A New Start Line: A Conversation About Race in Trail Running and Ultrarunning

Many might agree that we are broken, as individuals, communities, and society. Others would say that this moment in the story of America marks a huge leap in the otherwise gentle arc of progress. Some might say a revolutionary overhaul of America’s approach to race is underway.

My heart breaks for the broken. Why has it come to this? How have we as humans let it become so bad? And why have I been complacent about the rights and needs of Black Americans?

Our community of trail runners and ultrarunners is remarkably diverse in some ways and remarkably void of difference in others. Over time, our community’s make-up changes. We gather a few younger runners and a few older, more women and other gender identities join the men, and we see members of new nations and races grow impassioned by the sport. But the change comes slowly, and we’re far from there. American trail running and ultrarunning, for an example, has relatively few Black runners.

Scientific research has shown that systemic racism affects how Black Americans exercise and spend time outdoors. That is, Black Americans uniquely experience a number of social, economic, and historical barriers when it comes to spending time in the outdoors and exercising. Additionally, Black American trail runners and ultrarunners have personal experiences with access barriers and racism while running. Thus, it’s reasonable to theorize that these issues are also systemically present in our sport.

Our trail running and ultrarunning community has several leaders in the journey toward becoming a fully fledged and comfortable home for everyone, who are pressing us forward, either as Black Americans or their allies. And in the last few weeks in our greater society, we’ve seen millions of Americans and other allies worldwide move into a position of action as well. To see people of all nations, races, and ethnicities gather around a central purpose of elevating Black Americans has been so beautiful to watch and be the tiniest part of. But we need all of us to join the journey toward being a more diverse and fully supportive community.

Until a few weeks ago, I would have said that iRunFar is a hub of diversity for our sport. Investing in the development and support of gender and national diversity are among our core operating principles. But these weeks have shown us that we haven’t invested in Black Americans with the same level of commitment. I have combed our thousands of articles and tens of thousands of photographs, and the trend is clear. There are fewer Black Americans on the pages of iRunFar than there should be.

Through this self-examination process, I’ve become aware of this irony: while we’ve traveled to the far reaches of the globe to tell the stories of the minority members of the sport and spent tens of thousands of dollars to be certain women are as equally represented here as men, we haven’t invested as greatly in another underrepresented group close to home. As iRunFar’s Managing Editor, it is my role to manage all of our editorial matter, and so I take responsibility for this deficit.

To Black American trail runners and ultrarunners, I am sorry that iRunFar has not been a better ally to you. And to the rest of our community, I apologize that we have not been a better leader.

Our organization has been working hard to define an evolved path forward from here. We want to be a place that is as representative of and welcoming to Black Americans as we strive to be for other community members. Thus, what you’re likely to see is an intentional modification of our editorial material in the nearer term to be a platform for Black American trail runners and ultrarunners as well as a longer-term shift toward a more inclusive editorial vision that works to decrease the access barriers Black Americans experience when it comes to the outdoors and exercising.

Here are the main actions we are and will take now and in the near future:

  • We are listening to Black Americans, especially Black American runners and outdoor recreators.
  • We are educating ourselves on racism, especially its presence in the outdoors.
  • We are identifying and confronting our own biases.
  • We will become supporters of Black American trail runners and ultrarunners.
  • We will elevate the voices of Black American trail runners and ultrarunners as well as other allies in our sport who are leading the conversation about race.
  • We will work to lower access barriers Black Americans experience in going outdoors and exercising within our sport.

Below is a bit of what we’ve been listening to and reading, at least the resources most closely related to the trail running and ultrarunning community. We’ll continue to expand these lists as we become aware of more.

I invite you to join us in this process, so that we can encourage and support each other on our journey toward becoming better versions of ourselves. What you see on the pages of iRunFar has always been a community production, and so it’s in this vein that I also invite you to help us. Contact us with story and editorial theme ideas, people we should know more about and elevate, resources that’ll help us all, and gentle guidance when we get it wrong.

This has been and will continue to be an imperfect journey. I’ll make mistakes and we’ll make mistakes. For this, I am already sorry. But we will do it, and we will do it together.

Black Trail Runners and Ultrarunners to Follow and Learn From

Recent Running Media Elevating Black Runners and Discussing Anti-Racism and/or Diversity Action

  • Alison Desir on Alysia Montano’s podcast Running While Black: A Conversation Around Race – Alison Desir and Alysia Montano discuss their experiences with racism and imagine a more racially diverse and supportive future for running.
  • Yassine Diboun’s essay Erascism – Yassine Diboun talks about his personal experiences with racism and explains that a lack of diversity in trail running is likely related to systemic participation barriers.
  • Yassine Diboun on the Ginger Runner’s YouTube show Diversity in Trail Running – Yassine Diboun talks about his experiences with racism, how he feels trail running is generally inclusive, and his thoughts on diversifying trail running.
  • Rozalynn S. Frazier’s article How to be an Ally to the Black Running Community ­– This article shares actionable ideas for supporting Black runners.
  • Joe Gray on Dylan Bowman’s podcast No Change in Silence – Joe Gray shares his personal experiences with racism and contextualizes the current conversation about race in America.
  • Joe Gray on Jason Koop’s podcast Speaking Out on Racism and Diversity – Joe Gray talks about the unique experience of running as a Black American and shares ideas for diversifying our sport.
  • Joe Gray’s essay No Change in Silence – Joe Gray shares his personal experiences with racism and calls himself and our community into anti-racism action.
  • Marielle Hall’s personal narrative Racing to Stay Alive – Marielle Hall explains how her relationship with running is affected by racism and how the running community needs to become more inclusive of Black Americans.
  • Kamilah Journét’s essay Your Black Teammate – Kamilah Journét writes about her experience as a Black American runner.
  • Kamilah Journét on Mario Fraioli’s podcast – Kamilah Journét speaks about her running background, her experience as a Black American runner, and her work in run marketing as as Black American woman.
  • David Roche’s article Listening to Black Voices in Trail Running and Beyond – David Roche synthesizes current discussions on race in the running world and calls on trail runners to continue listening to Black voices.
  • Mirna Valerio on the Ginger Runner’s YouTube show A Discussion about Race and Racism in Running – Mirna Valerio discusses the forms of racism she sees in running and mainstream society as well as how the outdoors is perceived by Black Americans.

Other Education Materials on Black Americans, Racism, and Anti-Racism Action in the Outdoors

[Editor’s Note: This article’s resource lists were last updated on June 17.]

Call for Comments

This is obviously a very sensitive topic, and we request your respect and civility in the comments section.

  • Please share what actions you have been taking for yourself and your circle of influence regarding race?
  • What tools and resources have you been learning from? Leave a comment to share where you’ve been learning.
  • Let’s grow the list of Black American trail runners and ultrarunners to listen to and learn from. Leave a comment to help us do so.
Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 26 comments

  1. Sarah Bradham

    If you haven’t already read it, I would highly recommend “Black Faces, White Spaces,” by Carolyn Finney. It’s a dense but enlightening read, especially for those of us who work in the outdoor industry.

  2. Tracy Cox

    This article does not help. It’s disheartening to me as an African American woman born and raised in Washington DC to continue to read and hear about false “barriers” What barriers are you referring to?
    Please tell me? I have not ever been rejected to sign up for a trail run, marathon or any race because of the color of my skin. My husband has found Irunfar.com to be an excellent forum for information for the sport he has grown to love. I have seen many Africans and African Americans running and even winning a lot of races. So why do you think it’s fair to put this article out? It’s not right. If you plan to go into the inner city to encourage teens and young adults to run, go ahead. There are plenty of organizations and black running groups nation wide so why do you feel the need to have your white guilt shine in this article? Running has been inclusive as you wrote in the beginning of this article. I think transgender should be in their own category to make things fair if you want my opinion on that. I just want you to know black/ African Americans people of color have been running and winning for years so tell me what barriers you are referring to? If you want or desire to have more friends of colors then make more friend! this article can be viewed as divisive. Was Aubrey out exercising? Was he a competitive runner? Why aren’t you including Latin American, Asian Americans and other minorities in this article? Please stop and think. You have a lot to cover with Covid as runners have lost out on a lot during the pandemic. Please do not make running a black or white issue. It’s not fair to white Americans who are not racist.

    1. Jamil S

      I agree. Why does every person/business/corporation feel like they have to post a written statement indicating that they are against racism, with BLM, etc. In my view these statements come across as tripe and often condescending. As Tracy states, why don’t you actually do something rather than saying ‘you are with us’. Actions always speak louder than words.

    2. Ron

      Amen, Tracy. Very well stated. I think it’s actually just another political correctness plug. I love IRF, but these narratives are really getting old.

    3. Meghan Hicks

      Tracy,

      Thanks for writing. I’m grateful you took the time to respond to the article. I’ve been thinking about your comment and how I would answer your questions yesterday and today.

      I would love to learn more from you than can be exchanged in the comments of an article online. If you feel like sharing more than you have here, let me know how to reach you or write me here, https://www.irunfar.com/contact.

      I realize this article and approach is, at this point, words with no actions. Please know that we intend for action to immediately follow these words, and we’re actively organizing that behind the scenes as I type this.

      You mention kids running in a city, yes, this is a story we’d love to learn more about in cities around the country and share with others on iRunFar. In fact, that sort of situation is exactly what I think about when I listen to a Black American trail runner say they think one of the reasons there aren’t more Black American trail runners is because there are few seen in trail running advertising and media. I think to myself, this is something I and iRunFar can do: share more stories of Black American runners on our website to increase their visibility.

      Then, I read the results of a research study which found that Black American men adapt their outdoor exercising in white-dominant neighborhoods by wearing certain clothing, going out at a certain time of day, and not exercising at all to avoid perceived personal-safety issues. I think to myself, wow, this is so sad to learn, and is there anything I can do to help this? What would happen if we showed more images of Black American men exercising in various places to help normalize this to iRunFar’s readers? And, what would happen if I were to write about this research study on iRunFar, so that white readers could learn?

      Perhaps this train of thought is flawed, the idea of hearing about these issues while listening to Black American trail runners and ultrarunners over the last weeks and trying to think about how iRunFar can help with them. If you and others have better ideas, I’m 100% open to feedback and learning.

      Respectfully,
      Meghan

  3. John Vanderpot

    If your resistance is up White Fragility (Robin DiAngelo) is a rough read, a colleague put it in my hands maybe a year ago (I recently suggested it to another colleague and it’s evidently completely sold out in traditional book form, can’t be got except digitally?), we work in education and you can bet this has our full attention right now!

    Over the years I’ve been taking students (“of color” and otherwise) on the local trails, generally these trails aren’t more than 5ish miles from the school, and of course most never knew they existed…as you imply above, and as I’ve been sort of been dwelling on recently, it’s no longer enough for the “good” people not to contribute to the problem, no — now we’ve got to find ways to actively contribute to the solution…

    (PS — If you favor more “creative” work, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is highly recommended, I put it in several students’ hands and something happened that’s never happened before: they said Hey Mr. V, you got any more books for us to read?)

  4. andy mc breen

    Thank You Tracy Cox,
    I support and agree 100 % with Your thoughts, Very well stated. I have been running, spectating and volunteering at ultra marathons for 14 years and never have witnessed or heard of any ” barriers” until now. The Black or African American runners that I have met have never brought up an unfairness as to having lower assess into the sport. What happened to including Asians and Mexicans ?

  5. Pete

    Ashland, OR. Missoula, MT. Boulder, CO. Flagstaff, AZ. Mammoth Lakes, CA. Logan, UT. Carbondale, CO. Bend, OR. Moab, UT, Manitou Springs, CO. What do all of these places have in common? They’re all (a) far west of the Mississippi River, (b) recognized hubs of USA trail/ultra running, and (c) woefully non-diverse. Instead of focusing on individuals, which almost seems patronizing to me, perhaps highlight geographies that are different from the same-old western mountain towns. There are trails and strong trail running communities in Chicagoland, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, the Ozarks, Tallahassee, Ashville, Kansas City, the Twin Cities, Dallas, Austin of course, Washington DC, Cleveland, Birmingham, AL, etc. By recruiting contributors from these and other parts of the USA, I believe you’ll instantly diversify your published material without having to seek out particular individuals.

    1. Paul

      Add Los Angeles to your list of cities with great trail running and diverse populations. I see lots of POC runners entering races here, but not many black runners.

    2. Bryon Powell

      Hi Pete,
      This is a great idea. We’d LOVE more profiles of urban locations in the U.S. We’ve long (always?) had them above our vacation destinations in our trail guide listing https://www.irunfar.com/destination-dirt-trail-guides-index . I’m glad that these guides include Chicago, Washington, DC, St. Louis, and Chattanooga, but would love more! Are you in an urban location and in a position to write a piece, please let us know.

      Paul,
      If you’d like to work together on a guide to trail running in Los Angeles, let’s talk!

      Everyone else,
      Please consider this an open invitation to get in touch to help us grow our urban trail running resources!

  6. Andrew

    Thanks for sharing your reflection and these helpful resources. I look forward to seeing more diversity in your coverage.

    I do think that Pete’s comment here is spot on. The geography of the coverage and the sports focus could be a big part of the limit diversity in coverage.

  7. Tim

    Thanks for posting. There is no easy answer and no easy response that will satisfy everyone. I personally don’t know the most optimal strategy to achieve a more inclusive world even at a micro level such as ultra/trail running.

    In the short-run, I think discussing and understanding how people feel is a starting point. That’s what Meghan did here, so thank you. People will struggle with the conversation and won’t be sure what to say. People will get mad. People will become more aware and consider how they think. It’s all a part of the climbing the metaphoric mountain and a part of the training process. In my head, it’s like training and running a 100 miler. We’ll have ups, downs, and will need to troubleshoot along the way – that’s just the way.

    Like environmentalism and gender equality, my hope is ultrarunning becomes a leader in addressing racial/socioeconomic diversity. The path will be complicated and errors will be made, but like in a 100 miler, the outcome is worth the ups and downs.

    I’m not black, but I am mixed race. The recent events have caused me to recall events of prejudice in my own life both that have been toward me and when I’ve directed prejudice towards others. If nothing else, it’s been very healthy for me to actively reflect on these situations in improving my own person with the benefit of hopefully improving the world one micro step at a time.

  8. Markus

    3 Black things about ultrarunning:

    1.The “Father of US ultrarunning” Ted Corbitt was black.
    https://www.nyrr.org/about/hall-of-fame/ted-corbitt
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Corbitt

    2. The oldest and biggest ultrarace in the world is black for the most part: Comrades Marathon in South Africa.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comrades_Marathon

    3. Eddie Gardner already raced the Great Bunion Derbies, the Trans America footrace in 1928 and 29 as a black man.
    Charles B. Kastner just published a book about him this Spring.
    https://charleskastner.com/books/race-across-america-book/

    Irunfar has a very small focus on trail ultrarunning, small minded in my opinion. But that’s probably not irunfar’s fault, it’s how a lot of the trail runner community seem to be wired. Trails are good, roads are bad. And ultrarunning got invented at the Western States 100.
    Davy Crocket has researched this subject quite a bit and debunked that myth:
    https://ultrarunninghistory.com/100-miler-part-1/
    https://ultrarunninghistory.com/100-miler-part-2/
    https://ultrarunninghistory.com/100-miler-3/

    https://ultrarunninghistory.com/forgotten-first-finishers/

    Running publications, print or online usually cover only the same trail races over and over again. WS 100, Hardrock, Leadville and probably the JFK 50 which is usually one of the few races which ever gets mentioned east of the Mississipi.

    That Black people don’t run much has probably not much to do with us runners, it’s more a result of all the social issues created in the last 200 years. Here in Memphis where I live now, we have one of the biggest running clubs in the country, the Memphis Runners Track club with 3600 members. In races you see less than 10% colored people as my guess and quite some of them are of the Indian population we have here too. But Memphis overall has 60% Black people living here, so there is a huge discrepancy there.

    I just want to mention a couple more black US runners beside Eddie Garner and Ted Corbitt.
    – Willard Davis, Austin
    – Frederick Davis III, a 72 year old veteran of the sport, still doing 24 hour and 6 day races. He started doing 50 milers in 1986.
    – Jameelah Abdul-Rahim Mujaahid, with over 100 ultraraces since 2009.

    I am sure there are plenty more.
    So yes there is a lot of work to be done. Let’s get this conversation started.

  9. Elle

    This article & two subsequent ones on the same issue read more divisive than anything I’ve ever read on this forum, ironically. I responded to the later one because I came across it first with the same sentiment – please stop & think.
    Trail Ultra running is not terribly diverse, but I don’t think it’s racist.
    What are you trying to accomplish here and who is it for? Because if you are genuinely want to do more for social justice in the space of BLM specifically, it might have been better to ask those on whose behalf you are trying to advocate on how to best address it. Instead you already decided there is an issue in trail ultra running, how it manifests, and identified a course of action that you plan to pursue (& it is to help one category of readers ironically – and posting pictures of a specific category of runners as a research project so that another category of runners can learn, seriously? ) – and the questions in the call for comments assume read like they are addressing people who like yourself only just now decided they need to get educated & are now starting to have conversations, so this clearly excludes people you are claiming to want to make feel more included?
    Is this about being able to say “I am helping!” or is this about social justice?
    The two other runners also prescribed solutions, but not before sharing lengthy stories about their running successes.
    Tracie very clearly took the time to be helpful & share this wasn’t feeling right to her either, and you are “open to feedback” – this reads condescendingly & lofty.
    I agree with Jamil, it’s condescending – it feels like a “handout” & ironically ruins the one place that actually truly felt inclusive. It kind of sucks to have one’s guard up everywhere – this felt like a rare reprieve.
    Again, with respect, I like reading about your guest elite runners’ experiences, truly, I love their stories. But if the topic is specifically social justice, why is it primarily about their running & then the main topic is tucked on as an after thought. I get it, their running was the most accessible analogy – but it took the center stage of the stories.
    If the goal is to be helpful, it might have been better to ask those you are trying to help what you can do & how because you want to learn, and likely it wouldn’t be in the space of running – but in other areas of life.
    For some runners, if they see garbage on trails, they don’t ignore it.
    If you see garbage behavior, on trails or elsewhere, do not ignore it either.

    Ask those you are trying to solve for what they feel would be helpful – if the goal is to be of help.
    I assume good intent of all involved in this discussion & I tried to be respectful.
    This actually made me feel excluded & uncomfortable, but it is your house of course. Thank you for your consideration.

  10. J. B.

    Here we go again. You know who I don’t see at trail races? Oklahomans. How can ultra running be so close to inclusive but have almost no one from Oklahoma on the sign ups. I see Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Texas etc but rare is an Oklahoman ever signed up. Why? How does Ultra running comply with the Americans With Disabilities act? Are ramps provided at aid stations and on the trails? Why are there not more disabled Americans competing? I’d say the ultra running community is very diverse. In a race not too long ago I ran with a guy from India and a guy from Scotland. That was a 50k on a dirt road in central Oklahoma in March. Diversity is an interesting thing. Ultrarunning is an anomaly in sports already and now we feel we need to include a certain group of people in a very niche sport which already includes absolutely everyone! Well, not everyone. If ultrarunning has a problem it’s that it has become a sport of elites and running bona fides to keep racing. Qualifications for races are becoming more difficult to keep up with. I have 2 small boys. I train a lot and run a lot and would love to enter some races that I know I’d have success in but maybe I couldn’t run a 100mile run this year and therefore can’t enter certain races for a “qualifier”. I miss out on more races because of slower times or not being able to race during a qualifying period. Why then do we wonder why inner city or black folks in general aren’t towing the line at the Ouray 100? How can we ask about diversity and claim that only certain number of runners period are allowed at Hardrock? It just is what it is right? Trying to diversify a very inclusive and diverse sport with pandering and head patting is foolish and makes this site and all the other white guilt apologists look bad. I’ve met people from all over the world. I live in Oklahoma and am usually the only guy in a big race from Oklahoma. I wear that as a badge of honor. It is what it is. There is a good community of runners in OK but very few ultra runners. It’s a tough sport and very hard for most people to imagine running 100 miles or now even 250 miles. The sport will naturally evolve or it won’t. It won’t be a failure on ultra runners if half the field at western states isn’t black. Some things are what they are. The community will stay and will always be inclusive and for that remain one of the things I love most about ultra running. You cannot speed up evolution.

  11. Bob

    for anyone interested –
    While you are waiting for your copy of the book to arrive, you can listen to this
    http://laylafsaad.com/good-ancestor-podcast/ep011-robin-diangelo

    If truth and justice are the American way (or what we want) – white people (myself included) need to understand systemic racism and white privilege and our fundamental role in fixing it. These are difficult things to bring up, but this is no time for silence. Will we still be issuing statements when the protests die down, or doing something in our spheres of influence.
    In addition to anti-Black racism that is socialized into all of us (do your homework), we still live in a society that represses Indigenous peoples. We can and should be better humans.
    I know, preachy. And maybe not what we come to iRunFar for. Maybe trail running does not have a problem. But don’t ignore it.

  12. Jason M

    Tracy is so spot on. Thank you for that, it’s so refreshing to hear. I think there’s a ton of people out there that feel the same but are afraid to say it. News flash to the world- America is a pretty cool place, 99% of us, ALL of us, every color are NOT racist! I’m really tired of hearing all the “White Guilt” posts by businesses, social media, news outlets etc. It’s ridiculous. I’m not sure what world you’re all living in but day to day people I encounter of ALL races are pretty cool to me.

    1. Markus

      I live in Memphis, TN with over 63% Black or African American. The world I am living in (Tennessee) has one of the highest incarceration rates of the US. That leads to a lot of black kids growing up without a dad and with a single mother just struggling along. Memphis has a poverty rate of 27.8%, Child poverty is 44.9%. The poverty rate for no Hispanic Blacks is 33.8%. (2018)
      Institutionalized racism is alive. Zoning laws, private schools are two of them.
      Sorry that I had to burst you little bubble.

      And the black runners Tracy mentioned who are winning big races are usually from Kenya or Ethiopia. They have not much in common to the average African American in the US.

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