Representation in the running space matters. Whether it’s feeling seen when settling in the starting line of a race or partnering with running brands and outdoor companies, it’s important to make space for Black people in the endurance space. 

Movement is truly for everyone, and the more we diversify our industry, the more we all reap the rewards (and get to experience a runner’s high!).

This month we caught up with Tommie Runz, an endurance runner, podcaster, and brand ambassador who’s making waves and paving the future for runners everywhere. His Run Eat Sleep show covers thought-provoking running topics with today’s most successful runners. 

Watch the full video or read the transcript of our interview about elevating the endurance space for Black runners, and how brands can create more opportunities for everyone.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Don Reichelt:

Hey everybody. I am Don Reichelt with BOCO Gear and I am here with Tommie and super excited to talk to you today, Tommie.

Tommie:

Hey, how’s it going, man? Thanks for having me.

Don Reichelt:

I am awesome. Well, tell us a little bit about yourself, Tommie.

Tommie:

I’m a runner, I’m vegan. First I’m black, runner, vegan, sober and just having a really good time, kind of getting familiar with the running space and chasing PRs and just doing things that just feel right in the moment.

Don Reichelt:

I love it. I love it. So we’re going to talk a little bit today about black inclusion in the outdoor industry and in the endurance space. So just right off the bat, as an African-American, as a black man, as you introduce yourself, what do you see in the industry, and what are maybe some of the advantages or challenges that present themselves to you?

Tommie:

Well, I mean, I think when I first came into this space, to running a few years ago, definitely, there’s like a lack in seeing yourself out there. Seeing yourself in maybe social media more and in brand advertisements and things like that. 

It was hard to place myself somewhere and maybe where did I belong, other than the fact that it made me feel good being out outdoors running and getting more fit and healthy.

Tommie:

But as the years have passed and a couple of years have passed and all that happened with 2020 and Ahmaud Arbery and all the cases that brought things to the forefront, I feel like a lot of brands responded in a great way, and some brands maybe not as well.

But I think there was definitely an effort there and it seems to be continuing. And that’s what I think we were kind of all waiting around to see is what happened, who continued, who meant it? You know what I mean? 

And who actually changed their company culture to fit what needs to happen in order for the running space to actually be diverse. So I think it’s getting better. And I think that there’s room for improvement in everything.

Tommie:

And being at TRE in Austin was really cool for me to be there, but then it also kind of showed where there is a lack of representation. Not necessarily at the race start line, so to speak, because I mean, especially the big marathons, it’s really diverse there. 

But when it comes to like the business side of the industry, there’s definitely a lack there, which is, I think a really big deal, more of a deal than people probably think.

Don Reichelt:

So going on the theme of businesses and you said some succeeded in doing more and some didn’t, you’re a business owner yourself. 

Talk to me as if I am BOCO Gear, what could BOCO gear do? And what could companies like BOCO gear do to do better? Even if you feel like the company is doing something, what can we all do to do better?

Tommie:

I think that it’s just the fact that asking questions, connecting with people. It’s a fine line because I mean, you don’t want companies to just reach out to you because you are a thing, or because you are black or because you are Mexican or whatever the vibe is, whatever. 

 

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You don’t want to feel like you’ve been targeted either, but it’s at this point with social media, there are so many great folks out there doing so many different cool things in their community or for themselves that it’s so easy for a brand to just keep their eyes up. 

Be open to the concept of like, “Oh, maybe working with someone that wouldn’t be the typical 50,000 follower account that normally we’d spark up these relationships with.”

Tommie:

Because the barrier of entry now, that Instagram and running community is so large on Instagram, it’s like you have people that are doing awesome things, but a brand would easily just skip over those opportunities and look for someone that’s more like the usual suspect. 

But unfortunately, the usual suspect in the running space that has that many followers typically is not as diverse, is not the diversity that the brand is looking for. So I think it just keeps your eyes open for people that are doing cool new things and be okay with letting someone in the door a little bit, because you see what they’re doing, not because of their skin color, but because “Oh, I agree, I like the vibe, I see what you’re trying to do.” 

And maybe we can help in a small way. And I think that’s the goal. And I think that’ll help bridge the gap of how to get people that are doing fun things and get more eyes on it so it helps their community. Helps their family. Helps their area. And then in turn makes running more diverse every step of the way, if that makes sense.

Don Reichelt:

Yeah. Yeah. At the end of the day, we’re a community, and let’s reach out and grow that community. That’s really, really good advice. 

Well, let’s take that perspective and put it on the athlete, the black athletes out there that might not feel like there are opportunities for them. What opportunities exist for them to be more active in the outdoor industry and in the endurance space?

Tommie:

Industry side, like business-wise?

Don Reichelt:

Yeah.

Tommie:

So business-wise, I’m not really sure. I mean, because there are so many ways that I guess you could start. I mean, I’m not really familiar with how people get to where they get to, but it seems like a lot of times it’s an easy start to say work at like, if you’re really into running, let’s just say running on that side or even like the outdoor, hiking and all those other things and trail racing. 

There are stores that are run specialty stores that would be a great way to get into the industry. Whether it’s a part-time job or something like that or a full-time job, I mean obviously people need to pay their bills, so it’s not like you’re looking to get paid part-time. But if there’s a way to get your foot in the door in an industry that you love and enjoy just to learn more about it, you can then go to bigger and better things in some cases. 

Because a lot of people that work at run specialty stores will get a lot of eyes from, say brands that are looking for social media folks or whatever it is, whatever the positions are.

Tommie:

So I think it’s just finding ways to make your way into the industry that you love so much. I mean, because if I could quit my job, my “job” job today and then just go work in the industry and not necessarily run for a living, but be around runners and be in this industry for a living, I would jump at that opportunity. 

 

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So I think it’s being open to the fact that there is money here. Like I mentioned TRE earlier, I think that TRE and associations like it, or events like that could do a really good job at showing that there’s money to be made, because once you show that there’s money out there to be made in this industry, and it’s not just about just running and just getting out there to go to a race. 

There’s a possibility of a future, there’s a possibility of options.

Tommie:

So once you show that more and more often, the black runner or the whatever runner out there will see and say, “Oh, well, I had this cool [idea] for a thing. I didn’t think it was going to be useful, but this place is where I could go and other company brands and store, this may be a thing for me.” 

 

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So I think it’s showing that there are opportunities to actually make a living or more than a living actually, and help your community and actually start something. I think it just needs to show that there’s an actual opportunity to grow.

Don Reichelt:

Yeah. No, that’s awesome. So switching pace just a little bit, it’s Black History Month, I’d like to know who has inspired you. You’re a business owner. You’re about to run the Boston Marathon. You are a podcast host, father, like all of these things, who’s inspired you in your life?

Tommie:

Well, I’ll say a few if that’s okay. Can I do that?

Don Reichelt:

Please. Yeah. Let’s hear them.

Tommie:

All right. So I’m going to go with my grandmother because she’s one of the strongest courageous women and kindest women that I know, all those in one, which is amazing to me. 

She did and how she…my mother and I are just incredible. And my mother, of course, because of all the things that she did raising us and kind of showing us to be a well-rounded individual and to just get out there and try things and not necessarily be afraid of what’ll happen and just keep pushing.

Tommie:

And then when it came to the running side of things, I mean, I use things that my mother taught me every day, but when it comes to what I do now…Lance from Run Free, they’re younger than me but the things that they did in the community and the way they’ve gone at creating something spark…I saw it done and I see it…so they inspired me to just take a chance. 

I mean, because that’s all they did was took a chance too, and put a lot of effort behind it. And they’re growing like crazy and doing awesome things. So they inspired me to get to start doing stuff in the industry and not just posting pictures.

Tommie:

And then Knox Robinson from New York or LA or wherever he is at. But New York, black roses, just how he’s maneuvered his way in this space. And just kind of, not even really, even behind the scenes, but just kind of bouncing around and making impacts in so many different, different, small and big ways, he inspires me.

Tommie:

And then Rich Roll too, because Rich, right when I went sober and then turned vegan and started deciding to run was right when I found his book Finding Ultra and then found his podcast, and it just kind of helped me continue to grow in that regard as being a healthy, happy human.

Tommie:

And then those other folks that I mentioned like Joe, Lance, Knox of course not to dismiss my mom and grandma, but those people and their examples are kind of how I’ve paved my way, and how I’m kind of navigating this landscape. So that handful of people definitely has played a huge role in where I’m at from an inspiring standpoint.

Don Reichelt:

Good for you. And their inspiration is obviously paid off with all of your success. If people want to find you, can I find you on Instagram? Where, about your podcast and stuff like that?

Tommie:

Yeah. You can find me on Instagram. It’s @Tommie_runz, T-O-M-M-I-E underscore R-U-N-Z. That’s the Instagram thing. The Linkin.Bio has all the stuff that I’m doing, whether it’s the Run, Eat, Sleep show or the new thing that I’m doing is the PR Project, which is really fun. 

We have a live show every Sunday on YouTube while I’m training for Boston, my friend’s training for the Rhode Island Road Races. So he’s training for his first marathon and we’re trying to do really cool stuff, review shoes and products and all that stuff and have some fun and go get these PRs.

Don Reichelt:

I love it, man. I love it. Well, thank you so much for taking the time today. Good luck in everything that you have coming up and we’ll talk to you soon.

Tommie:

Thank you.

Catch Up with More Inspirational Black Runners 

If you’re looking to expand your perspective and connect with more Black runners and outdoor companies during Black History Month (and all year long), there’s never been a better time to connect. 

For more inspiring content, watch our most recent interview with Jay Ell Alexander, CEO of Black Girls Run. 

Watch the video now! >

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