Running Home: Carrying the Torch

Dominique poses with friends.

Fleet Feet is tracking native-New Yorker-turned-DC resident Dominique “Nique” Burton as she runs a marathon in New York City this November. Nique is one of six co-founders of RUNGRL, a digital media and events platform for Black women that uses running as a vehicle to impact wellness in the community.

As a long-time multisport athlete, Nique Burton understands how difficult it can feel to show up as your best self in spaces where you don’t see anyone who looks like you.

As a co-founder of RUNGRL, a digital media and events platform that provides information, inspiration and celebration for Black women runners, Nique is on a mission to positively impact wellness within the Black community with her own representation.

“I’ve known the feeling of being ‘othered’ in sports for a long time, since my days as a competitive swimmer when I was younger,” says Nique. “That feeling of not seeing others like yourself can really be a barrier for those who might be considering trying a new sport, like running.”

Running USA’s 2020 National Runner Survey found that only 3% of all U.S. runners are Black. Tony Reed, co-founder and executive director of the National Black Marathoners’ Association, highlighted why this matters when he told Runner’s World in 2021, “A lot of African-American distance runners had not thought about pursuing different running goals until they saw another African American was pursuing that goal or had completed it.”

The importance of visibility and representation for runners of all backgrounds is something that can’t be overstated, as current health disparities are unfortunately all too common for many Black women today.

According to a study in theJournal of Women’s health from February 2021, despite substantial health improvements in the last century, Black women in the United States continue to experience higher rates of maternal mortality and disproportionate rates of chronic conditions such as anemia, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Today, Nique’s commitment to showing up as a Black woman marathoner is just more reason to motivate her for her upcoming race.

Representation for Black Women Runners

Dominique runs down a city street.

On her long-run training days, Nique says she notices how others respond to seeing her and her running group. To have a group of Black runners and diverse allies running together is something that is not often seen in many places.

“We run through the city streets, trails and through suburbs. To be seen by those we pass, putting in work together, really makes a statement,” says Nique.

But even with her long blonde locs and shaved, mohawk style, Nique is not a unicorn in the running world. The number of Black women in the sport of distance running is rapidly increasing and, thanks to platforms like RUNGRL, gaining visibility.

“RUNGRL is a platform to share the voices of others who may look like me but have unique stories of their own,” says Nique. “We wanted to create a safe space that represented not only us as a runner, but how that experience feels for us, as that representation seemed to be lacking in mainstream media.”

Nique refers to ‘The Nod’ she gives and receives in return when seeing another Black runner on the training route. It’s a sign of acknowledgement and solidarity between them, noting the mutual obstacles they’ve overcome prior to showing up on this occasion. During the first week of November in New York City, Nique is looking forward to seeing more than a handful of Black women participating in marathon events. She’ll see them in a variety of body types, ages and hairstyles, all queued up to take their place on the starting line.

“Black runners all show up in different ways, metaphorically, but also physically. We consistently break the mold, while breaking down barriers in how a runner is defined,” says Nique.

Keeping it Real - Training Transparency

Being transparent about the journey to race day is another thing that’s important for Nique. She shares that she doesn’t always hit a runners high while she’s training, and wants to be open about the realities of training so others know it’s okay to not feel great on every run.

“People need to know that the ‘Runner’s High’ isn’t always guaranteed. I don’t run for the high. Because what happens if I don’t achieve it?” she says.

She wants runners to know that not achieving a euphoric state is not a failure. Dealing with her share of aches and pains, scheduling conflicts, and negative self-talk during challenging workouts are all tough parts of the running journey, and yet, it’s winning in those moments that makes her feel most accomplished.

“It’s about normalizing the days that I don’t enjoy running. There’s not a pretty story for every workout!”

On social media, she chronicles both the glory and hard realities of what it takes to achieve something like running a marathon with honesty, and that resonates with many people who come across her story. She knows she’s not just running to fulfill her personal goals, but that she’s a beacon of motivation for others pursuing their ambitions--especially on the hard days.

“I have talked to so many people who say they saw me training. It really means something to hear someone say something like, ‘I worked out because I saw you,’” she says.

Community and Empowerment

Dominique runs over a bridge with her training group.

Nique admits the pressure to overcommit and try to meet certain performance expectations can be stressful. “As a Black woman, I’m expected to always be on the go,” she says. “I have to be intentional about everything, even when I eat or take breaks.”

Having a strong community around her is really what keeps her grounded when things get overwhelming. She draws support from a network of family, friends, and fellow runners who have shown up to cheer her on and help her to keep balance in life, while also being a supporter of others.

Nique also supports her community by hiring a Black trainer and shopping at the stands of Black farmers at the local market. She refers to herself as their cheerleader, saying, “Black women need to know there’s a community for them, whether they’re just starting, picking back up or running their 40th race.”

A Legacy of Black Women Marathoners

Nique is proud to carry the torch in a long legacy of Black women marathoners. From trailblazers like Marilyn Bevans, the first Black American woman to win a marathon in 1975 and the first sub-three-hour Black American woman marathoner, to Aliphine Tuliamuk, who won the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon, becoming the first-ever Black American marathon champion in 2020, Black women are stepping up to show the world that running is for everyone.

Nique continues this legacy with every mile, and she knows that each run has the potential to motivate another new generation of runners.

“We do this,” says Nique about both running and the myriad of spaces Black women occupy.

“And we do so in a way that others don’t, with flair and style. We make it our own. What’s so great about that is, a RUNGRL can look like anyone. Whether she walks or runs, is training for a race or just moving her body to stay healthy, Black women are the full package, and being able to show up as ourselves, authentically, is what will help us to thrive as runners.”

RUNGRL and Fleet Feet will be checking in on Nique’s marathon training this season in this monthly series we call Running Home. Check back in to follow her journey each month on the road to New York.

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