Random Route Run – a social running activity for running clubs

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to organize a social running event for my local running club.  After doing some searches on the Web and thinking a little bit, I came up with something I call a Random Route Run.   I haven’t seen this particular combination of running event elements before on running club websites.  I have seen other clubs promote Mystery Runs, which I believe are when a group either runs on a new or little known route.   But as you’ll see below, this idea adds an extra twist or two.

The Concept

Put simply, in order to conduct a random route run, you need to have at least two unknowns for each runner before the event starts:

  • where they are running (the route)
  • who they are running with (the team)

In the Random Route Run concept, both of these questions are answered by the luck of the draw, literally.  First, all participants meet at one location.  Then, each runner draws a number that represents one of the possible routes that they might run on.  They become part of a team with the other people who have drawn the same number.  So these two mysteries add a little bit of excitement into a group run.

This can be a great way for club members to get to know each other better, especially if they haven’t interacted much in the past.  It’s also a way to hear different stories while you are running.   🙂

Getting Organized

Here is what you will need to conduct a Random Route Run:

  • You need a coordinator who is responsible for picking the routes ahead of time and preparing materials for the team selection.
  • The coordinator needs to have an estimate of how many people are going to participate in the event… and then plan for more people.
  • Routes picked ahead of time, with at least one printed copy of each route (see below for more details).
  • Slips of paper for each participant to select from (see below for more details).

Ideal Team Size

The rule of thumb that I used was that each team would consist 3 – 4 people per route.  Two people could make up a team but it limits the capability for socializing with other runners.  And anything above five people is harder to maintain as a cohesive group.  So ideally you would want to have four people per team so that each person on a team could start with one buddy or partner but then they would have two other people to interact with during the run – no one would have to run alone on a team.  But a team of 3 people is still workable.

Calculating the Number of Routes

If you use four people as the standard team size and you have a good idea how many people are going to participate, this will help you calculate how many routes you need, which is simply:

(total number of runners/ 4 runners per team) + extra routes in case you have greater participation than you expected.  Also, round up decimals to the next integer.

When I organized our first Random Route Run, I felt certain I could count on 7 – 8 participants but I recognized that there could be more (or less) due to last minute decisions.  If I assumed 7 participants, then when you divide that by 4 runners per team you get 2 routes (1.75 routes, which you would round up to 2).

(By the way, never have less than 2 routes, it’s required for some level of randomness!)

However, if we had more than 8 people show up, the teams might get a little too big with only 2 routes.

So I decided to create four routes ahead of time, as close to 5 KM as possible (they all turned out to be closer to 5.3 KM or even a bit longer).  Even if I didn’t use them all, it was good to have them ready.  I had printed copies of each route with me.  I also put the routes in order of priority.  Route 1 and 2 would definitely be used.  Route 3 and 4 would only be used if we had enough participants, in that order of priority.  The priority sequence was arranged so as to minimize the possibility of teams encountering each other, just to maintain the team dynamic.

Preparing For The Draw (Assigning Runners to Teams)

I also took some index cards and wrote a route number on each one:  four index cards for each route.  This meant that I was prepared handle up to 16 participants on the teams:  4 routes, 4 runners per team.  Even if this turned out to be more than I ended up using it’s easier to plan for more than to have to add in extra participants that you didn’t plan for.

Then I took some time and planned out how people would be divided up into teams, taking into account workable combinations of runners.  I created a matrix that looked something like this:

RRR Team Assignments Matrix

So for example, if we had 16 participants, we would have 4 teams, 4 runners per team.  If we had at least 7 participants but less than 16, the matrix would provide the team compositions and also determine how many routes you would actually use.

If you expect to have more than 16 participants in your Random Route Run,  you’ll need  a larger matrix to account for the possibilities.    Just try to make your teams as close to the same size as possible.

Here’s how it worked for our first Random Route Run:

I planned for 4 routes and 4 runners/team:  a total of 16 participants.  I had 4 maps, each representing a different route.  I had 16 small pieces of paper, each with the number 1, 2, 3 or 4 on one side.

We had 11 participants, at least 3 more than I expected, which was great.  Based on the matrix I had created above, 11 participants resulted in three routes:

  • Route 1 had a team of 4 runners
  • Route 2 had a team of 4 runners
  • Route 3 had a team of 3 runners

Because I had less than 12 participants, I did not use Route 4, so I removed all of the cards with the number 4.  I should have gotten rid of one of the cards with the number 3 on it but by mistake I got rid of one of the cards with the number 1 on it.  (Oh well…)  No big deal.

Finally, we all drew cards to see which team and route we were assigned to.  I wanted to be on team 2, which had a leg running along one of our local rivers but I wound up being on team 3 instead (a straightforward run to a halfway point, then reversing direction to complete the run).  That’s perfectly fine, it’s all random!

So there we go, all teams were picked.

Final Instructions and then the Start!

After briefing each team to make sure we knew where we were going, each team left the starting point.  Each team followed the route marked on their map and had a good time running together.  One of our members didn’t actually run but she took photos, which we will use on our Facebook group.

After enjoying our social run (our typical pace for a run like this would be 11 minutes/mile), we met up again at the end for additional conversation and a delicious brunch at a local pub.

As a footnote, there was an extra bit of randomness thrown into the event.  One of the teams determined that it would have to wait outside in the cold for 20 minutes before the pub actually opened (another important variable in scheduling your event:  availability of apres run facilities!).  So that team extended their run by an extra couple of kilometres to kill some time.  However, that team later discovered that the pub opened early than expected, so they did some extra running for no good reason.

[I won’t say who was on the team, but it was team 3.]

Feedback and Observations

I received a lot of positive feedback both before and after the event and our club plans to do this kind of social running event several times per year.  People liked the idea of doing something different for a group run and they also liked the idea of eating at the pub afterward.  So that’s cool.

The slips of paper didn’t work as well as I liked.   Many of us were wearing gloves due to the temperatures and the index cards that I used were thin and flimsy.  It might have been better to draw tokens from a bag or something like that, so that’s a possible change for the next run.

Possible future variations:

There are lots of other ways to make this event more interesting, there are some ideas that could be used:

  • Turn it into a scavenger hunt:  in addition to the route map, each team could also get a list of things (or sights) to “collect” during the run and you could award prizes based on how well each team did.
  • Socialization goals:  challenge each group member to learn at least one new fact about each of the runners on their team… but no duplication between team members!  For example, if you learn that one of your team members moonlights as an Elvis impersonator, none of the other team members can claim that fact, so they have to find out something else.
  • Club promotion:  each team members has four fliers, brochures or posters for the running club (or a club event).  Either post or hand out the promotional materials during the course of the run.  Again, no duplication:  it doesn’t count if four different team members give a flier to the same person!
  • Competition/points system:  if your club holds this type of event more than once per year, award points to each participant whenever they participate in one of the event.  Award bonus points for leading a team on one of the routes, for helping to organize the event or for being the overall event coordinator.  At your club’s year end party or meeting, announce the winner and give them a prize or certificate of achievement.
  • Different times/different dates:  experiment with early morning, afternoon or evening events.  Try have one of these runs every season to experience different weather conditions, etc.

Feel free to add on any fun and exciting twists to the concept!


Our club really enjoyed this event and wants to do more in the future.  Hopefully you’ll be able to use this idea for your own club.

If  you’ve used other good and interesting ideas for club running events, please tell me about them in the comments.  I can use them in a future post!

About markdykeman

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