Why Is Road Running Such a White Sport in the U.S.?

We love this photo of gals we met in Atlanta, but as you can see, we're all as white as the tees Dimity (far right) and I (2nd from left) are sporting.
We love this photo of gals we met at an Atlanta race expo, but as you can see, we're all as white as the tees Dimity (far right) and I (2nd from left) are sporting.

On this, the holiday celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream: that one day, running will be a more multi-racial sport. The starting corrals at most road and trail races are as white a snow-covered ski hill: a few pops of color, but the overwhelming hue is white. Dimity and I are struck by it at race expos we attend across the country: We meet mother runners in all ages, shapes, sizes, and speeds, but the overwhelming majority of them are caucasian. Reflecting back on the events we’ve attended in the past three years, in cities like Seattle, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City, Portland, Anaheim, and Nashville, a flurry of white faces fill our minds. It’s only been in cities in Texas, such as Austin and San Antonio, where we’ve met a good number of Latina runners; only in Annapolis and Atlanta were a relatively decent percentage of the racers African American. There are some Asians at most of the expos, but not many.

Rosa Gaby (2nd from left) and her friends added welcome color to Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio in several ways.
Rosa Gaby (2nd from left) and her friends added welcome color to Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio in several ways.

Specific racers come to mind: Bridget, a lithe African-American mother, who was the 2nd-place finisher at 2010 ZOOMA 10K in Annapolis. Irma, an effervescent Latina we first connected with at the 2010 ZOOMA expo in Austin; she ran the race with a group of other Hispanic mothers. There’s Lavon, an Indian mother of two who grew up in Dubai; she and I first met at the Happy Girls Run in Bend, Oregon. (She’s also the mother runner modeling two of our latest tees: I freely admit I asked her to model for us because she’s a mother of color. The fact that she’s beautiful was a bonus.) But for every one of these women of color, I could paint portraits of hundreds of white mother runners we’ve engaged with at races.

A badass mother runner in Minneapolis, next to a women sporting a BGR! jacket.
A badass mother runner in Minneapolis, next to a women sporting a BGR! jacket.

I’m puzzled about why running is overwhelming white. Is the barrier cost? Available time? Childcare options? Resources? Access to safe running routes? Cultural influences? Role models? I’m at a loss to find an explanation; I just know it saddens me.

I’d love to hear from runners of color who can enlighten us. Is there something we all could be doing to make all runners feel more welcome? Is there a way we can make the running community more like a rainbow and less like a ski slope? Please click on the orange Comments ribbon to say what’s on your mind about this topic.

To continue this conversation, next month, we will be doing a Q&A with someone from Black Girls RUN! (BGR!), a nationwide organization that promotes fitness and healthy living among African-American women. In less than two years, BGR! has launched roughly 70 running groups across the U.S. with more than 52,000 African-American women. Good stuff, really good stuff. 



58 responses to “Why Is Road Running Such a White Sport in the U.S.?

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  3. Thank you so much for this post. It is a faith-in-the-universe renewing discussion. I am both White and Native American (Chickasaw) and have lived primarily in the white world. Race and culture are such multi-faceted issues and touch us in personal and collective ways. It is these conversations that build connections between us and help us see each other authentically. Again, thank you!!!

  4. Hi I just recently started running with a group called Sole2Soul Sisters. When I arrived I was among a handful of Black ladies that were in the group, not intimidating but I just acted like my normal self, a social butterfly in any situation, and I blended right in. Today I realize it was the best decision I have made and now I wonder what took me so long. Those reasons that I did and also the answer to your question lie in the fact, in my genuine opinion, is that Black women do not have a lot of role models to look at. For one, we see beautiful Black women that make it the Olympics and are the best athletes in the WNBA, but we dont have anyone in our daily life that leads a healthy and active lifestyle. Additionally, we like our down home southern soul cellulite producing, artery clogging food. Eating healthy would mean letting that go, in lieu of finding healthier alternatives, which take less time to make, might I add. Lastly, it is hard in todays society to make changes, especially to diet, when everyone else in the house is resistant! As I glanced through the various mother runners, before I asked to join, I didnt see many Black faces, but hey I was the only Black lady to run in a winter 5K with my group in December, and today I can say that I am very proud of myself for continuing to run. I think celebrating the small accomplishments has kept me motivated as well as joining and following other groups like this one, keep me on track with my weight loss and fitness goals!! I truly appreciate the fact that you even put this article out there, I look forward to the increase in Black ladies running!!!

  5. Hi Donna!! I share your group’s success in motivating others in the community to experience not only the health benefits of running but the sense of accomplishment when you cross the finish line!!
    I am also a Native (U.S.) and have lived in the SW and in cities, and now live in northern MN. I have been active all my life including running. I am 52, a mother of 2, and a grandmother of a 22 month old, and 1 month old beautiful, healthy granddaughters! I find myself being among the few brown skin competitors in many events over the years, and in local health clubs. Most of the ‘others’ are African-Americans and Hispanics, and I often get mistaken for a Latina. I have always been a ‘take charge’ person and have had no issues with doing things by myself, or exploring outside my comfort zones which has me interacting in the ‘white world’ frequently. This seems to ‘confuse’ those who are hanging onto and/or misguided by stereotypical images of Native people. Yes, we are, in general, community minded, to do what is best for the ‘group.’ However, conformity is my nemesis but I am respectful of my culture, beliefs, etc. I know my traditional education strengthened my identity as a Native woman and my early exposure to the ‘outside’ world, and my education at the universities off the reservation in my later years have nurtured me and guided me, in addition to my current professional career, to not be compartmentalized in thinking and behavior. Survival is priority in our culture per history. Being healthy in body, mind, and spirit is essential to survival in these times. Running allows me to stay fit and healthy, doesn’t take much in regard to ‘gear,’ and it doesn’t matter to me if I am the only brown skin competitor at an event or where the event is. Thus, I am always in ‘training mode.’ I am cordial to others, saying hello, etc. at these events and oftentimes, we connect on our passion of running. But there are others who just look at me and walk away. It feels good when I pass them in my half marathons and marathons.

  6. I have been following your blog for over a year and came to a Washington, DC event last year in Bethesda. I was the only “one” to “represent,” but I rarely find myself counting when I’m out running…I’m a Cali girl and never look at my surroundings from that point of view. Remember, we’re only 12% of the population. I try new things based on what I like or am willing to expose my body to and try to encourage my friends…that range in athletic ability, parenthood, and ethnicity… to join me. This year I biked my first metric century w/my hubby and some friends. For me, lack of exposure, at an early age, is the only thing that delayed my start of running. I joined a local running club, and last year joined BGR! after reading the article in Runner’s World. I am now training for my first half with a group of BGR runners, who are also supporting me as a hodgkins lymphoma survivor. I share your blog often on the BGR! DC facebook page, wear my “Another Mother Runner”shirt with pride, and will continue to encourage my non-runner friends to join me on the trail. I look forward to your chat with BGR.

  7. I am a white teacher in a large, diverse school district. This morning I was at a training on how to better understand and reach our Latino families. The presenters began goving examples of how the dominant (white) culture is individualistic and how this can be a challenge to cultures that are collectivist. Collectivism values the interconnectedness between people and wants the group to be successful. In general, American culture values the individual. I immediately thought of running. It is much more and individual sport compared to many popular team sports. Could this be one explanation for the lack of diversity in running?

    As I was thinking this, one woman gave an example of joining the gym with her sister and joked, “we had to do it together. It’s not like we’d ever work out alone, right?!”

    Maybe running is seen as a solo activity and some people prefer groups or communities. Maybe that’s why BGR is so successful and important. If this is the case, I think this amazing tribe is doing exactly what it should: building a supportive community, sharing the joys & struggles of running, and proving that we need running buddies. It may appear to be a solo event, but running is often a team sport for me!

    1. Maura – what an insightful thought. As an Asian mother, that makes sense to me. Which is also why this tribe, AMR tribe, needs to be more visible in races that are closer to more diverse populations and cities.
      How about hosting more all women races/runs where you are discounted in price if you run with a group of sisters.

  8. I wasn’t exposed to running either. I am a Native Canadian woman who was just introduced to running last year at the age of 44. I live on a Reserve (First Nation), and our health centre has a nurse who is a runner and has done Half Marathons and a Marathon. She wanted to share her passion of running with us, and so started up a Learn to Run program. There was 5 of us who completed the program and we entered and ran in our first 5K race on Father’s Day 2012. Since this program was a success, the Health Centre ran another Learn to Run program and a couple of us returned to run with and help motivate the new runners. Hoping that there will be a third seesion of a Learn 2 Run program on our First Nation as people have been watching us and cheering us on as we run together. Some of us still get together once a week to run together as a group.

  9. I ran for years on my own, and honestly, sometimes, I did not feel safe, and at other times, it was lonely. Joining BGR allowed me to connect with other women, mostly mothers, who not only run, but serve as accountability partners and support, motivate, and challenge me to push my limits. Clearly, African American women traditionally are not as active as women of other races for various reasons, so this organization aims to change that. And for those people who have a problem with the name BGR, not everyone who runs with BGR is black. Besides, BGR focuses on way more than running. They also offer clinics that focus on hair maintenance (which is a HUGE issue for African American athletes), diet, and other elements of living a healthy lifestyle in a way that makes people feel comfortable, accepted, and most of all, confident that they can achieve their personal goals.

  10. Proud BGR Baltimore member! For those not familiar, BGR stands for Black Girls Run!. BGR is changing the running scene city by city. No longer am I the lone black girl running around the lake hoping that that another black woman my be inspired by seeing me run with my curvy hips and relaxed hair. There is power in seeing other people that look like you participating in activities. I can’t speak for anyone else, but going to races with 500+ people and only seeing a handful other people who look like you is no fun. Did that stop me from running, no, but always makes me wonder why I’m one of the few black women out there.

    Since I’ve become more vocal about my running with BGR, friends and coworkers have taken an interest and have asked how they can connect.

  11. As a white resident of the Deep South in a majority African American city, I can say that I see more black faces running the roads here than I have anywhere else I’ve lived, although road races, while diverse, are probably less so than is reflective of the distribution in our community (of course people travel from elsewhere to come race). There are a large number of people, mostly black, who have a regular walk/run group around a stadium in the neighborhood, and a youth track club who appear to be predominantly African American that meets at the high school down the street. Our city is not progressive and does not have great pedestrian or recreational infrastructure, and we suffer the same problem as others of not-enough-time-to-have-recess at school, although at least my daughter’s public school has gym class every day. They have programs that encourage the kids to run the local fun runs. But I point the finger at poor public health – my state regularly ranks near the bottom of national lists – and a culture gap, and my inclination is to think that cuts across class and not just race. Many people get into running because they have a mentor or at least an example to follow, or perhaps have been involved in the sport during school; low income people are less likely to have those influences and opportunities. And let’s face it, running is a leisure activity and it’s my perception that working class folks are likely to either not have the time for it or to think it not a worthwhile use of their time. As for the cost of road races, sure it’s prohibitive – it’s prohibitive for me because we’re a single income family so I know it’s prohibitive for those with less. I’m involved with a local bicycle and activist group and we have the same problem. We promote the recreational and utilitarian use of bikes in urban areas, but despite our city’s diversity the majority of the hundreds of participants in the group are white. In the fall we did a ride touring our local African American history trail, and that drew a few more black riders but not as many as we had hoped. My sense is that cycling has something of a stigma – you only use that as your transportation if you’re poor, and you only do it as a leisure activity if you’re rich. I think many of us are mystified as to how to bridge that gap, and the only answer that I have for that is the one that I’m living – biking to the grocery store with my panniers, running the city streets, greeting and being friendly to everyone I can, and representing for a fit, active, simplified lifestyle that is accessible to most anyone.

  12. Why would black women need anyone to mentor them? Isn’t that kind of condescending? A woman of any color can decide to run if she likes. Why are we AGAIN pointing to SKIN COLOR!!!!!?????

    I just don’t understand how this is a real topic. Why can’t we stop looking at skin color?

    If their aren’t as many black women running races in this country can’t we just assume it’s not a preference for said women? Why is it now a “problem” How in the heck can you tell me that running needs to be opened up as a sport? What? Can’t anyone put on sneakers & go run?

    Am I the only person who sees the hypocrisy in a running club called “Black Girls Run”? Turn the tables & tell me it would be no big deal to form a club like this for white girls.

    I feel sad that we are still referring to skin color instead of character. It’s exhausting.

    BTW: I’m white.

    1. I agree with you, Joy, on all counts. I’m actually one of the women pictured in the Zooma photo (the one with the orange dress on). I don’t remember ever signing up for any race and seeing a section that says if you are black, then you are kicked off the site and not allowed to register. It is a tired, tired topic. My running girlfriends and I all have kids in school, and husbands who do one form of exercise or another, and it’s at great sacrifice to all of that to pick up and have our beloved girls weekend, not to mention the strain on our budget. There was a similar article in Runners World a couple of years ago, that left me with the same hmmm, head scratching reaction. Exactly as Joy pointed out, anyone, of any color can don a pair of sneakers and get out there at any time. No one is standing at each race turning black runners away. Can we just resolve that the reason we don’t see as many people of color is that they have made the CHOICE not to run and that they might enjoy other activities?

    2. I couldn’t agree more. The more we segregate ourselves with clubs like BGR or any other organization that leaves others out by nature of its name or policies, the more I believe we will never be fully accepting of others. It seems discriminatory to have such groups that are not based on an ideology but on skin color.

      1. I sort of have to agree. While it’s good to be able to have a feeling of inclusivity and encourage people to participate, it shouldn’t be solely based on something as arbitrary as skin-colour. Don’t get me wrong: it’s stupid to try and pretend that people aren’t different, but the point is that differences like race don’t matter. We shouldn’t have to exclude one group of people in order to say to another, “try this sport, you might like it!”

    3. Honestly, I think a lot of people need a mentor when they start running. Maybe especially women. I know I did. I would never have started if my friends weren’t running. Two friends in particular pointed me to the couch-to-5K program. Told me that yes, I really did need to go buy shoes first. And most importantly showed me through their actions what running can do. The first friend has been running a long time and it wasn’t her that got me started. It was the friend who is just my age. Who also works full time with two kids. In short, someone who was a lot like me started running and showed me how great it is.

      I got my dad running partly by buying him a book called Running in your 60s, 70s, 80s and Beyond or something like that, full of pictures of older people running. He completed his first 5K at 73.

      It helps a lot to have a mentor and role model show you the way. That person doesn’t have to be just like you, but if they are more like you, I think it works better.

      And I think the idea that race doesn’t matter is a privileged view that the vast majority of non-white people do not experience.

  13. I can’t wait to join in this discussion. I started running about 2 years ago when a friend tricked me into running a 5K with her. I’m black, she’s white. And when we started training, she remarked on the lack of black faces in our races, especially in a community as diverse as ours.

    I haven’t run with the Black Girls Run group since I moved last year, but I really like the attention they have drawn to black women and running.

  14. To all of you women out there-no matter your color, shape, size, income, age-I think runners as a whole are friendly & cheerleaders for one another. My wish is that you all feel the love & embrass of other females as we unite to support one another.
    I am the first to want to yell encouragement out the window as I drive by anyone exercising. Or say encouraging words as someone runs by.
    Not to toot my own (I am the last to do that) but I am fast & win most races I run but I still & the one cheering in the last female.
    I know I feel so happy & excited for each & every woman who can get out there I know others do too!!
    I find at races & out on the roads people are very non judgmental & see your hardwork. Keep it up ladies! Get out there because you CAN! It does you’re soul good & we should all unite in/and “race”:)
    Get to it girls! How to see you in the roads!!

  15. As a black women its really not that fun. I would rather take a yoga or MMA class than run. The only reason I have taken up running is so I can run a Disney Half marathon and finish my workouts sooner. I just did three sets of burpees to get out of going down to the gym. Yes we live in a nice area ( crime can happen anywhere esp on running trails), my husband can watch our daughter, the hair is a pain but I can deal with it. Not much spice to running unless you have a theme costume and metals to hand out. I hate to say it but I would rather Zumba than run. I think most people would rather walk.

  16. Thanks Dimity and SBS! Great topic and one I wonder about at every race I do. I did the New Year Race in downtown Los Angeles on January 5th and there were more African American women than I have ever seen at a race. It was great! I don’t ever feel unwelcome at a race but I do love to see more women like me on the course. The issues are so complex. Could be the hair issue. Look at all the grief “we” gave Gaby Douglas. I was so hurt for her and by us. I wear my very long, very thick hair in braids all the time because I work out so frequently. I haven’t straightened it in ages although I keep saying I’m going to. And then I go to the gym or out for a run or jump in the swimming pool. So much for that. Sometimes my hair makes me feel out of place (that’s what my wigs are for) but I don’t ever want my daughter to put her hairstyle in front of her health and her desire to keep it moving. I started running for my kids to teach them the importance of physical fitness and it has evolved into teaching my daughter that she is beautiful, regardless of how she wears her hair. We are so much more than our hair. I spent so much time on the hair issue that I don’t want to spend time on the “you’re not built like a runner” comments that I have been subjected to. No, I’m not but I am. Thanks AMR for convincing me that I am in fact a runner. More than 15 half marathons and 2 full marathons completed and I am just now getting there: Yes, I am a runner. Slow and steady.

    1. If someone dares subject you to a “you’re not built like a runner” comment, you can tell them, “no, I’m built like a bada$$.” With 15 halfs and 2 marathons, there’s no way you’re anything but.

      1. Awesome reply! Plus, the percentage of us who are actually built like what people *think* a runner is built like is quite small – look at any race!

  17. HI there,
    I live in San Diego and I have done many different kind of races here and do many runs out and about in my city. I never even thought of running being a color thing. I see people of all colors, sizes, shape when I run. In my own community nd out and about. I read this blurb this morning before going out and running. I see different nationalities all the time running in my neighborhood. I also went and played golf today that was right next to a local park and I saw all different races of women walking and running at the park on its track.
    Living in San Diego, well there are so many different colors, cultures. I am always impressed that women are out there running, they far outweigh the men. I am happy to be part of my running community and embrace the diversity.

  18. Wow this is a topic that will spark a lot of discussion and chatter, but I’m not sure if we will ever get a definitive answer. I have always enjoyed sports and I’ve always been accused of being ‘white’ and doing ‘white’ activities (skiing, swimming, scuba diving, sky diving, etc). I think a lot has to do with what we are exposed to (kids of any color). Another point is running is usually the punishment in other sports so it’s not portrayed as a fun or positive sport. Media plays a big part too. There are runners of color, yet how often does the media highlight them? There are so many stereotypes and possibly cultural reasons that serve as barriers. It’s free to run, but as another pointed out proper shoes, bras, clothes and race entry fees all add up, but the act of running is still free. So maybe the question should be is how to diversify races.

    I started running 3 years ago and got more serious after my son was born. I run because he can’t; so I push he rolls! We used to walk, then wog (walk/jog) and have worked our way up to running. It started as our therapy and now doubles as a fun bonding activity. I was delighted when I discovered BGR! and joined the Augusta,GA chapter. It’s nice to be with others who look like you, but more than that running has expanded my social circle (all races), doing things and taking me places I never thought I would go (via running)!

    Look forward to reading others’ comments

    1. You sound fun! Glad you broke out of the mold and risked being “white” to get out there and enjoy such fun activities.

  19. As an African-American/Native American woman who sports both AMR and BGR gear, this whole question really gets to me. I’ve been running since I was in college–inspired by several Anglo women who ran for leisure and fitness and I kept at it. I’ve run mostly alone over the years and it wasn’t until I attended a Women’s Quest retreat in 1998 that I sought out teammates and training partners. None of them were people of color until last year when I moved to Chicago and Black Girls Run came along.

    I’ve run in the housing project where I grew up, in fancy suburbs, mixed income neighborhoods, and on the rural fringe of small towns–all places I’ve lived. The difference for me was that I never needed to see others who “look like me” out on the road to get out the door and run. But now that I DO see women of color out on the roads thanks to efforts like BGR I realize how affirming that kind of visual community can be. I run with BGR women from time to time and it has filled in a gap in my life I didn’t know I was missing so deeply.

    My experience is not the be all and end all but I think it says a lot about how the dearth of women of color out there running is as much about segregation as it about race and about class as it about income. As a black woman living in a mostly white world–I didn’t think about how running or triathlon was just reflection of my every day reality–but it is wonderful to know that that is changing for the better.

  20. Running is free, but road racing costs money and is a deterrent to a lot of black women I know attending road races around the country. I am in BGR! too and that’s when I started meeting black women runners in significant numbers. I ran track in high school and my daughter ran cross country, but we sought out those opportunities. No one sought us out. Can’t tell you why that is – it just is. Quality running shoes also cost money. This is not a cheap sport.

  21. I think another point to make is you are only looking with your eyes, not your soul.

    Not all women of color are “black”. I am Africian Americian and look just like you. I have pale skin and blonde hair, thank you grandma. About half of my extended family has dark skin and the rest of us are as pale as can be.

    I have many Asian friends who get the same comments about their heritage as my sister and I do because their “eyes are not slanted”.

    Not all hispanics have dark skin either.

    In our melting pot society you just can’t tell by looking. Next time I see you in a Portland race Sarah I will reintroduce myself. You have been running alongside us for some time now.

    1. This response resonates with me as well. I am half Asian, half Caucasian, and it seems that the older I’ve gotten the less people can tell “what” I am (such an odd question to be asked; ‘excuse me, but what are you?’ 😉 ).

      But yes, I’ve had people react with shock when I reveal my racial mix; then just the other day I hear myself referred to as “that Asian lady.” So yes, we are definitely out there (I also met Dimity at last year’s Disneyland Half Marathon expo), and I agree, we’ve been running along side you for a while now. 🙂

  22. As an African-American mother/runner (: I started running because I wanted to become fit-period. I was tired of feeling sluggish. So I started working out and really it has been such a positive thing. Like many have already stated I think exposure is key. While we see many African-Americans and Africans running in competitions/Olympics-this does not really translate into what we see in everyday life. I also think that our hair is an issue as well. The hair really needs to be put into perspective however, because although hair is important-I think being fit and healthy is even more so. To tell the truth since I’ve started running (more like trotting 🙂 I haven’t lost much weight-but my mood has dramatically improved! Exposure is key and also knowing that exercising/running benefit not only the physical but the mental as well. Thank you for this post.

  23. I was not exposed to running. NO one ran in my family. The sports of choice, basketball, baseball, and football. I know for certain the hair, for African American women, is an issue. I am the daughter of a beautician who did everything to keep her appearance fresh. If my hair got wet, it was ruined. No water, no sweat. Track was around in the 80’s when I was in school, but I knew if I ran I could not keep my hair straight and there is such a NEGATIVE stigma around kinky hair…and my hair is VERY kinky naturally…like wool…and like wool it shrivels when it is wet. I now wear deadlocks, like the ladies you have pictured above. I am proud of my natural hair, but not all in the black community appreciate natural hair and would much prefer to keep their hair straight, which is a lot of work. Things are changing as people embrace who they are…but it is a process

    1. Coletha, I’m in the same boat. I didn’t have any examples of distance runners in my family. All of my friends ran track, but they were all sprinters. Seeing other African-Americans out for a morning jog is something we just don’t see.

  24. I live in Baltimore. I see walkers and runners of all races daily. I started running when a free program was offered to train for the BWC. There were lots of Black women in the program of all ages. It wasn’t until after that training that I joined Black Girls Run. I am amazed by the number of women I continue to meet from all walks of life who run through BGR and just running on my own. I recently joined the Road Runners Club. I instantly became the only Black woman in the group. Knowing how many Black women runners there are, it struck me as weird. However, all I can do is encourage people to join me and dispel the myths about RRCA that I’ve heard. Myths like you need to be a 10 minute or less runner or you can’t use the run/ walk method. Neither are true but since they were out there had some of the women I know afraid to join RRCA. There are similar myths which have kept many from entering races even when they are capable of running the distances. We need to remember that balancing home, work, & family is difficult enough with our running. Adding the stress of dealing with perceived myths to something that you do for stress relief can sometimes be a barrier. So even though you may not always see Black women running at races, there are more running than you realize.

  25. I am Indian, grew up in India in a middle class family and neighborhood with orthodox parents. They encouraged me to play and be active, but “jogging” was limited to 30-45 minutes.
    And to be honest, I never wanted to run while I was there. Culturally it was taboo (in my orthodox background) for a girl to be bouncing around the roads. Plus, I had to face jeers and leers (called Eve-teasing) from all kids of louts and crass guys of all ages. I went to India this past summer and even though I missed running terribly, I did not run outside. I walked with my mother who at 60 walks 1 hr in the morning and 1hr in the evening (in my traditional attire, even though I had packed modest clothes).

    But here in the US, I have never felt insecure as a woman of race/color running. I have been welcomed by my running group and that had nothing to do with my gender or color.

    In Indian circles here in the US, I’ve been admired and praised. When I invite them to run with me, they always say that they have to do this and that and chauffeur the kids. Now, my DH does everything on Saturdays (the day I run) and I do everything on Sundays (the day he runs). If they exchange kids with husbands, it is for cooking and household chores.
    The trade off here is – my house is always messy and meals are cooked on the fly. Theirs is always spotless and plenty of meal choices. My kids are not in activities on Saturdays and hence miss out on a lot of things like soccer, their kids are in a ton of activities and have a booming social life.

    So, I am definitely not the typical Indian mother/wife. Even though I am a mother runner.

  26. I have to second Nicole & Tanya – Black Girls Run. I’m a white runner in DC and I see BGR out on my runs all the time. They’re great.

  27. I’m an African American runner and I started running May of 2012 through BGR in Winston-Salem, NC (Black Girls Run). I agree with Tonya and Deyna that having a welcoming support group makes all the difference. Also, having a group that takes you from where you are as a novice runner is key.
    I think for African Americans it’s all about education, educating the runner. Many people have the desire to run but are’t sure as how to begin and what to expect along the journey.
    As Yuki stated it would be great if ALL runners would throw up a hand or give a smile while running, we all speak the same language as runners.

  28. I hesitate to speak on behalf of other mother runners of color of the SE Asian hue but my hunch is that there is a cultural aversion to women being athletic. As a young (tom boy) girl my mom would chastise me for wanting to play outdoors in the sun bc it would turn my tan brown skin into dark brown skin and as such make me less attractive in a culture where fair skin and “lady like” qualities are desirable traits.

    There is nothing “lady like” about the way I run – I feel like a gazelle but I am pretty sure that I look like a water buffalo 🙂 A water buffalo wearing running clothes that tend to cling and be fitted, which goes against the modesty that is drilled into SE Asian girls from a very young age. I grew up in Dubai where it can be close to 120F with 100% humidity in the summers yet I would go outside to play dressed in long sleeves ill fitting shirts and jeans so as to not expose any feminity and minimize the amount of skin exposed to the sun (I am not kidding here).

    And then there is the reality that when your parents grow up dirt poor they are a bit baffled when you embrace activities like running. My dad grew up in very poor circumstances had to walk for miles every day to get to and from school so I can understand why he isn’t so sure about me running miles for fun. It is the same reason he doesn’t get my family’s desire to camp 🙂

    I am headed back to Dubai for the first time in 8 years in March and the very first thing I did after buying the plane tickets was to look up local races scheduled for the time that we are visiting. I have invited all of my old high school friends to join me in a 10k and I am thrilled that one of them has signed up to do the race with me. We may well be the only two minority women there but I am ok with that bc two is better than none.

    Thank you, AMR for opening this dialogue. For what its worth, I have felt welcomed into the running community by every.single.runner that I have come across living in the PNW and of course by the mother runner tribe.

  29. Love this post! I started running/walking during a bootcamp over two years ago. I was one of two African-American women in the class. I decided to continue on my own. I don’t live in the ghetto or have child-care issues, but it just seems like running is not exposed to our community. When I run in my neighborhood, people stare. I live in a suburb of Chicago and my local running store is in a well-to-do suburb. I very rarely see anyone of color in this area. I also joined BGR, but the runs are not conducive to my schedule. For the longest time, my issue was my hair. Once I decided to embrace my natural hair, no chemicals at all, I was able to exercise freely. I know that haircare plays a predominant role as to why you don’t see persons of color, especially African-Americans. Also, we have the perception that being overweight is sexy. It’s encouraged in our community. These are just two reasons why I think that more women of color don’t run. I still need to join a running club that has a better schedule, but I don’t want to be left behind.

  30. I am an african american runner and a member of Black Girls Run (DC). I agree with Deyna, that exposure is key. Especially in certain cities. Living right outside the nations capitol its not unusual to see other black women at least out walking but running is another story. So many women assume that you have to hit the ground running a mile or two. I started out as the only black female at a 5k training class two years ago. It was taught in intervals, which is the best idea ever.

    I joined BGR back in June and our local BGR group has Couch to 5k meetups so that everyone can feel apart of the group and improve at their own pace. This group has meant the world to me and with their encouragement and support, I will be running my first Half (Divas Myrtle Beach) in a few months.

    Thanks for writing this post, its such an importan topic. Not just for african americans but for all women. Cant wait for the BGR Q&A.

  31. I think it has to do with income. This is not to say that non-whites are not affluent, but running has become a bourgeois sport, and the simple statistical fact is, in North America, there are more affluent white people than there are affluent people of colour. Runners World recently had a story on this subject–the lack of working class people in running. If running trickles down to become a mass sport (like soccer, let’s say), we’ll probably see more diversity in the sport.

    I don’t think it’s intentional racism or anything, just demographics. The stores in my city that hold running clinics are all located in the higher income neighbourhood and suburbs, so it’s unlikely people of any race who live in the lower income/more diverse parts of town would be able to make it in in time after work. And maybe even if they could, some might feel out of place.

    I’m a new runner and I run alone and my one tip to everyone, from all communities, but especially from the culturally dominant one (ie. white) is: try to say hi and smile when you meet another female runner, especially one who is not the same race as you!

    When I run on the path by the lake in our city, I make a point of nodding or waving to any other runners I cross paths with (all women, all men accompanied by women, plus any non-creepy seeming men), and I often get nada/nothing in return. I understand this may be due to general Canadian reticence, or fatigue, or being in the Zone, but it does miff me at times that I’m making the first move all the time…

    I think if, as a white person, you want to welcome more people of colour to the sport, one of the best and easiest things you can do is just smile and wave or say hi. It isn’t a big effort but trust me– it goes a really long way!

    Besides being new to running, I’m also starting triathlon–now that’s a white sport, LOL! I find the tri people at my local YMCA to be very friendly, and I’ll be joining a bike group with them next spring. Whenever the (white) woman who has become my sort of defacto tri mentor introduces me to new triathletes at the gym (white), they are all very welcoming and friendly! I’m talking: 60something Ironman dudes punching me in the arm like buddies, and women my age giving me wetsuit advice etc.

    That said, the bike training group trains out of a high-income suburb, which again, brings us back to the income-demographic issue–tri is not an “accessible” sport to low income people, which statistically, is going to include a higher number of people of colour. Tri is an expensive hobby, and it probably never will be accessible to the vast majority of people, however, running is likely to evolve–which is a good thing!

    Anyway, sorry for rambling, but the short version of my response is:

    1-As it stands now, runners tend to be more affluent than the national average. If attempts are made by running organizations, schools, community programs, and PEOPLE to get more people of all income levels running. we’ll see the “face” of running events evolve to become more representative of local populations;

    2-White people: if you want to be pro-active about making people of colour feel welcome, all you need to do is smile and say Hi!

    1. It is an interesting point you make, but I must be the exception to the trend. I am lower-middle class and that is the very reason I first chose running for my work-out- it is free. Now I run because I MUST. I seriously run now just to keep my sanity and running is definitely cheaper than therapy. Happy running, everyone!

        1. Yeah, I think that was one of the points the RW article made–it costs very little to run, so why aren’t more people from broad income strata doing it?!

          I hear you on the race fees. I’m middle class too so I wouldn’t qualify, but I’d love to see a sliding scale implemented on some races to encourage more low income families to try it.

  32. This post reminds me of the Olympics this year. After Gabby won the medal, she was criticized for her hair, even though it was the same style all of the gymnast wore. I watched Dominique Dawes talk about it later, she said that most of the criticism was coming from the African American community. She was very passionate about the entire topic, and focused on how more African Americans needed to set an example for children with exercise and health. She said that lots of African American women don’t exercise because of their hair. She was encouraging African American women to go natural, and start exercising, to start reversing a growing trend in health issues in the African American community.

  33. I believe the issue is exposure. As an African American woman, my exposure to the sport came when I joined a fitness club. A group of women were running and invited me to join them. I’ve been hooked ever since. That’s why groups like Black Girls Run are so important. It brings awareness that amateur women of color run.

    1. There was a black girls run group running the Philadelphia Marathon this year and they looked like they were having so much fun!! There were other group members that were cheering each other on. I almost wanted to ask if I could run with them.

      There was also a group called “Students Run Philly” there. It was mostly monority kids and I was so impressed by them. Hopefully groups like this will encourage more diversity in running.

  34. Back in the day, there used to be very few women at all. What happened to make women become an equal(ish) presence in running? Could the same paradigm shift need to happen for women of color (people of color) to be more of a presence? I live in Atlanta and my running group is very diverse!

  35. No answers from me either but I think it’s an important question to raise. We all know that young kids watch the adult runners and we want them to see diversity and acceptance of ALL.

  36. I’m loathe to assume that people don’t feel welcome. As a mixed-race runner, I’ve never experienced that feeling myself. Granted, I’ve only run 2 races so far (waiting on my first half marathon in March), but there’s no sense of being excluded by others. My mother runs a local 5k each year back home and loves it…though she’s one of the few black runners simply because there aren’t many black people in Utah at all!

    I don’t think any of the influences you mentioned can be given as viable reasons in and of themselves that minorities are such a minority in the running community. It’s not as if we’re all poor with no friends to watch our kids living in unsafe neighbourhoods. Granted, some of us are, but that’s not a helpful stereotype to perpetuate if we’re trying to figure out why running seems like such an overwhelmingly white sport. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on the topic, because like you I don’t know *why* it’s the case, but it does feel like a shame that the sport doesn’t feel as diverse as it could.

    1. Oh, also: I said “back home”…I’m an expat mother runner over in the UK, and I can see the same sort of trend at events over here. Running still seems like a middle-class pursuit, and that happens to also mean it ends up being a predominantly white pursuit as well.

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