Although many runners enjoy the solitude of forested trails or roads at dawn, just as many, it seems, draw motivation and strength from running in groups.
"It's motivation; it keeps you going," says Medford runner Melinda Kidd. "I have a hard time running alone, and this just pushes you a lot farther. And in our group, you get these guys waiting at the top of the hills; it keeps you going up a hill."
To join Southern Oregon Running Enthusiasts or find a S.O.R.E. group run, see www.meetup.com/SOREnthusiasts
Southern Oregon Runners club organizes Monday group runs at 6 p.m. at the Jacksonville Woodlands and holds track workouts at 6 p.m. Wednesdays at Phoenix High School. See http://sorunners.org/pages/training.shtml for more information.
Wednesday trail runs meet at 5:30 p.m. at Rogue Valley Runners store in Ashland. A women-only trail run meets at the same location at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Call 541-601-0014 for details.
Kidd is one of approximately 325 local runners who have joined a group called Southern Oregon Running Enthusiasts — S.O.R.E. for short. The organization's mission is to provide opportunities for group running.
"It's easier to get up the hills with someone by your side, and it's just nice to have the accountability and the socialization," says fellow Medford runner Tamara Starr. "Someone's there waiting for you to show up, so you have to get up out of bed in the morning."
Social media plays a large role in the group and increases the accountability factor. The club's group runs are posted on the website meetup.com. Group etiquette calls for members to RSVP in advance if they will attend.
At 6:15 on a recent Thursday morning, Medford runner Brian Johnson has accountability on his mind. A tentative running partner did not show, leaving him with just one other partner for his "group." Had he known earlier, he would have joined the much larger 5:15 a.m. group that is just finishing up an hour-long run.
Today's meeting location is at Good Bean Coffee on the lower slopes of Roxy Ann Peak, a common venue for weekday runs.
"On a weekly basis, 50 to 60 people come out on the different runs. There are at least eight to nine runs every week in Ashland-Medford-Grants Pass," says S.O.R.E. founder Nate Olson.
According to Olson, longer weekend runs are the most popular events, with road runs on Saturdays and trail runs on Sundays. The group has recently ventured as far as Fish Lake and Lake of the Woods.
Groups are large enough that most people find at least one partner with a compatible pace. If someone falls behind, the others wait at the end.
"Last week we had a guy who took a wrong turn on one of the loops, and we didn't leave until he was back here," says Olson. We make sure everyone gets back safely and isn't somewhere with a pulled hamstring who needs a ride back."
On any given group run, you're likely to find a mix of men and women, mostly 20- and 30-somethings. The club boasts members in their 60s and as young as 14.
"I just like to meet new runners, and it's good because it's hard to run with a lot of people my age because there are not a lot of people that are flexible enough to run with," says Victoria Haynes, the club's youngest member, a freshman at South Medford High who ran varsity cross-country last fall.
Even though Haynes isn't old enough to drive, she frequently makes the 20-minute trip from Jacksonville thanks to an understanding grandfather who walks her dog while she runs.
Olson uses another website, mapmyrun.com, to upload upcoming routes so members can check out the runs online first. This national website is often used to help runners find a route when they're traveling.
"Last week we had a Eugene businessman join a run," says Olson. "Another time a visitor from Florida came out."
Several runners say that group running has made them faster.
"There are a lot of fast runners out here, so the faster runners push you," says Brian Johnson. "As soon as I joined the group, three months later I dropped my half marathon time down by 10 minutes."
Several members have run their first race since joining the S.O.R.E. group runs.
"At first it was something to come out and strive for, and you see people signing up for races, you kind of sign up for one and try it out and it's very addicting," says Kidd.
Shane Roberts, another participant in this morning's group, agrees.
"(Races) seemed like something fun to do to get together with other people, to prove to myself that I could do these things," says Roberts. "I just started running a couple of years ago, so it was a challenge to myself to just get to the end."
S.O.R.E. has a Facebook page where members often post comments about upcoming races.
"We were all tossing around doing the Portland Marathon, so one of us signed up, and next thing you know five of us signed up that same day," says Johnson. "We celebrated after the race together."
Realizing that marathon talk could seem intimidating to new runners, S.O.R.E. has started a "Couch-to-5K" program.
"One of our group members, Laurie Rooper, coordinates runs at any pace, so new runners will always have someone to run with (at their pace)," says Olson. "We have eight or nine people doing this on a regular basis."
S.O.R.E. prides itself on being open to anyone who's willing to lace up a pair of running shoes.
"There's no secret handshake," says Olson. "Everyone's welcome."
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.