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BIPOC Run Develops Diversity in Sport

Updated: May 29


By Jonathon Heide


(Just arrived from The Connection? Click here to continue the story where you left off.)


Angie DeLille lined up at the Shiprock Marathon on Navajo Nation land in northwest New Mexico, taking in the moment. The desert landscape, bordered by rocky brown mountains, stretched into the hazy horizon. 


What made this race unique for her wasn’t just the view. It was the company. Instead of being one the few people of color at the starting line, she was one of hundreds. The realization that so many Indigenous runners were with her—and had been with her in spirit for early morning wakeup runs, training workouts, and now race day—turned the usual pre-race jitters to giddy greetings. 


“It was amazing,” said DeLille, an Ojibwe from Lake Manitoba First Nation. As a 30-year veteran of running who completed Grandma’s marathon for the first time in 1994, she said her experience in Minnesota running communities has been one that is predominantly white. “But starting this race was different. It was like seeing yourself in a space where you’re not used to seeing yourself.”


That feeling was replicated for her recently, on a Thursday in Minneapolis, thanks to a new running group dedicated to helping people of color join up in the distance running community. The BIPOC Run was started by people with the desire for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (or BIPOC) to see themselves in represented running spaces. 


Jorge Devia-Medina has become a regular and now recruits others to join in. 


He began running during the pandemic, and he was often by himself around the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis. After a while, he heard about Mill City Running group runs, and he showed up. 


“When I walked in, it felt like the first day at a new school—everybody knows everybody except you,” he said. “But I made friends on my first run and have felt welcomed ever since.” 

He was at the runs with some regularity, but when the BIPOC Run started in 2022, it was another way for him to further embrace the sport. 


(Jorge, center, running Get in Gear.)


“It's pretty special when you see somebody new show up and feel welcomed at the BIPOC run,” he said. “Within a month or two, they invite their friends to the run because they feel so comfortable in this space. They want to share it, even if their friends aren't as enthusiastic about running as they are!”


The run was launched by four staff members of color from Mill City Running (Josh Bentley, Richy Yin, Jonah Castañeda Barry and Alicia Wold) who discussed the need for a group run that could draw different vibrant and diverse communities of BIPOC athletes of all skill levels. 


"We were all feeling like the race team and run club were great, but frankly, lacking some melanin."

At the time, Mill City’s main group runs (the “Flapjack Friday” and the Saturday assisted long run) had grown from 10-20 participants ten years ago to giant gaggles of 300-400 people. The race team (which costs $100 to join) had grown to 1,000 people.


Wold said that the staff had all been thrilled about that growth, but wanted new ways to open running up to others. 


“We were all feeling like the race team and run club were great, but frankly, lacking some melanin.”


Now, the BIPOC Run at Mill City (and the sister store of Saint City) Running has become one of a handful of events in the Twin Cities running community that is opening the doors of the sport to more runners of color.


“The store owners (Bekah and Jeff Metzdorff) had mentioned wanting to pursue actions that promoted DEI, but didn’t yet have a cohesive game plan for opening the community,” said Wold. They put the plan into action, and the staff “gathered a critical mass to organize and make the run possible.”  


"It’s hard to explain, but to be running with other people who have that same experience, it makes the activity less isolating and brings you closer to running."

As the Running Industry Diversity Coalition has pointed out, systemic racism, neighborhood redlining, implicit bias, discriminatory practices, and other arbitrary barriers have all contributed to the lower numbers of minorities in the nation’s running communities. But runs specific to BIPOC markets could help reverse that trend, according to RIDC. DeLille agrees.


“It’s hard to explain, but to be running with other people who have that same experience, it makes the activity less isolating and brings you closer to running,” DeLille said. “It makes me love running even more. Especially these last few years as there’s been a community shift.” 


She mentioned groups like Native Women Running and Kwestrong as examples that have been leading the way. Other groups have been doing similar things, such as Black Men Run Twin Cities and Latinas on the Move MN.


The City Running BIPOC Run takes place the second Thursday of the month at 6 p.m., and it alternates locations between the Minneapolis store and St. Paul store. The group often starts not with sprints or stretches, but an icebreaker: one get-to-know-you question that everyone answers. 


"The store hosts the BIPOC run, but the participants and leaders are the ones that own it."

The runners take off along the Mississippi River. All paces are welcome, and people rarely run alone. After taking in views of both shores, the group cools down at the store and then joins up for food and drinks. 


Jeff Metzdorff said he was happy to see the group become one of the core group runs from the store, and it reminded him of how the store also started small and has grown. 


“The store hosts the BIPOC run, but the participants and leaders are the ones that own it,” he said. The store and the staff have recognized that supporting diversity in running takes participation from the whole community and doesn’t come without some missteps, like the time a T-shirt design was criticized, or the time community members demanded leadership speak up more after George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing unrest.


The RIDC grew partially out of that tumultuous May of 2020, as many running stores and running organizations recognized how minorities had been excluded in different ways. Now, the organization works to provide research and assistance for companies to create more inclusive practices. Their initiatives have been pulling together competitors, like major shoe brands, and uniting them in hopes of presenting running as a universal sport.


Devia-Medina said he recently ran with a representative for a major shoe brand during one of the City Running BIPOC group runs. The rep was also a person of color, based out of one of the biggest cities in the country.  


“He said it was the first time he had ever heard of a BIPOC-led run,” Devia-Medina said. “I thought that was such a good example of how a store can lead the charge to create this space and attract BIPOC runners, bringing them into the fold.” 


Metzdorff takes no credit, but says he is just grateful that people of diverse backgrounds have been showing up and finding their way into running.


“A large running group where you are very much the minority can be intimidating,” he acknowledged. “The BIPOC run has proven to be a great conduit between never having participated in a group run to being a regular.”


DeLille (pictured, left) encouraged others to try it out as well. Especially for those who don’t call themselves a “runner,” maybe because of the way it’s perceived to be culturally. 


“The BIPOC Run is a smaller, more intimate group; we hang out and eat afterward,” she said, noting how the group run has grown in small steps. “We get to know each other. From there, new people often plan to go to one of the bigger group runs—with someone else. It’s easier to know people from that point on.”


Wold stressed that speed is not required to join the run. 


“This is a free gathering for BIPOC movers of all paces, ages and abilities,” she said. “Multiple people mention this is the only City Running event they attend, partially because it is the one they feel the most at-home attending … but the same runners are welcome at all City Running events.”


Devia-Medina agrees. 


“The run has allowed us to meet new people, develop friendships, raise awareness of events that are happening in our communities, and incentivizes us to continue our love of running no matter how fast we are.” 


“It has become this really a safe place, cultivated for BIPOC runners,” he said. 


“I am so glad it exists.” 



Banner photo: Participants in a recent Mill City Running BIPOC run.


 

Jonathon Heide is a communications professor and director of the English Language Learning Center at the University of St. Thomas. He enjoys the community of running groups and hopes that everyone feels welcome into the sport. Read Jonathon's fascinating story about Minnesota's 1913 Boston Marathon champion Fritz Carlson here.



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