The massive Manchester running club where jogs finish at the pub
'We're a drinking a club with a running problem' — their words, not ours.
For many people, it can sometimes be a struggle to fill those evenings throughout the week without giving into the urge of just sitting on your arse, eating snacks and watching telly all night.
On the other hand, heading to the gym on a weeknight after work can feel like a chore and you still might have to wait until 5pm on Friday to see your mates.
That’s where groups like Manchester Road Runners come in.
The biggest social running club in Manchester
For our money, the Manchester Road Runners are the city’s biggest running club by any measure – maybe even in the Greater Manchester full stop – and is just as much about socialising as it is fitness, if not more.
Founded back in 2013, the club started out as nothing more than a few mates meeting every week for a jog and has since grown to be a nearly decade-old institution with more than 3.7K members on Facebook.
Based out of The Wharf in Castlefield, the group gathers at their adopted home and resident watering hole before each run to catch up and welcome new faces before setting off on a group run every Wednesday.
The best part is after the run is done, runners take over an entire floor of the pub (club flag hanging out the window, the works) before rewarding themselves with a cold pint or a well-deserved glass of wine. Or several, because why the hell not?
Offering everything from the 3k starter route to the 5k, 7.5k and 10k distances which stretch along the canal and take you as far as Media City in Salford Quays and back, scores of people turn up every week to meet new people, keep fit and have a drink.
Of course, if you’re a head-down, headphones-in kind of person, you can always just get in the zone and save your riveting conversation for afterwards. Alternatively, if you’re new to running, fancy a slower pace and are seeking out something more social, this club is made for you.
How it started vs how it’s going
We spoke to MRR’s chairman and founding member Chris Rider, who gave us a rundown on the club’s history, ethos and some of the inspirational stories that have seen it become the fitness family it is today.
“It started out with me and two friends: we went out for a run and finished back here for a pint and a burger and then started doing that every week. Then one of the guys put something on Twitter and Facebook asking if anyone wanted to join and it just began growing from there.
“For quite a while there was only about six of us, occasionally getting into double-figures, then gradually it built and built just through word of mouth. The last time we did a headcount there were more than 120 people”. There’s been more than that since – we’ve seen it.
In Chris’ eyes, the difference between MRR and other groups is that not only is this one free of charge (you just turn, drop your bags and run), but they prioritise the social aspect above all else.
In addition to providing an outlet for people that are new to Manchester or just looking to meet new people in general, he believes “the mental health aspect is massive… people don’t feel like they have to turn up every week as opposed to at other clubs, but they want to”.
Club secretary Will Robinson, who helps organise various ambassador roles and regularly delivers the intro speech on Wednesday evenings, echoed a similar sentiment, insisting that it is the sense of “community” is the reason he has stuck around for more than seven years.
In fact, the group is so close-knit that many people who can’t run that week still turn up to eat and drink, or even to just have a chinwag. Even people stopping over in Greater Manchester for work or for prolonged family visits turn up to give it a try and will still return the next time they’re in the area.
Crucially, Will says that feedback is a massive part of the running club’s success and regularly reminds newcomers that progress is “subjective” and the main goal is to participate, enjoy yourself and “come home feeling good”.
Enjoyment comes first. These lot aren’t just runners, they’re friends that look after each other. People find flatmates, gym buddies, people to go travelling with; many even meet their life partners and end up getting engaged – all through simply meeting at this unique running club.
Straight from the racehorses’ mouth
The group is really diverse and a great mix of ages, genders and running abilities. Anyone who joins will find their level and keep improving. I ended up training with a friend for the Great Manchester Run half marathon, which we both started and finished together in great time.
The running club helped me build a great social circle and support group. I moved to Manchester during lockdown and it was pretty difficult to meet new people, so having mates I can see for a drink on a Wednesday night is a highlight during my week.Will (right) – 10 months
The best part is being able to share an interest with people who inspire you to run better and are a good laugh. As well as zip lining in Wales, my favourite memory is our Halloween night out to Mojos where me and my partner Will got together.
We’re not a serious group so don’t let that put you off. We’reall about socialising and just getting a run in. That said there are always people training for races so the group is good in that way too. Everyone is super friendly so talk to anyone and you’ll easily make friends.Sam (right) – 3 years
As an ambassador, the role is partly about volunteering but it’s also recognising the values of the club and just trying to be a good egg — turning up as the best version of yourself you can be
My advice would be just turn up; don’t talk yourself out of it or assume everyone will be faster than you. It’s a running social, just run and have a chat with a complete stranger.John – 6 years
Non-stop socials and away days
When we say the social aspect is essential to what has made this running club so popular and enjoyable, it doesn’t start and end at The Wharf.
Helping organise travel down to each location, the group do parkrun every single weekend at the various different green spaces across the Greater Manchester area and further afield.
They have also recently started the MRR Trail Division, offering hikes and trail runs in the North West and various peaks across the UK.
Moreover, they do more than their fair share of taking the group on the road and outside of 0161 too, with away days to the likes of London, Alton Towers, Edinburgh, Dublin and more.
Believe it or not, they’ve even done mini-tours across the north of France and many members travel across the world doing their bit to represent the club at events such as the San Francisco, Porto and Oslo Marathon’s
Running aside, MRR seems to have some kind of social on every other week, whether it be a trip down to the Altrincham Markets, doing the Didsbury Dozen, Halloween parties, the annual Christmas meal or a 1am trip to Bunny Jacksons.
Did we mention they like a drink?
Fundraising and life-saving
Ran by its dedicated committee members and ambassadors who make everything possible, one of the most touching stories from the club is their journey to installing a life-saving defibrillator at The Wharf itself.
Sadly, in January of 2022, the club lost one of their beloved members in Emma Horrell. Emma first joined as part of MRR’s ‘Couch to 5k’ and was hooked from that moment on.
She went on to take over the initiative the following year, helping encourage more people to get into running whilst showing support for numerous different causes.
Not only did she run to raise awareness for cardiomyopathy, but she also helped pioneer the club’s part in #RunAndTalk, a national scheme which runs for a full week every year aimed at improving mental health and openness through exercise.
But her legacy will always be the defib that is now installed at the side of the pub. Emma and her fellow committee members started campaigning for the live-saving equipment long before she sadly passed and while it may be a painful chapter for the club, her incredible efforts could now save countless lives.
Even Mayor Andy Burnham turned up for its unveiling on the day, which included a plaque honouring her memory and contribution to the local community.
Since then, the club has held multiple CPR training sessions with the help of certified professionals and regularly invites guest speakers, sports specialists, physios and even independent sports brands along to help everyone keep in good nick.
More importantly, fundraising remains a huge part of what makes this club tick, not just to help pay for things like the various pieces of official kit, but to keep the positive, communal and generous spirit at the core of the organisation.
Whether it be joining various races across the country, holding their own charity 10k every year and running the 24 Hour Run for Manchester’s homeless, or raising money for cancer research, the Red Cross and other worthwhile causes through things like bake sales, they’re always doing their bit.
Come rain or shine
You can’t write about a running club in Manchester without addressing the weather one of the club’s greatest charms: the dedication of its loyal members to continue turning up in wind, sleet, rain and snow.
Their fortitude goes beyond just whatever the weather conditions are that week, though. As alluded to, the running club was a vital support system for so many during lockdown.
While there were long stretches when they weren’t allowed to meet at all, members kept in touch and shared their fitness updates on social media and when they were allowed to return socially distanced, they picked up right where they left off. There’s no stopping a runner.
The club celebrates its 10th anniversary next year and it has to be said, it’s quite the thing they’ve built and the Manchester Road Runners show no signs of stopping.
Last but not least, as a member since November 2021 myself, I can honestly say this club has changed my life in so many ways.
As a person who already loved running, it was a no-brainer when I stumbled across a horde of people in their gear all getting ready to set off. Seeing them gathering at a pub didn’t hurt either.
I now have a whole new affection for exercise since the running club became a regular staple of my social life, to the point where I’m genuinely gutted if I have to miss a week. I dare say you’ll feel the same once you catch the bug.
If you’re interested in trying Manchester Road Runners, just turn up to The Wharf pub at 6:30pm on Wednesdays. Bag storage is available upstairs and the various distance groups set off from 6:45.
After all, what more incentive to run do you need than a well-earned drink to help get through the week?
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