Odds are great that if you know somebody in Memphis who runs, they got their start with Star Ritchey, who has found runaway success with her personal running and training program, Star Runners.
By her calculations, Ritchey has guided some 400 clients to reaching their goal of reaching a finish line.
Though she’d always been fit, Ritchey didn’t enter the subculture of running fanatics early on. She wasn’t a cross-country star in high school but instead got into it almost as an afterthought in her 20s.
“I just decided with a group of girlfriends that we were going to start running, and we did,” she said. “We ran the Cooper-Young 4-miler that year.”
Four miles became a half-marathon, and a hobby became a career.
“I tend to like to research, so I really got involved in researching our plan, and that got me hooked on running and the science behind running,” Ritchey said.
The group, it seemed, was her rock, and it not only got her into the sport but helped her keep up with it. It’s a model she has used with Star Runners, whose participants are easy to spot at area 5K races, thanks to dressing in matching T-shirts and posing in group photos.
“We’re really big on team support, team morale,” Ritchey said. “No. 1, it’s important to me that everyone feels like they’re part of the family. We try really hard to, whether you’re a beginner running your first three miles or a marathoner on your second marathon, we want everyone to feel equal. So we work really hard on that.”
The Star Runners training method is race-focused, with clients working toward the goal of a particular race or series of races. This time of year is marathon training. Four years ago, her first year in business, Ritchey trained five runners for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon and 20 for the half-marathon. This year she has 30 and 80, respectively.
But it isn’t only longer distances, and when the group meets three times per week, assignments are given – with some runners taking shorter routes and others longer, depending on what their training calls for and where their comfort levels lie.
Be sure, however, that Ritchey will take runners out of their comfort levels. That’s where her husband, Keith, a medical sales representative and business partner, helps out by playing the “good cop” to her “bad cop” role.
“Whether you’re a beginner running your first three miles or a marathoner on your second marathon, we want everyone to feel equal.”
Owner, Star Runners
“He’s the one they all get to have a lot of fun with,” she said. “He’s silly, and then I have to be the one that takes roll and stuff like that.”
Weekly runs generally happen in the Cooper-Young or Overton Park neighborhoods, but locations for Saturday training change from week to week. One day might go through Shelby Forest or Downtown, while another might find the group out east at Shelby Farms Park.
“I love nothing more than showing runners places to run that they may not know about,” Ritchey said.
Born and raised in Memphis, Ritchey attended White Station High School and the University of Memphis for a degree in education. She went to University of Tennessee Health Science Center for a master’s in social work and worked in that field for 12 years, leaving it to launch Star Runners.
The social work seems to have imbued her with a sense of empathy that informs her training, and she holds herself and her own limits up as an example.
“I don’t try to pretend to be something I’m not,” she said. “I’m not my fastest runner. I have plenty of people I coach that are faster than me, and I’m OK with that. And I think that’s important to my runners, too, that I’m out there with them and they see me when I have good runs and they see me when I have bad runs. We’re just all one, and I think that helps a lot of people – they don’t feel like they’re showing up to somebody that’s judging them.”
What Ritchey is peddling is more than good health and habits – she sells confidence. It’s the confidence that a person can do anything he or she puts their mind to, and that, no matter what it is, there is someone somewhere going through the same struggle.
“I don’t have any huge goals, but I would like to feel like I’ve made a difference in Memphis,” she said. “I’ve seen what a difference fitness can make for people, and it’s just not that hard to do. The hardest part is just showing up.”