During the middle of a Sunday morning jog through West Hollywood with a run club, marketing executive and digital strategist Mark Baroth exclaims: “I hate running!”
Later on, when I mention it to Soho House Run Club founder Raymond Braun, he bursts into laughter. He’s used to these divisive feelings. “Running is polarizing,” he says.
Naturally, with its year-round good weather, Los Angeles is teeming with running clubs. From groups organized around mountain trails and running tracks to niche run clubs for cinephiles, art lovers and even beer drinkers, the city certainly did not seem to be in need of yet another run club. But the Soho House Run Club, at the social club’s Holloway House outpost in West Hollywood, is quickly proving otherwise. With each passing week, more and more runners have been drawn to its warm, hospitable community.
Braun, a 33-year-old media entrepreneur, producer and host, originally started the Soho House Run Club last year. But soon after, he put it on hiatus. Four months ago, however, he revived the run club as a weekly Sunday morning meet-up founded upon a social ethos.
“The intention was to start a run club, but community is first. Running is secondary,” Braun says, drinking an iced matcha latte at the Holloway House restaurant. “There are so many conversations happening right now about isolation and how we’re in a loneliness crisis. I wanted to provide an opportunity for people to socialize and make friends.”
It seems Angelenos are especially keen to take advantage of that opportunity. On this Sunday morning, 70 joggers have turned up for the Soho House Run Club’s five-mile run. It’s the club’s biggest attendance to date. Kate Olson, who’s behind the online resource L.A. Running Connoisseur, says it’s the camaraderie that drew her to the club for what will be her second run this morning.
“This is one of the friendliest run clubs in L.A.,” she says. “I go to a lot of different clubs. Each has its own vibe, but this one is totally different.
“Some of the clubs are really intense and focused on, ‘Let’s go fast!’” she continues. “So it’s nice that this is a social run club. There hasn’t been a single stretch where I’ve not had someone talk to me.”
Steven Medina echoes Olson’s sentiments. Five years ago, shortly after graduating university, where he studied set design, he developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological condition that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Relying on elbow crutches to walk as he recovers, he takes an hourlong bus ride from West Covina to West Hollywood to join the group and walk three miles of the route.
Medina says he felt embraced by the club right from the start, and the friendships he’s formed extend outside the group too.
“When it comes to people’s disabilities, people think about a ramp or something, but they don’t think about the social aspect,” he says. “This club feels very accessible in a social way. The community is very supportive, and very welcoming and involved, wanting to keep up with each other outside of this, which has been nice.”
Recently, Medina walked his first half-marathon. He attributes his accomplishment to the morale boost he got from his new run club friends.
He also notes that when he first reached out to join the club, he was struck by Braun’s responsiveness and receptivity. “As I work through my recovery, a lot of times when I reach out to people it feels like an inconvenience to be part of a space,” Medina says. “But when I messaged him to make sure someone like me could fit, there was no hesitation. It was, ‘Stop by and we’ll make it work.’ As simple as that sounds, it means a lot.”
Making the run club accessible and welcoming to everyone is imperative for Braun. Growing up in rural Ohio, his experiences in the world of sports were traumatizing. “I didn’t have great hand-eye coordination. I was lanky, awkward and clumsy with effeminate mannerisms,” he says. “I got teased for being gay before I even knew I was gay myself.
“Every sports team that I tried out for I either got cut from or I was being bullied so much that I quit because it was a toxic environment,” he continues. “So I never thought I could be an athlete or that sports were even a possibility for me.”
In accordance with Braun’s open-door policy, one need not be a member of Soho House (though Braun is a member ) to participate in the run club. “It’s really important to me to emphasize that we’re a club for everyone,” he says. “I didn’t want to start it unless anyone could join. I take that piece really seriously.”
If the thought of running is intimidating, let alone running a five-mile course, Braun insists that prospective members need not worry. Though there are elite runners and those who are training for marathons in the group, for the majority, the club is the one time a week that they run. At the start of each run, Braun greets the group and encourages runners to discover their own pace and to do as little or as much of the course as they want. He also announces the locations of one- and three-mile checkpoints if that’s the distance participants want to go.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘I’m not a runner.’ I tell them, ‘If you can run a block, you are a runner,’” Braun says. “But also I’m in no way an arbiter of what does or doesn’t count as being a run club member. If you want to walk a block, and then hang out until we get back, you’re welcome to do that. If you want to come and socialize with us afterwards and not run, you’re welcome to do that too. When I say everyone is welcome, I really mean that.”
For the most part, the group ranges in age from mid-20s to mid-40s. A mix of professionals and creatives, newcomers and regulars, most participants discover the club through word-of-mouth or Instagram, where Braun fields DMs about how to join the group and provides details about where, exactly, and at what time the run club meets. From there, runners can sign up for weekly email reminders and a newsletter listing social events outside the run club.
After each member finishes all or some of the route, the group mingles on Soho House Holloway’s rooftop patio, where bottles of water and warm beverages are offered. A few runners head home shortly after gulping down a quick glass of water, but most stay and socialize with one another for at least a couple of hours.
As an added perk, on the first Sunday of each month, runners can replenish their carbs with complimentary avocado toast.
For those brave souls who want to boost their endorphins beyond a runner’s high, there is an optional cold plunge during the warmer months.
As Braun looks around and surveys the group, deeply immersed in chatting with one another, he beams. “Each week, people stay longer and longer. I love it. It’s already noon and we met up at 8:45 a.m.,” he says.
The club’s sociability, however, does not diminish the importance Braun places upon physical exercise. In February, he set a world record as the first person to complete seven Olympic-distance triathlons on seven continents in seven consecutive days. He’s also done several other triathlons, including an Ironman.
Outside of his accomplishments, physical fitness completely changed his life. For years, Braun suffered mostly in secret from obsessive-compulsive disorder — terrified of pandemics, germs, freak accidents and mortality. He would do his best to conceal his struggle, hiding behind a big smile (which he jokingly refers to as his “pageant face”), with his achievements, perfectionism and unrelenting work ethic belying his private battle. “I was really good at covering it,” he says. “I was highly functional and a lot of people didn’t know anything was going on.”
In 2012, he graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor of arts degree in Science, Technology & Society and a master’s degree in communication. That fall, he was hired by YouTube, where he quickly worked his way up to social marketing lead and spearheaded the company’s LGBTQ+ engagement and community outreach — earning Braun a coveted spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2014. He left YouTube the next year to start his own company, RWB Media, and executive produced and hosted “State of Pride,” a documentary about LGBTQ+ youth and Pride month, which was released in 2019.
In 2018, however, after his best friend Maya Amoils, with whom he was inseparable, was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, Braun’s OCD became more severe. The global spread of COVID in 2020 exacerbated his worsening disorder even further.
For six months, Braun didn’t step foot outside his apartment, washing his hands until they bled and spending hours compulsively sterilizing and sanitizing his immediate surroundings, including boiling his toothbrush and pillowcases, even fruit. When he incurred a severe burn from accidentally spilling boiling water on his right thigh, he still wouldn’t leave his home to go to the hospital.
At the urging of Amoils, Braun entered an OCD treatment program with an emphasis on exposure therapy. Triathlons played a vital role in his recovery. “For so long, I had resisted exercise because I thought my body couldn’t handle it … that I was weak or that I would get sick,” he says. “So it was about being able to explore what my body was capable of because I thought it was not able to fight off all the germs and bacteria that I am in contact with. Physical exertion was a literal exposure — getting sweaty, being in crowds of people…
“And then I also developed a lot of self-confidence through seeing my body get stronger,” he continues. “Seeing, ‘Oh wow, I can run a mile in 10 minutes instead of 15 minutes. … Oh wow, I just did a triathlon.’ … There’s so much self-worth and empowerment that you can get through movement and realizing what your body is capable of.”
Braun says another key piece of his recovery puzzle was having a supportive community in the endurance-sports world in L.A., along with friends who supported his triathlon journey.
After the painful loss of Amoils, who died at the beginning of 2022, with Soho House Run Club Braun has put his efforts into building a community close to his home in West Hollywood “for people who might be too intimidated to join high-performing athletes.”
What’s more, though he considers himself still in recovery, after experiencing the life-changing benefits of his OCD treatment program, he wants to help others to be their best by offering an accepting community and an opportunity to cultivate a greater sense of well-being through physical exercise outdoors.
“I call it a trifecta,” Braun says. “Community, movement and sun. What better way to start your Sunday?”