I remembered I had the email of the editor of the country’s leading running publication. He had contacted me a few months before inviting me to sit on a panel at the Olympic marathon trials, an invitation that told me he knew who I was and that on some level he understood the Importance of Having a Black Woman on a Panel on Women’s Race. So I opened my computer and wrote him an e-mail. I said I write out of fear and anger. I knew the publication had covered the issue of runner safety for women, including in a recent cover story, and that the brand had launched a new alliance to address the issue. But a discussion of the dangers of white supremacy for black runners had been notably absent from the conversation. I asked the publication to draw attention to Ahmaud’s death with the hashtag #IRunWithMaud, and to publish an article on the unique and justified fears of black runners, indigenous runners and other runners of color; how our safety is compromised by white supremacy and the lack of justice we receive from the justice system.
I took a screenshot of the email and posted it on Instagram. I was hoping people would see it, but I wasn’t anticipating any results. I put my phone down, I nursed the baby, I took care of some emails. By the time I looked at my phone again, it was on fire. Former elite runner and national champion Lauren Fleshman had reposted my post and tagged other running and outdoor posts – Women’s Running, LetsRun.com, FloTrack, Outside, ESPN, RunnerSpace, Sports Illustrated – the calling for dedicating front-page space to the issues. color face runners. Runners tagged other runners and other brands, media, podcast hosts, coaches, running clubs and organizations.
The outcry was loud and vocal, and people were rightly horrified by Ahmaud’s murder. But mostly I felt anger. Why did it take my post to get the larger running community fired up about the murder of a black man? Where were they? Don’t these same people read the New York Times?
Two days later, runners across the country took to the streets to run 2.23 miles for Ahmaud, the distance in remembrance of the day he was killed: February 23. In Georgia, the McMichaels were finally arrested, nearly ten weeks after the murder. It was May 8, the day that should have been Ahmaud’s twenty-sixth birthday. It wasn’t until the evening that Amir and I finally got out to do our 2.23 miles. All day I told myself that I was going to do it, but something inside me didn’t want to. I was conflicted about honoring his life by running the miles associated with his death. I feared that the complexity of a human being could not be distilled in a day, that running a distance that marked his murder erased the life he had lived. Are we honoring Ahmaud? Or was it for us?
Amir and I put the baby in the stroller and headed out. We went down 132nd to Randall’s Island Park, did a little loop, and finished as a family. As always, I gained a sense of clarity that comes after a run. We were running for Ahmaud because it was his place of joy, something we black people all deserve to feel as we move through space.
Of RUNNING IN BLACK: Finding freedom in a sport that wasn’t made for us by Alison Mariella Désir courtesy of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2022.