Certified Running Coach Margaux Mays began running to relieve stress. As an African American woman, she says, “I did not see many Black women in the area where I ran or at races I attended. I was interested to know if there were women like myself that also enjoyed running.” After googling ‘black women running,’ she found Black Girls Run! and soon after became personally involved. Since planning her first group run in 2011, Chicago’s BGR! group has grown to over 1800 members and Mays is still happily involved. She spoke with Our Town about BGR!’s origins and Chicago specific success stories.
Our Town How did Black Girls Run! come to be?
Margaux Mays In 2009, Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks created Black Girls RUN! in an effort to tackle the growing obesity epidemic in the African-American community and provide encouragement and resources to both new and veteran runners. The mission of Black Girls RUN! is to encourage African-American women to make fitness and healthy living a priority. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80% of African-American women are overweight. BGR! wants to create a movement to lower that percentage and subsequently, lower the number of women with chronic diseases associated with an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle.
OT What sort of issues stand in the way of fitness for black women?
MM Many of the same issues that face other women-- like body consciousness, lack of support and motivation from family and peers. As it relates to running, I don’t think many Black women are as familiar with distance running as sprinting. We may become discouraged because we are not as ‘fast’ as some runners. Some Black women struggle with maintaining our highly textured hair. But, I believe many are shedding this as an issue and learning to place health above all else.
OT Obesity among black women is a real issue. It’s also seemingly true that black women as a group appear less concerned with a thin body ideal than women of other races. How does one remedy the first without destroying the second?
MM By placing the emphasis on health. Women with thin bodies can also be unhealthy. We focus on reducing the issues that affect our community like diabetes, cancer, and heart health. When the emphasis is on health and strength, weight loss naturally follows.
OT What sort of support does BGR offer?
MM The group [provides] a medium for sharing experiences and ideas. For every issue or injury a member experiences, there is someone in the group that has had the same experience and can offer support. There is also access to fitness and nutrition resources on blackgirlsrun.com, and discounts on running related gear.
OT BGR! teamed with Essence to put together the Preserve the Sexy Tour. Can you talk about that partnership as well as what the tour entails?
MM Starting January 2013, Black Girls RUN! will travel to cities in the “Stroke Belt” that have some of the highest obesity rates in the United States to host one-day health and fitness clinics. The Stroke Belt is a name given to the Southeastern region of the United States by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for having an unusually high incidence of stroke and other forms of cardiovascular disease. These health and fitness clinics will share Black Girls RUN!’s unique “Walk Before You RUN!” training program, guiding women in their journey from walking to running. Participants will also receive information and tools on choosing the best running gear, hair maintenance tips, nutrition and healthy eating, and more. Participants attending the “Walk Before You RUN!” clinics will receive a comprehensive toolkit to get them out of the door and onto the pavement. The tour is open to beginner runners, walkers, non-Black Girls RUN! members and current Black Girls RUN! Members.
OT Have you heard any particularly inspiring success stories from members?
MM There are so many inspiring members of Black Girls RUN! Chicago. Many have lost significant amounts of weight, overcome high blood pressure and other health issues. Many run to honor family members and friends. I am particularly inspired when a member shares their story of completing their first 5K or race. This is a huge milestone for a new runner!
OT Any tips on staying fit through a tough Chicago winter?
MM Don’t wait for perfect weather conditions! If you’re in the city, the Lakefront path is usually cleared of snow for runners. There are so many resources and gear available for surviving winter runs. Fleet Feet Sports Chicago offers free winter running seminars. Being part of a group like Black Girls RUN! helps to keep runners accountable for keeping up with their workouts throughout the year. If you’re a fair weather runner, winter is still a great time to work on strength training to prepare for the spring season.
To learn more, visit blackgirlsrun.com.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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