GRIFFITH PARK—This Saturday, August 8, local running organization UnitedLA is hosting a “family picnic” at the Griffith Park Old Zoo to celebrate Los Angeles’s thriving running culture.

The picnic starts at noon and includes icebreaker activities, a potluck, kids’ activities, and a raffle. Raffle prizes will include running apparel and free entries into races. UnitedLA will also be accepting donations from attendees to benefit Students Run LA, an organization that teaches at-risk high school students to set and achieve goals by training them to run in the Los Angeles marathon. The goal for the picnic is to raise at least $1000.

UnitedLA organizer Mark Casas
UnitedLA organizer Mark Casas

UnitedLA, which seeks to bring together the multitude of running clubs across Los Angeles, was started earlier this year by long-time runner Mark Casas.

“I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of overlap in the groups, which is fine, because every [group] wants to do their own thing,” he told Canyon News. “Out of all these groups, there was never one big event where we all come together to say ‘This is who we are, this is what we do…let’s get together and get to know each other a little bit better.'”

He started using the hashtag #unitedLA whenever he made social media posts about the group runs he would go on with friends, and “it kinda stuck.”

The first official UnitedLA event took place on May 30, 2015. “[The run] was a very small 5k around the track. We raised about $650 [for Students Run LA] and everyone was really into it, so I wanted to take it a step further and bring as many groups as possible into the mix.”

When asked what makes the running community in Los Angeles so special, Casas said, “There’s so many [groups] to choose from…you can find something to do Monday through Sunday, and it definitely provides an outlet, whether it’s at-risk youth or someone who just wants a break from their 9-to-5 to go after work.” He emphasizes the supportive nature of the community, saying “I’ve seen a lot of people that didn’t have anyone to run with or socialize with that have been taken in, calling each other family and brothers and sisters now. It’s really inspiring to see.”

UnitedLA organizes their events through a public Facebook group. Their group runs take place every other Sunday at 7:30 a.m., with location and distance of the run announced the Wednesday prior. For more information about the picnic, visit the Facebook event page.