Two lifelong Detroiters were running alone on opposite sides of the city, until they finally met in person. Born was a friendship — and an idea for how to get others on their feet and running toward healthier lifestyles. Enter WeRun313, the fastest growing and largest running club in The D. Its founders insist it’s about much more than running.
Lance Woods and Joe Robinson speak in unison, their tones bright, when asked about the day they met. February 2019, the Lexus Velodrome on Detroit’s East Side, a 10K run, steady 7-minute and 30-second miles. “I wasn’t ready to do that,” says Woods, laughing. “But I’m a competitor.”
Michigan’s snowy, frigid weather had pushed the two men there, where they clung to the pace and ran hip to hip. Forty-five minutes later, “I’m kind of glad that you’re not a chump runner,” Robinson joked to Woods. That was the start of their loyal friendship, one that would be of influence in Michigan’s largest city as they formed WeRun313, the fastest growing running club in the state.
Detroit is better known as the birthplace of the modern automobile and much more. The metropolis has gifted the world with Motown and techno music and hip-hop beatmakers like J Dilla along with breeding some of the most respected artists in history, like Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, and the Supremes. The iconic Fox Theater for performing arts, and four professional sports teams have also endowed the city. But Detroit also pockets a deeply layered and hardened narrative — from the Detroit Rebellion in the late 1960s, considered among the most destructive riots in U.S. history, to the crack epidemic in the 80s.
Among all the things Detroit is known for, running isn’t quite one of them, but Woods and Robinson are shifting that reputation by continuing to expose running to those in the city not in the know. They say the sport wasn’t really glamorized in their communities growing up. They want to do just that.
Call it kismet that their paths even crossed. Woods, 33, is a Westsider who grew up playing flag football and basketball. He started run-jogging in 2015, YouTubing videos about proper technique as his body got to know the sport. A product of the East Side, Robinson, 30, was a skateboarder for nearly two decades before running found him during a trip to Los Angeles in 2014. His first time seeing the deep blue hues of the Pacific coincided with running as a way to take advantage of the warm California sunshine, which he did along Venice Beach to the Santa Monica Pier in a pair of Roshe Runs. Not that it felt easy, but Robinson decided to keep it up.
For years, Woods and Robinson would each run alone, Woods around the Livernois area on the westside, and Robinson around the East in the Red Zone. His 48205 zip code was once deemed one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the U.S. Woods didn’t know anyone that shared his hobby, nor did Robinson. Coincidentally, they raced the same races, from Detroit to Miami. Mutual friends noticed and linked Woods with Robinson on Instagram. When he got the message, Woods remembers thinking, “Just because he runs, doesn’t mean that I want to run with him.”
Robinson was skeptical, too. “I come from the music industry,” says Robinson, the founder of APX Management. “The music industry has a heavy tone. A lot of the people are from the ghetto or they’ve been through something. Cynical people. Everyone is out for self-gain.”
Woods was a breath of fresh air to Robinson though. He was someone to run with. Someone to nerd out with about marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. Someone to race with. Someone to talk on the phone with every day of the week. Every day since they met. And someone to start a running movement with. Both men point to running for helping with mild episodes of depression, and for Robinson it has helped reduce anxiety.
But beyond clearing their minds and the meditative benefit that made each of them feel more whole, Woods and Robinson knew running could be used to help counter Detroit’s obesity epidemic. Michigan is among the most obese states in the U.S.; one in three people in Detroit are overweight, and the Black population hold a higher percentage of the ratio. Woods and Robinson know the stats and keep pushing to reduce them. Reeling in others to run is just part of the equation.
Prior to starting WeRun313, the opportunity to run with a POC running group was minimal, according to Woods. The Detroit chapter of Black Men Run was the only group he knew of, but it didn’t meet regularly.
When the duo launched WeRun313 in May 2019 (the digits are a nod to Detroit’s area code), they’d envisioned it as an agent of change in their city. After promoting the group’s first run for two weeks in advance, more than 100 people from both sides of the city showed up on a Saturday evening to the Griot Music Lounge. The Black-owned bar in midtown served as the starting point for an out-and-back two-mile run to Little Caesars Arena, home to the Detroit Piston and the Detroit Red Wings. The initiative had brought together runners of various levels of experience, ages and ethnicities from all over the city. Woods says that run spawned the idea for WeRun313’s “Two Mile Tuesdays,” an introductory run designed for people of all levels.
“People in Detroit come together for various reasons, whether that’s a party, a conference, a concert, things like that. But we hadn’t seen 100 plus people come together to run. It was different,” says Woods of WeRun313’s early meetups.
This was all part of the plan, to connect like-minded individuals through running and build a healthier and happier community — WeRun313’s motto, Woods says.
Since the first run in May 2019, the support for WeRun313 has remained consistent. That allows Woods and Robinson to “get in our preacher bag a lot,” Woods says. “We don’t just bring people together to run.”
There’s discussion about the slow kill in the city — excessive liquor stores and fast food chains like Coney Island and Captain Jay’s. Detroit is a food desert, as in an area where people have limited access to a variety of healthy foods. But the founders and some WeRun313 members promote ways to adopt better eating habits.
“It’s important for us to use our voices to educate people about health,” Woods says. “If you know better, you’ve got to do better.”
Both he and Robinson are vegetarian, mostly subscribing to a vegan way of life. And a growing percentage of WeRun313 members are on to plant-based eating, learned in part from group member Asia Rawls, a USATF-certified coach who offers classes that educate about nutrition, ranging from grocery shopping to cooking.
Woods and Robinson talk a lot to WeRun313’s members about how they want to grow. Woods, who works full time on developing WeRun313, says the goal down the road is to create a community space. “If we have a space that we can call home, we can do more,” he says. For partnerships, to equipment like treadmills and recovery tools, the list runs deep. Expand accessibility is the point.
We want to take this ideology of bettering our mental health, our physical health and mix it with socializing and have running as the foundation. We want that to be in as many communities,” Robinson says. “Everywhere, in different area codes.” Another idea on the horizon is for WeRun313 to host a race, Woods adds.
“It’s never ending with what we can do.”