional, and physical development.

3. Stoke the fire

Many runners have told me they wish they had started running sooner, but were intimidated and scared to ask for help in getting started. Next time someone tells you they’d like to run “someday,” ask them how you can help make that “someday” come sooner. Offer to take them to your favorite running shoe store, give them a copy of a resource you found helpful, or invite them to join you at your next 5K.

4. Find a four-legged running partner

Animal shelters are always in need of volunteers to help care for rescued dogs, cats, and other critters. Call your local animal shelter today to offer to take some of their dogs on a quick jog once a week. This allows the dogs to become more socialized as well as burn pent-up energy. You’ll be thanked in endless tail wags and wet kisses — what better way to end a run?

5. Host an athlete

Most professional runners and triathletes are not flush with cash. Save for the rare few who have lucrative endorsement deals, many professional runners, cyclists, and triathletes participate in the great tradition of couch-surfing during training and races. Contact the race director and volunteer your spare bedroom for a home stay — it’s a fun way to support a runner, and often results in lasting friendships.

6. Help plan a race

A lot of us take for granted the amount of work which goes into making a race happen. When we show up on race day, we’re experiencing the fruits of someone else’s labor — the committed folks who secure permits, call sponsors, recruit volunteers, and design finisher’s medals — all without expecting a “thank you.” Contact the race director for a local race and ask how you can help make next year’s event the best yet. You’ll gain a newfound appreciation for the people who put on races year after year.

7. Volunteer on race day

You think those traffic cones set up themselves?

If you’re not racing, whether by choice or because you’re sidelined with an injury, you can get a front-row seat to the action when you volunteer. Almost every race director will tell you that good volunteers are critical to the success of race day. And yes, if you hand a cup of water to the winner, you can take credit for their success. Kinda.

Love the run

Passion is contagious. If you have an enthusiasm for running, there will be people who can’t wait to follow in your footsteps.

As this great community of runners grows larger, don’t forget to pay it forward.

Susan Lacke is No Meat Athlete’s resident triathlete, author of the No Meat Athlete Triathlon Roadmap, and will be running the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon with our group this Saturday. “Like” her on Facebook for links to her latest articles in random corners of the Internet.



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  1. I have a question about getting people to sponsor your runs, mainly how do you go about setting it up?

    I would love to run for the Upstate NY House Rabbit Society, would I contact them to set up a donation page similar to Gen Bauer’s? I’m assuming I just don’t go around asking for credit card info from friends and family. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  2. I totally agree about the unique camaraderie amongst runners. I still consider myself a newbie but have really enjoyed sharing some great conversations with more seasoned runners. As a newbie, it really was intimidating to ask them for advice but everyone I talk with has been really supportive and encouraging.

    Thanks for a great read!

  3. Christina says:

    I really appreciate this post. I’m a newbie and I’ve found so much support in my journey so far. As for reasons I started, I wanted a runner’s body! I’m still working on getting the alleged ‘baby weight’ off and I thought running would be an awesome workout and a challenge as I’ve never been much of an athlete. My brother runs casually and he suggested Couch to 5k so I did it and felt so proud. I just ran my first 5k two weeks ago and now I’m working on building up by stamina, speed and mileage. My brother has been a huge cheerleader and so has a friend of my husband’s who has been running for years. I feel like I get support from posts like this, reading Runner’s World or just being around other runners. I like that I’m challenging myself and having fun. I love your pay it forward idea because without it, I may not have started because I thought it was out of reach. Thanks to seasoned runners like yourself I found a hobby I enjoy and feel great about. Even as a newbie, I’ve encouraged my other brother and his wife to run and they have their first 5k this weekend!

  4. I’m volunteering at an ultra this weekend. I’ve always appreciated the smiles and help from volunteers at my races, so decided it was time to give something back. Great post!!

  5. Sure appreciate all your help, Matt, both the practical and the inspirational. Hoping to see those new shirts soon – I need mine! 🙂

  6. Hi Susan. Love the post. Paying it forward is so important in running and nearly every other aspect of life too. When my focus was mountain biking I was always blown away by the camaraderie and community. When I transitioned to running I hoped it would be the same. I wasn’t disappointed although no one asks to make sure I can tie my shoes the same way MTBrs ask if you need any tools 😉
    You and Matt have paid forward in such a huge way with the NMA blog and I for one have benefited enormously. So big thanks to both of you for that!

  7. I loved this post! I really like a lot of the ideas and agree the camradarie amongst runners is contagious! A quick question, as I’m realtively new to NMA (and the Run your BQ program) and to the veggie lifestyle, I did not know there was a NMA group running in DC. What is the groups pace goal for the race? I am running the race with a friend (who is even newer to the veggie lifestyle) and I think it would be nice to meet some new people!

  8. Jon Weisblatt says:

    I get as much fulfillment helping out a fellow runner as I do in performing well in a race. It’s great how runners can be such a tight-knit group. Any time there is any kind of common bond among strangers the world feels smaller and cozier.

  9. Christine Patterson says:

    It’s not quite paying it forward but as a race organiser it’s so nice to receive a thank you email after a race.
    Organising a race is a huge undertaking. People do say thanks on the day but a timely thank you email makes you forget the hardwork and encourages you to start thinking about the next ract to be organised.

  10. Great post! I led a Girls on the Run group at the school I use to teach at in Phoenix. It was so important to the girls. Many of them came from toufh backgrounds and running and being mentoby positive adults helped them to gain confidence and leatn how to cope with stressfull life situations. Sharing my love for running and wellnes gives me a sense of purpose that goes beyond my own body and mind!

  11. I love, love, love this list, particularly the idea of taking shelter dogs out for an easy run. It’s totally true and completely awesome.

  12. Yay to idea #4 (well, they’re actually all great!) This has been so rewarding for me personally. And wow, they are so good for speed workouts! Sometimes I’ll even duck out to the SPCA during my lunch break so I can pick up a pup who needs to blow off some steam as much as me, even if only for a 15 minute run in heels!

  13. Great post! The running community is such a supportive awesome group of people. Your post inspired me to volunteer for a Saturday morning work out with Achilles International!

  14. Another way to get involved is to run with a group called Back On My Feet. It’s a group that runs with people at homeless shelters and uses running as a tool towards accomplishing goals. It has been so wonderful working with these guys, some who have never run before, who are able to finally run 3 miles, 10 miles, even their first halfs and full marathons! It’s amazing to be a part of this program. Plus, they are in a bunch of cities now!

  15. What great ideas on paying it forward. Thanks to Matt & NMA, and other great & resourceful sites, I’ve suddenly found myself getting back into the root of running: BQ & PR’ing, coaching high school cross country, mentoring, assisting in race planning, volunteering, and the biggest payoff is when my daughters either race with me or volunteer. I’d love to host athletes at my home (of course they’d have to skip the meat products!)…what a great way to create nationwide or even international friendships!

    OK, enough of my blah blah blah, thanks for the post, very inspirational! #4 sounds especially awesome, and cheers Jordyn.

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