North End Run Club Creates Community Through Fitness
Having spent many late nights as a disc jockey in some of the most celebrated bars and nightclubs between the Oceanfront and Downtown Norfolk, Barry Clark craved a community separate from the party scene, one that would encourage him to explore the cities beyond their popular nightlife attractions and engage in physical activities. Unable to find one that suited his hectic work schedule, Clark created his own. He combined his knack for social media with his longing for Virginia Beach’s outdoor recreation and launched North End Run Club in July 2016.
He simply pitched the free run club on social media and invited Virginia Beach residents to join him at The Green Cat Juice Bar & Market for a summer evening run. A modest group of 15 strangers met Clark at the corner of 38th Street and Pacific Avenue, engaged in a brief meet-and-greet and embarked on NERC’s first official outing.
Nearly two years later, the club has adopted upwards of 200 members who meet regularly every Tuesday evening at 6:15 p.m. for a three to five mile run. The hundreds of dedicated athletes have gathered to run in the bitter cold, pouring rain and gusting winds of nor’easters all for the sake of community. As the run club grew in popularity, Clark announced the addition of three co-captains—Michael Rowland, Jeremy Kroft and Lania Herman—to help organize and maintain club operations.
Despite its size, Clark has remained true to his intention to create a running community free of official membership and lofty fees with a sole focus on health and comradery. At the beginning of every run, Clark introduces himself as NERC captain and kindly thanks participants for coming out. He then identifies first-time runners to welcome them to the community and remind them that regardless of their distance or pace, they are lapping anyone sitting on the couch. To conclude his opening remarks, he encourages each runner to introduce themselves to two new people to ensure participants—new and old—feel included.
The group takes flight at exactly 6:30 p.m. and navigates the new and challenging courses designed by Clark every week. Clark releases the run location on NERC’s social media accounts every Monday morning and announces course specifics come Tuesday. The courses are consistently designed to traverse three to five miles of terrain and are open to athletes of all ages and abilities, but with safety as his utmost concern, Clark enforces three requirements.
First, the course must be safe and as well-lit as possible, as the evening runs are often completed in the dark during the winter months. Clark also promises runners that they will start together and finish together, thus requiring runners to complete the designated route within one hour. He notes that all members happily oblige and even venture out on pop-up runs to explore the paths of other cities in Chesapeake, Newport News and Williamsburg.
At the conclusion of each run, Clark awards one participant with the NERGY trophy—a shiny gold cup that represents NERC’s dedication to community, consistency and positivity.
Clark proudly admits that NERC has grown into a society that is far more inclusive and supportive than he could have ever imagined. He explains that the club not only fulfilled his yearning for kinship and physical motivation, but restored his faith in his local community.
NERC co-captain Michael Rowland competed in his first half-marathon on Saturday, March 18 during the Oceanfront’s annual Shamrock Marathon. Upon crossing the finish line, Rowland collapsed. Despite a speedy arrival from paramedics and several attempts to revive Rowland, nine minutes passed and his heart had yet to beat.
Rowland was hospitalized and admitted to ICU where he remained in a medically induced coma for two days. Clark was one of the first club members to arrive to the hospital and immediately began searching for a way to help his ailing friend.
Clark launched a GoFundMe page with a fundraising goal of $30,000—a lump sum Clark hoped would cover Rowland’s increasing medical bills. Within four days, NERC club members and supporters donated $24,000. A silent auction and percentage night held at The Shack later that week brought the donation to $28,000 before reaching their final fundraising goal in eight days, an astonishing total that was made possible by numerous bids on gift cards donated by nearly 150 local businesses.
Clark says that he was truly dumbfounded and proud of the level of compassion NERC members and Virginia Beach residents showed towards Rowland. Thanks to their support, his friend and co-captain is now on the road to full recovery.
NERC’s other philanthropic ventures include raising funds for Relay for Life and providing monetary relief to Hurricane Harvey victims.
Although Clark wants to maintain NERC as a humble and inviting running club, he does have visions to expand NERC’s reach. His most immediate goal is to gain sponsorship and from there, host NERC-sponsored races. As the third fastest growing running city in the United States according to Strava, Clark strives to put Virginia Beach’s phenomenal running community on the map.