Road to Recovery: Raleigh’s Sober Run Club

The Recover Run club offers a safe space for people in recovery and their supporters to share their stories
by Catherine Currin | photography by Bob Karp

Matt Elliott and Justin Garrity love to run—and not just for fitness. They found that spending time outside, exercising, with like-minded friends, was proving to be a way to work through their struggles and successes in recovery from addition. That realization led the two to found the Oak City Recovery Run Club (OCRRC), a twice-a-week running club that fosters a diverse community through exercise. “I read an article in Runner’s World about running impacting the homeless community and people in recovery, and I thought, ‘Why doesn’t this exist in Raleigh?’” says Garrity, who found that most of the city’s social running clubs met at a brewery or a pub.

The OCRRC held its first meeting in early 2017, and since then, they’ve had over 300 people participate. The idea was to create a safe space combining exercise and recovery support, where anyone is welcome to join. “Speed, pace, distance… none of it really matters,” says Garrity. “Running is an easy way for people to connect. We’re trying to decrease the stigma around people with addiction,” says club leader Matthew Smith.  The club works closely with the residents at Healing Transitions, where Elliott and Garrity first met, but the group is not affiliated with or exclusive to those in the organization. “The club is open to whoever wants a positive space to come run. It’s about integrating the recovery community with the running community,” says Garrity. Beyond helping those in recovery or emerging from homelessness, the OCRRC has become a way to share their journey with friends and family, even if they’re not sober. “It’s an avenue to introduce people to this side of my life,” says Smith. “It’s something I can do that is recovery-related where I can also share my external interests.”

Local business Runologie has been a key player in the club’s success: The Hillsborough Street shop donates running gear to club participants, many of whom could not afford it on their own, and helps with fundraising for things like registration fees for members to participate in local races (last year, donations to the club fueled 28 runners in the Krispy Kreme Challenge).

Alex Warren, co-founder of Runologie, says it was a perfect fit to partner with and support the club. “Justin asked if he could hang a sign in our shop to get people out to his Tuesday night runs, and we realized that we could do a lot more than just hang up a sign,” says Warren. Runologie also offers ‘earnaways,’ prizes such as shoes or a water bottle, for those who have completed tasks like attending a certain number of clubs or winning a race. “Runologie believes in community first, that’s something we share with the club,” Warren says. “Running has the ability to bring people together and boost the spirit, and the participants of the OCRRC embody this to the fullest.”

Sarah Rapp, c, runs with the Oak City Recovery Run Club heading out on their Tuesday night run through the Dorothea Dix Campus leaving from Healing Transitions. The group fosters supportive connections for people in Recovery through exercise and fellowship. Raleigh, North Carolina. March 5, 2019

Smith leads the club’s Saturday morning meet-ups with a spiritual reading, plus an opportunity to share experiences before the group gets moving. “People then talk amongst themselves and open up while they run,” says Smith. In just two years, Garrity and Elliott have seen the club initiate real change in people’s lives. “I enjoy running with the guys who are new to recovery, it reminds me of how I was,” Garrity says. “We see drastic change—one runner lost over 50 pounds in about six months! It’s an outward sign of how much running impacted his recovery and his physical self in general.” Elliott says his involvement in the club allows him to continue to work through his recovery, while also giving back to the community. “Everyone is dealing with something, and it looks different to everyone. During these runs, those experiences come out.”

OCRRC meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Healing Transitions and Saturdays at 8 a.m. at Lake Johnson. Visit oakcityrrc.com for more information.