ST. CLOUD, Minn. — When Deb Bemboom first joined the St. Cloud River Runners in 2008, she joined for the same reasons many new members sign up.

She'd been running by herself for a long time, and she wanted others to run with, motivate her and travel to races.

But she quickly found it meant much more to her than just people to help keep her company on a run.

"It's become more than just a running club," Bemboom told the St. Cloud Times. "We are all really close, and we're there for each other beyond running. It's a big community of support no matter what it is."

"It's like my second family."

But what do you do when that family of runners is taken away?

Summer would usually be the time for big events like Grandma's Marathon in Duluth or the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon that the River Runners sponsor.

But instead, the cancellation of all summer races due to COVID-19 has created a much different environment.

"It's been really tough; we were cut off from seeing each other," Bemboom said. "We were not supposed to do group runs or breakfast runs. Not only did our races get stopped, but we stopped being able to have our interactions face-to-face. And that is really tough on me."

The St. Cloud River Runners Club was organized in 1983 after its predecessors, The St. Cloud Harriers and then the Mississippi Striders, disbanded.

The group meets every Saturday for an 8 a.m. run before sitting down for breakfast, which is very popular for club members.

But with restaurants closed and group activities restricted for much of the past few months, club leaders have gotten creative during the long stretch of quarantine.

After each of their individual runs, club members were asked to post a picture of their run and describe the distance to keep other members informed on what they were up to.

"That kept us connected a little bit," Bemboom said. "Now we're able to get together again, but it's tough to do breakfast runs yet ... we don't want to bombard (restaurants) too much."

And with news of October's Twin Cities Marathon also going virtual, fall races also look like they won't be a possibility for this year.

Instead of planning group trips to Iceland or Bermuda, the group is just happy to be out pounding the pavement together like old times.

"People are reluctant to join because they think (we're) a bunch of elite, fast runners that only race," Bemboom said. "But we just like to get together and run. We have everything from late teens up to 80′s; age is not relevant."

While the River Runners do have a USATF race team, Bemboom urges those looking to join to not be intimidated. The club has enough members that all paces and distances can be represented.

"We all have the common interest of running, so we always have something to talk about," Bemboom said. "You could be running with someone completely different that you'd never talk to. It's an everyone-welcome type of group."