New York is a diverse city, but when Maria Solis Belizaire started running in 2016, she didn’t see that reflected in the running community there.
“I would do these long runs or would go to these events, and I wouldn’t find anybody who looked like me,” she said.
She began to ask around, looking for a Latino running community. She figured there had to be one in a city with a large Latino population. No luck. So, she sat down one day to search online for such a group.
“The only thing that popped up was GoDaddy trying to sell me the website,” Solis said.
So, in 2016, she started Latinos Run, and later Latinas Run, so she could help other Latino runners connect with each other.
“The reality is, there’s no visibility of people in our community,” she said, later adding that the climate has shifted since she started the groups, though there was still room to increase the diversity and accessibility of the running community.
The organizers of many of the running groups that were established to welcome people of various races, ethics, life stages or speeds often share a similar story: They showed up, didn’t see anybody who looked or ran like they did, and wanted to change that.
Michael Stinson is now the chief operating officer for Black Men Run, but in 2013 when he was new to running, he also turned to the internet to search, “Do Black men run?” Two months earlier, Jason Russell and Edward Walton founded Black Men Run, and Stinson said he joined as quickly as possible. He described his experience before finding the group as, “that frustration of feeling like you’re on an island by yourself.”
“You walk into a situation,” Stinson said of showing up at races or events when he started running. “There’s nobody who looks like you. There’s comments and there’s stars, and people make snide comments under their breath. You think, ‘OK , maybe I don’t belong here.’ But I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”
Many of these running clubs have local chapters around the United States, but they also maintain a social media presence that allows people to connect with them from anywhere.
When Nicki Conroy started running in 2007, she tried out the local groups around Binghamton, NY, but they weren’t geared toward runners at her pace or with her challenges as a single mother of six. So she ran alone. But as she trained For her first marathon in 2010, she started looking for resources and found the Another Mother Runner online community.
“It was nice to have something to fall back on where there was somebody who didn’t think I had to be running that nine-minute mile,” Conroy said.
Conroy knew local runners who were mothers, but they were all married and their spouses could get the children up in the morning while the women squeezed in early runs. Conroy had to make sure her children got up and out herself. Another Mother Runner gave her a community in which she found runners she could relate to.
“I think we all look for support in different ways, but the local group that may be out there, they may not be the people for you,” Conroy said.
Lara Wines lives in Watertown, NY, but she follows the Black Girls Run chapter in Albany, about 170 miles away, because her daughter lives in the area. If Wines is visiting or if the Albany chapter plans a virtual run, she can join in .
“When you’re not a traditional athlete, it feels intimidating, so when you find these people online, that lets you know you’re perfectly fine wherever you are,” Wines said. “That lets you know you can do it.”
Wines participates in several running groups, dipping in and out depending on what she needs. Most recently, as she returns from an injury, she has been active in a group that focuses on run-walk intervals.
“I started doing these intervals, posting in the group, and here I am back doing daily runs again,” she said.
Martinus Evans, who started the Slow AF Run Club in 2018 to provide a virtual space for slower and heavier runners, said the variety of affinity organizations that people could join was good for the sport.
“By having these communities, all these communities, we’re just becoming a conduit for more individuals to get into running, which is always a good thing,” he said.
Black Men Run is Stinson’s main affiliation, but he is also a big fan of Evans and what he has contributed to the running community by showing a different face for recreational running from a fast, slim, white man.
“You’re valid as a runner and an athlete even if you don’t look like that,” Stinson said.
Wines said that when she ran with groups organized around race or ethnicity, she found that they were also welcoming of all sizes and paces.
“People that aren’t in the majority, they know what it’s like,” she said.