Monday Musing 21: Making Ultra Running More Racially Inclusive
The small mountain city of Boulder, Colorado has a self-appointed reputation as a progressive city, priding itself in activity and inclusivity. The active and outdoor-centric lifestyle practiced by those who reside in Boulder are thought to be an equalizer. Everyone is welcome on the trails, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
As a white woman who lives in Boulder and often frequents the Boulder Country running paths and trails, my ignorance may have led me to buy into the inclusivity facade projected by the small city. However, an encounter experienced by a Facebook friend, a Black man, and an accomplished ultra-runner, quickly put things in perspective.
“Finally get my ass up for a run, still mourning my Mother, and that will never end, but to run into a woman yelling at me to take my Black ass back to Africa and I am a distraction to this country!
You black motherfuckers starting all of these riots destroying our country. You are no different then the KKK!!! You are shit!!!! I am sick of your black power shit!!!
I put my hand over my chest and held it her way, and she said fuck you, black power bullshit! I told her I am giving you my heart, and I love you! And she said fuck you, and I said love you, and I wish I could hug you!!
Yes, this just happened less than 1/2 hour ago!!!
I got to the corner of Baseline and Foothills and fell to my knees, and cried! Unfortunately, people thought I was having a stroke or something and started getting out of their cars to help me, which I really appreciated, but man, that really hurt me, and the only thing I can think about is my mom telling you to hug people like that. Fuck!!! This sucks!!! Guess what? I am not going anywhere. Human power!!!”
Of course, racism on the trails and bike paths isn’t felt by white people. I knew I didn’t often see Black people out on my favorite running trails, but I never thought about why that was. More importantly, I never thought about the hostility I may experience if I was a Black woman recreating on the Boulder trails, in the same manner I do as a white woman. Would the hostility and hatred wear me down?
The same barrier exists in ultra-running. There has never been a Black winner of the Western States 100 or Ultra Trail Mount Blanc. Yes, there are many middle- and upper-middle-class white people in this country, but not more than 90 percent, as the demographics at a trail race might indicate. I know there are a lot of lower-income trail runners out there, but many choose to work very little or very flexible jobs to focus more on their running. (i.e., the “dirtbag runner” trend, which I have been a whole-hearted participant in.)
As I navigate representing Method Seven, a growing company with the opportunity to do good but also to fumble along the way, I ask myself how do we make road, trail, and ultra running accessible to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status and race? How do we help make our expensive eyewear a tool for change and inclusivity while still building a brand/business?
I don’t have the answers, but I hope that opening up the conversation is a start. We at Method Seven are open and eager to feedback and will make an effort to educate ourselves and ask questions along the way. I am sure we will make mistakes, but I hope to own up to them, implement change as a result and learn from the experience.
If, as a consumer in trail running, you haven’t read Running While Black: Finding Freedom in a Sport That Wasn’t Built For Us, by Alison Mariella Désir, I highly recommend it. It’s a sad, uncomfortable, eye-opening read and the message has lingered in every run since I read the first page.
Think of something we can do better? Tell us! Reach out to me personally on Instagram or through the Method Seven account. We want to build a community where everyone feels safe, welcome, and as at home as I do.