By: George Rehmet
, RRCA President
Since 2009, Global Running Day (sometimes called National Running Day) takes places on the first Wednesday in June in a worldwide celebration of the sport of running and its benefits. Getting out and maintaining health are now important as ever given these unprecedented times.
Many people use this day to make a pledge and run for a cause. I will definitely be making a pledge on behalf of the Road Runners Club of America as its president. One of the values that the RRCA espouses is the safety of all runners. In the past three months, through the leadership of our Executive Director, Jean Knaack, the RRCA has put out guidelines about managing running activities through the pandemic shutdown and now the slow return to group running as restrictions are gradually being lifted. Hopefully, we will reach a point where we can race and run together safely, as long as the running community continues to do our part to follow the requirements set forth by health offices in our states and communities.
While the pandemic has disrupted our sport of running, there is a another and more important issue that has been around long before the pandemic. It affects the safety of ALL runners. The murder of runner Amhaud Arbery was a horrifying event due to a person being chased and hunted down because of the color of his skin. As the story of Amhaud’s death was followed in the news, African Americans, including members of our RRCA State Representatives community, shared their stories. Our friends outlined their fear for their personal safety when regularly going out for a run, which is usually an activity that helps to reduce stress, not cause it.
Tony Reed, Executive Director of RRCA member organization the National Black Marathoners Association (NBMA), a non-profit organization, reported how when going for a run, he had objects thrown at him and has been called the N-word. Hearing all these stories upset me, and triggered the emotions of experiencing racial taunts I have received in my life due to being Asian.
However, I am hopeful. The running community did demonstrate its solidarity with Ahmaud and his family with Run with Ahmaud (#IRunWithMuad) events across the country on May 8. On that day, I, too, ran in honor in Ahmaud, but afterwards, I knew in my heart that doing this one event is not enough.
Confronting racism is a huge undertaking, but as the running community demonstrated on May 8, we must further take steps to make running welcoming and safe for all, especially runners of color. Reaching out to 2004 Olympian Silver Medalist and RRCA Hall of Fame member Meb Keflezighi, he stated,
Our running community is unique and generally accepting of African Americans. However, the participation rate for people of color is very small. We need to reach out to communities of color, especially when races resume and talk to them about the benefits of running.
Seeing more runners of color sends the message to society that people running are just running. Tony Reed added that running related business could help themselves, as well as the runners of color, by marketing to these runners and by financially supporting organizations that support runners of color such as the National Black Marathoners Association.
Decades before, running was predominately a white male sport, but today most races and many clubs see over 50% female participation. The RRCA played a leading role in supporting women’s events and advocating for equal female participation in races. The RRCA has long required members to allow membership or participation in clubs and events without regard to race, creed, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, physical condition, or age. However stating this does not always mean it is implemented as we expect of members.
As with the issue of gender inequality, the RRCA Board of Directors along with its National Office Staff will be researching and developing strategies for what we ,as a national organization, can do to ensure the safety and inclusion of all runners, especially people of color. Our goal is to develop guidelines and recommendations to help members improve diversity and inclusion in their clubs and events at the local level. Hopefully, our actions in our sport will send a message to the larger American society that ALL people have the right to participate in activities without threat of harm or death (not just running).
So on Global Running Day, I will be feeling blessed that I can still run during this pandemic, but more importantly, I will reaffirm my pledge, in memory of Ahmaud Arbery, to make our sport of running a welcoming and safe place for ALL runners.