Latinas Are Raising a New Generation Of Runners

Many positive effects come from running, but the lack of representation and barriers in Latinx communities have prevented them from reaping the benefits. These parents are trying to change that.

By Priscilla Blossom

Growing up, I absolutely hated running. I was always one of the slowest runners in class, and often teased about it. No one in my family or in my predominantly Latinx neighborhood ran either, except for occasionally chasing after the bus. Running when you didn’t have to just didn’t make sense to me. Plus, I only ever saw white, thin, affluent folks go for a run. That’s not for us, I thought. In recent years, however, I’ve started shifting my perspective. Inspired by runner friends of all backgrounds and sizes, I’ve taken up running for fun, for fitness, and for mental health. And honestly? I wish I’d started sooner.

Studies show numerous benefits when it comes to walking, jogging, and running, including beneficial effects on resting heart rate, triglycerides, and HDL cholesterol, a reduction in cardiovascular disease, an improvements in mental health (particularly on anxiety and depression), and more. So why aren’t more of us doing it?

What Keeps Latinas From Running?

“One of the biggest barriers would be the lack of representation of Latina[s] in the elite running world in the U.S.,” says Sabrina L. De La Cruz, founder of Angel City Elite, a women’s distance running team whose mission involves bridging the disparity gap of BIPOC representation in the running world. “It’s difficult to dream about running at the Olympic trials or to even take up running when you see that more than 90% of the race are white.”

De La Cruz, who is a Latina mom herself, first began running as a sophomore in high school, when an upper-class student asked her to join the track team.

“She was a young Latina woman who had a caring heart, confident attitude, and was passionate,” she says. “Her love of the sport ignited a desire in me and inspired me to be a role model to others.”

But De La Cruz, who lives in Alhambra, California, says she faced other hurdles along the way.

“My biggest obstacle [initially] was finding places to run in the streets of LA, because my high school was near downtown and we hardly traveled to places to run,” she says. “My coach tried his best to keep us safe at 5:30 in the morning. I remember cars driving so close to us that a few of them nearly hit me.”

Socioeconomic status can play a role in making activities like running and jogging more difficult for certain populations, including Latinxs. For example, the Washington Post has previously reported on issues of sidewalk inequality, wherein individuals in underserved neighborhoods often have to deal with more dangerous walking conditions, including fewer continuous sidewalks. While affluent neighborhoods may have running trails and gyms with treadmills, other neighborhoods may have to make do with cracked or missing sidewalks and worse.

De La Cruz also mentions that in underserved communities, it can also be difficult for young Latinas to get access to resources and support needed to begin running.

“Often, parents cannot afford to purchase proper running shoes for their kids, and local running groups don’t exist,” she says, which is another reason why she started Angel City Elite.

The Motherhood Hurdle

And for Latina moms, it can be even more difficult to take up or maintain a running practice when they’re also busy raising families. De La Cruz, who became a mom last year, says that while she ran throughout her 8th month of pregnancy, starting back up postpartum was a bit more challenging.

“Lack of sleep, childcare, breast engorgement, breastfeeding, and eventually going back to work…It all affected my running journey because I did not know how to balance it all,” she says.

While she dealt with a period of adjustment, she’s now gotten back into a routine of starting most mornings with an early run before her husband goes to work.

“Running is my therapy,” says De La Cruz. “It regulates me, puts me at peace, and relaxes me. Once I found this balance, things became easier, and I felt like myself again.”

Latina Moms Find Motivation via Running Groups

Many other Latina moms are also finding this out for themselves, pushing against the challenges, tying their shoes and hitting the pavement.

In 2016, Maria Solis Belizaire began Latinas Run, an international organization bringing the community together via movement. Belizaire says there are plenty of Latina moms involved in her running group, including Zaida Espinozaand Vanessa Recalde.

Espinoza, who lives in Fort Drum, NY, began running during her time in the Army National Guard. While reluctant to believe she’d enjoy it, she says she found she loved how it made her feel mentally and emotionally, and even ran the NYC Marathon just last year.

As a mother of 3, Espinoza squeezes in a run whenever she can. “I also try to get my kids involved in group runs so they can have more fun and see why it is a great and fulfilling community to take part in,” she says.

Recalde’s running journey began when she was the only Latina on her high school’s track team. Today, she’s a mother of two who finds motivation in inspiring her own children to challenge themselves.

Recalde wants more Latina moms to become runners. “I have worked on encouraging some of the parents I’m involved with to give it a try, but it’s challenging,” says Recalde. “There are a few that…have participated in small, more intimate events with their children.”

Latinas Run is just one of several running groups inspiring Latina moms, however.

Mexican-American mother of three, Felice Acosta, says that while being busy can keep Latina moms from running, it’s important to “prioritize ourselves more.” She shares that she has found a lot of inspiration on Facebook’s Muevete Chingona! group, where Latinas can discuss their running practice and participate in challenges.

She uses running not only for fitness and stress relief, but also to keep up with her 3 sons.

“My boys are very active,” says Acosta. “They all play or have played multiple sports, and I love to help them in practices when I can.”

Melanie Rodriguez, CEO and Leader Coach at Elevate Latinas, is another member of Muevete Chingonas. Rodriguez says she began running in high school but stopped until the pandemic motivated her to start again.

“As a super-social person, I was struggling with being home all of the time. I started running as a way to get out of the house, get some exercise and de-stress,” she says.

Inspiring The Next Generation Of Latinx Runners

Every Latina mom I spoke with said they hoped their running inspired their kids to take up the practice in their own lives.

“When I ran my first half marathon, the kids were very proud and the excitement they had when they saw that their mom could do it made me even more passionate about it,” says Roriguez. “I love that my active lifestyle rubs off on them.”

“Children often learn by example,” says De La Cruz. “If they see their parents going out for a morning run multiple times a week, they will believe that running multiple times a week is the normal thing to do.”

Actively encouraging kids to take part in races is another way to motivate them to run. De La Cruz advises entering kids in holiday races and fun runs, which are generally shorter, from 100 meters to a 1k.

“Making holiday running traditions to start your morning as a family would encourage your child to be involved and will make it fun,” says De La Cruz.