Black Girls Do Run!

February 15 2024

In the UK, white British women and women of mixed backgrounds are more likely to be ‘physically active’ at 62.2% and 69.6%, respectively, compared to 50.7% of black women.

Black Girls Do Run!

This is according to the Sport England’s Active Lives survey, which was last updated between November 2021 and November 2022.

Overall, people from mixed ethnic backgrounds were more likely to be physically active out of all ethnic groups, followed by those in the white ‘other’ ethnic group – a consistent trend for at least the previous seven years. 

Additionally, black children and young people – along with those of an Asian background – are less likely to be active compared to other ethnicities, according to Sport England’s latest Active Lives survey for young people during the 2022-23 academic year. 

This can arguably be felt across a number of sports and leisure activities. In 2017, it was found that black people were less likely to spend time in the countryside and the outdoors than white people. 

A study by Natural England found that just 26.2% of black people spent time in the countryside compared with 44.2% of white people. A separate study found that just 1% of visitors to National Parks in England were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.

“This prompted a conversation on ‘did she think we were not running the race because we are two black women?’" Black Girls Do Run UK founder Natasha Thompson

Bourne out of a desire to try something new, Rhiane Fatinikun took to hiking before founding the community interest company (CIC) Black Girls Hike UK in 2019, initially as an Instagram page.

BGH has since developed a number of services and projects to help increase the participation of black women in outdoor sports and activities.

Elite versus everyday

In running in particular, black women have been successful at elite level.

Tokyo 2020 (which took place in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic) saw Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Hera, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson claim gold, silver and bronze and the women’s 100m final.

The women’s 10,000m was won by the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan, while Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon of Kenya won the 1,500m.

Additionally, the 100m world record is still held by Florence Delores Griffith Joyner from 1988, set during the US Olympic trials. Griffith Joyner also set the world record for the 200m that same year, and won three gold medals at the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea.

In fact, the aforementioned Thompson-Hera and Fraser-Pryce hold second- and third-best 100m times, respectively. Thompson-Hera is joined by Jackson with the third and second-best 200m times.

However, according to Black Girls Do Run UK founder Natasha Thompson, this representation is not seen at an everyday level.

Thompson founded Back Girls Do Run UK after participating in a running event in 2019, where, after going slightly off-course, Thompson and a friend approached the nearest marshal. Despite wearing a bib, number and running gear, the marshal asked if they were taking part in the race.

“This prompted a conversation on ‘did she think we were not running the race because we are two black women?’… Which then moved on to the lack of diversity at running events,” Thompson explains to Global Sustainable Sport.

“I mentioned that maybe we need something like the USA-based Black Girls Run and a few weeks later we created the Instagram page, Black Girls Do Run UK.”

In 2019, Thompson was celebrating 20 years of running – and she “wanted to give back to the sport that had given me so much”.

“[We want to] keep doing what we are doing, encouraging more black women to run, while maintaining a well-run charitable organisation." Black Girls Do Run UK founder Natasha Thompson

The USA-based Black Girls Run initiative was launched 10 years earlier with the aim of encouraging and motivating black women to partake in healthier lifestyles. Taking inspiration from the US organisation, Thompson has established a dedicated team to take Black Girls Do Run UK forward.

The five-strong group includes Thompson as Founder and Chair, along with Linda Agyemang as Club Secretary and Membership Secretary, Sacha Lumley as Club Treasurer, Celeste Stevens as DBS Verifier and Ann-Marie Kennedy as Welfare Officer.

Thompson adds: “The team was built with two friends I ran with regularly, another who I knew always had an alternative opinion that I thought would be good, and another woman I knew ran, and had known for a long time but didn’t know well.”

From that initial team-building phase, Black Girls Do Run UK has continued to grow and is now a registered charity as of October 2023. BGRUK also became England Athletics-affiliated in 2022.

The goal for 2024 is to continue the great work, inspiring more and more women to push themselves – whether that is to partake in a 5k or run a distance they didn’t think they could achieve before joining the group.

“[We want to] keep doing what we are doing, encouraging more black women to run, while maintaining a well-run charitable organisation,” says Thompson.

Going the distance

The lack of representation within amateur running is also felt in other formats such as long distance or off-road races.

After moving to Hampshire temporarily from London during the pandemic, Dora Atim took to off-road running. Atim told Runner’s World that she would often get stopped and asked what she was doing, as there “weren’t a lot of people who looked like me in that area and I started to feel like I didn’t belong”.

Atim went on to launch Ultra Black Running online, to support black women and gender non-conforming people who wanted to run longer distances and trails.

After growing the group, Ultra Black Running held its first race in July 2021 in collaboration with event organiser Maverick.

“We had black food vendors, black women DJs, bringing this abundant energy,” Atim told Runner’s World. “Who has a dancefloor at the end of a trail race? We did!”

Building a safe space, as well as confidence, is among the most important aspects of groups such as Ultra Black Running and Black Girls Do Run UK.

“Safe spaces are important to build confidence, especially when embarking upon something new and where there is lack representation,” says Thompson.

Furthermore, this drive can be accelerated by creating a community of women who can inspire and motivate each other to go even further.

“We have grown year-on-year, and women are embarking upon distances they didn’t envision themselves doing because they are inspired by others in the group taking on these challenges,” says Thompson. “It plants the seed of possibility in their minds.”

Black Girls Do Run UK is a registered charity and England Athletics-affiliated running community.

You can read more about Black Girls Do Run UK, here.

Main image: Arek Adeoye on Unsplash

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