Health & Fitness

‘Black Girls RUN’ and run ... and run ... and run

Sandra Lee (left) leads a group, from the Miami Chapter of Black Girls RUN!, as they train for the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon at the track at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School on Wednesday, January 18, 2017.
Sandra Lee (left) leads a group, from the Miami Chapter of Black Girls RUN!, as they train for the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon at the track at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School on Wednesday, January 18, 2017. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Janice Boykin has a tough job.

As a Miami-Dade corrections officer, she has to monitor inmates in the courtroom, pay attention to security and keep a close watch on people, looking for any trouble that may burst through the courtroom doors.

“When I get home, I can’t wait to strip off my uniform and put on my sneakers. It’s my salvation,’’ said Boykin, a 28-year employee of the Miami-Dade Corrections Department.

Those sneakers have taken the 54-year-old Boykin far. She ran her first Miami Half Marathon — a 13.1-mile run — in 2011. Since then, she’s run five half marathons. She’s running her sixth Sunday in Miami and has signed up for half marathons in Miami Beach in February and Sarasota in March.

Boykin runs with Black Girls RUN!, a group started by two former sorority sisters who had corralled about 15 to 20 black women to run their first half marathon in Atlanta in 2010. They posted photos on their blog, with a shout-out to others, asking them if they wanted to start running chapters in their towns and cities.

“The emails came flooding in,’’ said Toni Carey, co-founder with Ashley Hicks-Rocha of Black Girls RUN!

Today, BGR, as it’s known, has 70 chapters across the country — including Miami’s — with about 125,000 women runners, who proudly post their running feats on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. It’s one of a growing number of running groups aimed at African-American women, who have a greater risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other serious health conditions that running can help conquer.

Some groups, like Black Greek Running Nation and Black Runners Connection, welcome both men and women. Other black women run with local training groups such as Team FDC, TeamFootWorks (the South Miami store’s training arm) and iRun (the Biscayne Boulevard store’s running group). There’s even a National Black Marathoners’ Association.

What unites the women are three things: Fitness, friendship and running with people who look like them.

Carey, now 33, recalled what is was like to run in her first 10K in Jersey City, in the spring of 2008.

“I just remember standing in the middle of the crowd and looking around and not seeing any black or brown people,’’ she said.

Indeed, U.S. amateur running events — 5Ks, 10Ks, half and full marathons — have historically attracted white runners (the elite runners who compete professionally or run in the Olympics often are black). Indeed, 87.4 percent of female runners were white, according to the 2014 Women’s National Runner Survey conducted by Running USA, an industry group that tracks running trends. Hispanic women made up 5.1 percent, black women, 4.2 percent, the survey found.

But the numbers are definitely growing. A survey by Running USA noted how the percentage of African-American runners — both women and men — shot up to 8 percent in 2015, up from 1.6 percent in 2011.

“As a black professional woman in Miami, I often find that I’m the only black woman in the room,’’ said Pascale Charlot, 47, dean of The Honors College at Miami Dade College, who trains each week with TeamFootWorks. “But when you have the opportunity to be with people who look like you in a like-minded community, it really does feed you.

“It’s such a blessing to see women who look like you out there,’’ said Charlot, who ran her first Miami Half Marathon in 2015, completed her second last year and is training for her third, which she’ll run on Sunday.

For Sonya Jenkins, a fourth-grade teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Elementary School in Miami, running has helped her stave off health issues. In the eight years that she has been running, she has run six full marathons — 26.2 miles — and countless halfs. She will be running her seventh full marathon on Sunday in Miami. (She, too, trains with Team FootWorks.)

She’s all too familiar with this key health statistic: One in four African-American women older than 55 has diabetes, according to the Office of Women’s Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

She recently visited her mother in Fort Myers, where she grew up: “I was with my mom and her neighbor. And my mom said, ‘Everyone on our block has diabetes.’’’

Jenkins is determined that won’t happen to her, her daughter Brittany or her soon-to-be born granddaughter.

Jenkins got her daughter into running by challenging her to beat her: Brittany is 30; Jenkins is 48. The challenge: Jenkins, who was running the full, had to complete the first half of the race before Brittany finished her half marathon.

“She was talking trash on Facebook — saying I was going to eat her dust and only see her from behind.’’

Jenkins beat Brittany by 30 minutes.

It’s that type of camaraderie that the runners say keep them going.

Carey, the co-founder of Black Girls RUN!, recalls how a woman came up to her in at Atlanta restaurant. The woman had moved to Atlanta to take care of her daughter, who had been diagnosed with cancer. The woman’s daughter had recently died.

The woman told Carey: “If it hadn’t been for Black Girls RUN! I wouldn’t have been able to deal with my loss. We ended up crying in the middle of the restaurant.’’

Boykin, the corrections officer, who has been running with Black Girls RUN! for the past five years, says her running partners have become an integral part of her life.

“We are no longer just running buddies,’’ she said. “We are sisters. When somebody is going through something, we are right there.’’

For Boykin, her inspiration comes from a 75-year-old woman she recently met while running. The woman was running, too.

“Most people retire to a rocking chair. I retired to the pavement,’’ the woman told Boykin.

Boykin smiled. “When I grow up,’’ she told her, “I’m going to be just like you.’’

Joan Chrissos will be running her third Miami Half Marathon. She trains with TeamFootWorks.

If you go

The 2017 Miami Marathon and Half Marathon is Sunday. To register, go to http://www.themiamimarathon.com/

Running groups

Black Girls RUN!, Miami chapter: Email jayell.alexander@blackgirlsrun.com

TeamFootWorks: teamfootworks.org

Team FDC: www.teamfdc.com

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