Every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:30 a.m., fitness-minded people get together in downtown Chattanooga to work out together for free. They call it Tough Love, a fitness flashmob, hosted by Run Chattanooga, a running club that promotes with hashtags like #FREE and #endorphins. It’s exercise meets social media meets, as they put it, building community.
The designated workout location is promoted on Facebook (www.facebook.com/runnooga) and Twitter (@runchattanooga) the day before the workout. They’ve done burpees by the Chattanoogan hotel and pushups at the Hunter Museum, run stairs on Ross’ Landing and done crunches at UTC. Sometimes they are in a park and sometimes they just pick a street corner with some curbs to jump up on or benches to use for dips.
One participant cites his favorite workout they’ve done as the Winter Olympics-themed Sochi-Nooga, which included running up the hill at Renaissance Park and ‘sledding’ down on a cardboard box.
Nobody gets left behind because the workouts are done in circuits and there is always someone nearby to give a high five or encourage people to push harder. They don’t get bored because no two workouts are ever the same, said officials.
Run Chattanooga founder Courtney Bird says there is an intimidation factor that comes with joining a gym or a traditional running club, and this is one way that they are trying to break down those barriers. Going to a workout costs nothing. Parking in metered spaces is even free at that hour. There are no contracts to sign and no membership fees to pay, so there’s no pressure. Participants don’t have to already be in shape, because they can scale the workout to any ability. Their flyers even advertise welcoming ‘athlete-wannabes.’ Everyone is encouraged to just show up and jump right in.
“You just do what you can do, at the speed you can do it," said Kim Sissom, who has been a regular participant at the Tough Love workouts since they began several months ago. "Then the next time, you try to do one more rep or go a little faster. There’s a really positive vibe with the whole thing. Everyone cheers each other on. Someone usually takes a few pictures and they get posted on Twitter and the Run Chattanooga Facebook page. We all get to be a star online from time to time, so that’s fun too.”
To keep track of how their fitness is progressing, once a month they race up and down the stairs at AT&T Field and then do a lap of the hill on 3rd Street, seeing how many rounds of that combination they can do in 25 minutes. They're racing only against themselves, but they use each other as motivation.
“The slower people are working hard to try to keep up with the faster people," said former college track athlete Katie Stanford, who is now the cross country coach at Covenant College and one of the fastest at the Run Chattanooga events. "The faster ones are pushing to go even faster so that they don’t get caught. Because the Tough Love workouts stay in one area, as opposed to a group run where people can get spread out, everyone gets a little something different out of it but we can all work out together.”
Run Chattanooga is a fitness movement that started several months ago. Founder Courtney Bird will be the first to tell you that it’s not a typical running club. In fact, there are people who join them who don’t consider themselves runners at all. “They are just people who want to be active and enjoy the camaraderie and accountability,” she explains. “The reason it works is because we nurture and promote this positive atmosphere, we're not afraid to get a little goofy and fun, and it has attracted some fantastic people who, up until they find us, had mostly be running or working out alone. We’re not competing with each other, but we do challenge each other to reach our own individual goals - whatever those may be. And we celebrate with each other when we reach a new level.”
Run Chattanooga hosted a free 5K flashmob run - the Bun Run - on the Saturday before Easter. Ms. Bird told everyone prior to the race that Run Chattanooga events have some strict rules. “You cannot leave without having made a new friend. You have to high five at least one person. And you have to have fun.” Runners and walkers made their way through downtown Chattanooga wearing bunny ears, high fiving unsuspecting passersby, and having fun while being active.
The positivity and high fives are a staple of the Run Chattanooga culture now. When they are running in a group, they will high five other runners that aren’t part of their group. If they are doing a Tough Love workout and a runner comes by, many will stop what they are doing, get over to the sidewalk, and hold out a hand for a high five. "Lots of people in this area run alone and will avert their eyes when they cross paths with another runner or walker," Ms. Bird says. "So giving out lots of high fives is part of how we are working to build a community. We're all connected because we're all being active."
Run Chattanooga hosts group runs with the staff of Front Runner Athletics several days during the week, but Ms. Bird admits that the Tough Love workouts are her favorite. “I’m not a morning person. None of us are. I’d much rather sleep in. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I find myself bouncing out of bed looking forward to doing planks and push ups. I still get shocked by that!" She laughs. "Not only have I gotten stronger and lost weight, but I’ve made so many new friends and gotten to meet so many interesting people that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise, simply because of these workouts.”
To find out where the next Tough Love workout is, follow Run Chattanooga on Facebook (www.facebook.com/runnooga
) or Twitter @runchattanooga