Tuesday, 9 July 2013

How To Get More Black People To Run

Last week The Guardian Online re-published one of my posts from this blog: “Where Are All The Black Runners?” asking why more “ordinary” black people don’t run marathons and other distance races.
Following the blog post appearing in The Guardian I have had a lot of really interesting conversations with friends and family about the issues it raised.
As always it was my friend Henry Bonsu who got to the heart of the matter. Henry is a first rate journalist having worked for almost every major broadcaster from the BBC to Al Jazeera, he now presents the Breakfast show for Colourful Radio. He invited me on his show and after a conversation about all the reasons black people don’t run he caught me off guard with the killer question:
“What are YOU going to do about it?”
Forget all the observations, forget all the related issues. If I am truly concerned about the fact that black British people don’t run what am I going to do to make a change?
I can’t remember exactly how I responded to Henry but now I’ve had some time to think about it here is what I think I should do (rather than just blogging about it).
Over the last 30 years female participation has increased massively with the majority of half marathon runners and 10k runners now being women. This has been achieved with a backdrop of extreme sexism where women were not even allowed to run the 10k at the Olympics until 1988!
So how has the increase in women running been achieved and what can black people learn from it?
Firstly there are a number of running clubs that specifically target women. From the FitBitch Running Club in Brighton to Frenchay Women’s Club in Bristol, these are all running clubs that explicitly say to women “we want you”. Can we organise clubs that specifically appeal to black people. Run Dem Crew is a running club that does this brilliantly. Organised by a black man it is open to people of all ethnicities – it is by no means exclusively black but it definitely has more black runners than average. There’s an old joke that could apply to a lot of running clubs which demonstrates the culture of the membership, the punch line is: “We are less of a running club with a drinking problem. And more of a drinking club with a running problem”. To extend the old joke one might call Run Dem Crew “A Hip Hop club with a running after party”.
We need more clubs like Run Dem Crew that culturally appeal to multi-cultural Britons.
The second lesson we can learn from the increase of female runners is that there are races organised targeting their concerns. There are 5km’s in aid of Breast Cancer and fun runs highlighting the problems of sexual violence. Most of these races don’t exclude men but they create a female friendly space.
Could black people do the same? Could we organise races which everyone could join in but had at their core an issue that particularly touched black people?
The nature of my work doesn’t lend itself to me starting a running club. At this stage of my career I don’t know if I will always be in the same place every week (let alone twice a week) to organise the club runs.
But to answer Henry’s question I think I will start investigating the second point.
I want to help organise a race that champions a cause that particularly appeals to black people.
Any suggestions?

(The picture today is of the Rough and Ready basketball tournament I used to help organise in Brixton - I will have to draw on all my experience of running that tournament if I'm going to organise a 10km run)


  1. How about sickle cell disease?

    1. Hi Crosswordkaji,

      A few people have suggested sickle cell. When I used to organise Rough & Ready we donated money to both sickle cell and Stephen Lawrence and that was very successful