COLUMBIA — The groups official name could end in a question mark Black Girls RUN? After all, thats the response group members often get.
The name of the group ends with an exclamation point because, well, these black women run with enthusiasm.
Nearly 30 local Black Girls Run! members ran in the Ray Tanner Home Run 5K/12K in October. Ten plan to run Saturday in the 40th edition of the Governors Cup
Black women are becoming more and more comfortable running, said Shalama Jackson, one of the leaders of the local affiliate of the national group.
Along the way, theyre also giving stereotypes a punch in the gut.
The word is we dont like to get our hair messed up because we pay so much to get it done, said Renita Priester, chuckling on Monday as 20 mph winds messed up a group of runners hair before they even began jogging.
Black Girls Run! started in 2009 as an effort to encourage more black women to run to improve their health. Groups have since popped up all over the country, with local leaders coordinating training runs several days each week. Using a Facebook page and email blasts, members know when and where to show up to run with others in the group.
About a year ago, the Columbia-area group had 25 members. Now it has 550. And while not all of them run routinely, there are enough dedicated runners for regular training jaunts several times each week at the Lake Carolina/Summit neighborhoods, the Harbison area, Hand Middle School, the Lake Murray dam and along the riverfront greenways.
Jackson even hooked up with a Black Girls Run! group during a recent visit to St. Louis. You can go anywhere in the country and not have to run by yourself, she said.
Black Girls Run! has hit on a winning formula. Theres no pressure and plenty of encouragement. A lot of newcomers start off slowly. You can walk, but sooner or later, you ask how to start running, Jackson said.
Recruiting new members is easy. (If youre interested in joining, go to www.blackgirlsrun.com.) Tawanna Dennis of Lexington found out about Black Girls Run! when a member of her old running group liked the groups Facebook page.
I liked that it was all girls, Dennis said. In my old group, I was the only girl, and they were fast. They would leave me behind.
I like that they stay with you and let you go your pace. Its not how fast you are.
Dennis pace isnt quick. When she ran the Governors Cup 8K (4.96 miles) last year, she finished behind some people running the 13.1-mile half marathon. She hopes for a faster time Saturday, but thats not what motivates her. Like most of the women in the group, shes looking to get, or stay, fit.
Shanta McBeth of Irmo realized running with others would provide encouragement on those days when she didnt want to exercise. She found Black Girls Run! with an online search.
I used to run on my own, and compared to this, it was a lot more difficult, McBeth said. They give you a lot of encouragement and mentorship.
Now she runs at least three times a week, and her body doesnt feel right when she goes more than two days without exercise.
I dont see any other organization like this, McBeth said. Theres a stigma that black people dont run, but were taking our fitness and health into our own hands.
Running has been the second step in McBeths four-year effort to improve her health. She focused on dieting to lose 80 pounds in 2009 and 2010. Rather than go on the diet roller-coaster so many people ride, she found running allowed her to maintain her weight without strict dieting.
Priester, of Columbia, said watching her father and an uncle deal with diabetes fueled her drive to build a healthier lifestyle. She didnt want to have to give herself insulin shots or for her children to have to give them to her, she said.
Priester had run some on her own, but joining the group inspired her to do more. Now I feel like I have control over my health, she said.