"We want to make the women's running community in the UK as diverse as possible" | Interview with Black Girls Do Run UK - Women's Running

“We want to make the women’s running community in the UK as diverse as possible” | Interview with Black Girls Do Run UK

A chance encounter with a run marshal made Tasha Thompson realise that black women are seriously underrepresented as runners. She set about to change that, and founded Black Girls Do Run UK. Rachel Ifans talks to Tasha about her journey...

One day in 2019, Tasha and her friend Linda Agyemang, both from north west London, were running in a race near home. They were wearing the usual fit kit with their race numbers were pinned on and visible, but when they got separated from the pack and stopped to ask a marshal for the route, they were greeted with a blank expression and confusion.

Tasha explains: “We can never know for sure but we did feel like she didn’t believe we were part of the race. This prompted a conversation all the way home on why there are not more black women running and shortly afterwards Black Girls Do Run UK was born.”

How it all began

Tasha had been running for 20 years by then and had done her fair share of races. “Over that time, I’d always noticed there were hardly any black women running. I didn’t understand why because it’s so easy; once you’ve got the kit, you can just go. It’s an easy way to stay fit and I never understood why I didn’t see more people like myself out there.

“Rather than wonder why, I thought I’d try and do something about it.  Black women are well represented at elite level but I think regular women have got kids, are working and juggling a busy life, and I wanted to encourage those women to run.”

Tasha’s inspiration came from a similar group in the USA. “I started it with no real plan apart from putting photos out there and trying to inspire other black women to run. In the beginning, it was mainly myself, Linda and my other friend Sasha and then it just grew from there.” The 50-strong group now meet monthly in central London, and have a thriving online community on WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Strava.

The barriers to black women running

Thinking again about the barriers to black women running, it seems to Tasha that it’s all about representation and age-old narratives. “I was born in London and my parents are Jamaican. It seems you’re often brought up with this narrative that black people don’t do certain things and I don’t know why this is.” Even one of Tasha’s friends questioned the point when she set up BGDRUK. “‘Why are you bothering, Tash?’ she said. ‘Black women don’t run.’ There’s this narrative, you see; we don’t run, we don’t ski, we don’t ride horses and we don’t swim.”

As Tasha says, that attitude perpetuates a problem. Nothing changes if you accept it as fact and that means black women remain underrepresented in the running community; there’s a reluctance to embrace things where you don’t see people like yourself doing them.

Tasha’s running story

Back in the day Tasha has had a long love affair with running, one that begun 22 years ago. By the young age of 18, she’d already decided that health and fitness were important to her. She says that seeing family members with diabetes or hypertension gave her the urge to be fit and join a gym, but it wasn’t long before she left the treadmill behind.

“One day, I decided to run around the block outside and couldn’t believe how difficult it was; the surface, the different air temperatures… I could manage half an hour on the treadmill and only 20 minutes outside but although it felt hard, I loved it.”

And now it’s become about more than just physical fitness. Tasha loves the connection with nature that running brings. She says: “Sometimes I just crave green space and I’ve got to go and find it. I live in London which is a very green city. We’ve got lots of parks so I can do a five- or six-mile run and go through three different parks.” It’s also good headspace, she says, and more importantly, it’s the one thing she does that is just for her. Everything else is connected to somebody.

Running together, not alone

Tasha did her first 5K in the summer of 1999 and was bitten by the bug. She then trained herself up to marathon distance and did the London Marathon in 2001. She laughs now at her organic approach to the training. “The first time I did a marathon, there were no GPS watches available so I trained by times; hours on the clock. I think I built up to running for three hours – basically because I didn’t think it could take longer than three hours! I thought it was impossible to run for longer than that –I was in for a shock!”

Even though it took considerably longer than three hours on the day, she loved it. “Oh my gosh,” she says. “It is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my whole life. It was tough and I had to run it by myself because nobody else ran back then. Everybody I knew thought I was mad!” In fact, having regular running partners is a relatively new thing to Tasha.

She remembers crying at 18 miles and phoning her sister for encouragement and then meeting a 60-year-old woman at the end who was running her sixth marathon. “She said, ‘Come on, Tash, we’re going across this finish line together’, and I couldn’t keep up with her.”

She did cross the line though, in 4:59:51 – just after Sir Steve Redgrave – and it’s a time she’ll never forget.

She followed the London Marathon up with the Paris Marathon in 2004 and then decided to retire from the marathon distance due to the long hours in training and the feeling that it can easily take over your life for half a year each time you sign up for one.

Until, that is, Linda, encouraged her to enter the Manchester Marathon in 2020. It was a massive blow when the event got cancelled due to Covid, Tasha explains.

“We were so diligent and committed with our training for Manchester; we’d fit it in around our kids, doing it at 5am whatever the weather. We trained right up to 20 miles and then it was cancelled and the country went into lockdown.”

The pair waited a few months and did the marathon distance themselves to prove to themselves that they could and now they’re back in training for the Virtual London Marathon in October.

Tasha explains: “We did the marathon distance along the Thames and I was joking with Linda that we had to run so far we’d probably end up at the Thames Barrier. In reality, I wasn’t that far off!”

What’s next

There’s still lots to do for BGDRUK. Tasha has aims to expand the group geographically city by city, but in the shorter term she’s working on England Athletics affiliation and registering the group as a charity. The main aim is, and will always be, to get more people running and to make the women’s running community in the UK as diverse as possible.

We can’t wait to hear how Tasha, Linda and Sacha get on in the London Marathon in October; follow the group on @blackgirlsdorunuk to find out.

Written by

Kate Sellers

Kate Sellers

Loves a muddy trail run with her dog in tow

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