A Letter to the Running Community

by Rahsaan Rogers of Resident Runners

It was the perfect tool as a child because from that day, that first run, he trained me to see the challenge before the fatigue. Being tired between points A and B is a given; it was about what could be done between those points.


There can be a particular selfishness with running that isn't inherent in team sports, in that you don't need permission. There's no constraint, no limitation via the failure of teammates. The only limits are what your mind and body can withstand.


There's no hiding; either you're doing it, or you're not.


I fell in love with it, the strategy, the pushing of my mind and body to the boundaries, and discovering new limits. Aside from space to think, and stay in shape, that's all it was ever about.


When I eventually made my way to Brooklyn, I finally discovered my tribe—in an extremely roundabout way. First, you have to understand something: distance running wasn't necessarily a "Black" thing. I love hip hop, and I consider myself of that culture, but there's a departure into what I thought was a mostly white world.


In metro Jacksonville, Florida, I graduated high school as one of four Black students in a class of 400 kids. I ran cross country, a mostly white sport, which made me the black dot at most meets. If I saw another Black distance runner, we'd give each other that knowing nod, y' know, "Oh, you're a runner too? Dope."


Race as a runner wasn't really something I thought hard about. I'd just gotten used to being the Black man traversing white spaces. After high school, I ran in traditional running clubs with mostly older white guys, and I didn't have a bad experience, but it was unique. We didn't have anything in common, except for running. As a Black person, that sort of compartmentalization was always normalized in my life up to then.


That was until a frosty winter day in late 2012 when I met Eric Blevens and Raymond Hailes, co-founders of UA running crew Resident Runners. Back when you could see what your friends liked on Instagram, I found Eric through a mutual friend. He had a post about running five miles around Prospect Park. Another Black person that runs, and is into the same stuff I'm into. I just decided to show up to the address, thinking there would be a few people. Nothing serious.


The door opens, and there's like 30 people in his house, people I had never seen running around Central Park or around Brooklyn—and here they were packed into a living room, getting ready to run in a snowstorm, like it's all good.


My first run was with my father. I was 12 years old.


I looked up to him, a proud Chicagoan, who also survived Chicago just long enough to join the military. We wound up stationed in Japan, where he would run to stay in tip-top shape, but also for a challenge, as a mental game.


Before that day, I saw running as a solitary pursuit for my father. I played all sports as a kid, and I was pretty good. Basketball was my first love, and I usually excelled. But never once did I have the thought to run with no particular goal to score. Running was just my father’s thing because 'that's what military guys do,' I thought.


My dad was up for a 5K on a random Saturday, and he asked me if I wanted to run. Until that moment, I never thought he had an interest in me running, especially with him.


During the run, I remember he made it like a game. He'd say, "See that guy ahead of us, in the red shirt? Let's catch up before the street light."


At long last, I'd found my reflection right under my nose: other young Black runners, all into the same things culturally.

And it wasn't the only running crew, crews were all over. Make no mistake, the crew scene culture was created by Black and brown people. It felt good to finally have that kinship and camaraderie, to blend all parts of my life together in one place, with my people.


It also afforded me uncommon protection that I took for granted in the moment.


Until recently, it had never occurred to me that I could die from running, that I was in danger as soon as I hit the streets.


There was never once a time that I was concerned about my well-being during a run—not back then, not when I lived in Brooklyn, not even when I went to high school in Florida. Sure, a car might not see me, or maybe I could pull a muscle. But it was never a thought that I could be assailed simply for being a Black man running.


Ahmaud Arbery's murder changed everything in me, how I perceived myself as a runner, as a decidedly Black runner.


The first thing I thought about was my wife, wondering how my wife felt if I were killed on a run. And how we have a daughter, with one on the way. All of my past actions as a runner hit differently, as a husband and a father. We would run and blow through red lights, and run at night in problematic areas.


My wife, unbeknown to me, was anxious every time I went out. She never said anything because she knows what it means to me. We discussed her fears about my running for the first time. I realized frankly, how ignorant I was to not consider the possibilities.


I realized my selfishness, that same selfishness you can get sucked into chasing that runner's high.


I remember running the same day Arbery was killed. It meant something that day, it was the day I realized that, at any moment, I could have been Ahmaud. I still could be.


I was running for Ahmaud, but also running for myself. But then I considered my responsibility, to myself, to Ahmaud, to my family, and extended into how running was an act of defiance.


Running could be an act of change.


"Running for Ahmaud" can't be the cool thing, for now, a trend. I saw so many people who ran for him and went right back to their regularly-scheduled programming as soon as the enthusiasm died. It seemed like everyone became advocates for social issues, but much of it felt self-serving and performative. It was black squares and black hashtags, but rarely any Black people or Black voices on their platforms.


I want you to be aware of your spaces, be proactive, and make efforts to go out of your way about inclusion. Go out and look for that Black runner for your crew.

We all must do more, drive momentum, from whatever platform we have. Going back to the norm is something we can't do.


I need to see that same energy we had in the immediate aftermath, forever. It's not enough to only say the names of the slain: Arbery, Floyd, Taylor, Diallo, McClain, Bland, Guardado, and so many more. We must break down barriers and systemic structures in their names. We must find equality and equity in their names.


With this renewed righteousness and strength, everyone in all colors and creeds, must live in their names.