Lacking Diversity… and How to Change That

Most of the best friends I have in this world are trail runners. I, of course, know a lot of great people who are not trail runners, but when I meet people who are a part of the trail running community, they are almost always people who are enjoyable to be around. I think it’s easy to feel this way about any community that we ourselves have chosen to be such an active part of, but I also think that running in the mountains helps to nurture a happy, healthy, and compassionate personality.

All of this said, I do think there is something lacking in the trail running culture: diversity. Specifically financial and ethnic diversity. Next time you’re at a race look around. Yes, there are a lot of middle and upper middle class white people in this country, but not to the tune of the 90%+ that the demographic at a trail race might indicate. I know there are a lot of lower income trail runners out there, but most of these are people that are choosing to work very little, or work very flexible jobs so that they can focus more on their running. i.e., the “run bums.” Sometimes it might seem like these types are higher in numbers than they really are because with all this focus on running they tend to make up a large percentage of the runners who regularly place near the front of the pack. When you really look closely though, there just aren’t that many non-white and/or lower economic class individuals taking part in this sport.

It’s easy to say that this is just the way it is, and that there are thousands of interests in this world which seem for one reason or another to be class or race dominated. To some extent, I think this is true. The modern culture of running has always kind of been this way, and maybe it always will be this way. Certainly, I don’t think that any of this is a result of any kind of intentional exclusion or discrimination. I do however feel that this dynamic is unfortunate.

As I said above, I think running is an activity that tends to nurture happiness, health, and compassion (among other things). I also think that running is a very accessible activity. Almost every person on this planet knows how to run. It is something that our species has done with regularity for thousands of years, and it is something nearly everyone does extensively as a child. The other thing about running is that it is essentially the most affordable athletic activity one can take part in. Nearly everyone already owns everything they would need to go out for a run.

For these reasons, I feel like it’s unfortunate that running has such an homogenized culture. I think most people who run regularly are better people because of it, and I wish this were something that was regularly practiced by a larger variety of people. Not to say that I think running is necessary to become a better person, but just that those who do become passionately involved in running seem to benefit from that involvement, and it would be great to see more diversity among these people. I think we could all learn a lot if this were the case.

What can be done then to encourage people outside of the normal demographic to consider giving it a try? Probably all we really can do is to encourage and support people who might not come across as the type who would ever be interested in running themselves. I have done this by accident a couple times recently, and was really encouraged by the way they responded. I even had a women who likely hasn’t run in decades ask me if I thought it would be okay for her to run even though she smokes. Jokingly, I told her that if she takes up running she could use it as an excuse to smoke even more. Hopefully she didn’t take me too seriously, but maybe seriously enough that she decides to go out for a run soon.

Typically, I don’t like talking to strangers about my running, especially if they don’t look like the “running type.” Lately though, I’ve found myself more interested in the “non running type,” because what I think the running community could use more than anything are a whole lot more “non-runners.” If you get a chance, help me spread the word. In the end, we might see this really great community evolve into an even greater, more diverse community, something which I think we would all benefit from.

There are 98 comments

  1. Tony Covarrubias

    Bobby, "just run," is my advice. You will have the BS no matter where you go or what you do. Sorry you weren't made to feel welcome … sometimes ultra running is lonely. But stick to what you love. I love it and no one and nothing will deter me from runing. I've competed in ultras since 1998 (marathons since 1976) and let my love for the sport live on my face (I tend to smile a lot while running). I think the smile invites people to smile back cause I get a lot in return.

  2. Tony Covarrubias

    Interesting and good to note. I used to say, "running is a cheap sport," cause it was when I started running (mid-70s). I would buy a $5 pair of no name shoes and run in them until they fell apart. Bought my own shoes with money I earned from my paper route so $5 was a lot of money to me. My first marathon back in 1976 cost $3 and I remember complaining to my friends saying, "what do they need to money for, all I get is water?" (I was only 15 so I didn't understand/know about the cost that goes into a race).

    Gear is rediculous these days. Even so, you don't have to buy all the gear that people do. Just sayin'. For example, GU – make your own.

  3. Tony Covarrubias

    Agreed Bryon. Table salt, regular food, cheap (inexpensive) shoes, shorts that will last for many years, put on a FA style race … money doesn't have to be the reason. I pay too much for races now (and there are some, like BW, that I refuse to pay entry for), but I now can aford it – and it's my only hobby.

  4. Tony Covarrubias

    Merrie, I think the "pioneers" have to come from within the culture. Not sure how old your son is but I can imagine a child watching what all the other kids are doing … why would he want to go running?

  5. Tony Covarrubias

    Wayne, most of the best ultra runners from history (late 1800s, early 1900s) were the type you describe. Not the "8 hours on my feet" type but farmers, ranchers, etc. I think they were better because they were stronger. My hypothesis is that I have to work harder because I'm on my butt more than 8 hours a day. One of the toughest things to do from an office worker's perspective is to go exercise after coming home – which is why I either run during lunch or head out for a run BEFORE heading home. If you sit on your butt in front of the TV, it's all over.

  6. Tony Covarrubias

    YES – This is very cool. I just wish Anchorage had more ultras (50Ks and such) and on the road. Guess I'm gonna have to put on some FA style races next summer. BTW: just got back from a run with my wife … now it's snowing (Oct 13th). It's gonna be a long winter.

  7. Marco

    I've been looking at thread for awhile. It's difficult to comment without getting political. I'll try not too.

    I'm not for diversity, but I'm for whichever people will love the sport, clean the trails, teach and recruit, take the initiative to cut trail, chainsaw blow downs, etc.

    I'm colorblind. I'm non-white but that means more to some others than it does to me. I'm more interested in character and worldview; another biggie for me is work ethic. See you on the trails.

  8. Kimmy Swain

    Thanks for the great articles. The name is Kimmy Swain i am here in Austin Texas looking to run until the day i die. 7863870767

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