Generally speaking, I think the running community is pretty welcoming to new participants. There are programs, like C25K for the novice, blogs written by amateurs (example: me), community running clubs, and plenty of fun runs throughout the year for which to register. That being said, there are a few areas that I feel we, the running community, could do a better job examining and addressing privilege. Privilege is a group of unearned, advantageous rights bestowed upon individuals based on their membership to distinct social communities or classes. Some privilege is not easily named or recognized by those who hold it (Black & Stone, 2005). Just a few thoughts that are in my brain as I explore the inclusivity of running, specifically regarding thin privilege, ableism, and class privilege:
Thin Privilege. Is running body positive? In some cases, there are wonderful role models. However, do we see accurate portrayals of diverse bodies, particularly female bodies, in the mainstream running media, such as Runner’s World? Not so much. Do advertisements for running products or races show the cellulite, stretch marks, and cosmetic-free faces of so many women runners? Not particularly. Do we see different ages, races, and body types in promotional material that is not related to weight loss from running? Do running stores carry sports bras and tops that can support a full bust line, or armband MP3 holsters that span a “larger than average” bicep? Can women with a larger or wider foot hope to encounter options when they shop for shoes? I wonder how many potential runners disconnect from the practice because they do not see themselves in the community.
Ableism. We’ve got an inspiration porn problem in the running community, and the best way to tackle that is to start welcoming people with disabilities to meaningfully participate in our events. This means thinking about the routes of races and the accessibility or group meet-ups. It means featuring runners with a diverse range of abilities, including wheelchair racers, in popular running media. It means challenging our local marathon organizers to add a wheelchair category (something I am currently doing in my hometown). While it is popular to publish stories about people running marathons and pushing their relatives with disabilities along, we need to stop and think about whether or not we have an equivalent or greater number of newsworthy and noteworthy stories about strong, determined, and independent athletes with disabilities accomplishing feats of greatness. [Absolutely no disrespect to Team Hoyt… I am just challenging how some stories end up on morning news magazines and why… is it a conversation about disability culture and empowerment, or is it perpetuating the dominant narrative that people with disabilities need to be helped and assisted in an able-bodied culture?]
Class privilege. “Running is low investment—you just tie up your shoes and go out the front door!” How many times have I been guilty of saying a version of this? Let’s be honest… between race fees, special shoes, and appropriate clothing, running costs money. But that’s not all. Running takes time, which could be much more challenging in families with a single parent or two working adults who are over scheduled with work to make ends meet. Running in the neighborhood might not be convenient or a good idea, particularly if you live in a high crime area and you regularly feel unsafe. Running requires good fuel—and eating healthy organic foods is not cheap. Are you at home with one kid? Two kids? Need a stroller for them? Well, that is another chunk of change.
This is just the beginning of my own explorations on how I can challenge some of the privileges in the running community. I am just starting to delve into this topic, so if you can think of more examples of privilege in the running community, please comment below. I look forward to reading, and revisiting this topic.
Black, L., & Stone, D. (2005). Expanding the definition of privilege: The concept of social privilege. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 33, 243-255.