African-American Runners on the Rise! Here's Why To Consider It.


Runners in Berlin #berlinblackish2017
By Mwabi Kaira

It was winter 2012 and I had my fuzzy slippers on, sipping on a cup of tea with my feet up flipping through my copy of Essence magazine when I read something about Black women runners. I took a mental note and thought one day I’ll run something and went about my day. At the top of the year I met Shonda, my college friend for lunch, and she brought along another friend. Turns out, that friend belonged to the same organization I was reading about; Black Girls Run! I told her I was interested and in March I laced up my tennis shoes and went to my first Black Girls Run! I couldn’t run to the mailbox at the time, but something inside told me I could do this and I listened.

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I was a good runner all the way up until fifth grade when puberty hit, yes I was an early bloomer. I noticed the audience of boys started getting larger at the finish line and that was the end of that for this shy girl. My first run with BGR in 2013 was a struggle...It was 3 miles and I think I only got through a mile and a half because I didn’t get the directions right and instead of getting lost I decided to just go back to my car. And I didn’t run the whole distance. I pushed myself to run a block then walk until I caught my breath before running again. The following week, I went back and was encouraged by the women of BGR to just do my best. I made it past the point I stopped the week prior, so I felt pretty good. I kept going back week-after-week and the consistency paid off; my breathing got controlled as I ran, I found my cadence and eventually I could run the entire 3 miles without stopping. The weekly BGR meet-ups became so much more than about running but about sisterhood and encouragement. Their mantra is “no woman left behind” and these ladies will wait for you no matter what your speed is. The faster ladies will finish the route and actually come back and run beside you till you finish and all the women are waiting with high fives and cheers of good job. These ladies taught me what running shoes to buy, what kind of compression pants and sports bra to get, and had running tips. I ran my first 5K that May and my first 10K that October. I couldn’t believe that I was a runner! No one was more surprised than me when I signed up for my first half marathon and ran it in March 2014.

Mwabi Kaira

The running joke has always been that African-Americans don’t run unless they’re being chased. Running was just not something we did for pleasure. Case in point, in 2011 only 1.6 percent of runners in the United States identified as African-American. But that’s changing.

Ashley Hicks-Rocha and Toni Carey founded Black Girls RUN! in 2009. The movement really took off in 2011 when a group of black women met to run the Publix Half Marathon. BGR offers weekly runs all over the country. Black Men Run followed suit in 2013. All these groups were created with our health in mind; our numbers for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease have always been alarming. Running on a regular basis and controlling what we eat changes these numbers drastically.

Michelle Richardson was almost 300 pounds when she decided to take control of her health and weight. She changed what she ate and started exercising, first taking walks and moving up to jumping rope. As she dropped weight she added running. It was not easy but she kept at it and refused to quit. Michelle says, “I use to be that overweight girl wishing that I could do it. I remember struggling through my first 5K and now here I am with over 120 pounds lost naturally and I have run over 11 half marathons and 1 full marathon. I am so proud of myself and know if I can do it with discipline anyone can.”

Michelle Richardson
Another movement was born in 2016 when Heather King decided to ask other African-Americans to run the Georgia Publix Marathon with her. This is not a popular marathon because it is considered one of the toughest courses. It was the actual course used for the 1996 Olympics. I had several half marathons under my belt and signed up along with 500 others from all over the United States and 3 countries. We trained and made history on March 19, 2017 as Team Take down Publix. We now travel together to run in Berlin, Jamaica, Paris, Miami and wherever there is a race. We encourage each other on the course and party afterwards. We have our elite runners who make record time and break records and we have runners like me who are not fast but cross the finish line in our own time. Even Kevin Hart caught the bug and ran the New York City Marathon on November 5th.

Today, the number of African-American runners has jumped to over 8% and will continue to rise. If you are interested in joining the movement, look up Black Girls RUN! and Black Men Run and meet them for a run. I’m warning you, it might become a habit that will take you to places you never imagined. If you have the desire, we will get you across the finish line.

Are you a runner or have you considered it?

Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her at http://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com/

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