When you grab your water bottle and head out for a run, how much do you worry about your safety? Enough to make you reconsider going out at all? The answer likely depends on how you identify when it comes to race, gender, sexual orientation, and physical ability.
In the last year, members of the running community have been engaged in more conversations around fostering an inclusive environment in media, at races, in run clubs, and elsewhere across the running industry. As part of this discussion, Gatorade Endurance, one of several brands increasingly focused on diversity efforts in athletics, recognized that in order to build a more inclusive culture, it was important to step back and ask: Why aren’t more athletes from marginalized groups participating in endurance sports? To help find the answers to this question, they conducted a survey designed to understand the barriers minority athletes (specifically Black, people of color, LGBTQ+, and disabled athletes) face when considering participation in endurance sports.
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The results provide some interesting insights—and prompted Gatorade Endurance to share expert tips on how to overcome these barriers. They also launched a dedicated page of resources, including a series of conversations with minority endurance athletes, called “Beyond the Barriers.” Whether you identify as a minority athlete yourself or you know a minority athlete who’s trying to overcome these barriers, considering the perspectives of the athletes in this survey is an important step in creating a more diverse running community.
For Minority Athletes, Safety Poses a Big Concern
Survey respondents—both those who already participate in endurance sports as well as those who are interested in, but don’t currently participate in them—identified safety concerns as a top barrier they face.
Many of the respondents who don’t already participate in endurance sports said they worry about finding a safe location to train. Twenty-two percent of these potential athletes expressed concerns about falling victim to hate crimes (including gender-based violence and racism) while training. Some of these respondents also commented that they’re concerned about training alone.
Even respondents who already participate in endurance sports are concerned about safety. Forty-two percent fear becoming victims of hate crimes. In the “Beyond the Barriers” conversation series, Carolyn Su, distance runner and creator of the Diverse We Run social media account, explained that as a female runner, running in a high-traffic location might seem safer, but that “being an Asian American female, going to more crowded places . . . would put me more at risk of being assaulted verbally or physically.”
Breaking the Safety Barrier
These five tips were shared to help emerging athletes to feel more safe while running.
- Familiarize yourself with a potential training location before your first session in order to find landmarks and make sure there will be other people around. Consider running at a location and/or time of day when there’s more foot traffic.
- Join a community where you can meet friends who will train with you.
- If you’re training alone, tell a trusted person where you’ll be running and when you expect to be back. Consider downloading an app that shares your location with others.
- Bring a safety kit when you train (personal alarm, pepper spray, etc.).
- In the “Beyond the Barriers” series, Su shared that she always carries her ID and never wears headphones, so she can stay aware of her surroundings.
Lack of Time and Family Obligations Add Up
The high mileage and consistent, daily workouts required in endurance sports training can be challenging for even the most experienced athletes. Marathoner and fitness influencer Kira West said, “I have to really consider how many races I take on per year, what the training schedule looks like, and also be very transparent with . . . those around me in terms of what they can expect from me during those times.”
This heavy time commitment can seem especially daunting to someone who’s new to endurance sports. Many of the non-participating survey respondents have long work hours, busy schedules, and family obligations that play significant roles in their decisions not to train for endurance sports.
According to the survey, family plays an especially significant role in the lives of the athletes who identified as Black and people of color. Several of these athletes are their families’ sole providers, and many of them work multiple jobs. When they aren’t working, they said, they want to make the most of their free time by spending it with family. In “Beyond the Barriers,” both Su and West talked about the cultural expectations—especially for women—to prioritize taking care of family over everything else.
Breaking the Lack of Time Barrier, According to Gatorade Endurance
- Free up some time by meal planning for the week, joining a babysitting group, and laying out your workout clothes the night before.
- Make training part of your commute. Instead of taking the train, run or bike to the office.
- West said, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help” with errands (e.g. grocery shopping) from loved ones.
Breaking the Family Obligation Barrier, According to Gatorade Endurance
- Find ways for family members and kids to train with you. Push your toddler in a stroller or invite children who are old enough to run along with you.
- Set up a babysitting rotation with family members.
- Communicate the importance and benefits of endurance sports training with family members, so they understand why you’re participating in them.
Support and Representation are Important
Runners of all levels know that although training requires a lot of alone time and self-motivation, none of us gets through it without a community around us.
Two-thirds of the surveyed athletes who don’t already participate in endurance sports expressed that seeing endurance athletes who look like them would make them much more likely to get involved themselves. Many of them also said they’d be more likely to participate if they received support from their communities and families.
Support from others was also important to the surveyed athletes who already participate in endurance sports. More than half of them acknowledged family and friends as key to helping them stay motivated and overcome challenges. On her social media, West shares how her community has helped her training, including “joining running communities with other Black women to feel safe” and “getting my family involved so they’re excited to come support on race day.”
All Runners Can Help Create Safe Training Spaces
Whether or not you identify as a minority athlete, there are things you can do to help all runners feel safe. On her social media, Su emphasizes that “true inclusion is tied to safety” and “that sense of safety isn’t solely the responsibility of the individual.” She reminds all runners to watch their language, to familiarize themselves with the nation’s history and its impact on communities of color, and, if you’re the organizer of group runs and events, to consider locations through these filters.
The next time you go out for a training run, take a minute to think about safety. If you identify as a minority athlete and are tempted not to go out at all, remind yourself you’re not alone, and consider one of the expert tips to get past any barrier you encounter. If you know a minority athlete who wants to start running, become part of their community of supporters. If you’ve never fully appreciated the safety concerns of athletes from marginalized groups before, consider how you can help make your own training spaces welcoming for everyone. And no matter who you are, share and discuss what you’ve learned with your fellow runners—it’s these kinds of conversations, after all, that lead to real change.