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The rise of running crews in creative communities

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The phenomenon of running crews began in New York as an alternative running movement, with the idea quickly spreading around the globe. Melbourne’s own running crew is AM:PM, a collective of runners working in the creative industries. To understand the running crew movement writer Lachlan Kanoniuk went along to an AM:PM meet and did what any good investigator would do: he ran.

It’s the PM. The sun sets, feeling like a definitive full-stop on summer. It’s trite to talk about weather—especially Melbourne weather—but there’s an oppressive, biting chill in the air. Members of AM:PM, a running crew established around three years ago by photographer Ben Clement, begin to congregate at tonight’s meeting spot. The description of the meeting point was accompanied by a zoomed-in segment of a satellite map, a blurry outline of a fountain invoking the makings of ‘90s espionage thriller. The fundamental organisation makes a foundation for something loose and casual. There’s almost a uniform. Maybe interpretations of a uniform. Black Nike tops emblazoned with AM:PM branding for the most part, a few similarly styled running jackets getting their first outing for the year. Ben’s vintage amber Nike jacket deviates from the colour code. The crew has a strong identity, but still has a welcoming demeanour for its debutants.

Tuesday nights are generally the most relaxed outing of the week for AM:PM, I’m told. It’s been a while since I’ve done much running. A long while, in fact. The planned seven-to-eight kilometre course seems within reach. A challenge, sure, but within reach. We’ll be traversing a perimeter through the grid of Melbourne’s CBD. It’s not the usual setting for AM:PM, primarily sticking to more traditional pathways, and occasionally hitting running tracks. It’s a bit of a novelty, and an opportunity to experience the city in a way that isn’t ‘shuffling through suits while occasionally glancing up from your phone’.

AM:PM is Melbourne’s foremost iteration of a global trend. Ben established the crew in 2014 after working with a Tokyo equivalent, with crews popping up in major cities across the planet. While globalised movements are usually facilitated and accelerated by internet and social media, the connectivity with running crews is chiefly face-to-face interactions. It’s the essence of the concept’s simplicity. Running crews aren’t really about running. Running is a device to facilitate genuine interaction.

We set off from the fountain, snaking our way down to the Yarra River, smartwatch apps clicked on. Usually there’s a portable speaker on hand to provide a soundtrack, but not tonight. The route was set out, but there’s malleability within that prior organisation. Relaxed improvisation takes us where we need to go. “There’ll be a few stop-starts because of waiting for green lights, so it won’t be too full-on,” Ben assures. Turns out the stop-starts were instead often chases to catch the last hint of green in the flashing red, some runners more allergic to idle waiting than others.

The convoy naturally segments itself into groups of two or three, conversation partners rotating throughout the course of the run. It’s a pure form of interaction. Focus is on the connection, which suppresses any pain or fatigue from the forefront of the mind. It’s a double-edged compensation for those who aren’t wholly athletically-minded. Chatting with mates, making new mates, is stimulating. The sense that running crews are millennials’ golf holds water, when stripped of cynicism. I side next to Kevin, who recently moved to Melbourne, for a stretch up Spencer Street. He joined AM:PM after making a connection while visiting New York from London.

The simplicity and beauty of running has been explored in contemporary literature, most notably Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say many running crew members across the globe have been inspired by such literature. The beauty of running is in its subjective nature, meaning prose can only go so far in terms of conveying a singular experience.

Logic indicates that the best way to gain knowledge of place is to do so at as slow a pace as possible. I’ve strolled through Melbourne countless times, passive and perfunctory. Running through a city at night, there’s a faint sense of liberation. Bystanders glance, or even project scorn. It’s weird, but good. Flashes of commentary can be overheard on each block. “They’re doing alright for uphill.” While I thought the distance would be manageable for an unseasoned runner, Melbourne’s uphill, and deceptive, gradients proved a bit too much. “I’ll meet you down at Flinders Street,” I offer, not wanting the crew to be held back while I plot a shortcut for respite.

We reconvene, and head on the home stretch through Birrarung Marr. “When I first started, I hadn’t done 10 Ks before,” Ben assures as we close out the eight kilometre (minus my shortcut) run. “Next time will be a lot easier.” I believe him.

A fountain break, some farewells, and the crew dissipates for the night. Next up, the AM.


Ben is partnering up with N+RC Melbourne to show you another side to running on June 8th.  It’s not just another the run. Check it out here.

  • By: Lachlan Kanoniuk

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