All Races and Classes Run Together

It hit me as I rounded the bend of a running race here in the nation’s capital on the eve of Martin Luther King Day–in a country painfully divided by class, race, political ideology and other differences, running has become an important common experience that brings us together.

I don’t know her name, but it was a woman I passed on the course in her “Black Girls Run” shirt who cemented this for me. We were both alone at this point in the race, and we waved and encouraged each other as we soldiered along in our personal journeys against doubt and fatigue. Two strangers suddenly bonded by a struggle of our own choosing, we later broke bread (bagels, actually) with other runners like members of one tribe.

President Barack Obama correctly noted in his final State of the Union that our currently fractured society is holding us back as a nation. As someone working on federal policy in Washington I see this more acutely than most people. All those divisions within our communities have translated into a war-like environment “Inside the Beltway” that feels fundamentally different than when I started this work almost twenty years ago.

Bringing the nation together will be hard if we rarely see each other face to face. Our communities and our culture often seem to have re-formed into a new kind of segregated society, driven in some cases by relentlessly seeking out others most like us and in other cases by this century’s unique economic forces and tacit forms of discrimination.

So back to the run. When I began running and triathlons in the 1990’s these sports often seemed to have the demographics of a country club. Certainly people of different ethnic backgrounds and economic status were running, but somehow races and running clubs seemed not to attract that full diversity of participants.

No more. The transformation has been led by important new organizations like Black Girls Run, Latinas in Motion, Girls on the Run, and Back on My Feet giving running new reach across our society. The new running boom is not about how fast you are, but simply whether you are ready to embrace the self-empowerment that running can offer.

The starting line at an average road race is one good indicator. When I began running, the starting line felt like the proud province of overly serious weekend warriors like me stalking around with self-important intensity. Now the vibe is more like “dance party meets health club” with chattering and happily nervous masses of youth, millennials, middle-aged men and women, and more “experienced” racers representing a remarkable constellation of body types and socioeconomic backgrounds.

So what can we do to support this movement? America has never needed a melting pot more, never more acutely needed experiences that bridge all of our separate worlds and world views.

The first thing we can do is to support running organizations, like the ones I mentioned above, using the sport as a bridge to help people live healthier, happier and more self-empowered lives.

But the other thing this movement needs is more places to come 南京夜网

together. Across the country, cities are creating new outdoor venues where runners can safely come together seven days a week–not just when the roads are closed for a race. I am referring to places like The 606 in Chicago, a dramatic new three mile-long “Rail to Trail” project that has brought more room to run for one of the most park-poor and congested parts of the city.

On the opening day for this remarkable public works project, more than 50,000 citizens representing the full diversity of Chicago showed up to c上海新419

elebrate. Since opening The 606 is almost a cultural phenomenon, often discussed around the city and heavily used by every manner of Chicagoan from kids in youth Latino running clubs to aging dreamers running alone.

There are many more opportunities for our cities to create these “trails as melting pots,” proposed projects like The Queensway in New York City. Most often these proposed public investments are justified on the basis of reduced air pollution or improved quality of life, but perhaps we need to see them as something much more profound. If we are to have any hope of coming together as a country in the manner boldly called for by Dr. King and President Obama, maybe we need more places where we can see each other to share a wave and a bagel.