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Running groups rebuild community, friendships through physical activities as pandemic eases its grip.

PMG PHOTO: ANGEL ROSAS  - Johanna Muniz, Brittany Gaul-Hargrave and Carrie Yoshida keeping pace with each other. 

At 8:00 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 5 a group of athletic shorts wearing folks crowded outside the entrance of Stomping Ground Coffee in Fairview. The crisp morning air didn't dissuade them from their weekend ritual; a group run.

The 20 runners belonged to the Eastwind Running and Endurance club and were meeting up before they set off on their Saturday group run/walk.

After the pandemic halted many communal groups and activities, running clubs like Eastwind are just now making their return.

Johanna Muniz, Eastwind's president, said the group has been hosting joint runs again for the first time since January of last year.

"That feeling of getting back together and seeing each other again after so long has brought a lot of us this overwhelming sense of joy," Muniz said. "We are just bringing our community back."

The Eastwind club is a nonprofit organization that brings folks from East County to join in group runs, outdoor recreation and other running and endurance-based activities. The group started in 2012 and has over 1,000 members on Facebook. PMG PHOTO: ANGEL ROSAS  - Eastwind Running and Endurance club gearing up for their Saturday morning group run.

People can join the club for free by following the clubs Facebook page. A paid membership of $20 a year brings some additional perks like exclusive runs and social events.

Eastwind's Saturday morning group runs draw in people looking to train for their next marathon to those simply looking for company on their morning stroll. Locations are announced to members on the group's Facebook page and take place all around East County including Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale and Sandy.

Eastwind's "Zombie Runs" invite early morning runners to flock to Downtown Gresham every weekday at either 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. to get their pre-dawn miles in.

Although the euphoria of a runner's high is more than enough for most of the group's runners to keep coming back, many point to the camaraderie they have found with each other as the reason for staying with the club for so long.

"This club is very unique, because we are a family," Muniz said. "We like to see each other and share our lives with each other. It is the reason we get up at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday."

Brittany Gaul-Hargrave, a first-year board member for the group, said what she loves about the is how welcoming the club is to new members. "I remember being so nervous (at first) about my own pace, but when I showed up everyone PMG PHOTO: ANGEL ROSAS - Felicia Royce, a member of Eastwind, sprinting to finish her Saturday morning run. 

was at a different pace," Gaul-Hargrave said. "There is always somebody to run with and there is no judgement on how fast or slow you are."

Cathy Wagner echoed those sentiments saying that the groups unofficial tagline is that 'No one gets left behind.'

After two years of being separated, many of the members at Eastwind said that being able to be with their running family has made a noticeable difference in their lives.

Building a sisterhood of runners

Stacy McMahon started the Sandy branch of Trail Sisters, looking to create a community of runners exclusive to women.

McMahon moved to Oregon from Arizona last year. Coming from a different state in the middle of a global pandemic, McMahon was in search of friends and community.

"When I moved to Oregon, I didn't have anyone to run with and I didn't want to go all the way to Portland just to go on a hike," McMahon said. "So, I just started a branch over here."

McMahon has a deep love for running. As an ultra-runner, she has competed in races that are 26.2 miles or greater in distance. For McMahon, running was one thing, but she truly missed being part of a running community. COURTESY PHOTO: STACY MCMAHON  - Trials Sisters-Sandy chapter leader Stacy McMahon, Becky Dean, and Alexa Todd stop for a photo at the Sandy Trail sign.

When she moved to Sandy, McMahon remembered the Trail Sisters organization, which provides a safe and supportive environment for women to enjoy running and hiking with other women. The organization has branches all over the country that host weekly hikes, form running teams for races and other outdoor activities.

Although McMahon only started the Sandy branch in November, she said the trail runs she has gone on have been amazing.

"In the beginning of these runs it feels like we are just a bunch of strangers, but by the end we are friends and don't want to stop," McMahon said.

McMahon said she has gotten to talk to some amazing women through the club.

"I mean we have had a teacher and a Realtor go on run together and it has been great just getting to know them and their lives."

Although the group is exclusive to those who identify as women, McMahon said participants don't have to be experienced runners. And the focus is not on breaking speed records.

"It is a no drop group," McMahon explained. "If this is your first run ever or can't go very fast then we will walk or run at your pace."

McMahon believes that if a woman is even remotely interested in trail running, they should give the Trial Sisters a try.

COURTESY PHOTO: STACY MCMAHON  - The Sandy Trail Sisters group traversing rough terrain on during their Sandy River Trail run. 
The group is holding bi-weekly hikes on weekends at 9 a.m. at either Tickle Creek Trail or the Sandy River Trail. Those interested in the club can visit the Trail Sisters website, trailsisters.net, and sign up or to find the Sandy branch. Trail Sisters Sandy also has an Instagramaccount that people can follow.

McMahon hopes as the group grows, she can get a co-leader who will allow the group to meet every weekend and at other locations.


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