GRLs Who Race: Black Women Runners to Inspire Your Next Big Race

Image: Stephanie Franklin for RUNGRL

Image: Stephanie Franklin for RUNGRL

by RUNGRL Staff


The odds of finding a Black Marathoner are about one in 62,500.* However, we know that Black women are out here running and we’re looking to get even more of you amazing women out here to join us in these running streets. That’s why we’re celebrating the running trailblazers who inspire us in our new series, ‘GRLS Who Race’.

If you’re considering running a race this year, whether it’s a 5K or a marathon, your first or your next, check out these winning women for inspiration to get started. Then be sure to read more on RUNGRL for the tools and resources you’ll need to get yourself to the finish line.

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Cynthia Erivo

2016 was an amazing year for Cynthia Erivo. In addition to winning a Tony Award for Best Actress for her role in The Color Purple, Erivo crossed finish lines at both the Brooklyn Half Marathon and New York City Marathon. Last year, she told ABC News that she started running and fitness as a way to balance her hectic schedule and find a space to meditate. Now, she says, she has “a slight addiction to being fit. (It helps) mind, body and soul.”

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Alicia Keys

Running with an ‘Empire State of Mind’: In 2015, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and actress ran her second marathon, the NYC Marathon to raise money for Keep a Child Alive, which she co-founded to get HIV medications to children and families in Africa.

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Loretta Claiborne

Loretta Claiborne is a world-class runner who has competed in 26 marathons and is now using her voice as a Special Olympics athlete. In 1996, she received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs and has been inducted into the Women in Sports Hall of Fame and into the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Fame.

Related Post: Choosing a Race With Your Heart

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Lisa Davis

Lisa Davis is one of an estimated 50-60 people to complete the amazing feat of running 100 marathons in 50 states and seven continents. Only three are (known to be) Black. A former Marine, she also became the first Black woman to complete the Triple 7 Quest⁠—seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. Her words to live by: “I’m a goal digger. I don’t race anybody. It’s just me against me.”


Mirna “Mirnavator” Valerio

Mirna Valerio, a marathoner, ultra-marathoner and trail runner, started Fat Girl Running to share her experiences as a larger woman in a world of thinner athletes. Since running her first marathon in 2011, Valerio was hooked and has since run 11 ultra marathons and 10 marathons. Recently named 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, she spreads a message of body positivity and health, no matter what your size.

Related Post: 4 Ways Training for a Half Marathon Changed My Life

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Marilyn Bevans

Marilyn Bevans is a running legend. In 1975 she also became the first Black woman to win a marathon at the Maryland Marathon. She went on to win the Maryland Marathon again in 1979, and followed this up with a second place at the Boston Marathon in 1979, running a personal best time of 2:49:56. She’s the first Black woman to run a sub-three-hour marathon. Last year she told The Undefeated, “It’s amazing and warms my heart to see young, healthy, black and brown people running and running hard!”


Oprah Winfrey

This list wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging one of the women who opened eyes and hearts to the possibility of distance running and marathons. In 1994, Oprah ran the Marine Corps Marathon in a time of 4:29:15, often called the “Oprah line”, and is a time many aspire to beat when training for marathons. After finishing the marathon, Oprah said, “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. It’s better than an Emmy, I tell you.”

Know more amazing GRLs Who Race? We want to hear about them! Be sure to shout them out in the comments below.


*2013 statistic from the National Black Marathoners Association.