Running is no longer a sport just for elite athletes. Run crews and communities are clocking up miles all over the world every day. No two are the same. But they all have one thing in common; a desire to help, connect and encourage people to reach their potential.
We connected with Danny Easton of The Big Run and Marcus Brown of A Runner’s Life for a brand new series exploring the cornerstones of the sport, kick starting with a conversation about the power of community in running.
Here, we are joined by run coach and Mafia Moves founder Andre Coggins, head coach and Team Project Run founder, Lloyd Kempson, lifelong runner and creator of Black Girls Do Run UK, Tasha Thompson, and co-founder of Koreatown Run Club, Duy Nguyen.
Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds and motivations for starting your run crews?
Andre: The idea for Mafia Moves started early on in my competitive career. I always trained on my own and got up at ridiculous times in the morning just to feel safe. Where I’m from in London, there are a lot of external things that can happen that can hinder your progression in life. That was the sole reason for starting in 2019. I wanted to create experiences and opportunities for people in my community. I started it for them more than myself.
Lloyd: We officially started Team Project Run in 2017. I just wanted to help runners run. My background is athletics and I’m always trying to bridge the gap between community and competition. I wanted people to enjoy what I’ve enjoyed. It’s all running, we just move at different speeds.
Tash: I’ve been running for 22 years. But at races, I never saw a lot of black women running. I didn’t really understand why because it’s so easy to get a decent pair of running trainers, a sports bra and to run around the block. So in 2019, I decided to give something back to running as it’s given me so much. I started Black Girls Do Run UK to encourage regular women to run. I’m not talking about elite black women running, they’re in a class of their own. I just wanted to encourage normal black women, mothers, students, to run.
Duy: We didn’t even know running crews were a thing when we started in 2016. My friend and co-founder Mike Pak and I just wanted to do something for our neighbourhood. We live in Koreatown, Los Angeles, where there is a lot of partying. It’s an urban city and there's not really any running so we wanted to change that.
What do you hope to give back to your communities?
“To be a runner, you just need to run. You don’t have to run fast. It’s ok to run slow. You don’t have to cross the finish line first, second or third. It’s ok to be last. The main thing is that you enjoy it. It’s fine to run for social reasons, or for your physical and mental health. It doesn’t matter if you walk a bit, just keep moving. There is space for everybody.”
Andre: It’s about being there for people. Like a father watching someone compete or play football. Growing up I didn’t have a male role model. So putting something out there for people to access without any pressure of having to compete. That’s what motivates me. You have to think about why you’re doing it and if you don’t think about the people it’s pointless.
Lloyd: You’ve got to keep it as relaxed as possible. A happier runner is always a faster runner, if that’s your goal. I’ve stressed myself out for years about times and numbers. It’s ridiculous because it drags you down so far that it can affect your performance. When people run with other people for the first time, they realise they can work harder and do more than they could by themselves because they’re not focusing on the effort. If you can take the focus away from how hard it might be, your body can keep going. We get it all the time, people running a PB while talking to their friend!
Tash: I just want people to run for whatever speed and distance. You don’t have to run fast. It’s ok to run slow. To be a runner, you just need to run. You don’t have to cross the finish line first, second or third. It’s ok to be last. The main thing is that you enjoy it. There’s a lot of black women who are elite and that’s almost daunting. We believe we have to run fast so then we don’t do it. But it’s fine to run for social reasons, or for your physical and mental health. It doesn’t matter if you walk a bit, just keep moving. There is space for everybody.
Duy: We want to promote inclusivity. We want people to come out and run as much as they can. It’s not about who is fastest or who is slowest. It’s just about being out there for each other as a family. That’s what we call each other. And families tease each other, it’s just about that balance of knowing what’s right and wrong and how we should treat each other with openness and respect. There is a competitiveness to it. I can’t say I haven’t peer pressured someone into running a marathon, because I have, but it’s about knowing where the line is.
Have there been any challenges along the way?
“There is no right or wrong way to start a run club, as long as you’re running that’s all you need.”
Andre: Where I’m from, there’s not really space in the parks for runners so we’ve had to take to the streets. Some of the people in my group are vulnerable; I’ve got ex gang affiliates, I’ve got ex elite athletes, I’ve got police officers. On face value, they’re just runners, but everyone’s got a story. When planning routes, there are certain places that people can and can’t go. Some people are not safe running in certain areas. So we rely on our community to find where to run. It’s a constant risk assessment.
Tash: I went to a race once, it was the first time we wore T-shirts, and a woman giving out water said to me, ‘If I wore a t-shirt saying white girls do run, you’d say I was racist’. So I took a deep breath and said to her why we wouldn't think that and that we are not racist. We’re not saying we won’t run with anyone else, we’re just trying to encourage people from a certain community to get out and run.
Duy: At the start, I’d never ran more than a mile in my life and neither did Mike. We learned along the way. That was our biggest obstacle, not knowing how to run essentially. The way we approach it is pretty relatable for a lot of new runners who will show up and be like, “we will learn at the back together”. I think that helped us. There is no right or wrong way to start a run club, as long as you’re running that’s all you need.
What have been the most memorable moments so far? Who has inspired you over the years?
Andre: I helped run the Hackney 5K a few years ago. There was a seven year old boy who wanted to race but his mum couldn’t run with him so I asked if he could run with me. He beat me as well! I let him run ahead. But it was heartwarming. I don’t think he realised how much it meant to me. He wasn’t fast but he got to the finish line. That’s one of my favourite pictures ever. It’s the highlight of my running career.
Tash: I’m inspired by normal people who are living their lives, working, struggling in life and still making time to run. One of our runners struggles a lot with depression. But she just keeps going. She’ll drop off social media for a while but she always comes back stronger.
Running can be a really powerful tool in people’s lives. It’s community, it’s friendship, it’s getting you out in the open. It does so much for you. If you had a bad day, go and run. If you had a good day, go and run. It symbolises life.
Duy: For me it’s seeing people show up for the first time by themselves, a fly on the wall, not really knowing anyone, running at the back and then seeing them progress to doing their first marathon. Perhaps even becoming a captain and showing some of the leadership they never knew they had.
Film and photography by: @freezeframeinfo // https://www.instagram.com/freezeframeinfo/
Koreatown Run Club: @koreatownrunclub // https://www.instagram.com/koreatownrunclub/?hl=en
A Runner’s Life Podcast: @arunnerslife_podcast // https://www.instagram.com/arunnerslife_podcast/?hl=en
Written by Harriet Osborne: @harrietosborne // https://www.instagram.com/harrietosborne/?hl=en