“Running While Black” by Alison Mariella Desir

Book Review

I was eager to read this book, and I ordered it as soon as it was available. 

In my research and writing for Miles and Minutes, my local run club’s quarterly magazine, I have discussed multiple aspects of inclusivity in our Richmond running community. A part of this discussion needs to include racial bias, and I did have this conversation with several prominent leaders in our fitness and running community who happen to be Black. 

Inclusion in the running community is more than just making it feel less elitist, but also in improving access to the sport as a whole, and shifting attitudes about who a distance runner should be. These are things that every runner, but especially leaders in running communities, should consider. 

Alison’s book is difficult to read at times, but equally difficult to put down. She keeps you engaged with the story, elegantly weaving in her own personal journey with running and community engagement with the rich history of endurance running. 

I love that her book begins with a timeline, featuring the history of distance running along a timeline of Black history in the United States. 

I appreciate Alison’s honesty in telling her story of battling to find a place in this sport while navigating not only being Black but also being a Black woman. She brings to light so many issues that maybe not many others have considered, but that echo what many of my peers who are Black have expressed as challenges in this sport. 

Concurrently, Alison discusses universal issues many of us can relate to, including battling bouts of depression, losing a parent, and becoming a mother. I found that some of these parts of her story resonated with me just as much as telling her readers how she fell in love with endurance running. 

I loved hearing about her efforts to organize running groups and how this grew into a much larger movement, beginning with Harlem Run. There were so many moments reading these parts of her story that gave me goosebumps. It’s truly inspiring!

As her influence in the sport grew, Alison was invited to run the Boston Marathon, and she had mixed feelings about this, even though she did end up running the race. Here’s why:

“If Boston is the pinnacle, what does that say about what we value? Exclusivity is antithetical to the belief that running is for everyone. A sport open to all cannot elevate faster runners as more deserving of a race, of being more representative of runners. Can we see all runners as deserving of space and place? It comes down to asking, what is it we truly value: inclusion or exclusion?”

Alison Desir

Indeed. I’ve asked this question a number of times now, as a coach, for my local run club’s quarterly magazine, and in my own blogs. 

There are still many aspects of endurance running that exclude others for various reasons. But then there are others: individuals, organizations, and run clubs, who are actively trying to reframe this sport. Because isn’t the point of all of this to promote active and healthy lifestyles?

She waits until over halfway through the book to reveal that Ted Corbitt, a Black man, was the first president of the New York Road Runners and was the founder of the NYC marathon. Corbitt was also an Olympian and a physical therapist. (I’m thrilled that I have one thing in common with him as a fellow PT!) What was most surprising to her, and to me, is why this isn’t common knowledge. It’s a lightbulb moment, for sure.

Alison’s book is as inspiring as it is important. She’s an amazing and engaging storyteller. Not only does she convey the meaning behind the title, but she also tells stories about everyday life that will resonate with all readers. 

Her book is now among my favorites about running. I highly recommend reading it and adding it to your library!


Have you read Running While Black yet? If so, what did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, Goodr, Noxgear, and Switch4Good.

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