Forget the pub, Dublin’s twentysomethings have discovered the run club

This movement, it seems, is being driven by a much larger search for connection, friendship and company in a phase of life that can be lonely, overwhelming and uncertain


First rule of run club: you talk about run club. In fact, it seems to be all that anyone is talking about these days. For months now I have been biting my tongue as friends ended nights out early for “morning run club!” and worked marathon training into weekend trips. I had thought that such running mania was the special reserve of the mid-life crisis but alas, it seems to have taken hold of the quarter-life one too.

If you live in Dublin, you have probably seen them. Sprawling groups of Hoka-clad youths descending upon the Phoenix Park, Grand Canal and Dún Laoghaire pier. Dozens of 20-somethings chatting, panting and slapping the city’s pavements. If you haven’t seen them in motion, then you have probably cursed the abnormally long queue they have created at your local cafe on Saturday mornings.

One has to wonder how these groups have managed to capture the hearts and feet of so many aimless 20-somethings (at a rate of a sociable 6½-minute kilometre). Is it the lure of fitness, or just the promise of a post-run treat? Or is it the increasingly plausible notion that they “are the new dating apps”? How has the fabled recklessness of our youth been overtaken by something so sensible, so admirable, as running?

“I think the third or fourth priority down the list for everyone coming is actually the run itself,” admits Gillian Sullivan. She and her partner Daniel O’Farrell unwittingly founded Pastry Pace nearly six months ago when O’Farrell, an ultra-marathon runner, began to help Gillian run 5km. The couple never set out to form a run club but very quickly, their posts about their progress – and post-run pastries – piqued the curiosity of friends and followers. They can now be found leading nearly 80 people around the Phoenix Park every Sunday and breaking bread (read: croissants) with them afterwards in a cafe.


Happy Feet cofounders Kate Flynn and Ciara McNulty can also be found enjoying a post-run coffee and treat alongside dozens of strangers of a weekend. “I thought people would really care about the athleticism of it all but, yeah … no one cares,” McNulty laughs.

The two friends first met at the gym and bonded over their passion for fitness. They wanted to make the somewhat intimidating space more accessible to their peers and to show them, most importantly, that it could be social. Within three weeks of the launch of Happy Feet in August 2023, 80 people were attending the run and more yet were joining in for the catch-up after. From the get-go then, it was clear to them that Happy Feet was about much more than running and fitness.

“The amount of people that hang back after all of the runs, weekends and weekdays, it just makes it obvious that people are there for the social aspect of it,” 23-year-old Flynn says.

Many of their runners – most of whom are in their mid-to-late-20s – nervously arrive alone but always end up having a coffee with someone afterwards. By the end of the morning, they are exchanging contact details, and by the next week these new friends are showing up together. “It’s the coolest thing,” McNulty says, “we barely have to do anything! We just show up”.

But why has the run club become the meeting point for so many young people? Is that not what pubs are for? “It’s different,” says Aoibhinn Raleigh, founder of Dublin’s most recent run club: Sole Mates. “You’d never go to the pub on your own and go up to a random group of girls and start a conversation with them! But in a run club, it’s suddenly completely okay.”

The 26-year-old gave up alcohol last year and found herself exploring her home city in an entirely new way. “That was a huge eye-opener for me,” she explains. “I was at this crossroads where my whole friend group had emigrated but I was staying in Dublin and I’d lost one of the biggest social aspects that Irish people have – I needed to find something.”

We have a WhatsApp group of 800 people that are part of a run club but it’s also 800 people that just want to hang out

—  Daniel O’Farrell, cofounder of Pastry Pace

In the two weeks since the club’s Instagram page was launched, it has garnered nearly 2,000 followers. “As for the amount of people at the first run, I cried,” she says of the 105 runners (102 women and three very brave – or strategic? – men) who showed up just three days after her first post. “There was just such a sense of community there,” she says; and in a generation increasingly dispersed by emigration, that is no small thing.

“Everyone is saying ‘well, all my friends have emigrated and I need to meet new people’ and I think they are starting to realise that if they are looking for that community, they’re not really going to find it in the pub,” Raleigh explains, pondering her club’s rapid success. “You might find a bit of craic there, but that kind of higher value, actual forming of a community or a friendship or being a part of something, isn’t really going to come from that sort of social activity.”

The enthusiasm with which Dublin’s 20-somethings have embraced the likes of Sole Mates, Happy Feet and Pastry Pace is heartening, but it does underline the sense of loneliness that many in this age bracket are quietly experiencing. These run clubs seem to offer some relief to a generation that wants so much more than the virtual life that has come to define it, especially now that they are at an age when people are coming and going, trying to stay or having to leave.

“For people who might be somewhat lonely, maybe they’re new to the city or they don’t have that many friends or they haven’t found their groove – which is such a huge theme in people’s 20s – it is just nice to know that people will be there,” says Ciara McNulty.

This movement, it seems, is being driven by a much larger search for connection, friendship and company in a decade that can be lonely, overwhelming and uncertain. “Your mid-20s are full of a lot of questions,” says Raleigh. “There’s just this sense of panic that gets into people. Are you working in the right job? Have you done the right course? Are you living in the right place?” Run clubs, she suggests, have become a good place to start working through those questions, even if it means forgetting about them because the chat is just that good.

The second rule of run club then? It’s understanding this. “We have a WhatsApp group of 800 people that are part of a run club,” says Pastry Pace’s O’Farrell, “but it’s also 800 people that just want to hang out”. The run? “Well, that’s just the bit in the middle.”