BY: CAROLYN SU
It’s a scary feeling, speaking up and asking for equity in representation. There’s a fear of being told, “you don’t matter,” or worse, that “you don’t matter enough to make a difference.” Well, last April, I did a scary thing: I messaged a popular running podcast to ask if they would consider featuring a more diverse cast of runners — or, in other words, feature more runners who were persons of color.
I love listening to running podcasts and following runners on social media. It’s inspiring, motivating, and educational, and there’s so much camaraderie and friendship that’s grown from connecting with other like-minded people. But, as I’ve grown more immersed in this running culture, watched more Insta-followings bloom, and listened to more origin stories, I’ve noticed a pattern: most of the time, the runners featured, re-posted, and amplified are White and come from affluent enough neighborhoods to “not really run (but still play sports) as a kid.” They typically have supportive family networks, start running as a way to lose baby-weight, and then have since run numerous half- or full-marathons and BQs.
That’s really different from my origin of running story.
Sports were never on my radar growing up, let alone the concept of spending time and money to run and train for races. That would be a “waste of resources,” according to my Taiwanese-Chinese parents. In an act to assert independence, I signed up and ran my first marathon as a college student in 2004, having no real context for what that meant, and having no real concept on how to train. I showed up at the Start with no fuel, no hydration, and having run no longer than 13-miles in preparation. Five-something hours later, I crawled across the Finish, dehydrated, completely bonked, and having sustained multiple stress fractures.
2011 Austin Marathon, my first, post-partum marathon. Pictured here (left to right) with my college roommate, cousins, mom (with a homemade sign with my Chinese name), dad, daughter (9-mos-old), Mother-in-Law, and husband.
2016 Austin Marathon. Here, Joshua is leaping into my arms while Chloe tries to hand me a love note written on a post-it.
My journey into running involved a lot of trial and error and figuring things out on my own. I spent my grocery money on Runners World magazines and triumphantly scoring running shoes from clearance bins, and I wore old, cotton t-shirts and oversized, men’s’ basketball shorts for my workouts. I was discouraged from running “too much” by older Taiwanese “aunties,” being told that the Asian female physique was supposedly more fragile than women of European decent.
It was a long time before running transformed into a consistent lifestyle of “racing,” and it was even longer before I found a place in the community aspect of running.
Where are the runners like me? The ones who have colored faces, who have immigrant parents, whose cultural group had other struggles to prioritize, and who didn’t have “that friend” to sign me up for that watershed-into-running 10K race?
What about my friend who had babies young, loves running but doesn’t have the luxury of going out with a jogging stroller to “lose baby weight,” because she hustles everyday working multiple jobs as a single-mom?
What about the women who are strong and fast and could very rightfully BQ, but who simply can’t afford to pour resources into race registrations and travels, and who spend their energies building up their local communities instead?
I want to hear from them!
Three months ago, after listening to yet another runner-friend express her desire to see more recognition and representation of runners who are persons of color, I got stirred up, and I did another scary thing: I finally decided to do something for a change!
I started featuring other runners of color on my Instagram account, @irunfortheglory, tagging the posts under #diversewerun (a play on “united we stand”). I found runners under various, culturally specific running hashtags (like #myrunninghair, #asianrunners, #nativewomenrunning, and #latinosrun), interviewed them, and started sharing their running stories. There was a lot of behind-the-screen work, more than I could’ve anticipated, but as the comments and messages rolled in, a recurring theme of voices emerged:
“Hey! You’re just like me!” and “Wow! I never knew about this before.”
There is something deeply moving when you see a face like yours, hear a story that reflects your own, and realizing that maybe you’re not as alone as you had previously believed.
There is also something profoundly wondrous about seeing a face that is not like yours, listen to a journey that is woven differently, and realizing that the word “community” is perhaps more beautifully multi-faceted than you had previously understood.
From left to right: Alison, Jo-Anna, Dioris
My hope for “@diversewerun” is to broaden perceptions of social norms, to challenge runners to discover new runners to follow and share about, and to connect with runners whose life experiences hail from different cultures (like Alison, Jo-Anna, and Dioris’). As women talk about running to inspire the next generation, may we practice what we preach and fearlessly model the example of building friendships with runners of different backgrounds, different skin color, and different familial norms. May we be a part of capturing the vibrancy of the realrunning community, one that is truly representative of the diversity of its runners.
Thank you, Oiselle, for inviting me to do yet another “scary thing” in sharing about the importance of cultural representation and diversity here!
Find me, Carolyn Su, on Instagram at @irunfortheglory, where I incorporate these weekly features of runners with my own journey in running, motherhood, and faith
Read the stories of #diversewerun at the newly-formed Instagram handle, @diversewerun, and join in using the hashtag!