You know how tough it can be to start a running journey alone. Luckily, new runners in Richmond, Virginia, don’t have to, thanks to the #WEOFFTHECOUCH running community.
#WEOFFTHECOUCH is the mantra of Anthony and Tara Clary, a couple who grew up in the Manchester neighborhood in Richmond. They turned their mantra into a run group that draws as many as 80 runners in a single meeting.
“When you’re dead tired in the middle of a run, you can build a community around [the thought], ‘Well, at least we off the couch,’” Anthony told Runner’s World. “For us, it built a fitness community and we want to evolve it into something bigger and expand to other aspects of fitness.”
The husband and wife duo’s journey started approximately seven years ago after Anthony went to the doctor; he weighed 300 pounds and learned he was prediabetic. Anthony has always known he was big—he even played college football at St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia (St. Paul’s College closed on June 30, 2013)—but didn’t realize his health was this bad. So he chose to start losing weight by eating better, participating in SEAL team-style group workouts, and running.
Running turned into Anthony’s favorite workout, which he least expected. Alongside Tara—who ran in high school, and has run on and off since—they gathered former college teammates and friends to join in on the fun. And, Anthony lost 100 pounds.
“It became so much bigger than running,” Tara told Runner’s World. “It can be such an individual sport, but to have people cheering you on when you get winded, it’s huge. Otherwise, you might quit sooner. To be with a group, I’m empowered; I’m encouraged by it.”
Word of the run group spread between friends, fellow churchgoers, coworkers, and family in the community. When the pandemic closed gyms, more people began showing up to run with the group, and Anthony and Tara wanted to find ways to encourage these people and help them get the most out of runs. They scheduled weekly track sessions, hill workouts, and a variety of workout that weren’t running. Tara created a ladies run on Monday morning, to help other women who may feel unsafe while running.
And, of course, they hosted their weekend long run, broken into two sessions: a beginner group at 10 a.m., which covers two miles, and a second group at 10:45 a.m., which covers a longer distance. Again, all paces are welcome and no one is left behind. It’s about showing up for yourself while simultaneously showing up for each other.
“Life gets hard and it’s tough on your own, but if you can find yourself showing up for yourself and for others, you can do a lot for the community,” Anthony said. “Even just being there, I don’t know how to explain it, being there together is contagious.”
Anthony and Tara have watched bonds form between group members of all backgrounds, as they swap recipes and fitness ideas. Also, the group fights against a longstanding stereotype in their neighborhoods: That Black people don’t run.
“We want to push back that narrative,” Tara said. “It goes to show that one disparity feeds another. We’ve seen gentrification, but still, the sidewalks are dilapidated, there’s no trails, trees, or access to parks. It’s hard to know in that environment that jogging is good because we don’t see it. People need to know it’s good for your mental health. That hitting the pavement is a nice escape, a powerful feeling, and great for yourself.”
While the running group is and always will be the focus of #WEOFFTHECOUCH, the Clarys are also working on creating a community center focused around all types of fitness and promoting healthy lifestyles. That comes in form of things like fitness equipment, accessibility to foods (many neighborhoods in Richmond are well-known food deserts), or even having a place where people can get information on how to buy running shoes.
“Moving and growing together, that’s what drives us,” Tara said. “Everyone isn’t in the same financial situation. But I don’t need to know your business. We want to provide what we know and we will learn and share that with our community. And not just us. We can all get out there and do this together. That’s the beauty of it.”
For now, some group members are training for their first marathon, which they will do together.
“As long as we can get out there, move together, be with each other, that’s all that matters,” Anthony said. “You can keep everything else. We don’t care about none of that stuff. We just want to be together, move, grow, as people. We’re human, and we forget that somtimes. We put certain limitations on people that way and on ourselves. It’s not fair to humanity. We’re a run group, and we aren’t here to do anything else but that. But so much more comes from it, and it’s been awesome to see.”
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