Running2bWell helps people work toward recovery through fitness

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Running2bWell plans to begin meeting again once COVID-19 numbers are down.

Anthony Elder Reporter

Running2bWell is a nonprofit organization that uses running groups and fitness activities to help people in recovery for addiction as well as some dealing with mental illness. 

The organization was founded in the Medina area by Keith Johnston, who started the group as a way to contribute to the recovery community by giving people a way to stay social and active.

Upon becoming an official 501c3 nonprofit, the organization formed into several running groups that meet in locations such as Medina, Wadsworth, Akron and Kent State University.

“Our growth has been nothing short of amazing; even during the pandemic we’ve managed to host two virtual races and meet with nearly 100 people per week,” Johnston said. “I’m so grateful for the people that we are helping and lives that we’re touching.”

Pre-pandemic, the various running groups would meet at designated times during the week and participants were allowed to go at whatever pace they felt comfortable. According to Bernie Rochford, board president and Akron group leader, about half the people run and the other half walk.

Meeting with the group can be a substitute for court-mandated self-help meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous. According to Rochford, one of the goals of the organization has always been to give participants a sense of normalcy.

“The research definitely shows that exercise, movement, can help with your mental health, with addiction, with your overall well-being,” Rochford said. “The idea is we have a group of people who are in recovery, mental health, or just want a running group. … It’s kind of a normal activity, a pro-social activity — stimulates the mind, the brain, all the good endorphins.”

The organization provides a free pair of running shoes, worth as much as $150 at times, for members that have continued to come to three or more meetings.

The running groups stopped meeting in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but have been able to offer virtual services to members that want to stay involved. Aside from the virtual races, weekly instructed yoga sessions and another weekly session involving light weight training and advice on diet and life balance are available.

Johnston and Rochford both hope to resume in-person groups sometime in the spring. They are keeping track of the rate of new COVID-19 cases and will resume normal group meet-ups once the counties where the groups meet report lower numbers.

“We’re planning to restart in-person meetings in the near future once the COVID numbers have returned to levels that we saw in the fall,” Johnston said. “Basically, when counties return to orange in the Ohio Public Health Advisory System. We’re expecting a huge influx of participants because the isolation related to the pandemic has been particularly hard on those of us with mental health and addiction issues.”

The organization is funded by donations, of which a large portion comes from their yearly “Around the Beach 5k,” where people can sponsor runners or register to enter themselves. The next 5k will be held on Aug. 7 at Munroe Falls Metro Park.

Once normal programs resume, the organization plans to continue growing and welcoming more people.

“After our programs restart, we’ll look into expanding to adjacent areas like Canton and Brunswick, but we’ll need more mentors,” Johnston said.

According to Rochford, expansion is something that Johnston has had no problem handling. 

“Keith has a way of bringing you in and keeping you there,” Rochford said. “One of my favorite lines that Keith repeats is, ‘Hey, we’re all messed up, so it doesn’t matter what brought you here; let’s just share the moment.’”

Anthony Elder covers crisis, recovery, hunger and help. Contact him at [email protected]