When native Detroiter Lance Woods started running, he could barely complete one full mile. That was in 2015. Today’s version of Woods is capable of going 26.2 miles in a single run and he can cover the distance swiftly, too, as he demonstrated at the Oct. 9 Chicago Marathon, which he completed in a personal best time of 2 hours, 47 minutes and 15 seconds.
Woods’ performance in Chicago, followed his run at this year’s Boston Marathon on April 18, which he completed in 2:54:44. The marathon times describe an individual who has rapidly grown as a runner and as an athlete. Nonetheless, on a recent Monday morning, Woods did not want to talk about individual achievements. Instead, he proudly spoke about the ever-growing story of WeRun313, which he co-founded on May 4, 2019, with Joe Robinson. Citing data provided by Strava, an internet service that collects information relating to physical exercise, Woods reports that WeRun313, with more than 2,300 members, is “the largest and fastest growing run club in the state.”
But before the 34-year-old Woods became fluent in running and fitness lingo — and long before he was befriended by members of the Washington, D.C., District Running Collective, a predominantly African American running group that gave Woods a "blueprint" for launching WeRun313 with Robinson — Woods grew up on Detroit’s west side. During that time, he attended Parker Elementary School, Sherrill Elementary-Middle School and Northwestern High School. Following his graduation from Northwestern, the scholarship committee at the Coleman A. Young Foundation felt strongly enough about Woods’ potential and character to award him a scholarship to Tennessee State University.
And when Woods explains receiving that scholarship to the Historically Black University in Nashville, the reason why he is so passionate about bringing people together to run specifically in Detroit can also be understood.
“The community plays an important role in the success of its people and that really clicked with me after receiving the scholarship from the Coleman A. Young Foundation,” said Woods, who in 2012 earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, e-business and supply chain management from Tennessee State. “WeRun313 is community-based and no one is left behind. We’re a social running club and the building of the community is what keeps us together. And we can do this through running because running strips down social barriers. It doesn’t matter where you work, or what your income is, or what race you are, or how old you are. The running brings us all together, to Detroit spaces, where we run and sweat, but then after we come together, we build.”
During the 45th running of the Detroit Free Press Marathon, which included two days (Oct. 15-16) of events, a very visible sample of what WeRun313 has built was on display as more than 70 members participated in a variety of events. There also was a spirited cheering section of more than 25 WeRun313 members at mile 18 within the Dequindre Cut on the marathon course, which provided encouragement to all runners that reached that point on marathon day. More than a “bucket list” check-off point, members of WeRun313 who participated during the Free Press Marathon weekend said what they accomplished will have a lasting impact on their lives, including how they connect with their community.
Colby White: ‘Breaking out of my shell changed my life forever’
It took 29-year-old Colby White just about four hours exactly to complete the Free Press marathon on Oct. 16 — his first marathon. White says his performance, and just being a part of the marathon period, would never have occurred if not for WeRun313. But he confessed that it took him much longer than the time he spent on the marathon course to come forward and join, despite the fact that he enjoyed running as a youth.
“During the pandemic, in May or June 2020, the world stopped and I had nothing but time,” White, who is a computer engineer, said. “I stumbled on a solid group of runners online (Instagram) and they were urban Detroiters, with faces like mine, and they had come together in the city as one. But because of the introvert that I am, I didn’t join right away. It was something that I wanted to do, but I had to get over that fear of the unknown.”
White did not come out for a WeRun313 group run until October 2020. But when he did, his fear was replaced by something that remains with him.
“When I met Lance, he welcomed me like he had known me for years,” White recalled. “He welcomed me like a brother, and he gives that vibe to everyone he meets. And there were others in the group that greeted me the same way. In the group, people have gone from being an acquaintance, to my running friend, to family; that’s just how I feel about them.
“For me, breaking out of my shell changed my life forever, from the moment I joined the group. I run for my family. I run for myself. And most importantly, I run for my mental health.”
Clint Jackson: ‘The mental benefits of running are tremendous’
Like White, 33-year-old Clint Jackson felt a connection to WeRun313 the first time he saw the group en masse, but his initial sighting did not come over a device screen.
“It was August of 2019, it was a warm day out, and I was driving south on Woodward towards downtown,” recalled Jackson, who navigated that same area of pavement on foot while running his first marathon on Oct. 16, which he completed in an impressive 3:23:02. “Running a marathon was on my bucket list, but I never knew where to begin, so when I saw the group the first time I said, ‘Here it is.’ ”
Jackson revealed that he did bring some athletic genes to the sport of distance running given that his uncle, Michael Jackson, was a standout point guard for the University of Detroit Mercy during the early to mid-1990s. On Wednesday, while recalling the games he attended at UDM’s fabled Calihan Hall during his uncle’s playing days, Clint Jackson also named the schools he attended growing up in northwest Detroit, including Thurgood Marshall Elementary, Post Middle School and Mumford High School. When asked the year that he graduated from Mumford, Clint Jackson said people are often surprised to find out that he was not a member of any Mumford graduating class because he dropped out. He later earned his GED, and he pointed to running and his WeRun313 family as reasons why his ability to accomplish goals is now a strength for him.
“The mental benefits of running are tremendous,” stated Clint Jackson, who today has a career in logistics operations and also regards himself as a “more caring person” due to his running experiences. “This first full marathon will always be very special to me. I’m happy with myself for making a plan and following through and this just teaches you that anything we put our mind to we’re capable of doing. That’s why I thank Joe and Lance all the time. I tell them that this is incredible work they’re doing and please don’t stop.”
Aaron Morton: ‘A system of good habits’ goes a long way
After almost exactly two hours and four minutes on this year’s Free Press marathon course, 29-year-old Aaron Morton had completed the International Half Marathon. And his time was just about what he predicted for himself. But it was another number that the WeRun313 member saw after the race, which excited him more.
“One hundred, ninety-nine pounds,” I saw that number on the scale after the race,” said Morton, a Wayne State University police officer, who lost in the neighborhood of 50 pounds through training and completing his first International Half Marathon.
Morton admitted that he now takes more pride in dressing and wearing his officer’s uniform, but more than that, he likes what his new look has done for other people.
“People have come up to me and said, ‘You look great’ and ‘You’re doing great,’ '' said Morton, who proudly called out Linwood-Chicago to identify the Detroit neighborhood that nurtured him growing up and still strengthens him today. “I like being a lighthouse for other people.”
Morton, who admitted there was a time when he “hated” running, credits his transformation to the adoption of “a system of good habits,” which being a part of WeRun313 inspired him to do.
“I’ve seen the group uplift my life, and I’ve seen what it has done for others,” Morton said. “No human is limited; that’s the building block for the club.”
True to WeRun313’s shared no-limits mindset, Morton expressed on Election Day that he hopes there will come a time when Detroiters are voting for him — for mayor. And he appears to have his campaign slogan already prepared.
Morton said: “I want to help people have exactly what they need, plus a little more.”
Mission: For runners of all levels, ages and ethnicities, WeRun313 was founded on May 4, 2019, to connect like-minded individuals through running, while helping to build a healthier and more prosperous community.
Founders: Lance Woods and Joe Robinson
Slogan: Connect. Run. Build.
Group Runs: Two Mile Tuesday, 6 p.m. starting from Yum Village (6500 Woodward Ave.); 5 and 10K Thursday, 6:30 p.m. starting from Robert C. Valade Park (2670 Atwater); Long Runs on Sundays at various locations.
For more information: Please visit werun313.com. Additional information also can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Strava @WeRun313
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit run club WeRun313 one of Michigan's largest, fastest growing