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Why carrying out race equity work uniquely appeals to marathon runners 

3 April 2023

5 mins

Image: Courtesy of Getty

Recently I attended a BAME Network Leads Away Day. During our introductions, I mentioned I am a marathon runner. Immediately a very perceptive colleague pointed out that the qualities I possess from marathon running make sense for why I want to work as a Race Equity Officer.  

At first, I couldn’t see the connection but after a brief reflection, it was all so clear. Below are my reflections and I hope they either make you want to give marathon running a go, find out how you could work in an anti-racist way, or even better – both. 

To complete a marathon, you must be a strategic planner, where you have a vision of what you want to achieve. Then you will almost always have a goal which will usually centre around a marathon time. Mine is to run my next marathon in under four hours and the training, the food I eat, and the way I take breaks will help me achieve this goal. Similarly, race equity has a vision, and that vision will be to move the organisation in an anti-racist direction to help everyone understand what anti-racism looks and feels like. 

Easy right? Well, neither is easy; pursuing marathon training or carrying out race equity work is likely to face challenges and barriers along the way. There will be naysayers telling you this isn’t for you. I have been told, “Black women shouldn’t run.” People will tell you running is bad for your health, and it is true running can cause wear and tear on the body which can be exacerbated by overtraining or inappropriate footway.  

However, the physical benefits such as improved mood, bone strength, and muscle tone outweigh those health drawbacks, which in most cases can be easily managed. In terms of race equity, there will be negative resistance. For example, colleagues being defensive, in denial about the impact of racism, and like marathon running, it hurts, and when it happens, you’ll need time to heal and repair if you are going to be effective in achieving your vision and goals. 

So, if you are going to take on the mammoth task of preparing your body to run 26.2 miles or take on the task of working to eliminate systemic barriers that create inequitable racial outcomes, then you will need to be aware of the challenges. You’ll also need to know change is going to happen and if you stay committed to both, you are going to get stronger, and you are going to persuade a colleague to go to that anti-racist training. You are going to be able to run for longer, you will start to make progressive changes to policy, or you’ll see you have elevated status amongst family and friends, who will tell you there is no way they could do what you are doing. You’ll see how colleagues who were once disinterested in race equity work become allies and hence role models for other colleagues.  

The thing is, this takes time and marathon runners have a built-in sense of patience because the change we seek is often imperceptible, and gradual, requiring systematic planning and thinking with a Queen Nanny (c. 1685-c. 1750) spirit for staying in the fight. 

If you do stay committed, develop patience, and see the course through you’ll finish the marathon and feel amazingly accomplished. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming sense of joy and achievement I felt when I completed my first marathon.  However, just like race equity after you have hit a major milestone you will realise you need to stay 100% committed to your cause just to maintain your good gains. In the case of Loughborough University gaining the Race Equality Charter there is so much work to maintain our standing and ensure we progress.  This for me means working collaboratively with colleagues to ensure they are acting on the work they committed to advance race equity across the organisation. So, what is required to achieve optimum levels of performance whether it be marathon running or race equity work?  Know that both are hard, but the reciprocal return to be gained is supreme health and wellbeing, and more importantly, having a stake in improving the outcomes for racialised minority staff and students.  

In short, I love running but I love race equity work more. Both are tiring, challenging and fraught with barriers but when you immerse yourself in them, you’ll find yourself in a community of people that love both as passionately as you and are willing to pour in the same level of energy as you so you can pursue the vision and goals that are important to you.  

If you want to know more about how you can play your part in achieving race equity here at Loughborough University, or how to run a marathon or maybe even both (and believe me, you’ll love doing both!) you are more than welcome to contact me. I’d love to hear from you if you want to take the challenge on. 

Denise Coles 
Race Equity Officer 

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Reflections, comments, discussion and opinion on EDI topics from Loughborough University staff and students

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