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Lynne K. Varner: In Seattle, running is an identity, not just a pastime
April 24, 2013
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The Boston Marathon bombing was a sucker punch to the innocent host of a long and proud tradition. But this resilient historic city is already getting back on its feet. Thus, my concerns shift closer to home and to the broader, long-term impact of the explosions that killed three people and injured more than 170, some horribly. What happens now to the growing grassroots movement to inspire more people of colour, especially women, to take up distance running?

This question may rankle some as a premature leap from the physical impact of a terrorist attack to the psychological impact on the rest of us. But my perspective is from both the distance of 3,070 miles and through the lens of Seattle, a city where runners are as common as rain. Every city has its fitness buffs, but Seattle turned running into a form of civic engagement. People here are as apt to connect while taking a turn around Green Lake Park as they are in one of our ubiquitous coffee houses. You would be hard pressed to find someone in the Emerald City who doesn’t identify as either a runner, an aspiring runner or a former runner with bad knees.

In Seattle, running is an identity, not just a pastime. We run, therefore we are. I run. Not as hard as I did when I trained for a full marathon. But the value of running, and the guilt, still gets me out on the pavement. Good health should be a common pursuit, but my motivations are part geography and part awareness of the disproportionately high rates of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes among African-Americans. According to Public Health — Seattle & King County, this region is home to some of the greatest health disparities found in any American city.

Back to my concern: how do we remain enthusiastic about distance running after a destructive act exposed our vulnerability? “We ain’t scared,” a national running organisation for African-American women, Black Girls  RUN!, posted on Twitter after the attacks. I hope that is true. Only time will tell. I know that memorial runs/walks and exercises in honour of Boston are taking place around the country and in Seattle. Some people are committing to running 3.3 miles over the next eight days – for a total of 26.2 miles – to send the message that terrorism won’t kill enthusiasm for running.

Let’s do it. Let’s run. Don’t fear dying from a terrorist attack during a marathon. Do fear dying if you don’t take up an exercise like running. More than one-third of US adults, 35.7 per cent, are obese, but 4 out of 5 black women are overweight or obese. Do not concede good health, or the potential for it, to terrorism. A 2013 survey by Running USA, a national organisation that promotes running, found that about 90 per cent of competitive runners are white, 5 per cent are Hispanic and 4 per cent are Asian. African-American runners make up about 3 per cent.

Black Girls RUN! has more than 50,000 members in 60 affiliate groups around the country. This month they welcomed their newest affiliate, Tacoma/Seattle. The new local group’s inaugural run is set for a week from Saturday at Seward Park. I’ve run that loop, it’s one of the best trails in the city. The Boston Marathon bombing is now placed alongside mass murders at schools, Olympic Games and office buildings. Without a hint of false bravado or other feigned emotions, we should take note of those events and go on with our plans. Run, girls, run. We are not afraid.


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