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 97 comments

  1. David T

    I think the three best ways to encourage greater diversity in trail running are to: 1) support cross country in urban middle and high schools, 2) support urban parks and trail systems, and 3) support programs that provide opportunities for urban youth to visit wild places after school, on weekends, and over the summer.

    It is all about exposure and opportunity.

  2. Brian

    I think there are some hard cultural truths at play here. People with more money have more time to spend doing leisure activities. I know when I was living hand to mouth, the last thing I was concerned about was whether or not I got a run in that day. It was more about "How am I going to pay the rent?" Combine that with the fact that most people were never really encouraged to run long distance in their formative years… I was in school here in the "deep South" in the 80's and 90's and at least where I lived, marathoning was still such a fringe activity that I knew maybe 2-3 people that had run a marathon until I connected with my local running groups in the city where I now live.

    My kids' public elementary school has a "running club" once a week where basically the kids lap the school track for an hour in a semi-contest to see who can get the most laps in. They, along w/ the other schools in the city, are also urged to attend a series of fun runs spread across the school year. My 9 year old is already bored w/ the 5k distance and my 5 year old has already run more than I ever did until maybe college. It's really had a positive impact and I can't help but think programs like that will generate more lifelong runners of all types.

    1. boisean

      Agreed. When people are working hard just to 'make it,' and have precious little left over, they are not likely to spend $50 dollars and up (in most cases) to run for hours on end for NO monetary reward.

  3. Wyatt Hornsby

    I agree with David–we need to encourage cross country in urban/inner city schools. We need someone like Dave Horton (who has introduced more young people to this sport than probably anyone) to turn kids in urban environments on to long-distance running. Unfortunately, many (but by no means all) of the kids from these environments look to basketball or football, not academics and certainly not running, as their "way out."

    I do think there's more diversity within the running community than is intimated in Geoff's column. I know runners who are former alcoholics and drug pushers and discovered running as a way to get and stay clean. By the same token, I know runners who live in the 'burbs and are classic upper middle class. I know "run bums." I know guys and gals who have running near the center of their life. And I know folks who enjoy running but it's not the end-all, be-all of their existance. I've known runners who are doctors, and others who are electricians and plumbers. My point is that it's easy to look superficially at the sport and its participants and say we lack diversity. But when you get into the hearts and minds of ultrarunners, you'll see that we're all different and have differing motivations–and yet we're bound by our love of running far. In that regard, ultrarunning, like many things in life, is very diverse. Only we have to look beyond the superficial to see this.

    Wyatt

  4. Yeti

    Interesting thoughts Geoff. As a lower economic class trail runner myself, I certainly don't see many people at the few races that I've participated in that look like me – i.e., 10 yr. old running shorts, cotton t-shirt, burnt-up kicks. Instead, I see people that look like they have every gadget and luxury a runner could ask for – i.e., top dollar shoes and clothes, Garmin watch, racing vests bursting at the seams with Gu's and trail treats, etc…and to a man(and woman), all very, very white.

    That being said, I believe "diversity" in running is already very much present though. Go to practically any urban park in the country and you'll find every demographic under the sun out for a jog or running windsprints. It's at the races where the division really becomes apparent and that is probably a result of the steep entry fee. I certainly won't ever be paying $100+ to run somewhere I can just go to on my own with a little gas money and a couple buds to split the costs with. Running is free after all and as long as most races cost what they do, you'll never see "us" participating in any significant number. But believe me, we're out there and we love running as much as anyone, we just won't be spending our rent money on it. Thank you irunfar for letting me at least follow along from a distance! Keep up the excellent writing Geoff and feel better soon!

    1. Brad

      I definitely agree! As a recent college grad that can't pay my rent and my student loans at the same time, I definitely can't afford to race. I run about 60 miles a week as "entertainment." Race pricing is super prohibitive, and even running clubs cost more than I can afford to pay. When the choice is between having the lights on, and having a fun Saturday morning, I unfortunately have to choose the lights. Running is definitely as cheap as sports get, but the racing and social side of our sport is certainly unbalanced economically.

      1. Jeff Faulkner

        A solution to high race entry prices: pacing. I've paced twice, it's a great way to participate in the social dynamics of ultradistance trail races while not costing a fortune. In addition, you can really help out a fellow runner. We can all do with a little more good karma.

        1. olga

          Pacing is a very neat solution, however generally you're expected to get yourself to the race and only be provided a bed a night before and probably a car if you stick to the same schedule.

          It's a combination of costs of racing, clubs, and cultural experiences. When I take my son to boxing during a week, I run/walk in a neighborhood that is not most stellar in parts, and what those folks do is teach kids to play soccer (I will go as far as say that Mexican population cultivates soccer by far more than running). When I lived in NYC, Harlem and South Bronx was preferring playing basketball. I don't think there is anything wrong with what whomever picks as time-passing. As long as it is something other than drugs and too much TV. Why so bleak viewing?

          The first commenter David T. gets my vote on exposure and opportunity.

        2. Vanessa

          This article talks about that – http://www.trailrunningclub.com/blog/2012/10/01/p

          One problem is that we always want our friends or "better" runners to pace us, and don't always want to take a chance on a "newer" runner.

          Article says that every once in a while we should go out of our way to support new pacers who are just getting into the sport, instead of only having experienced runners pace us.

          Jay Danek was my very first pacing gig, and he did this for me. I learned SO MUCH from pacing him. He finished his 100 in 20 hours, and I paced him a few miles even though my 100 time was 29 hours on an easier course. I was much less experienced than he was, but he gave me the opportunity to get out there.

          1. Jeff Faulkner

            I personally would not say no to a "stranger" who was inclined to spend an entire night schlepping through the woods to keep me safe. They certainly will not be a stranger to me by the end of the race. And I've paced strangers and family members alike, both were rewarding in their right.

    2. Wyatt Hornsby

      Yeti: All good points, except I think it's unfair to say "all very white"! That said, for the past few years I've been that guy at the start with the $170 Hokas, fancy GPS watch, iPod, etc. And guess what? It doesn't make a freaking difference–in fact, I would argue it's a distraction. We succeed in races because of what we have in our heart and how we trained. The beauty of running is that anyone can do it, as Geoff says–whether you have $170 Hokas or shoes from Famous Footwear. In that respect, our sport is as egalitarian as they come.

      Wyatt

      1. Mike Hinterberg

        …but we train because of the luxury and enjoyment of being able to do so.

        The consumerist aspects make things more "fun" for a lot of runners, as does the ability to get out on sublime trails, or be excited about signing up for and training for a race. Plus treadmills, gyms, massages, healthier food, exotic supplements, sports therapy for injuries — this actually makes running "easy" for people like us. Not everyone has this opportunity, nowhere near it.

        I'm not saying we have to feel guilty — in fact we owe it to ourselves to make great use of our leisure time and money rather than wasting it on destructive alternatives — but I think we should keep some honest perspective in mind as well.

  5. Elena Makovskaya

    I just wish our government and park authorities were on board with such initiatives sometimes. Mike Arnstein and Mike Oliva had a great thing going in Bronx, NY – Holiday Marathons. It was cross country trail in Van Cortland Park in Bronx, 6.2 mile loop that they marked every holiday and you could run as many loops as you with. They had awards, food and everything and these runs took place on every major holiday (http://www.theholidaymarathons.com/). All those marathons were totally FREE for the public – just show up, get your number (every one was #1), and run and then get your holiday specific awards (bunny ears for Easter, foks and spoons for Thxgiving, etc). It was great event and attracted a lot of ppl – both runners and the "non-running type". Bronx is also one of those communities where there are a lot of people of the "non-running type" and lower income ones. But all of a sudden after about a year of having those marathons they lost their permit from the park (cannot think of any reason why, but I believe it is due to the fact that park has decided to pave some major trails and both Mikes were not supporting of the idea, saying that Bronx has plenty of pavement already and gorgeous natural trails are better off being the way they are) So, as a result of the loss of the permit, the great running events no longer exist.. People (incl myself) have complained to all sorts of offices here in NYC to bring them back, but so far no luck. :(( So, what I am saying here is that it would be really nice to have our authorities to pay more attention to stuff like that instead of passing another "soda ban" law or smth like that.. If more pll exercised and ran there would be no need for all these absurd food laws that they spend their time and efforts to argue about.. Just my 2 cents.

  6. Mike Hinterberg

    Great article, Geoff, because it breaks a little bit from the "happy sunshine" view of ultrarunning and homogeneity of opinion as well as demographic that is often in the sport. Only by recognizing this disparity, discussing it, and approaching it, can we solve these disparities — not by ignoring them.

    Sure, there are counterexamples as noted above, and there is the ability and presence for runners of varied demographics to do some running, but there are noticeable and very real barriers to everyone having the same access to enjoy running anywhere near the level that many of us do on this site. Parks and trails in urban areas (as discussed) are a start: as an example of disparity, consider Santa Ana, California — a "park poor" and lower income area that barely has any green grass for kids to play in — yet is in one of the richest counties in the country.

    Besides parks, various areas have terrible walkability and sidewalk infrastructure, and significantly more crime than the comparable utopias that many of us run in.

    And it's not just cities, as plenty of exurbs may lack sidewalks, crosswalks, etc.

    Infrastructure issues are a major disparity.

    Income and money have already been mentioned. Granted, folks can still run for free, but races (even small 5k's) can provide a richer, deeper experience and connection to running and keep people motivated. There are some examples (perhaps one that Wyatt is referring to) in terms of things like Denver Rescue Mission providing training, entry, and gear to homeless folks to run a marathon (awesome!) — ideas and partnerships like this are critical gateways for disadvantaged folks. Many local races have a free entries for kids, which is a great equalizer across demographics. Otherwise, we seem to be seeing the biggest growth at the top end in terms of amenities — bands, food, technical clothing, schwag, and bling — but there's plenty of room at the "bottom end" for the no-frills running events. Bless the old-school directors focused on lowering the bottom line for everyone.

    As income and education are also inversely correlated to obesity, sadly, the kids that need the exercise the most have the hardest time getting started. (Think about how much more painful and joyless it is/was to start getting running when we all first did it). School health and wellness programs, and even basic PE classes, attempt to address this, but also have disparities in funding across different communities.

    Lastly, there's the wilderness connection and trail running. More than 90% of NP visitors are white. There are efforts to attract minorities. "Simple" things like trailhead fees can be cost-prohibitive for some, as well as access issues (e.g. access to a car). And, obviously, wilderness isn't as accessible geographically to everyone, hence urban outreach programs.

    Anyway, great topic, Geoff. The problems are deep and multifactorial, so perhaps there are ways we all can help chip away at the problem from different angles…or bring up additional ideas, please!

    1. Vanessa

      When I started running, I was a starving student living close to school in a really shady area. I loved to run, but could not even afford a 5K. The people in my local running club had much more money and I didn't feel comfortable running with them, because they would often "go out" for meals or drinks afterwards, and I couldn't afford to participate.

      It was also extremely dangerous to run in my neighborhood – a lot of crime, men hanging out on street corners, homeless people living the streets, etc. The trails were a good drive away, and I didn't have a car so could not access them. My free time was also limited trying to balance school and multiple jobs. My hands were tied in every aspect.

      Because running was my passion, I made tremendous sacrifices to run anyway. But I risked my safety on a regular basis, and often had to skip meals because of running. Yes, the physical act of running is free. But running (especially trail running and racing) is NOT accessible to everyone. (PS – I'm Hispanic)

    2. KenZ

      Mike,I like what you're sayin'!

      I think the question gets posed back to "the community" and even race directors as to how to influence the diversity issue.

      For instance, many races have a trail stewardship requirement. But why not have an option to volunteer x hours at one of these running stewardship programs, like the Denver Rescue Mission mentioned above. Or, as someone below pointed out, have a race director tack on a few extra bucks to the fee (for those who can pay it; not sure how to determine that; maybe have the race shirt optional, cost $20, but all extra proceeds from the shirt go to a local organization).

      One example in addition to the Denver mission noted above is http://www.girlsontherun.org/ They have chapters all over the US (and world I think). Again, donation to this type of organization, or having volunteering at one of these take place of trail work helps to build that community.

  7. Coach Weber

    Geoff states: "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 …"

    A rather wild generalization in my opinion. To state that 'most of these' people who participate in the sport who are lower income **choose** to 'work very little' so they can 'focus more on their running' is at best unproven and at worst … offensive.

    Folks can make low/modest incomes for any number of reasons … especially these days.

    I agree with the notion that it would be great to see greater diversity in the sport.

    Wishing everyone well and good running,

    Scott

    1. Mike Hinterberg

      I think Geoff meant "successful, competitive trail runners." And rather than being offensive, I think he was trying to draw a compassionate distinction between a young person vagabonding volitionally (and good for them!) with perhaps a strong network of family and friend support, if not some sponsorship; or (some but not all) college students that are poor but have a flexible schedule, health care, and decent career prospects; versus people that are low income despite their willingness (lost job, disability, etc.) that classically make up the "poor" in this country, and have enough life stress so as to preclude a serious commitment to running.

      1. Vanessa

        I felt included in the "work little by choice to focus on running" crowd, and know several others who live this way as well. It's a little different than other "poor" runners, but we're out there :) Young person vagabonding is a good way to put it.

      2. Coach Weber

        Geoff continues: "Sometimes it might seem like these types (lower income)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.

        Really?

        1. Jamie

          Just look at the results of this past weekend: Dakota and Anton both have lived out of their trucks much of the spring/summer. I see more people heading this route lately, though that may be just that I am more closely following the Ultra world.

          I will admit, there are times this lifestyle seems very appealing.

          1. Jeff Faulkner

            Yeah, I missed my opportunity at living a care-free life by joining the military and starting a family at a young age. I think it would be fun to do that for a year, too.

  8. Aaron

    I have to assume that either lower income folks in the city can't get to the trails or simply can't afford the races. As someone with very little to spare I can at least relate my own experience.

    I have a park that I can get to on a regular basis because it's just a couple miles from work. If not for that, I would probably do almost all of my running on roads. All the other trails in the region become a significant gas expense if I try to run them more than once or twice a month.

    Race access is the other big one. Fees + travel + lodging rules out everything more than several hours drive away. And that's only because I get really good gas mileage. Currently there's no cheaper way to travel to a race. You can save money by camping, but don't count on a peaceful night. At least when you pay 10 bucks for a campsite a DNIF doesn't lead financial regret to add onto the disappointment.

  9. Orion Robert Hearns

    It's a cultural issue. Some culturals, towns, people are just not active in anything. Money plays a part but it's more of an attitude and the spirit of adventure many don't have and never will. They ask why when they should be asking why not.

  10. OOJ

    Good article and discussion. Interestingly, this could be "microcosmic" of what should be an over-arching goal in our society: Preservation by increased participation.

    In my "Falcon Guide" for the Beartooth Mountains, the author writes about the conundrum of more people in a valuable space: is it good, or does it over-stress?

    His argument is that more people experiencing the wilderness will create more respect for the land and the people who love it. And by doing so, efforts to preserve and sustain will only grow.

    The same can be said for running – and ultrarunning: the more folks who can be exposed to it will lead – not to its destruction – but SUSTAINED culture of commmunity, support, and land management/preservation.

    1. adam

      Depends on the country! In a country like the U.S. with a long rich history of trails and wild-lands preservation, no problem. In other parts of the world, not so much… Enforcement, trail advocates, vast amounts of scientific data and government sponsored trail crews make a massively underappreciated impact here.

      Lots of countries (maybe most) are far to concerned with the here and now of economic gain and just get food on the table jobs to give a rats ass about preservation. Preservation is a U.S. thing.

  11. StephenJ

    I'm a middle-aged and middle-class. I don't care if a race costs $10 or $300. At this point in my life, it's not a big deal. But that wasn't always the case. I remember what it was like to be a poor college student.

    I think it would be cool for races to setup a "scholarship" fund for runners that couldn't afford the entry fee, and then ask runners when they signup if they would like to donate to the fund. I wouldn't mind chipping in an extra $20 when signing up for a race. (Maybe the running gods would even bless me for doing so.) There would be a limited number of free spots, that could be given out by lottery.

    1. Justin McMillan

      Stephen,

      I like that idea. I am an older, fairly poor full-time college student. I was able to do the recent Runrabbitrun 100, but only because of some family supplemental support. If I had been completely independent, I would not have been able to afford the $275 fee, let alone gas, lodging, food, etc. I would be willing to chip in for those less fortunate than I. (All that being said, the race was awesome, and I know it takes a lot of effort and money to put on such an event!)

  12. Shaft

    Here's an elephant in the room question: Are we ultrarunners because we have certain personality qualities, such as drive and relentless discipline, that, in many cases, translate to "success" in life (by success I'm referring to our collective above-average socioeconomic status)? Do most "poor" people lack those qualities? That raises the big question: Is poverty a choice? And by poor I'm not talking about a poor grad student living on Ramen and running ultra-level miles (many years ago I did just that–put myself through grad school while working at Starbucks–been there, done that). I'm talking about people–of all races, I would add–who are poor because they didn't graduate from high school, they had a kid when they were 16, they grew up without a mom and/or dad, etc. Before folks get all offended, please know I mean no offense. I'm just trying to open up some healthy debate here.

    1. art

      I think your question has been studied often and debated heatedly regarding society in general. Do we need to go there in this conversation? Depending on which side of the aisle you sit, the answer is obvious one way or the other (when in fact its not at all).

    2. StephenJ

      You're confusing drive and relentless discipline with obsession, over-indulgence, and poor decision making. Ultrarunners are ultrarunners because they got addicted to running instead or heroin.

  13. Wayne

    When you say that it's mostly middle and upper class people out on the trails, the first thing I think is office jobs. I would suspect that folks who work very physical blue collar jobs are much less likely to become runners because when they get home from work they're physically tired and have been exercising all day. When I worked in retail, after 8 hours on my feet running was the last thing on my mind. Just a hypothesis.

    1. Johnny W.

      Good point. I'm an office worker who sits in a chair all day and can still barely get the energy to run after work. I can't imagine what it would be like for those that work more physical, blue collar jobs.

  14. Jonathan

    Kids need to be introduced to plain running and getting outdoors, period. Cross country is too specific. The XC kids at my school are the ones who run high mileage and march to a different beat, like us ultra runners. I am a teacher in Texas and I've started working with an organization called Katy Students Run. We take high school students who are not particularly active in any clubs, organizations, or sports and train them to run the Houston Half Marathon each January. Most are of low socioeconomic status. The aim is to teach them goal setting skills that they can translate to other areas of life. I certainly hope they catch the bug to run. The more we get kids to run in our schools the more kids will open their eyes to something they are good at.

    I do not think Texas has this diversity problem as may be the case in other parts of the country. All one has to do is run a Tejas Trail race to see the diversity. Last Rocky we had deaf runners, fast young studs, and a ton of runners in their 50s and 60s of all backgrounds. My favorites were the older men and women who were able to gut it out and finish.

  15. J.Xander

    1. It's a cultural thing. As stated by many here, National Parks and State Parks are visited primarily by white middle class folks.

    2. Trails are primarily in National and State Parks.

    3. Ultrarunning is primarily run on trails.

    4. Trail running in general, like ultra's, probably has the same demographic.

    I don't think running lacks diversity; Track and Field is dominated by black people in the US. I saw very few "white" sprinters at the Olympics.

    So if we are talking about trail running and if we want to increase the color of our sport you have to start with increase of appreciation of our natural areas (as commentor David T. pointed out).

    But all of this discussion still makes me wonder:

    Why is diversity for diversities sake necessary? Isn't this sport still getting off the ground, I mean how many people were there at the start of an Ultra a decade ago compared to now? Isn't this sport super popular in Europe? If a Spainard toes the line at an Ultra in the U.S. does that add the color you are talking about? Or, are you talking about a specific type of diversity here?

    I love ultrarunning for the sake of running and the types of people it attracts. They mostly seem like good people brought to the sport by a love of mountains, trails and some drive to push their own limits. If we build it they will come and thanks to folks like Bryon, this sport is staring to come of age. The sport will evolve. There seems to be no need to promote for diversities sake, unless I am missing something.

    1. Orion Robert Hearns

      Trail Running is an individual pursuit. Why worry that people of color aren't doing it? My father is a famer in South Dakota, not too many people of color are farmers. Farmers don't care who else is a farmer. If the sport of Ultra Running grows out of cult status into "the next big thing", it will lose it's appeal for many runers. Still, we live in a 10 second sound bite world where I-phones are glued to hands and youth is wasted on trival, stupid pursuits like gaming. I doubt many people are going to jump into distance running anytime soon, not in this country. But still, we even worry about diversity. Don't go all P.C. on running, and no, it's not something that needs to be discussed further.

  16. Jerome

    I've been reading that too much exercise is bad for you.

    The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can make up a new sport for white people to be good at.

  17. Nic

    Interesting article Geoff! Your writing is always very insightful. As a Nutrition and Physical Activity promotion major at University (Yes, I'm in Australia) and a trail runner this sparked particular interest as the bulk of my work revolves around just this. How do we get people active and living a healthy lifestyle? Not exclusively trail runner of course but it certainly fits the build. Many of the comments above are indeed correct with money, exposure and facilities being key determinants of participation in physical activity such as running. But the literature shows that by far the most commonly given barrier to exercise is TIME, men cite work commitments and women cite family commitments (I know seems sexist in this day and age but that’s what the data shows!) This is in spite of many of these people watch over double the amount of TV recommended each day.

    I personally ran track all through high school and after a bit of a break got back into running and particularly trail running after living in Colorado for 2 years. After moving back to OZ I was daunted by the fact that many, if not all, trail races here started a 30ks (few) with most falling in the 50k+ territory. This I feel would be a serious barrier for many to enter a trail race, time, cost and gear parameters aside. Self-efficacy (belief in one’s own ability to complete a task) is a key factor in participation and it would take a healthy dose to put down your cold hard cash and a leap of faith into a 50k or even 30k event.

    While I’m aware there are far more shorter distance races is the US it is only recently that a short course trail series started here (races <15k) and no more that 45min from major capital city…..and you guessed it, wildly well received with the first race getting nearly 1000 entrants.

    So while time, money, facilities are all pieces of the pie when it comes to getting new people out on the trail I feel there is a lot to be said for how trail running is framed, especially is common media, the only time we ever here about trail running in the news is when someone has achieved something herculean such as running across a desert or alike. It’s like promoting the ideal that in order to play tennis a game against Rafael Nadal is your first port of call.

    Perhaps we as trail runners can be a catalyst in the way we propagate our sport and make it less daunting for those who may be keen to give it a try……Just a thought!

  18. MikeC AK

    Anchorage's Tuesday Night Run series is impressive. All ages, 3 separate races munchkin(little guys), farm(non competitive), and Lightning(competitive). These are trail runs, 1,100+ people show up in a town of ~300,000. It’s $30 for the 8 race series, $60 for the entire family pass, most people can afford that. Informal and fun.

    A group of local Olympians and others organize kids fun runs in the schools as well. My girlfriend says her kindergarten class LOVES it. A lot of those kids come and run in the races.

    Good time had by all.

    1. J.Xander

      True. Great race series, but still to the point, what is the demographic of the Tuesday Night Races? When you look around it seems to support what everyone here is saying. Anchorage is a really diverse city with large Samoan, native, Asian, etc…communities throughout.

      On my side of town the ball fields are dominated by Samoan families all summer playing softball. I don't see a lot of other ethnic style families out there, white or otherwise (this is all purely observational).

      Similarly, at the Tuesday night races I don't see a lot of Samoan families and I see a lot of Chariot's, which are quite costly.

      1. MikeC AK

        The girlfriend teaches at a low income elementary school. Socioeconomic diversity is there.

        I agree, not very diverse ethnically, but much more diverse than any other running event in the area.

        1. Hone

          The Tuesday night race series is a blast. When I lived up there I would run them all of the time. I love the running community up there. It is more diverse than most places.

  19. Eric

    I haven's see this much hand-wringing and guilt since my college ethnic studies classes!

    Certain groups are more inclined to participate in certain sports, enough said.

  20. Brank

    I played basketball all year round from the time i was 12 or so through high school. Most of the time I was the only white guy on the team. None of the other guys on the team said, "i wish this team was more diverse". The team was diverse. When I think back, I have good memories of my friends on those teams. I remember the things they said, the moves on the court, the tournaments we traveled to etc.

    Sorry Geoff, gotta disagree with you on this one. There plenty of diversity in trail running. Maybe I missed the point, but we gotta quit looking at people based on their wrapper.

  21. Curtis

    I know it's just anecdotal, but in my trail running community it is largely lower income to middle class runners. Many of them minorities. Most of them, based on the industries in my town, are blue collar workers. They race in local and area races but I don't know of them traveling far for races as that takes more time and money.

  22. Tom

    Totally dig Geoff and all that he has done for the sport of ultra running, but this is (along with many of the responses) an idealistic, over-reaching attempt at political correctness. Diversity is always welcome in every sport, because it makes the sport better. But we owe nothing to other races, cultures, genders, sexual preferences, or any other group when we hit that trail or sign up for that race–it is a selfish, individual choice. These things will happen naturally when they are meant to be, and we should all be at peace with that fact.

  23. Jason

    OK, regardless of the title of this blog, let's step away from 'diversity for diversities sake'. I don't think there are too many people who would agree that there is much merit to that idea, and I don't think that's what Geoff was getting at. I think what we're talking about here is recognizing that this is (or can be for many people) a healthy sport, and that there are many people out there who are mostly oblivious to its existence. Many of those people could really benefit from it. We're not talking ultra here, we're just talking about getting out for a run, and hopefully getting the opportunity to go and enjoy the beauty of nature. Many good folks are wasting their lives drinking coke on the couch. We're talking about being ambassadors to our sport, not just to the obvious folks, but to the less than obvious. When I lived in Mississippi I tried to get my secretary(a very nice but overweight black lady)to at least consider going for a walk and maybe eating a green plant that wasn't deep fried. She smiled. Doesn't mean that the seed wasn't planted! Forget diversity for diversities sake, we're just talking about spreading to the word to people who could really use it.

  24. CJ

    One thing that has always stumped me is the lack of African-American runners in general. Yes, there are plenty of Africans running (quite well, I might add) in this country but why not the African-Americans? Don't get me wrong, I do see them at races from time to time but not in the numbers we see in other sports. Maybe it does come back to preference

  25. John B

    I actually struck up this exact conversation with a runner at the Bear somewhere early along the trail. This is an issue dear to my heart.
    As my wife pulled up to drop me off at the start of the race she jokingly made mention of the homogeneous demographics of the runners toeing the starting line. I didn't change that either I'm a upper middle class middle age white guy. The thing that concerns me is that my son is black. How do we have our sport we love add more color more culture?
    I see two major issues:
    1. Location, access, time. It's hard for inner-city kids to get to the mountains, hard to find the money to get there and even harder to have the money. Ultra running isn't "triathlon expensive", but between time and food shoes and travel it's not cheap either.
    2. Lifestyle. Ultra running is a cross between mountain hiking and trail running. Mountain hiking has always been dominated by "Caucasion culture". It's not engrained in the culture of many non-Caucasion cultures. It's would actually be very un-cool. Sadly this is a big deal that many of us take for granted.

    I hope that in the near future we have more pioneers that add some diversity to our sport. That can learn to share the mountains in the end it will make our trails safer and maybe even add more options for all of us.

    Until that day my son and I will continue to blaze our own trails and I believe that the sport I love will accept him as much as they have me. Maybe he will be that pioneer (if that's the path he wants).

    1. Merrie

      My son is black, too (and I'm white). And you are right, ultra/trail running needs "pioneers" if there is to be any significant amount of racial diversity added to the lily-white demographic.

      But, it won't be my son (at least not in the foreseeable future)! He'd much rather be running up and down a basketball court (with other black people). It's his choice and I totally respect it.

  26. Coach Weber

    It would be easy to get the wrong impression (or is it) about the accessibility to the sport by looking at the cost of some of the equipment in the iRunFar store: Average price of shoes $142.50; average cost of men's shorts $111.67. Great cutting edge stuff mind you, but what might a new person looking at the sport with a limited income think?

    1. Bryon Powell

      Well, the average person getting into the sport is likely to be looking in his or her closet and finding something to run in and, after that, probably looking at the local big box store or running shop. One would run into the same thing when, say, looking at mountain bikes online. I can't afford the vast majority of bikes on a site like Competitive Cyclist, but also have sense enough to look at the local classifieds or the end of season demo sales at my local bike shops if I want to dip my toes into the water. You don't get your first car at the Porsche dealership… at least I didn't! ;-)

  27. Frank

    I agree with Bryon on items for running. When I first started the madness of Ultra Running I had no freaking clue that I would go through 8-10 pairs of shoes a year and become a stock holder in my local running store. Like many i started off with shoes that cost me training miles, stress fractures and other major issues.

    That being said one must have money to be in Ultra running. Not a lot of money but some extra money laying around along with the kind of job that lets you leave for a 100 mile run and return to work crawling around on your hands and knees..

    I never see anyone of color on the trail. Period. I have been running long miles in Bent Creek for 7 years and have yet to see one person of color on the trails i train on. Why is beyond me. How to change it? I have no idea.

    Last weekend while running about 30 young guys.. 16-18.. went running by.. super fast.. and yes.. all of them white. every single one.

    Along with cash one must have some serious motivation.. drive and desire.. As a matter of fact.. you could have all the money in the world.. but if you dont have the drive for this sport.. you have nothing..

    great write up again..

    Note to Bryon Powell.. No not Porsche.. ferrari!!!

    also thanks for the new sticker..

  28. Victor Acosta

    I am the Executive Director of a small non-profit named, "Back on My Feet" and so of course my perspective on diversity and running is very different. We help the greater Boston areas homeless get back on their feet through running and so we have State Street Vice Presidents, college students, Marines and every gender, race, creed, and so on running on the teams. Our homeless population is very diverse: Latino, African American, Caucasian, Indian, and well you get the idea.

    Running is an expensive sport. It requires an incredible amount of gear and socialized support. It requires a luxury of time. If there ever was an organization that understands the myth of running as a simple inexpensive sport it would be Back on My Feet.

    Running resonates with all people and peoples. But running most be brought to those underserved or to whom it is not part of the possibilities. Running must be advocated. It must be nourished in fields with rocky soil. But once it takes seed the results are that greater diversity and that refreshing energy brought by it. Our homeless, on their way to being homed and employed, have run marathons and undertaken triathlons. It is just a matter of a few friendly faces and some running gear and the supportive atmosphere.

    As runners we bear the responsibility to bring our love to others through advocacy and holding a hand or two. Look for the diversity and bring them in.

  29. Tom

    I am an elementary school teacher and proud sponsor of an after school trail running club for K-4 students. There are more the forty members of our trail running club ranging from newly arrived immigrants and refugees to upper middle class whites. After sharing the trail with these kids it's clear that kids love being outside. After all trail running is just an adventure that brings out the kid in all of us. Kids who have never hiked or even spent time the woods are now taking their parents out for hikes and trail runs. Probably the cheapest sport in the world. All ya need is a trail and the desire to explore it!

    To me it's as simple as this – if more people know about trails then more people will use them and want to protect them.

  30. Rakesh

    That's great that mostly everyone has been talking about blacks and Latinos and poor people. But I'm mostly the only Indian person ever on any of these start lines. I have yet to see an East Asian person. I grew up playing soccer and tennis. Ran some track in middle school. Gave running up till college to make sure I didn't wreck my growth plates. Thoughts on that? I'm always worried about random racist white guys beating me up in the woods. Especially when I was living in the mid south. And knowing that the people that have the do not trespass signs on their property backing up to the trails might have a gun.

    1. olga

      Honey, I single-handily know a dozen of Indian runners at least! Between North CA community and Texas it's booming! Don't you worry on guns and stuff, just don't actually go into the properties:)

      The PC of this is almost funny, if it taken lightly. I am trying to.

  31. Wyatt Hornsby

    Let's not forget that the founder of American ultrarunning as we know it was Ted Corbitt, an African-American man who ran in the Olympics for the US. Ted was and will always be a legend.

  32. EdP

    Why not ask the park service to pave all trails to accommodate wheel chair trail racers and fund it through redistributing from those who "can afford" it. Wouldn't that be nice. I see many marathons with 20k people from all walks of life putting up well over 3 figures to do so. It's not about money, it's about awareness and desire. Money is an excuse that is rarely valid in the USA.

  33. swampy

    I am a Native American runner that has been into the scene for about three years. At first (year and a half)It was pretty awkward for me to show up, being the only minority. Once I started to be recognized, things changed a lot for me. I came to realize that the circles I run in (LUS, VHTRC, WVMTR) are only about people. I would love to see more of my brethren here amongst the tribe, but to each his own.

  34. geoff

    In general response to several of the comments here, I am not at all interested in diversity for the sake of diversity. I am interested in seeing an increase in the diversity of the ultrarunning culture because I feel that diverse cultures are much more healthy, satisfying, and sustainable for everyone involved. In this sense, maybe i'm even being a little selfish. I just think the ultrarunning community would be that much more satisfying to be a part of if it were more diverse.

    1. swampy

      I feel like you have tapped into a real debate that is going on everywhere. For me, it is hard to say what is the right thing to do. What real result does having a diverse community produce? Is it just to placate a lingering feeling of doubt? Best running-related article I have ever read, keep up the good work dude.

  35. Bobby Dixon-Kim

    I am a trail running black man who does not enter comps or hook up with running buddies or clubs… However, I always feel like the diversity lacking in my sport is crap… I wish the running community that I have most experience with in portland oregon, wasnt such a smug group of people. But, when the sport of corporate trail running gives nothing for me, I have nothing for it in return. Therefore, we will only ever see in passing on some grueling peak, in a time and place where conversations wont exist due to the circumstance. Geoff, your a rad dude! I read your blog and think your a great guy with good insights!

    1. swampy

      Dude, I really think that if you open your mind a little, you will see that the ultra community is the most welcoming group out there. Running long distance strips away all the BS and leaves just people. As in any other group, there are DB's that will kill your buzz. Forget all of that and embrace the tribe!

      1. Bobby Dixon-Kim

        Thanks swampy! I know I make a tiny door for myself to climb through at times. I will heed the advice thoughtfully.

  36. Ian Sharman

    Geoff,

    Running around the world, I've noticed most rich countries do have a predominantly white ultra population, but the diversity of backgrounds is there. It's not exactly the same as the population as a whole, but if it was completely representative it'd also include about half the people being seriously overweight in the US.

    And in a country like South Africa, their major ultras (which I'd estimate have a lot more finishers than all US ultras put together) are multi-colored. Near the front of the pack, there aren't many white people or people with English as their first language (even though it's the main national language there). I was lucky enough to run for a club that helps poor runners from the slums by providing boarding and entry for many people and these guys were so unbelievably friendly and humble. Being part of their group and running along with them through the race is one of my favorite running memories – so I certainly get your point about diversity enriching the experience for everyone.

    But don't you find that even in the mainly white US trail population that you get to run next to corporate high fliers as well as waiters, doctors as well as arts' students? There's certainly more variety than you get in a typical office where people are likely to be the same income and educational level as yourself. I'm not sure there's anything wrong with how things are, especially since trail runners are open and friendly on the whole and welcome new runners from any background. It's kind of like the American Dream of equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

  37. Abran

    Unfortuantely groups of people are only going to do things their peers are doing.This applies to areas beyond race and financial background. Hockey's not that big in the south (relative to Cananda), and some towns have very few actual trail running groups relative to road runners. Why, it's not what everyone else is doing. Applying the theme to race, you can see why groups like "Black Girl's on the Run" have taken off. But…the same can be said about the majority as well. How often do we see Marshall Mathers, Robin Thicke or the Beastie Boys (Vanilla Ice?) choosing hip-hop or R&B over alternative or rock music. Ask yourself, outside of work or volunteering, how often do you voluntarily hang out with groups of people from a different ethnic or financial background? Until groups of hispanics, african americans ( or whomever) start doing certain activities, expect to only see those minorities who grew up being the only "other" race in school, church, the neighborhood or college. Also, if you take the percentages of races across america, and apply their same proportions to the 0.01% of people who've run an ultra, I think today's makeup in the ultra scene is probably accurate.

  38. LONELEY TRAILRUNNER

    I have a white mother and cape verdian father(black) and also love running in the woods.Its tough to break into things like running groups and other cliques.I played hockey as a kid I lived next to a cranberry bog that used to get frozen every winter.But as a kid clueless too the facts watching my father sitting alone watching me play hockey was a very sad site.My mother didnt ever come to games(alcholic) and wasnt with my father.Had friends who played hockey but never really felt like them.Later on in life after drugs/alchol/jail/rehab and all kinds of other stuff took up golfing became quite good but there was always me the outsider looking in.After marriage and kids and over 15 yrs of sobriety decided to make my family the first priority.So worked stopped golfing and gained tons of weight thats were cycling and running came in.To inspire my kids told them i would lose weight and climb a mountain on my bike(mt washington)whoops.Then that lead to running in the woods thinking about doing one of the vermont trail runs.I think I had a point oh yeah.All the things I mentioned hockey/jail/rehab/golf/cycling even playing in a rock band as a kid I could always be ready for the racial slurs and hatred to come out whether it was taught by there parents or they just didnt like a way certain people acted.Way to many stories to tell or the uncomfortable silence of me telling a person I thought could be a friend that I was black.It sucks.Im sure alot of you have been around those people where everybodys laughing and its said not realizing the pain words can carry.Well really I think I found trailrunning because alone is were Im most comfortable.In the middle of runs Ill be so happy and crying trying to figure out how I can be the best person I can be and cant not let others bring me down.I used to live by the motto(u either take or be taken) now its (good things happen to good people).Im Rambling.Maybe ill try a trail race and could sit down just one time and feel comfortable and not have to worry about when its coming maybe the world can change……….lets hope

    LONELY TRAIL RUNNER

    MASSACHUSETTS

  39. Step Up

    GR,

    It would be exciting to see you take this one step further and offer subsidized spots in your running camps. I will put my money where my mouth is and offer to donate $100 to the first "scholarship" recipient. Contact Bryon for my contact information if you'd like to take me up on the offer.

  40. Seamus Foy

    Great article, Geoff!

    I work in an urban school in Boston, and I take kids on field trips to a local reservation. We do a challenging 5 mile hike (Ben Nephew owns the FKT on this trail; the fact that he'd bother proves it is legit terrain).

    Almost every kid loves it! Last year, there were some guys who were fit enough to run a good amount. We had a great day, running technical trails and even doing some fast scrambling. They still talk about it now! I am trying to get kids to do XC, but there is only one team for the whole city, and they have to travel so far to train on any kind of terrain.

    My Peruvian wife just ran her first ultra, so that's a start. There are ultras popping up down there, too, and trail races are becoming more popular. There is some serious running talent in the Andes, people who live at 4000 meters. I hope the expansion of the sport heads to S. America. There is so much rugged natural beauty that would be ideal for ultrarunning.

  41. Diesel

    Interesting topic, thanks for bringing it to the front burner. There are many interests and activities in life that are non-diverse like bocci, classical music and sushi. And that's just fine. Folks tend opt in to do what they like – are drawn to. Indeed access and/or cost can be a mitigating factor, but in the case of running, the barrier to both these hurtles is pretty darn low. I believe those that choose to run, do so out of interest, or lack thereof. That said, we have a trail running club in New England, the Trail Animals, that thrives on the concept of being a welcoming community that encourages people from all walks of life, with varying skills and very diverse interests, to join, share, enjoy. How? Entry fees (zero), race fees (~$20) and community (volunteerism and give most fees back to help preserve and maintain trails). We subscribe to the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple Stupid!) so that whether it's our social network (Facebook) or organizing training runs or holding over 10 races a year, we can get as many members involved as possible with the least amount of drama or hassle. This has led to a VERY diverse membership over 1,500 strong. And they have in common is they all run like a TRAIL animal ;-)

  42. Marcus

    There are more than enough non-runners to talk to- you can find them at McDonald's and behind the wheel of diesel dualie trucks. You can also recognize them when they shout from the vehicle's window in the direction of those who are running and, they typically shout pejorative epithets.

  43. keyalus

    I am a black female ultrarunner. Even though I live in Atlanta, I can typically count on half of one hand the number of other black people I see at trail races. I was VERY intimidated initially. Not only because I was the only black person, but I was surrounded by mostly men and also people who way out-distanced me at running. I'm glad I stuck with it though because our local community is great and I've made so many friends that I kind of forget that I'm the only black girl. We all just become runners gutting it out on the trails.

    I would still love to see some more diversity in this sport. I sometimes run with a huge group of women called "Black Girls Run!" This group is doing awesome things encouraging black women to run period. I hope to one day lead a weekly run for them that will explore local trails. I think exposing people to trailrunning will help. I know that I just fell in love with trails and wanted to do bigger things.

  44. Dave

    Hmm… the friends I run with are all over the spectrum. 50/50 in terms of men/women. 2 have incomes below the poverty line. One other is about middle income. A couple are reasonably affluent. Most, I'm not sure. One works as a social worker, one is a personal trainer at a gym, one is a successful lawyer, one has her own business. Certainly diverse in terms of gender, income, type of work. So.. I don't see what Geoff sees.

    I will concede that we are all white. There used to be a black guy (and to the woman who posted right before me – I am SOOOO glad she said "black" and not African-American – my friend is from Haiti – and "African American" really gets his blood boiling) but he moved to a warmer climate. We do have a guy who is Hispanic now that I think about it (didn't come to mind at first; because I think of people as runners – not as a member of a particular race).

    Anyway… maybe Geoff's right in general – but definitely not with the ragtag group I run with.

  45. Tony Covarrubias

    When you say diverse, I'm guessing you mean American blacks for the most part. I would guess that there are not a lot of blacks in our sport because in this country they gravitate (or are pushed, goaded, peer-pressured) into other sports.

    If we are talking about trail running (as opposed to trail ultras in particular) I imagine this is a more diverse crowd. Personally, I'm not fond of trail running (I love the road) but fell into it because you have to run trails in order to run 100 milers (mostly).

    Anyway, I don't imagine you will see more blacks in ultra running any time soon. To be quite frank, it's not in their culture (again, I'm speaking of American blacks and only of what I have seen, experienced, etc., I don't have facts to point to). To that end, I am not aware of too many American browns (hispanics) in the sport either.

    Being one of the American browns (mexican) in ultra running, one would think I could speak to that culture. However, I was not brought up in that culture. I was brought up in a white (mother only) poverty level home; as well as in some white, middle class foster homes as a teen. I started running because I was too short/small to do anything else in high school (4'-10", 82 lbs). Found out I could run a marathon on no training and was hooked – that was back in 1976.

    I guess I was "lucky" that I fell into this sport. I really think that it takes a certain type of person to run and enjoy long distances – and I mean personality type not race. I mostly don't talk about running outside of running groups because people either dilute or make fun of my running ("why would you do that") or make too much of a fuss ("wow, you're incredible") – which is just embarrassing.

    If I find someone who is interested in talking about running, I will chime up. Running is my favorite thing to talk about. Computer technology (mostly databases) is a close second. Talk about a diversity – a lack thereof that is. Here class, race and gender diversity is limited.

    See you at the ITI Geoff!

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