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 January 12.]

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 the Managing Editor of iRunFar 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.