Clad in gray sweatpants and sneakers, 62-year-old Frank Taylor waited outside a homeless shelter in Center City shortly before dawn late last week for others who, like him, were taking steps to change their lives.

Taylor once called St. John's Hospice home, and he does not want to return to that life. So he runs. Three times a week, meeting others at 5:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, setting distance goals each outing.

He took up running nine months ago, when he was living at the shelter at 1221 Race St. after finding nowhere else to turn.

"You see the volunteers and the other guys run and see that enthusiasm," Taylor said before the run. "They get you going. You don't want to let anybody down."

Now, he can't stop.

"If my runs come to an end, it feels like my life would come to an end," said Taylor, who now lives in Germantown and works at a neighborhood bike shop.

The volunteers Taylor was talking about are members of Back on My Feet, a Philadelphia nonprofit that helps the homeless by using running as a road map toward independent living. The group provides training, gear, encouragement, and some of the tools the homeless will need for a new start.

Volunteers also encourage the runners to challenge themselves, to take on longer runs, even to train for next weekend's Philadelphia Marathon. . The thinking is that if people can conquer a marathon, they can find stability in their lives.

With 11 chapters nationwide, the organization got its start in 2007 simply enough: after founder Anne Mahlum began striking up conversation with the residents outside the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission at 13th and Vine Streets on her morning runs.

They became the first members of the program, which has since served more than 600 members in 11 cities across the country.

"For people who have never run like that before, running miles and miles every morning must seem unattainable, like getting a job or getting work is," said Scott Crossin, Back on My Feet executive director.

After members achieve at least 90 percent attendance during the first month of training, they graduate to the Next Steps portion of the program, where they can receive aid for outstanding fines, transportation, education, certifications, and security deposits for apartments.

"Whether they have a master's from Penn or their GED," Crossin said, "we'll create a program for their self-sufficiency."

In addition to teaching residents how to get jobs, the program guides them to where they might find them.

"We have several job partners who understand our program and support it," Crossin said.

Program graduates have gotten work at Comcast, AT&T, and Marriott, Crossin said, and their continued involvement with Back on My Feet is a testament to its impact.

"The mission resonates so much because so many people have experienced the transformative powers of running," said Crossin, a seven-time marathoner. "That's why I'm here."

For Taylor, the regimen kept him going when he didn't have much else. Running built the confidence to get his life together after a relationship that left him broke, homeless, and looking for a way out.

"It turned into hell for me," Taylor said, "and I had to get out of hell." When a recent training session ended, he had covered three miles in 30 minutes.

Another runner, Andrew Emenimadu, 62, lived at the Somerset Homeless Shelter in Fairmount after losing his job two years ago.

In that time, the program helped transform him from a man who hadn't run in 40 years to, today, a man set to run the Philadelphia Marathon.

"After my first race, I found out I wasn't the last person to finish in my age group, so I said, 'This is something I could do,' " said Emenimadu, a father of three.

He began setting small goals, jogging along steadily his first few mornings. As time went on, he saw himself getting better at it. After six weeks, he registered for a 5K. He ran the Broad Street Run in 2013 and 2014.

Still setting goals, his hope is to finish in under three hours and 55 minutes and to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Today a sales manager at Comcast, he runs in his spare time with the alumni association in between training for the marathon.

"Once you are in Back on My Feet," Emenimadu said, "they want you to stay there."