Every day across Yakima, whether it’s August or December, rain or shine, runners of all ages and stages are taking it to the streets. The next time you drive to work or do some errands, keep your eyes open for them. It’s unlikely you’ll get very far before you spot lean and fleet high school cross-country runners, parents pushing babies in jogging strollers, middle-agers, super-seniors, and everyone in between.

In my world, before the 1970s, running on sidewalks and streets for fitness was absolutely unheard of. And anyone who did venture out in shorts and sneakers would have been considered completely crazy. So how did it get to the point where, 40 years later, it’s an everyday sight to see someone slightly sweaty zipping past you?

Some credit Bill Bowerman, the legendary distance running coach at the University of Oregon and co-founder of Nike, for getting the movement started. His 1967 book “Jogging” was one of the first to suggest that running was an activity for anybody who wanted to live a healthier life.

Jim Fixx’s “The Complete Book of Running” was published in 1977 and sold one million copies. Spending 11 weeks at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, it was the biggest non-fiction hardcover book ever at the time of its release.

By convincing thousands of Americans that there were significant health benefits from regular jogging, the book launched an unprecedented “running for fitness” movement. Legendary American distance runner Steve Prefontaine had already captured the nation’s attention with his charisma and talent. Closer to home, and building on that momentum, Olympic marathoner Don Kardong founded Spokane’s Lilac Bloomsday race in 1978.

It’s estimated that 25 million Americans took up some aspect of running in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including President Jimmy Carter. What many dismissed as just another passing fad became a fact of life not just in America, but around the globe.

In the United States alone, almost 60 million people participated in running, jogging and trail running in 2017, and more than 110 million walked for fitness. Improving their health and losing weight are what motivates Americans to start running. Relieving stress and having fun are reasons why they continue. More than 30,000 running events, at an array of distances, take place in the United States every year, including 1,100 marathons.

Most runners appreciate the simplicity, independence and solitude of running. You can fly out the door whenever and wherever the spirit moves you and all you need is a decent pair of shoes. But if you want to boost your motivation to become a better runner, or meet others who share your interest, consider joining a local running club.

Many can still remember Tony Sagare faithfully leading strings of runners along a loop course on Naches Avenue. The face of the Yakima running community for years, Tony started teaching fitness classes at the YMCA as a volunteer in 1977, was hired the following year, and retired 25 years later. Along with some training partners, he founded Yakima’s first running club in November 1977 and called it the Hard Core Runners Club. Frank Purdy, the club’s current president, joined in 1978 and reports that the club continues to thrive, with 150 dues-paying members in 2019.

The club was founded to provide more opportunities to run for fun and fitness, regardless of experience or ability. You can fill your calendar with an array of HCR-sponsored community running events, including the Yakima River Canyon Marathon and Half-Marathon in April, the Grey Rock Trail Runs (50K, 25K and 12K) in July, the Summer XC Series and the Sun City Half Marathon and 5K in October. If that isn’t enough, the club helps with the Gap2Gap races each June at the Yakima Greenway.

Several seasonal “fun runs” are held during the year, including the Turkey Trot, Christmas Light Tour and Summer Full Moon Run.

An amazing thing happens when you join a running club. A sudden shift in your thinking allows you to call yourself a runner, instead of someone who simply enjoys running. You begin believing that you were born to run, and that change can be powerful.

Even the least competitive find themselves being pushed by running with others. You’ll soon get to know their abilities and the age groups they represent. Next thing you know, you’re setting your sights on picking a runner ahead of you to pass and maybe even beat. That competitive edge can lead to improvements in your running performance that would never have happened if you were running solo.

Yet many runners find the idea of joining a running club intimidating. It’s natural to assume that everyone in the group is faster, or can run 10 times farther than you. If these sound like familiar excuses, remember why the Hard Core Runners Club was founded in the first place. Sagare and his friends were running evangelists, sincerely seeking converts to the sport they loved so much. Today’s club members remain just as excited to welcome someone new into the flock.

Whether you’re struggling to keep up with a group that turns out to be faster, or if you’re just having a bad day and have to walk part of the course, it’s unlikely you’ll be left behind. The runners ahead of you haven’t forgotten that they were once fledglings themselves, and how it feels to be in your running shoes. They can offer practical advice, encouragement and perspective.

You don’t have to be a club member to join a group of runners that meets year-round every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Franklin Park. Groups break off to run intervals on the track, or take a run or slow jog on the grass through the park or on the streets of the surrounding neighborhood.

You’ll never have to head out alone if you’re in a running group. For those with safety concerns, particularly women, running with a group can provide not only some company, but security as well.

With decades of races to remember, one in particular stands out for Purdy. The last event of the Winter Race Series of 2016-2017 was run at Chesterley Park, where 15-18 inches of snow covered the ground. The course included two loops in the grass of the park, plus a city-street loop that went up 40th Avenue, continued through some side streets, and then dropped down the hill to the Powerhouse Canal Pathway.

The more perilous sections of the course were rerouted to the relative safety of the park itself, but the snow was still calf-deep. The day before the race, Frank strapped on snowshoes and stomped out a path. Four times. When he switched into running shoes to test the traction, the footing was still too tricky for a footrace. A decision had to be made: run just one loop on the Pathway segment (it had been plowed by the city), or implement the first-ever postponement of a Winter Race. For advice, he called Rick Becker, Selah High School’s track and cross country coach. Becker’s suggestion? “Why not shovel it? I’ll help.” On race day, volunteers got to work and cleared nearly all the one-mile park loop.

Doesn’t this sound like your kind of running club? There is no better investment than one made on your own health and wellness. Membership dues are the best deal in town at $15 per year, and this includes all immediate family members. Club members get discounted race registration fees. For more information, check the Hard Core Runners website at www.hcrunners.org.

The club meets the first Thursday of the month at the Yakima Athletic Club at 7 p.m. and anyone can attend.