How running coach Kelly Roberts is making the sport more inclusive

In “The Level Up,” changemakers in the fitness and wellness industries tell us how they’re impacting their communities, from promoting inclusivity to promoting acceptance of the body and well. Moreover. Here, running coach and influencer Kelly Roberts explains why running shouldn’t be about size, mileage or pace.

Kelly Roberts never thought she would be a runner. In fact, she only hit the pavement out of desperation. After losing her brother in 2009, she turned to college theater “as a safe space to process what was happening to me and my family,” Roberts says. But after graduating in 2012, she no longer had that respite.

The now The 33-year-old says she needed a way to deal with her grief and body image issues. So she started running… and barely made it down the street. Even so, Roberts recalls feeling better when she got home. “I decided to start running because it gave me something to be proud of. I was like, ‘If I can run a marathon, there’s nothing I can’t do.’

From there, her running career took off. Roberts ran her first half marathon in January 2013, then completed her first full marathon in June. A new conviction encouraged her to move in September of that year from San Diego to New York, where she quickly went viral for taking selfies with hot men running behind her throughout. the New York Half Marathon. Despite these accolades, Roberts was not in the sport for the races. “Running has allowed me to meet so many people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” she says. “It’s like a vacation – while running you see things you would never see in a car or on a bike.”

In 2014, Roberts started a blog about his approach to running – a blog that hasn’t revolve around weight loss, mile times or long distances. Shortly after, she launched the #SportsBraSquad, a positive body movement dedicated to celebrating the strength of women of all sizes. This all culminated in 2015 when Roberts founded the Badass Lady Gang (BALG), a free online and in-person community with members from around the world. “I realized there was a huge hole in the market for slow runners and people who didn’t want to constantly train for races,” she says. Roberts is the organization’s head coach; she helps people find the intersection of, as she puts it, “joyful movement and the pursuit of great goals.”

“[BALG] it’s more than running. I wanted to provide a place where people can really make friends,” says Roberts. And she did – BALG provides a safe space for dozens of thousands women to connect on the run and beyond through online forums, virtual trainings and in-person meetups in cities across the country.

Today, she is a certified Road Runners Club of America coach who has worked with thousands of runners on everything from starting a running routine to qualifying for the Boston Marathon. She also encourages, advises and entertains countless others online, including her 66,000 Instagram followers.

Here, Roberts tells Bustle how she makes room for everyone in a stereotypical sport dominated by small bodies and big distances.

When you started running, what was the sport like?

So many people get into running to lose weight or punish themselves. And the running industry is still centered around fast, white, skinny guys. It’s been super non-inclusive for people of color and larger bodies. It’s always like that.

I hated all the advice and advice from the media about running because it was so archaic. Everything was geared towards people who wanted to run fast, who were already very good at running, and who wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon or run a marathon under three hours.

Now it’s getting better thanks to so many strong voices working hard to make the sport more inclusive. But the racing world is still not a great place. I’m not a fan of it, that’s why I built a house next door – we’re having our own party now.

Tell me about this party. What is your approach to coaching?

Many people get into running with the goal of losing weight or running a certain number of miles in a certain amount of time. But when you have those unattainable goals — like a weight, height, or a single race goal — as your vision for success, you’re in for a terrible time.

As a coach, my goal is to get people to define what success and failure look like to them, and to help them see how limited it is when running is extrinsically driven by opposed to intrinsically motivated. Don’t deprive yourself of all that movement can do, such as the pleasure of taking a dance break during your run.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to separate running from weight loss and diet culture?

There is this author named Sonya Renee Taylor who wrote a remarkable book called The body is no excuse, and in this one, she uses the phrase “body image resilience.” Hearing that sentence was a life-changing moment for me: it helped me realize that I will never escape the diet culture.

Instead, body image resilience means understanding that you’re going to have tough days with your body — it’s inevitable. But it’s about putting on curiosity glasses and asking, “What’s going on that makes me feel like this?” Not “I am like that”. Instead of viewing yourself as the problem, you realize that everything else is the problem.

What is your number one tip as a running coach?

Realize that you really can do anything, but ask yourself, “What am I want to do?” Because let’s face it, most people, even if they don’t want to admit it, want to start running to lose weight.

If your goal is to run a marathon, know that you can do that marathon, but ask yourself, “Why do I want to run a marathon?” Is it to prove to someone that you can do it? It’s a good motivator, but it’s not going to get you through. It must be you. Running doesn’t always have to be something you enjoy, but it should always be a choice you make for yourself.

What can the running community as a whole do to make the sport more accessible and inclusive?

The world of running is so monolithic in terms of height, race and gender. The best work we can do is internal. We have to face our own racial prejudices and fatphobia.

We’re seeing more representation, which is amazing, but we’re not seeing brands standing up for the people they serve. For example, you see so many nasty comments about plus size [athletes and models in workout gear], but you don’t see those same brands commenting and saying, “Your fatphobia is showing up.” We need [brands] name these harmful behaviors; otherwise, nothing will change.

What do you hope the world of running will look like in the future?

I wish the space was safer and more supportive of slow runners and not always prioritize fast runners. Take the New York City Marathon, for example – I wish slow runners didn’t have to start the race at 11:30 a.m. and finish after dark.

Running doesn’t have to aim for huge goals. Joyful motion can be running or squirming on the ground, dancing, rock climbing, or surfing.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

About Nicole Harmon

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