The Pursuit of Progress: Why representation matters in the outdoors

I dedicate this post to my mother, Rosie Quashie, who passed on September 21, 2019. 

On the last night of the Pursuit Series, I received the news that my mother passed away. Though it wasn’t a surprise, as she had been having serious health issues for quite some time, it was still an incredible shock to the system. However, I couldn’t have been more grateful to receive such harsh news in the space where I was surrounded by agents of change, powerful and dynamic women. After sharing this news with my fellow Run 4 All Women ambassadors, I was enveloped with hugs, love, space to grieve, cry, laugh, and commune.

Photo Credit: Nick Tort
Photo Credit: Nick Tort

At the age of twenty, my mother left Port Au Prince, Haiti to move to Harlem with the hope of starting a new and better life. Like many other immigrants, she came with little money and only spoke Haitian Creole and French. What blows me away about my mother is that she arrived in the United States at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Armed with only the strength and grit that she carried from her mother and her upbringing, she was prepared (as best she could be) for this unknown journey ahead. I like to believe that my mother also drew her inner strength and resilience from our Haitian ancestors – those that fought and won our independence on January 1, 1804 – carrying their determination, fight, passion, and intelligence to combat not only the racism she would encounter as a black woman but also the xenophobia she would face as an immigrant. 

It wasn’t until I was older that I began to look back and truly see how much of an activist my mother was. Coming to the U.S. was both the best and hardest thing she had ever done. With that experience, she committed herself to help other immigrants transition to a new life in the U.S. She worked with not only the Haitian community in Boston but other immigrants group as well. Her hard work and tireless activism was even recognized by the Governor of Massachusetts! That award was a constant reminder that her untiring efforts and dedication not only mattered but had an incredible impact. I know this is why she never questioned, nor tried to steer me away from my passion: working in the outdoor education industry. She watched me fall in love with the outdoors when I was 14, after my first Outward Bound course. She saw the joy climbing, sailing, kayaking, and backpacking brought me. This continued from the time I was a student until I eventually became an Outward Bound instructor.  

During this time, I was bringing middle and high school students from Boston public schools into the outdoors, and using that space to talk about gun violence, growing up black and brown in Boston, living in the projects, food insecurity and homelessness. My mom knew and saw the impact of my Haitian-American presence in the outdoors. She knew it was not only a radical change in the industry, but it was also powerful for these black and brown students to see me loving, leading, and thriving in the outdoors; for me to show them I can be my Caribbean self- listening to Kompa, dancehall, hip-hop, speaking Creole, going to college, and enjoying being out in the wilderness. They witnessed me experiencing the education that can only come from nature while fighting to overcome internalized oppression, racism, sexism, and continuing to be a fighter for and with my LGBTQIA friends and family.

The Pursuit Series was my homecoming— a welcoming back to the outdoors and connecting with nature. I came with no expectations. I felt at ease knowing that I would be entering this space with other Run 4 All Women ambassadors and speakers, especially with women of color. With our late night conversations, morning walks or runs, shared meals and outdoor experiences, I knew I would be leaving this weekend having formed a tighter, stronger bond with each of them. Through this outdoor adventure-filled experience, with these 14 dynamic women who are fighting for equality for women through the vehicle of running, my passion for outdoor activism is reignited. I hadn’t realized how far away I was from using the world outdoor activity as my way of fighting “isms” and dispelling the myth that black and brown people don’t like the outdoors.

Photo Credit: Nick Tort
Photo Credit: Nick Tort

After listening to Latoya Shauntay Snell’s journey as an athlete, it confirmed that though I may not look a runner, a sea kayaker, or a backpacker, I do belong in those spaces. I am valuable, relevant, important, and needed, not only in outdoor education but as a runner.

Faith E. Briggs’ session on environmental activism social justice and conservation of sacred native land as a person of color and a runner affirms that my role as an outdoor educator and runner is both relevant and needed. Folks of color are still fighting to protect the land of their ancestors who have been here since before the colonizers. 

Representation matters. Young black and brown folks need to see black and brown folk instructing in these outdoor spaces, but so do white folks. They must know that we can occupy these areas share these spaces and contribute to these spaces. Most importantly, people see us and know that we belong.

Photo Credit: Nick Tort
Photo Credit: Nick Tort

Follow Arnelle Hanley’s journey to promote diversity in the outdoors on her Instagram. Learn more about Run 4 All Women here.

Need a shoe to kick-off your adventures? Shop the Speedgoat 3 here.

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When a 6x World Champ Meets a First-time Racer: Sika Henry’s road to IRONMAN Kona

My introduction to the sport of triathlon was an unexpected one. Even though I grew up swimming and was a Track & Field athlete in college (primarily focused on the High Jump), I never envisioned myself participating in endurance sports. In fact, I didn’t even like to run the mile in high school! But one bucket list item – completing a marathon – turned into a passion, and I became hooked.

Participating in local 5Ks and half marathons became a monthly hobby of mine for a few years, until I went through a devastating break up. For weeks I became a hermit and dealt with a bought of depression. Luckily fate intervened and I saw an ad for a local triathlon – the Tidewater Sprint. I signed up on a whim and only had two weeks to buy a bike, reintroduce myself to swimming, and learn how to transition from swim to bike and bike to run.

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I will always remember my first triathlon in 2013. I competed in a Speedo, rode a mountain bike in sneakers, and nearly walked the entire run. I came in close to last place! But I didn’t care. I found it exhilarating and wanted to see how much faster I could get.

Doing structured training, which included two to three weekly swims and bike rides in addition to running, took my cardio to a new level. I went from not being able to break 20 minutes in a 5K to running low 18s and surprising myself with back-to-back marathon wins, as well as a win at the local sprint triathlon that introduced me to the sport! 

As I became more involved in triathlon my personal goals got bigger, as did my passion for increasing diversity. I learned that only 0.5% of African Americans participate in the sport, approximately 70% of African Americans lack basic swimming skills, and black children drown at a rate three times higher than white children. Even though my ultimate goal is to earn a pro card, I hope that any success I achieve in this sport will inspire others to participate; or at the very least encourage them to develop a lifesaving skill – swimming.

My journey so far has come with many highs: competing at the IRONMAN® 70.3 World Championships, breaking 1:30 in the half marathon run at IRONMAN® 70.3 Atlantic City, and making the podium at each IRONMAN® 70.3 race I competed in last year. It has also come with its share of lows: a bike crash in April that left me with a broken nose, over 40 stitches to my face, and severe road rash on various parts of my body. Luckily with the help of my amazing support system – family, friends, coach (Jonathan Caron), and my team at HOKA – I have been able to bounce back swiftly.

One of the highlights of my year so far was being given the opportunity to work one-on-one in Boulder, CO with IRONMAN® legend Dave Scott. We worked on seated climbs and out of saddle climbing techniques, proper arm carriage while running (especially when fatigue sets in), and techniques to engage my glutes and transverse abdominus. I also learned how to use swim chords for the first time!

Lucky for me, my season doesn’t end yet. It’s just getting started. I will be competing at the IRONMAN® World Championships in Kona next month. The race that Dave Scott has won 6 times! As we approach the race, I had the chance to interview Dave about how to approach my first full IRONMAN® at Kona this year. I am very fortunate to have him as a resource as I head to the big island to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 mile, and run 26.2 miles. After hearing his advice, Dave asked me three questions that helped me feel more confident as I approach race day. 

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SIKA: How do you handle nerves, especially at a race like the IRONMAN® World Championships? 

DAVE: To fight race nerves, it’s important to maintain routine, know the course and be confident.

What does this mean?

  1. Maintain the same weekly routine. Use the same days to work out and insert “like” intensities so you can feel your body respond just like your workouts.  Also, maintain the same evening routine. Do you listen to music? Answer a few emails ? It’s also essential to maintain the same food intake – just like a training week! 
  2. Have a mental road map of the course.  Knowing the subtle nuances of the course allows you to break the race into segments. These are not equidistant. For example, the opening 4.7 miles is challenging for everyone.  Climbing up the back-side of Palani Hill, sharp turn at the bottom, climbing again and finishing off the final 800 meters going up the 5 – 9 % grade of Palani does not allow a good rhythm. So, recognize the outset ,and more importantly have a plan to ride this short segment
  3. Do a physical inventory throughout the race. When you swim take slow big breaths, relax your face, neck, shoulders arms during the recovery.  On the bike, take smooth pedal strokes and periodically LOOK at your legs— talk to them! Start at the top of your head and again, calm your non-working parts down. The energy is in your glutes and quads! 
  4. Find a mantra. Fear of the unknown or fear of failing can be squelched by reciting simple phrases or words before the race and during.  

SIKA: You’re bound to hit rough patches in a race. Especially one as long as an IRONMAN®. What do you tell yourself or think about to keep going? 

DAVE: One phrase that is helpful is “Do what you can do at the moment”.  The grammar is incorrect but the message is just be present and go over the physical control that I mentioned above. Phrases or words that allow you to flow or relax are key.  Fluid, smooth, slow breaths in and out of your nose will also control your parasympathetic nervous system which is calming and reducing anxiety.  

SIKA: I think most high performing athletes are pretty hard on themselves. When your performance at a race doesn’t meet your expectations, how do you handle the disappointment? 

DAVE: I’m not planning on this outcome for you, Sika! I always ask my athletes even in the face of  a disastrous race, “What did you do well?”. I start the moment they wake up and dissect their day. It’s important to stay positive even after disappointment.

Now, here are three questions Dave asked me to help me assess my own preparedness going into this race. Answering these helped me feel confident and ready to take on the day. If you have a big race coming up, I would encourage you to take the time to answer these questions for yourself!

DAVE: What do you focus on that makes you feel confident going into this race?

SIKA: I draw confidence from the hard workouts I pushed through during my most recent block of training. There were times when every part of me wanted to stop. Knowing that I was capable of finishing 100+ mile rides and hard 16-mile runs gives me confidence that I can keep going when things get tough. I also worked with a strength conditioning coach for the first time this year. I plan to focus on the gains I made on the bike as well as in the weight room to give me confidence going into this race.

DAVE: What do you recognize as your weaknesses going into this race and how will you keep them from getting the best of you?

SIKA: I tend to suffer from pre-race anxiety, which can leave me exhausted heading into a race. The mind controls the body so I know how important a positive mindset is heading into a big race like the IRONMAN(R) World Championships. Knowing that this is a weakness of mine, I have made a conscious effort to focus on the things I have control over – nutrition, rest, recovery. 

Being an athlete that tends to struggle more mentally than physically means that I have to make a conscious effort to turn off the negative thoughts. This is something I practiced quite often during workouts this year. I plan to rely on my positive queue words and phrases to help me on race day.

 DAVE: What are your three biggest goals going into this race?

SIKA: Since this is my first time tackling such a huge race like the IRONMAN® World Championships, my first goal is to stick to MY race plan, which means focusing on myself and not what other competitors are doing. My second goal is to have fun! I think this is a tremendous opportunity I’ve been given. I want to cherish it. I’m looking forward to swimming in Kailua Bay, riding on the Queen K, and running down Alii Drive. My third goal is to finish. I have no time or place goals. If I stick to my plan, give it everything I have, and cross the finish line, I will be happy.

Sika will be racing at IRONMAN® Kona in the HOKA Carbon X. Follow her journey to become the first African American female triathlete with a pro card here.

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Training on Track: HOKA Athlete Tyler Andrew’s Berlin Marathon Workout

I had trained all summer for the 50K World Championships on September 1. I got myself into extremely good shape, but wasn’t able to race due to getting ill just beforehand. Frustrated, I started thinking about what I could do with my fitness and, after a few discussions with my coach and agent, we came up with the plan to target a fast race at Berlin Marathon on September 28.

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This workout was really my test session for Berlin. I only wanted to commit to the race (and flying all the way back to Europe for the second time in a month) if I knew I was ready to run well. With just two weeks until race day, I decided to try to run a half marathon at goal race pace. I’d originally planned to go do this at the Philadelphia Half, but it was just too much travel in the month to squeeze it in. So, being a control freak, I decided to do the run in the one place that I knew would be 100% accurate: around the 400m track just down the street from my house.

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HOKA: What did the pre-workout warmup look like? Did it follow your typical routine?

ANDREWS: I try to practice everything in training that I’ll do on race day, so my warm-up for this run was very similar to what I’d do for the marathon: about 2K of easy jogging, some light drills, a few strides, and then about 200 meters at race pace. The only thing notable about this warmup was that I’d just gotten back from Europe and was a bit jet-lagged (and nervous for this session), so I woke up around 4:00am and started the warmup around 5:00am under a giant full moon. Lovely to have the track empty just for me (and the bunnies), though!

HOKA: What shoes did you use?

ANDREWS: I used the Carbon X for this run. As I mentioned above, when I have an important workout, I want to practice everything I’ll do on race day and that includes getting used to running in my race shoes. The Carbon X just feels fast and perfect for the marathon. It was love at first step for me and the Carbon X, so it’s definitely my go-to racer for anything long and on the roads.

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HOKA: Did you have any mantras you used during this work out?

ANDREWS: The one word I tried to focus on was “relax”. I knew that with the short warm-up and feeling a bit rusty going into this one that the first few kilometers might be slower than I’d want to average and might not feel fantastic, but I also knew that if I could just stay relaxed and let my body warm up and get used to running the pace, I’d find my rhythm. This is basically exactly what happened as I started off a bit slower for the first 3K or so and then found myself clicking off 1K splits of 3:08-3:10 for basically the rest of the run.

HOKA: Did you go through any rough patches? How did you push through them?

ANDREWS:  Honestly, beyond the start, not really. The point of this run wasn’t to go to the well, but simply to prove to myself that I could at least handle going through half-marathon in around 67 minutes. I guess, mentally, it required more fortitude just because I’d put a lot of pressure on myself and this was a real “do-or-die” type session. I knew that if I ran well, it meant I’d go to Berlin. And I also knew that if I couldn’t, it would mean shutting things down and that I wasn’t able to salvage anything from the huge amount of work I’d put in building up to 50K Worlds. I basically had spent the last week thinking about this exact run, even more specifically, about the last 10km or so of this run, and so getting to that point was both a moment of anxiety and also a moment of relief: Okay, here it is; let’s see what we’ve got.

HOKA: Tell us about your nutrition during this workout.

ANDREWS: Again, practice makes perfect, so I did the same thing I would in the first half of a marathon. I took 2 Maurten gels (1 about 15 minutes before starting and 1 at 30 minutes) and then I drank Nuun (a small amount as it was cool) every 5K.

HOKA: How often did you change directions? Why?

ANDREWS: I switched directions every 5km. Mostly just to give my body a break from make 100+ left turns. The 5Ks made it easy to compartmentalize each quarter of the workout as well

HOKA: How does this set you up for Berlin? What are your goals going into this race?

ANDREWS: It sets me up about as well as I could have hoped for. I had originally hoped to run 67:30 in this session, so to be able to run a fairly relaxed 66:34 makes me really excited to see what I can do in Berlin. People go there to run fast and I know of at least one other runner (Jameson Mora, another HOKA athlete), who is hoping to go out at about 67:30 and negative split to run under the US Olympic A Standard (2:15:00). I’m really long overdue for a marathon PR (my PR is from 2016) and I’ve gotten myself super fit a few times over the last few years but have either had bad luck in races, gotten injured, or been training for longer races and unable to reach my potential over 26.2 miles. This is the first time that I feel 100% healthy and really fit going into a marathon in a while. I can’t wait.

Share some Strava kudos with HOKA Athlete Tyler Andrews as he gears up for the Berlin Marathon on Sunday, September 29th in the Carbon X.

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Run for Your Rights: How Run 4 All Women is changing the world one mile at a time

“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.” – Maya Angelou

Like many folks after the 2016 election, I was concerned with the results and had a fire ignite within me. I knew the outcome of the recent election would, in many ways, have a crucial impact on my experience and the experiences of other women, people of color, and other marginalized communities in the country. I found myself thinking what side of the fence would I have been on in the 1960s – would I have been protesting in the streets or would I have been at home watching history play out on television? I kept feeling like I should have done more. I kept feeling like I should be doing more.

Then one day, Alison Mariella Désir, the founder and co-leader of Run 4 All Women (R4AW), posted her “4 Women Run 4 Women” campaign on social media to run from Harlem, New York to Washington, DC, while raising money for women’s reproductive rights, a cause that was being targeted by the incoming administration. 

Seeing articles about people running “crazy” distances for a cause was not new to me, but it was new to see the faces of Black and Afro-Latina women (women who look like me) leading the journey; a journey that was benefitting the reproductive rights of women and fighting for the right to quality health care. I was completely enthralled and knew I needed to be a part of it! I did not have a lot I could offer, but I did have my ability to run and shoes to do it in. 

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It was 3 AM when I caught up to the group along their route. Most of the core runners were resting on a van that trailed behind runners currently on the road. As we got closer to DC, one by one, each of the core members crept out of the van, each one giving the warmest welcomes.

 During the final miles of their 252 –mile run, I watched these women dig into the depths of themselves in the name of women’s rights. It was one of the most incredible things I have had the privilege of witnessing. They were restless, sick and hurting, but so fired up to accomplish the mission. This experience helped me no longer question what side of history I wanted to be on. This campaign has shown folks like myself that everyday people can help create the world we want our children to live in. This movement is showing people that running is more than just a sport. Running is a powerful tool that can be harnessed to create the world we want to see and be a part of. 

In the weeks that followed the incredible “4 Women Run 4 All Women” campaign, the Run 4 All Women movement introduced its first Brand Ambassador Team, which I was a part of. During the first year I had the opportunity to go on a miniature version of the original R4AW run, running 114 miles between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to raise donations for women’s quality reproductive healthcare in the Philadelphia area. During the trip we ran in some of the most rural and conservative towns in the state. As one of a few women of color on that journey, I could tell when entering certain areas that I was not welcome. The hostile stares and cold demeanors only reminded me of how important it was to keep pushing forward. The miles I had to run were bigger than any discomfort I felt – we were sending a message.

Through the R4AW principles, we are guided to engage in grassroots activism in our daily lives, seek to empower others through fitness, foster alignment within our communities around a common goal and resist the status quo as we work tirelessly to advance the conversation around women’s issues. 

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As an ambassador I have used my access to support the R4AW mission and campaigns and connect with other amazing women leaders in the DC area and abroad. I have used my access to create a local run series that normalizes conversations around mental health and expanded my weekly “Track Tuesdays” group. My experience through R4AW brought me closer to the Planned Parenthood organization and prompting me to join the local affiliate’s ambassador program to continue supporting their work. Through R4AW I have found my courage to step outside of my comfort zone, and even begin hosting monthly spaces for womxn of color to help feel more affirmed and connected to one another. 

After being involved in a terrifying cycling accident with a teammate that left them badly injured and me with minor physical injuries, I was forced to take a backseat to running and focus more on developing my coaching skills. Then one day I took a scroll through the R4AW hashtag on Instagram and became inspired once again seeing countless women overcoming their personal obstacles to create the worlds in which they wanted to exist.  Shortly thereafter, I got back on the pavement and started running again and actually started attacking some of my “uncomfortable” fitness goals.

Currently, I am training to reach a time I am fearful of at the Chicago Marathon. However, I know if I lean into the discomfort, I can attain it. I often reflect on the resilience of the women who ran 252-miles from New York to Washington, DC and the women I see on Instagram day after day reaching varying levels of success when I face tough moments in training.  I am reminded that anything is possible when you open yourself to an idea that can change reality; I am then able to dig deeper and push harder.

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Thus far in my training I have reached and exceeded several mini goals and smashed several personal records. Juggling a career and multiple passion projects has become quite the circus act, but throughout the hectic schedules and countless miles, gains are being made and the process is proving to be quite beautiful. In a few short weeks I will be running the Chicago Half Marathon. This half marathon will be an opportunity for me to gauge my level of training for the Chicago Marathon thus far, and  I am eager to see what new progress I have made. 

R4AW has taught me that setbacks do not have to be negative. If I am open to the process, fantasies can become reality and disappointments can be used as the driving force to change the world. Within 2 years this movement that was created by an Afro-Latina’s fantasy led to enlisting 4 women for a 250+ mile running journey, and that led to hundreds of people donating to raise over $150,000 for women’s reproductive rights. That of course led to helping thousands of people continue to experience access to quality reproductive health services, and in keeping the energy of 2017 alive, R4AW later went on to support the campaigns of 20 progressive 2018 candidates, with 11 winning their elections and gaining the power to change millions of lives. With the continued work of its leadership, ambassadors, and supporters, a million more realities will soon be transformed – I’m counting on it!

Follow Keshia’s journey as she trains for Chicago Marathon here and learn more about Run 4 All Women here.

Shop Keshia’s pick for Chicago Half Marathon, the Arahi 3,  here.

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