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Is trail running just for white dudes?

A humble white dude mansplains trail running identity politics and demographics

In the past, trails were mostly run by middle-aged white males, but the times they are a changin’. Increasingly, people of every colour, age, gender and sexual orientation are finding a place to run together out in the wild.

“It’s difficult jumping into a sport where people don’t look like you”

Meet Joseph Gray, a true trail blazer for North America’s people of colour. As a visible minority, Gray (who has won 16 U.S. national championships, represented the U.S. in 28 international races, and was the 2016 World Mountain Running Champion) has had to overcome uphill battles on top of uphill battles (so to speak). Thankfully, his big heart and strong voice have been instrumental for moving competitive trail running culture into the 21st century.

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🇺🇸 In 2008 I became the first Black American to make the USA National Mountain Running Team. In 2009 I became the first to win the USA Mountain Running National Championships.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ With the help of HOKA ONE ONE and a few of my other long term sponsors, I was able to launch Project Inspire Diversity. When I was beginning my running journey I remember getting a free pair of shoes and the impact that had on my motivation and excitement for the sport. I wanted to return that favor to other young Black American athletes who may be going through some of the same struggles I faced when I was starting out. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ It can be especially difficult trying a new sport where nobody looks like you. The lack of Black American athletes within mountain and trail running media can limit the excitement within the young Black community for the sport. Small things like free gear can keep an athlete excited despite negativity from external experiences. I'm hoping to inspire the next generation of great young minorities in mountain running and distance running in general. To say I'm thankful that #HokaOneOne was so open to help me with this is an understatement. I am beyond grateful and pumped to continue this piece of my journey in the future 🤗 #TimeToFly⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ #inspirediversity #blackmenrun #journeyofjoegeezi #blackhistorymonth2020 #blackhistory #TeamUSA #mountainrunning #trailrunning ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ FULL VIDEO 🎥 Facebook.com/journeyofjoegeezi or Hoka One One Instagram IGTV

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RELATED: Do trail and ultrarunning have an inclusivity problem?

Stereotype-smashing role models

Champions like Mirna Valerio have confronted alienation and a stagnant status quo head on. Mirna’s ability to communicate the full scope of human experience has been nothing short of poetic justice. Being diversely inspiring for the next generation of athletes is no easy task, but Gray and Valerio have been very effective champions for normalizing what ought to be normal.

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Happy Month of Celebrating and Commemorating the History and Legacy of Black Folx in America! To live in a time in which I can assert my big black body on a big mountain is clutch, and I owe that both to my predecessors and contemporaries, for both doing the work and simply existing/surviving in a world harsh to them/us. I am so grateful to be able to look into a mirror (or cell phone tbh) and NOT think for a second that I am not beautiful or worthy because of those that came before me and those here with me. There is so much more work to do, so much existing and asserting to be done, so much learning and acknowledgement to be shared, so much. Today I honor my black self, my history and heritage, my combined ethnicities. Today and every day I honor the gifts given to me from my ancestors and cohorts that allow me to live the life that I live. 📸by @jakepmartinphoto for @garmin. #blessings #blackhistorymonth #blacketyblack #todayinblackhistory #blackheritage #blackpeople #mountains #outdoors #effyourbeautystandards #outside #mountainlife #selfie #backcountry #gratitude #grateful #womanofadventure #adventure #onetrail #werunwithyou #womenwhomove

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The early days of competitive trail running, dominated by people of European descent, are fading into distant memory. Within the last decade and a half, the blossoming international popularity of trail running, especially in Japan and China, and the dominant African running nations of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, have all added to the tapestry of starting lines and podiums at international competitions. Recent shifts toward diversity and inclusiveness have been universally regarded as positive for the many overlapping organizations, communities, teams and events involved. Increasing the scope of competition, and expanding the love of the sport around the world has borne much fruit for all.

As of 2018, more women compete in running events than men

It is a fact that running and trail running have reach gender parity, and this is legitimately good news.

  • 107.9 million race results, 70,000 events, from 1986 to 2018
  • The data covers 96 per cent of U.S. race results, 91 per cent of the race results from the EU, Canada, and Australia and a big portion from Asian, Africa and South America

 

total female participation has risen from under 20% in 1986 to just above 50% in 2018.

After all, why shouldn’t trail running be perfectly egalitarian?

Genuinely diverse and inclusive running clubs are forming to accommodate much more rich and meaningful relationships to trail running. Groups such as the Wild Women of Vancouver Island have proven to be revolutionary life-actualizing connection hubs for well over a thousand women. More people than ever are discovering what it means to “find your tribe”, thanks to the egalitarian and inclusive nature of trail running, and the passion it entails.

Fortunately there has been some progress in diversity, and our favourite passion and way to connect with others has proven to be increasingly inclusive. With new generations of kids emerging into a more diverse and inclusive trail running culture, the future is looking brighter than ever for our sport.