Running Actually Isn’t as Simple as Lacing Up Your Shoes and Heading Out the Door—Invisible Barriers Keep Lots of People From Embracing the Sport

Photo: Getty Images/ FreshSplash
We often hear that running is the simplest form of exercise to do. All it takes is a pair of sneakers, and the will to put one foot in front of the other...right?

To go for a run, you have to lace up your shoes—but that means you have to be able to afford a pair of running shoes, which average around $100. You have to head out the door—but that means you have to live in a safe, run-friendly neighborhood, or have access to one.

If getting into running isn't as easy as you've been led to believe, you’re not alone. There are plenty of barriers to entry for people who, let's face it, aren't skinny, fast, white, or male-presenting.

Experts In This Article

1. Lack of inclusion

If you have any form of social media, you’ve most likely noticed the sudden boom of run clubs. They’re not actually new, but they are having a “moment” as more people are interested in combining running with community.

Run clubs are a great way to meet new friends, share miles, and have support to reach fitness goals. But not all run clubs are the same, and a common problem is a lack of inclusion when it comes to pace and athletic ability.

“Run clubs that say all paces are welcome, but leave you in the dust if you run over a 10-minute mile pace,” says Rach Junard, a runner based in Oregon. “It’s important to be up front and acknowledge that all paces welcome is not the same as all paces supported.”

Julia Gaeta, a New York City-based runner shares similar experiences as she looks for groups to join.

“I’ve been running now for two and a half years and I still feel self conscious of my speed,” Gaeta says.

While training for the New York City Marathon in 2023, Gaeta attended a shakeout run in Central Park and was ultimately left behind. She finished the run by herself and feared for her safety in the dark.

“Since then, I’ve been super skeptical about actually joining any other run clubs. But I know there are others like me out there probably struggling with the same fears, so I don’t want to give up on running clubs.”

The inclusion of all paces and people is necessary for the running to be a more accepting sport. That’s why run clubs like the Slow AF Run Club, founded by Martinus Evans, are essential to moving the sport forward. It’s about having a judgment-free space that doesn’t focus on being fast, and instead embraces every step as a victory.

“Run clubs that say all paces are welcome, but leave you in the dust if you run over a 10-minute mile pace. It’s important to be up front and acknowledge that all paces welcome is not the same as all paces supported.” —Rach Junard, an Oregon-based runner

2. Safety

An underrated level of privilege is being able to feel safe while on a run. Unfortunately, women are more likely to feel unsafe when running than men—and there’s data to back it up.

In a 2017 survey conducted by Runner's World, 43 percent of women reported experiencing harassment while running compared to just 4 percent of men. In a 2021 joint survey done by Runner's World and Women's Health, more than 2,000 runners responded and 60 percent of women reported being harassed when running, 25 percent reported experiencing unwanted sexual advances or sexist comments, and 6 percent reported feeling threatened to the point that they feared for their lives.

It’s a frustrating and sad reality that many runners have to keep in mind before heading out the door. This can affect the time of day you run, the location, and gear to bring just to feel safe while exercising.

To help with this issue, some brands have created products that increase safety. Runners can be subtly armed with pepper spray, personal alarms, running lights, and open-ear headphones so they can be aware of their surroundings at all times.

Safety issues while running are often gender-based discussions, but it's important to acknowledge that the responsibility to remain safe is not only on female runners. It takes everyone to prioritize and improve safety for runners.

However, safety issues aren't solely about gender—race can play a part in this, too. Correy Plunkett, an Atlanta-based runner, says he began questioning his safety on runs after the 2020 shooting death of Ahmad Arbery—a black man killed in Georgia while running.

“Before then, I would run wherever I was,” Plunkett says. “There are times now that I'm evaluating the place I'm in and thinking that if it's a predominantly white area, people are probably scared of me running down the street.”

Because Ahmad Arbery's murder and other brutalities of black men that followed, Plunkett takes extra precaution when choosing where to run and what he looks like.

“I'm looking over my shoulder a little bit more, evaluating other people that are walking down the street, and evaluating people who might be watching me—more so now because of the way that people are so comfortable taking lives. I really make an effort to look over my shoulder.”

3. Cost of gear

There’s no doubt running comes with a cost. Even if it were true that “all you need is sneakers,” those shoes aren’t cheap. The average cost of comfortable running shoes is more than $100. And after a few months of wear and tear, you’ll probably need new ones (depending on how many miles you run). Not to mention other running gear like smartwatches, hydration belts, sunglasses and clothes.

“The more I explored my fitness, the more I saw the cost of getting better get more and more expensive,” says Adrianna Vega, an Orlando-based runner who’s new to the sport. “I’m learning some items are worth the cost. Now I just make sure I keep my eye out for good sales on the big-ticket items I want to add to my arsenal.”

Meghan Hill, a Colorado-based trail runner, can relate to compounding costs.

“A challenge for me was affording expensive running shoes when I first started running,” she says. “I didn’t feel good enough as a runner to ‘justify’ such a price for shoes, but also wanted to get the right gear.”

Splurging on running gear can really hurt your wallet, but you don’t have to buy the expensive items in order to be considered a runner. Here’s what you do need and how to cut costs:

  • Clothes: Check out thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace, hand-me-downs from friends, and clearance racks for cheaper apparel without sacrificing quality.
  • Shoes: Consider buying an “older” model of sneakers that are on sale. Don’t be tempted (or peer pressured) to keep up with the latest and greatest shoe models.
  • Fitness tracker: A fancy watch isn’t the only way to track your progress. Free fitness apps like Strava, Map My Run, and Nike Run Club can keep track of your miles.

“There are times now that I'm evaluating the place I'm in and thinking that if it's a predominantly white area, people are probably scared of me running down the street.” —Correy Plunkett

4. Expensive race registration

Running on the road is free of charge, and hopping on the treadmill at your local gym probably isn’t too pricey either. But once you’re ready to sign up for a race? Get ready for your running to come with a cost.

Expensive race registrations are a huge socioeconomic barrier to running. Even just a local 5K can cost more than $100, making it difficult for some runners to participate in competition. Not only is it a challenge to participate in events, but it isolates some runners from another form of community. All because of the rising costs of race events.

The good news is there are plenty of organizations making efforts to lighten the load and the cost of races. In some cases, if you belong to a run club that’s affiliated with a racing organization, like New York Road Runners, there can be possible discounts for race sign-ups. There are also usually discounts if you opt for early registration and take advantage of early bird deals. Still, the pressure of paying for a sport that’s supposed to be easily accessible can be burdensome.

Bottom line

The barriers to entry for running can easily go unnoticed for someone that doesn’t have to face challenges of inclusion, threats for their safety, financial hardship, and other unseen struggles. That’s why highlighting these challenges and uplifting community members who face them is crucial to moving the sport forward.

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