When the coronavirus put a stop to life as we know it, social groups have gotten creative to make sure they can still be connected, even from afar.

On Mondays and Thursdays, runners throughout West Palm Beach and beyond lace up their shoes and run alone, then take a sweaty selfie. In a collage of smiles, the runners’ photos are featured on the Night Runners WPB Instagram page.

“There’s more motivation when you know someone else is running or walking and it’s not just you,” said Rudolph Galindo, the founder of the running group.

The group got its start in December 2016 when Galindo and three friends had the idea to start a twice-weekly running group in West Palm Beach — an alternative to other LGBT social groups that would typically meet up at bars. Every Monday and Thursday night their running crowd grew, but it doubled when they added a walking route six months in.

It became a tradition that at the end of every run and walk, the group would take a photo together to post on Instagram.

“We’ve always been a noncompetitive group, and we wait at the finish line until everybody finishes, we cheer everybody on,” Galindo explained. 

Leo Hedlund, 28, joined the running group after he moved to Florida from Minnesota a few years ago. Looking for a change, he was in a new city with no friends, but the Night Runners WPB became his second family.

“You get that last little bit of time to focus on yourself, and you get to work through everything you went through in the day, you think about what you’re going to do tomorrow,” Hedlund said of the night runs. “It’s like meditation and relaxing.”

In 2019, Night Runners WPB officially incorporated as a 501c3, up to 70 people were joining in on the runs, and the group received a grant from Brooks Running to host its first Pride 5K in March 2020. Unfortunately, it was scrapped due to coronavirus. But the board of directors didn’t want to completely give up on running, so they shifted to virtual runs and kept the end-of-run group photo going, albeit a little different. 

Participants are encouraged to go on their own runs — any time of the day is fine — every Monday and Thursday and send in an after-run selfie. At the end of the day, all the selfies are combined into a group collage to go with the group’s new anthem, “Running Apart Together.” Each night, about 30 people participate in the runs.

And that 5K they had planned for March, it’s been revamped and rescheduled for Dec. 4 - 6 as a virtual 5K, “Our Pride is Stronger Than a Pandemic.” 

Runners or walkers can do their 5K at any time during the three-day period, and everyone will receive a t-shirt and medal. Time will be recorded by an app to allow everyone to participate in some friendly competition for the fastest time. 

Hedlund was training hard for the 5K, and was “devastated” when it was canceled. He took some time off from running, but now that it’s been rescheduled, he’s back on track to make his personal goal of running the 5K in less than 20 minutes. So far, he’s joined by another 150 people who are registered, and proceeds will benefit the Compass Community Center in Lake Worth.

“Our vision is you see people running and walking throughout the community wearing these shirts announcing night runners and showing how proud they are of their pride,” Galindo said.

To learn more about the Night Runners or to join in, visit them on Instagram @nightrunnerswpb_ or Facebook.com/nightrunnerswpb.