Time to See it Our Way with RunGirl


Founded in 2010, RunGirl is a non-profit based in Tokyo City, Japan, consisting of a group of women from different backgrounds who all like to run. Created when its organizers realized there were no female-centric running events in the region, the group has grown to include multiple volunteer- and running-related events. Above all, their aim remains to empower women through running. The group consists of a group of driven women who, regardless of background, all like to run. We sat down with some members of RunGirl to learn more about how they’re challenging the status quo.

RunGirl-1HOKA: Tell us your names and where you’re from.
宇田川佳子(Yoshiko Udagawa, Tokyo)
柴田玲(Rei Shibata, Tokyo)
大原里絵(Rie Ohara, Chiba)

HOKA: Can you tell us about the “status quo” that you’re challenging?
“We want to keep shaping a new movement focused on runners. That movement isn’t shaped by the existing image of runners — the status quo of what a runner should look like or train for –and that doesn’t limit individual behaviors and dreams.”

HOKA: What was the reason for founding the women’s-only run group?
“RunGirl wasn’t born because we wanted to create an organization, but because we wanted to create a running competition that was fitting us. When we founded RunGirlNight in 2010, it was because we felt like there wasn’t any kind of female-oriented event and competition, so we just thought to make it by ourselves. Members who agreed with this idea (mainly friends and acquaintances from work who were interested in running) gathered, and RunGirl was born.”


HOKA: Was it a run group you founded first or an event?
“We gathered to create a women’s-centered event from scratch, but in order to do this and get support from the government and other companies we had to officialize the group in a corporation; so, we became a non-profit organization. But I soon felt that planning an event was not the only reason for us to be together.
A group of women with such unique personalities and experience in different working fields had all the assets to create a new movement in Japan. We decided to continue our activity by following our theme “‘enriching everyday life with the power of women running.'”

HOKA: How has that mission grown?
“Twitter was becoming really popular in 2010 and our volunteer members were posting there. Then we started getting messages, sponsorships, and more volunteers and participants. In that period there was also a general excitement of the women’s running boom in Japan.
Thanks to all these factors we could finally hold our first RunGirlNight about seven months after our formation. After that, people started to recognize us even more.”

HOKA: What’s your proudest result of having started the organization?
“We kept on holding our events without interruption for nine years.
Our RunGirlNight in particular was a competition like no other.
Many of our members were in their 30s so people were coming and going because of marriages, having children, etc., but we always managed to keep on moving forward without forgetting our original mission.”

HOKA: What is the “mission” of Run Girl?
“‘Enriching everyday life with the power of women running.’ We want to empower women to run in this society, and to change this society for the better.”

HOKA: You’ve shifted your focus from a run event to a partnership with Tokyo City. Can you tell us more about that partnership?
“There are other things that can be done as a runner apart from holding a race — this is why we decided to start two activities called ‘Clean’ and ‘Safety.”Clean’ entails picking up litter while running (aka “plogging”). ‘Safety’ involves protecting the city while running and using our presence on the run for crime prevention. The latter was done in consultation with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. We believe these two projects will make Tokyo a better place and increase the excitement for this summer.
Nine years ago, one of our key concepts was “a runner’s city is clean and safe” — we feel now that we are finally making this idea a concrete reality.”

HOKA: What’s your main message to fellow Japanese (or global) women?
“The beauty of running. All RunGirl’s members are women whose life has been changed by running.”

“Running is not a victory or a defeat, it’s something that gives you time to confront your mind and body, connect with people, encounter new sceneries, and draw out of you the power to pursue your goals.
In Japan, most people running are elderly, but we want to show the young the beauty of this sport and increase women runners throughout the country.”

“Running is a lifelong sport and I want to share its joy forever, and thanks to RunGirl we are doing this.”

HOKA: What would you say to a young girl to help them feel empowered?
“I would like to share what I have learned while launching RunGirlNight: the courage to challenge things or situations and do things that have never been done.
In the process of creating this event, I felt I’ve realized something that was never achieved before, and this was thanks to the experiences that each member had realized individually.
What I have personally learned from running, instead, is that I can keep on expanding my possibilities even after I get older by running faster and for longer distances.”

HOKA: Is night watch and neighborhood running still a big part of what you do?
“Well, night running is very common in Tokyo because routes are safer and during summer mornings it’s too hot to run. Indeed, one of the reasons why RunGirlNight was set up in the evening was also because it was a hot September.”

HOKA: Are there other groups that are part of RunGirl outside of Tokyo?
“RunGirl’s members all live in the Tokyo area, but we hold marathons in Nagoya and Osaka and helped in making Okinawa’s Marathon more female-friendly. We really work in different areas; this year, for example, we will support the Women’s Beginners Club at Saitama International Marathon.”

HOKA: What have you discovered to be the best part of running as a group?
“RunGirl members do not always run together but activities like ‘plogging’ have the merit to make something that doing alone would be difficult.”

HOKA: What does running give to you? What sensations do you experience when running?
宇田川― 心身ともに健康になり、自己肯定感と達成感が得られること。
柴田– 直接的には、爽快感。疲れるというよりはパワーチャージとか目覚めるような感覚。
大原― 得られるものは、健康!!美肌!!達成感!!
“Being healthy both mentally and physically, and to have a sense of strong affirmation and achievement. You work and raise a child, it’s a busy life, always doing two things at the same time: when you run, you can finally focus on just one thing and your sensibility gets sharpened.”

“In a literal sense, it’s refreshing. I feel like I am waking up instead of getting tired. In a more implicit sense, it gives life a certain accent. A sense of accomplishment. Connection with people.”

“Also, it makes you healthy and sense of self-accomplishment. When you run you can finally face yourself – it’s a precious personal time.”

HOKA: Is society’s perspective on women in sports like running all wrong? How so?
“As far as it concerns running, there are so many male runners and event organizers, it’s overwhelming. Though I think that overall the environment surrounding female runners has greatly improved over the last ten years.
It’s nice seeing that you can enjoy running in the same places with women and men of all ages, professionals or just regular citizens. However, you use your body while running and there are inevitable differences between women and men — accepting these differences will lead to a correct understanding of them.
This is why I think we need to create an environment made for specifically female runners.”

Learn more about RunGirl and how they’re challenging the status quo below: