“How I got started running was really community,” Jasmine Nesi tells me over the phone. “A bunch of my friends had signed up for half marathons, and they peer pressured me into doing it.” That was in 2014, and she was living in Washington D.C. With the city’s diverse community and large professional population, Nesi was able to see many runners who looked like her, and a running community was built into her first experiences with the sport. But she says that her story is unique in that way, and the desire to create a space for Black women to find a running community led her to launch RUNGRL, a digital wellness space and running community for Black women runners.
RUNGRL was founded by Dominique Burton, Stephani Franklin, Ashlee Lawson Green, Na’Tasha Jones, and Natalie Robinson, and Nesi. They were very intentional about it existing online, Burton says, so that people everywhere could access the community when they needed it. “We were very fortunate in D.C. and in New York to look around and see people who look like us running, but we went to New Orleans, and there’s not that same thing. People don’t run in that humidity,” she says.
“If you run, you’re a runner. Own it. You don’t have to complete a half marathon, you don’t have to run four times a week, you don’t have to do anything to call yourself a runner.” —Jasmine Nesi
On one level, Nesi says RUNGRL is about creating a welcoming space where people feel seen and celebrated. But it’s also deeper than that. “Wellness is something that I feel like Black women don’t often feel like it’s their own to own. It’s real that there are disproportionate health outcomes for Black women. So I think our mission, even deeper than that representation, is just to get Black women moving and caring about their health and setting up those healthy routines and lifestyles,” she says. When one person joins, there’s a ripple effect that can impact their families and the people around them. Nesi says she’s seen this firsthand: She got into running because her friends were into it, and now she has gotten other friends and her family into running as well. “When [people] establish those routines, then their kids will have that growing up, and it won’t be foreign to them,” she says.
And no matter whether you’re someone who is running many miles, or just a few Nesi says you’re in. “I’m adamant about who gets to call themselves a runner,” Nesi says. “If you run, you’re a runner. Own it. You don’t have to complete a half marathon, you don’t have to run four times a week, you don’t have to do anything to call yourself a runner.” She also emphasizes that stopping to walk doesn’t make you any less of a runner. It’s not about going all in and running 100 percent of the time, it’s more fluid than that. The important part is getting out there and doing it.
At RUNGRL, the team has noticed more Black representation in running on a large scale over the past few years, as more Black women runners are celebrated on national platforms and at the Olympic level. But it was important for them to also celebrate and tell the stories of everyday Black women, and these stories are the ones that get the most engagement. “I need to know that somebody like me who, you know, is waking up at seven o’clock in the morning to go to work, and then after has to get this run in for my health. And just for me to feel better,” says Burton.
Particularly, during the pandemic as races have been canceled or postponed, the sense of community that RUNGRL is fostering is helping many keep moving.
Particularly, during the pandemic as races have been canceled or postponed, the sense of community that RUNGRL is fostering is helping many keep moving. “Earlier this year…we just put our feelings out on the ground. Like, ‘Y’all this really sucks. How are y’all feeling about raising getting canceled? Are y’all training? Are y’all running?'” says Nesi. “It’s finding those things that we talk about and telling other people it’s okay… other people are going through this too.”
Through content and training plans on the site, Burton says that RUNGRL is helping to break barriers that had traditionally kept Black women from distance running. “When we first started running, five or six years ago, there weren’t articles about, ‘Hey, what am I going to do in terms of, What do I wear for my size, I might be curvier? [or] What am I going to do about my hair?’ Those stories weren’t there, those tools weren’t there,” says Burton. The RUNGRL community is a space for women to find resources on everything from how to style natural hair when you’re active to how to effectively advocate for yourself with healthcare providers.
“We want you in here, we welcome you in here, and no matter what you accomplish, we’re going to be there to celebrate you,” Nesi says. If you want to start running but are still hesitant, Burton says you do it “literally girl, just one step at a time.”
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