Take the Lead Retreat Aims to Increase Diversity in the Running Industry

Attendees of the Take the Lead retreat pose at the waterfront.

Last month, 64 women converged at the Brooks Headquarters in Seattle for the Take the Lead Retreat, a first-of-its-kind event created for women and femme of color in the running industry.

Founded by Martha García and Alison Désir, the Take the Lead retreat allowed attendees to refine career development goals, network with others and pursue mentorship opportunities in order to increase diversity and representation in the running industry. Désir advocates for more inclusion and representation for people of color in the running industry, and helped launch the Running Industry Diversity Coalition in 2020. We spoke with Adina Crawford, a certified yoga instructor, Fleet Feet contributor and part of the planning committee for Take the Lead, to learn more about her experience and what we all can learn from it.

FF: What did you hope to gain from the retreat?

Adina poses with Alison Desir, who organized the retreat.

AC: I hoped to gain new connections and better insight into what it means to be a woman of color in your space, whether it's in your work industry or your community…And I did. It was amazing to connect with community influencers and game changers in the running industry.

The retreat featured two different panels, and just listening to the stories of what we, as women of color, go through was pretty intense. Hearing how women have been treated and how they’ve been glossed over, in the workplace and in the running community, was sad. There were a lot of tears.

In the running industry, women of color are looked at differently than our counterparts. When you’re on the job, sometimes you’re not heard. Sometimes people use microaggressions. Sometimes when I teach yoga, I am asked if I’m really the teacher. Sometimes there are side-eyes and comments. During the retreat, we learned how to use our voice as a tool, to be courageous and stand united.

We also talked about representation in the running industry. Who are the brands that are getting it right, and who isn’t? Not just in terms of racial diversity, but also size inclusivity. Size should not matter when it comes to running, and many times larger runners are treated like second class citizens in the fitness world. I was just sent some apparel to try and the size large feels like a medium, and the extra large feels like a large. I would like to see brands make apparel for all sizes that’s consistent.

FF: What role did yoga play during the retreat?

AC: Yoga brought people into a calmer state where they were able to find solitude, be mindful and be present. We all have stuff going on, so to be able to come into a space and align your inner peace and inner joy is a beautiful thing. It’s a place to just be rather than do.

It was a busy week during which we dug into tough topics. A lot of people came up to me after the class and said that they really needed it.

FF: After spending time at this retreat, what do you think the running industry needs to do to make a change?

Adina smiles while holding a sign that says "RUN HAPPY"

AC: I’d like to see more women of color running and moving. Let’s go in, take up space, show up authentically and make it known that we're here and we want to participate.

Some brands in the industry either don't see us, they don't know how to include us or they just don't know where to begin. If they don't know where to start, they should reach out and ask questions. Don't be afraid!

Women of color can continue to create space for ourselves in that industry by showing up, being present and being the “elephant in the room.” When you show up to events, expos and races, you have to say, “Hey you know what? I belong here.” By continuing to show up and amplify our voices, we can make change.

Walking away from the retreat left me feeling fueled and filled. I was fueled with information and filled with all kinds of love, connection and a real sense of gratitude for the sisterhood we all shared. We got a chance to pull down the layers and expose our feelings, thoughts and experiences. Every woman brought something to the table. As women of color, we share a collective history, we support one another and we empower one another.

FF: Do you feel hopeful about the future of the running industry as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion?

AC: I feel hopeful because we have a lot of game changers, but it takes a village. I think it will take a lot of work, a lot of conversations and a lot of engagement with industry brands. I think a lot of brands are thinking about how diversity and inclusivity will affect their business – will they lose followers? Will it affect their bottom line? – which is sad.

Everyone deserves a seat at the table. If you can move your body, you can run.

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