Throwing on a pair of running shoes and heading out the door is one of the cheapest, simplest forms of exercise. But when two college friends took up running to burn off some of the freshman 15-pound weight gain, their families and friends couldn’t relate.
“[They] would ask us what we were doing, and when we said ‘running,’ they would look baffled,” said Toni Carey. She started running shortly after graduating Middle Tennessee State University, inspired by watching her friend Ashley Hicks take up the sport. Both Carey and Hicks are African-American, and they say they also felt excluded at the races they attended.
“We would be the only black people there,” Carey says, “and we never got a warm welcome. It was like, ‘are you guys in the right place?'”
That’s likely because Carey and Hicks are, in fact, a rarity. The 2013 National Runner survey, an annual report by Running USA of nearly 25,000 American runners, showed that only 3.3 percent of African-Americans were classified as “core runners” — defined as those who compete in races and train year-round. That’s compared to 88.1 percent of runners who were white, 5.2 who were Hispanic and 4.1 who were Asian or Pacific Islander. (Respondents could select more than one ethnicity, so that’s why those numbers add up to more than 100 percent.)
So Carey and Hicks decided to do something to encourage their community to join the activity they loved. They began by blogging about their races and training, and then, Carey says, “It took a life of its own.”
That was 2009, and “it” became an online group called Black Girls RUN! Today, nearly 70 running groups exist across the United States, with about 61,000 members. The Black Girls RUN! Facebook page has over 70,000 “likes,” and the Twitter feed has almost 17,000 followers.