“Running has helped me become more present.” Some people turn to prayer or meditation or yoga as a way to slow down and make sense of their lives. Ashley Hicks, the co-founder of Black Girls Run!, found that in running.
is the co-founder of Black Girls Run. She lives in Atlanta.
ASHLEY HICKS: My name is Ashley Hicks. I am 31 years old and I am from Atlanta, Georgia.
I was able to really kind of break through the mental part of running in around 2006 when I started running after college. I was just trying to get back in shape. I hadn’t been playing soccer and I started running and I really found that it was a way to really kind of decompress after work. So, you go out there and you’re out there for a couple of miles and you can kind of process and think through things and relieve stress. So that was really what helped me kind of break through this idea of miles of nothingness that running initially felt like for me.
When I run, the one thing that I like to do is I don’t run with music, headphones, anything. I call myself a true minimalist runner. Literally it’s just me and my running clothes. I like to go out and I start out slow and then I will pick up my pace after that. But for me, it’s just the idea of allowing myself to kind of settle into the run. Settle in and to feel the road beneath your feet. Settle in and really acknowledge your surroundings. I think a lot of times we go through life and we’re not really present in the moment, so when I run, it’s this idea of really being present and acknowledging where I am and what I’m doing and the purpose.
So when I started running in 2006, running was not the most diverse community, it was — I’d go to these local races like a local 5k or local running groups and I would be pretty much the only person of color and so I just noticed that, maybe there’s an opportunity there. Maybe there’s an opportunity to kind of talk to people about the benefits of running: health, physically and mentally. And then also just see if there are other runners of color that I can connect with. And so we started Black Girls RUN! in 2009 — initially we just connected with other runners, people who are already doing marathons and half-marathons and dedicated runners. And then we started to see more and more people joining the group who had never run a day in their life and so that was an incredible experience to kind of introduce people to this old sport that’s new in our community and now we get emails from race directors all the time saying how diverse races are becoming and just the running community in general is changing and people seem to love the change.
I definitely think that running has helped me become, certainly more spiritual, certainly more present. I think it’s also taught me patience and it’s taught me how to really kind of push my limits and to challenge myself in ways that I never thought I could. I know that’s a cliché for running, everyone kind of says, “Oh I never thought I’d do six ” and then you do it. But that’s just been my experience. I’ve done two full marathons and that was something that I never thought that I would do.
It was interesting, when I was training for my second marathon I was running Chicago and I went to go get some new shoes and the guy at the running store, I was telling him, “Yeah, I’m not super excited about this. I just want to get through. I’m kind of nervous about my time and everything.” And he was like, “Yeah, the best thing for you to remember is that the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.” And so that was something for me to really think about and it was something that I would actually meditate on, literally just saying over and over and over in my head as I continued my training. And it’s something that I do now. Whenever I’m challenging myself to something new, I keep saying that. The blessing really is outside of your comfort zone. If you stay and do what you’re comfortable with you’ll never experience something new and incredible.