This incredible running community will change your life!
Started by Greg and Christian Dorffer in London, the two friends were motivated to run marathons and decided that social commitment to meet up with other people was the only way to train. After a quick post on meetup.com, 13 total strangers turned up and ran together on a cold winter evening back in January 2015. Greg and Christian didn’t know it then but that's when their running community was born. A few hundred of events later, Midnight Runners have made thousands of people fitter, faster and stronger whilst raising tens of thousands of pounds for charity. They are taking world cities by storm, with branches in Berlin, Boston, Barcelona, New York and of course London!
In this interview, Greg and Jody share how the idea for Midnight Runners came about, what it's like to start running communities in new cities, the importance of making running sociable and much more!
What inspired you to start Midnight Runners?
Greg: My co-founder Christian Dorffer and I wanted to make ourselves more active and running with other people helped us accomplish that.
We've seen other groups where people run together but there wasn’t much interaction between them, they wore headphones and the whole thing seemed a little bit boring. When you have headphones, you can't interact with other people so we started running with portable speakers to play music as we ran.
Our goal was to make the group really inclusive for everyone who wanted to run with us but learnt that fast runners are unable to run slowly. We wanted to slow them down and thought ‘if they could do a bunch of exercises as they wait, that would have been even better’ and that’s how our run evolved to include exercise stops.
Initially, we didn’t have any long-term vision but what happened later really exceeded our expectations! It surprised us how Midnight Runners resonated with people; the fact that people would come back and bring their friends and those friends would bring their friends. That was definitely not something that we had in mind at the very beginning.
"Ready to change your life?
Lace up those trainers and jump right in – Midnight Runners are ready for you."
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Midnight Runners community
Who are the people that come running with you?
Jody: Midnight Runners attracts people of all backgrounds and abilities. We have over 100 nationalities who run with us in London alone. We have 50/50 split men and women from different cultures. To be able to bring everyone together through something that we love and use it as a catalyst for personal improvement and fulfilment is something that genuinely inspires me every single day.
10K signature run
Midnight Runners have a 10K 'signature' run every Tuesday in London, why do you think it has become so popular?
Jody: The real key with Midnight Runners and especially the Tuesday 'flagship' run is down to people and the format of the exercise that turns running, which has been traditionally seen as something you do on your own, into a team sport.
At the very start of our runs, the first thing that the guy or girl leading the event will say is: ‘Introduce yourselves to 2 people you haven't met before’. You’re encouraged to team up with someone else at every stop because that way you meet new people and connect.
When you're working out super hard, doing burpees or press-ups, you're immediately breaking down those barriers, which so often exist for young people in an urban environment. We have drinks in the pub afterwards too where you can talk to someone you’ve met during your run. And obviously the music's great and people are super-friendly, the workout is tough but seriously rewarding and that’s been the secret sauce.
So forcing those social interactions in a really positive way has helped us create what we have now - a real kick-ass community in London, Berlin, Barcelona and Boston.
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Midnight2Midnight charity run
Which Midnight Runners events are you most of proud?
Greg: I am definitely most proud of organising pop up runs in cities around Europe. Some of them were insane. The first time we went to Barcelona, the event went viral on social media and, we've had over 3000 people showing up which was absolutely bonkers!
When we went to Athens, we had over 700 people, a crazy after party and the run was incredible. We've been to Budapest, Amsterdam, Lisbon and every single time we went somewhere, the reception was incredibly positive and super fun.
Jody: I’d like to mention our annual charity event called 'Midnigh2Midnight' coming up in London this year. It’s a 24-hour run relay in Central London which will actually be our fourth year running it. For the second year, we're partnering up with the Mayor's Fund for London, headed by Sadiq Khan, which provides financial funding for disadvantaged children who might not be getting the full support they could in a city as wealthy as our own.
It is our way of giving something back as a community. We really believe that engaged people can make a difference and be a positive influence on the communities in which they operate. It's a great event and it's returning again this year in September! Tickets went on sale at the end of February.
How does the ‘Midnight2Midnight’ run look like?
Jody: Starting on a Friday night we run 10k on the hour, every hour. The event finishes 24 hours and 240 km in total later. There are people who will run 10k and there are people with a record of 120k.
We’ve seen that people will show up with a distance in mind that they want to do – be it 10k, 20k or 30k – but they end up running more because they are so inspired by others around them, who are putting in some serious kilometres and the friendly atmosphere gives it an amazing energy.
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Millennial answer to a running club
What makes Midnight Runners different from traditional running clubs?
Greg: There's a saying that ‘sometimes you have to create what you want to be a part of’ and that's essentially what we did.
Looking back now and understanding the running scene a little better, we’re almost like a millennial answer to a running club. We attract much younger people than a traditional running club. And the format: it’s almost like a moving party: there’s music, there's high-fives, there's a lot of support and there are drinks afterwards.
We throw our exercise stops into the mix which makes the whole event more inclusive. If you're slow, you can catch up with the group and if you're fast, you’ll end up with a harder workout.
Jody: Midnight Runners have some amazing runners who are doing incredible things. They run super long distances and finish in the top ten in international marathon events. In many cases, it's been Midnight Runners that got them hooked into running.
People in traditional running clubs may look at us and think this isn't what running should be about but the level of phenomenal runners in our group suggests that we are serious but don't take ourselves too seriously.
All running abilities welcome
You definitely have some seriously accomplished runners in the group, does everyone have to be in shape to join?
Jody: What's so great about the format of our events is that you can be a super-fast runner or you can be someone who is just getting into the sport and you can all work out together. You'll end up running with people who are slightly faster than you and you'll improve just because you're inspired by what they've done. It's certainly as inclusive as a running group can get.
Where do you find all the great people who work with you? Running photographers, website builders and the crew captains?
Jody: What’s so interesting about Midnight Runners is that the workout that you do is achievable but it's also very hard. The concept of a tough, super social workout is what attracts a very specific type of person.
It attracts the person who is prepared to put themselves out there and be uncomfortable, who wants to give back their own time to a supportive community and improve the lives of the people they live around.
We've never actually advertised for a job or gone out there with the specific aim of finding someone. All the people who now volunteer for us, whether it’s taking photographs, building the website or doing our graphics, have found us.
There are people who have very successful careers in their professional lives and on many levels they’re phenomenal and happy to help us which is really inspiring and we're extremely grateful for it. I hope it never changes! It’s the reason we wake up and keep on doing what we do.
I'm really proud about what our communities achieved and we just want to emphasise that although me and Greg are speaking now, the real hard work comes from the community of volunteers, the crew captains who run those events and aren't paid money. They have just dedicated their time, passion and energy to make people more active and more social.
What have you gained through growing the Midnight Runners community?
Greg: It's been a lot of effort, a lot of mornings, evenings and weekends managing this job with other responsibilities. I'm insanely active - more than I've ever been - and I'm connected to so many people I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. And I learnt something profound about life which is that ‘the more you give, the more people you affect and more comes back’. I love that we help other people become more active and more connected.
Midnight Runners have grown internationally. What does it take to start a new group on the other side of the world? We talked about Berlin and setting up Midnight Runners in different cities; are these pop-up runs or will they become permanent groups as well?
Greg: Those groups we mentioned - Berlin, Boston and Barcelona - now have weekly and often twice weekly Midnight Runners events.
In Berlin, Midnight Runners meet up every Wednesday and have over 70 runners a week. Boston has been going for about 7 and a half months now with high numbers as well. In Barcelona, we were about a month in and when we ran and had 50 crazy, amazing people with us, giving all the energy you'd expect from a Mediterranean city!
What's so nice about the way that Midnight Runners has grown internationally is that it's still based on those organic principles of a community. We turn up and run and as we grow and meet new people, we then invite them to get involved.
The guy running Berlin now came with us on a November evening in a pouring rain when it was absolutely freezing and when most people didn't show up. But he came, gave loads of energy and just thought that this whole concept was phenomenal. The next day, he volunteered to help out and, lo and behold, he's now leading our community there.
Can people contact you to start Midnight Runners independently?
Greg: We do get requests where people say: “Hey, I've seen you online, on Instagram or Facebook. I'm based in X and really would want to start Midnight Runners”.
We're not at that point yet. We really need to know what happens under the Midnight Runners brand and have control over the overall experience. Maybe over time we will be in a position where we will have the set up that caters for people who want to start Midnight Runners independently.
Where would you like to take Midnight Runners in the future?
Greg: We’ve always seen Midnight Runners as a movement that happens in the most inspiring, open-minded and global cities. We absolutely love the fact that there are vibrant party scenes where we can go after our runs and discover new places.
We are still learning about what it takes to launch a new Midnight Runners community and how to ensure it stays aligned with our ideals and objectives. So really the big goal for now is to try to have presence in some of the most inspiring global cities around the world!
Greg is a passionate sports enthusiast, traveller and mountain climber. He is on mission to connect people through fitness, making exercise more fun and sociable along the way. With Midnight Runners, he has some amazing achievements under his belt - from completing a marathon in war-torn Somalia to running over 100K at Midnight2Midnight in London and numerous marathons and ultra-marathons around Europe. As a mountaineer, he made it to the top of Africa's 5th highest mountain - Mount Meru, the highest mountain in Mexico - Pico de Orizaba, West Europe's highest summit - Mount Blanc and Mt Kazbek in Georgia (solo)!
Jody's goal is to make a positive impact on the lives of fellow Midnight Runners through building new running communities in European cities and beyond. Having started his career in the British Army, Jody was part of a team who designed and opened the first leadership academy in the West Bank, Palestine and set up the first marathon in Somalia in 26 years - since the outbreak of civil war - whilst on secondment to the United Nation. He also served in Afghanistan. Jody's list of running achievements includes some impressive long trail runs and marathons; this year he completed the 90k Ultravasan in Sweden in less than 9 hours!