I was sick of being the only Black woman at running events – so I started my own group

Our community has grown tremendously.

I was sick of being the only Black woman at running events – so I started my own group
Natasha and eight other black women in colourful running gear posing for a photo in the street
 I used to watch the London Marathon and wish I could join in (Picture: Natasha Thompson)

Standing at the pedestrian crossing, I could already see a small group of ladies from my running group huddled together, smiling and chatting, and excitement flickered in my stomach. 

They were part of the Black Girls Do Run UK group that I had set up and run with four other women. 

We’d chatted online before but this was the first time I was meeting some of them in person.  

As I crossed the road and introduced myself, I couldn’t have felt happier – or more proud of myself. It’s an unexplainable joy to be amongst like-minded women all with a common goal.  

I have been running for 24 years but the last four years, since founding Black Girls Do Run UK, have been, hands down, the best.

As a child, I used to watch the London Marathon on the television and wish I could join in.

Even back then, I told my family that one day I was going to run like the people on the television. I guess running was always inside me. 

During secondary school, it quickly became the sport I loved best. But my friends weren’t as keen, so I dodged going to the afterschool athletics club to hang out with them.

I also wanted to choose physical education as a GCSE but was discouraged by my very Jamaican parents as it wasn’t an academic subject. 

Natasha and nine other black women in colourful running gear posing for a photo in front of Alexandra Palace
I decided I wanted to give back, to lead by example and make a difference (Picture: Natasha Thompson)

After that my running was kept mostly in the gym. That was, until, aged 21, I took myself on a nice sunny afternoon jog outside.

I didn’t go far but I loved it, I was hooked. I entered a 5km women’s only race in 1999 and have never looked back.

However, many of my early races were women-only events and I was often one of a few Black women running and definitely the only one in my 20’s. It didn’t hinder my love for running but I often felt lonely and left out. 

In March 2019, my friend Linda and I entered a 16 mile run. When we turned up, there were, as usual, very few Black women. 

As we set off, at some point Linda and I realised we’d gone off course. 

But when we approached the nearest marshal, she looked puzzled. ‘Are you running the race?’ she asked. 

I have to admit, we were both taken aback by her question.  After all, we were both dressed in running gear, we even had race bibs pinned to our tops.

We’ll never know for sure but, I’ve always believed, that she was shocked due to the colour of our skin.

Natasha taking a selfie at the beginning of a marathon race, wearing her Black Girls Do Run t-shirt
I was often one of a few Black women running (Picture: Natasha Thompson)

Once we had confirmed we were indeed part of the race, she told us we were running the wrong way. But as we set off again, in the right direction, Linda and I started talking about the lack of diversity at races. 

After that incident, I could not get it out of my mind. 

During my 20 years of participating in races, I very rarely saw other Black women running. It was, for want of a better phrase, the norm.

But I decided then and there that I wanted to give back, to lead by example and make a difference. And that was how Black Girls Do Run UK was born. 

Black women are well represented at elite level running but, the more I thought about it, I realised they weren’t at all at grass roots level. 

There are a multitude of reasons for this. Hair, body image, confidence, safety, not feeling like a real runner and not seeing anyone who looks similar to you.

I’ve experienced this first hand. Even remember joining one running club only to stop attending a few weeks later as I felt like I didn’t belong.

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But I wanted Black Girls Do Run UK to be different. I wanted to encourage, motivate and inspire more non-elite black women to run. 

Sharing photos of myself, Linda and another friend Sacha, on our Instagram page was the starting point.

From pics of us running to our training runs as well as the races, and yes, the compulsory sweaty selfie or two we never shy away from the details.

We also share our reasons for running – for our physical health, our mental health and the sheer love of the sport. 

Thankfully the comments are almost always positive. ‘Love this, keep it up ladies’ users say. And we have done.

Since then, our community has grown tremendously.

Natasha and seven other black women in dark running gear posing for a photo in front of Buckingham Palace
We also educate others on the importance of niche running groups (Picture: Natasha Thompson)

We now have over 100 women on our communication platform Heylo, many of whom openly admit that, until they found us, they did not see themselves as a woman who can run but now they thoroughly enjoy it.

We keep  going from strength to strength – both as individuals and as a group. In 2022, we held 18 group runs, and attended over 15 races. We host monthly social runs in different areas of London as well as have a weekly / bi-weekly run in North West London and East London. 

Occasionally though, we are asked why we’ve set up a running group solely for Black women and once we explain the mission, the cause and the why, people seem to understand. 

As well as encouraging Black women to run, we also educate others on the importance of niche running groups and nurturing underrepresented communities – and that in itself is a win for the sport. 

Because these women grow in confidence and add value to the running community by increasing diversity in running events, entering races, even buying sportswear. 

Yes, there are many barriers – both physical and mental - but you can’t be what you can’t see.

We want Black women to see themselves when they see us, to see themselves as runners. After all, all you need to do to become a runner is to run. 

To find out more about Black Girls Do Run – visit here

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