It wasn’t until 1966 that the very first woman was documented running and completing the Boston Marathon. 50 years later, women continue to make impressive strides in and out of the running world - making up the majority of finishers in half marathons and marathons, according to Running USA.
And while women continue to fight for equal rights from the boardroom to the courtroom, we are constantly identifying ways to express ourselves that not only bring others together in solidarity but move the needle forward to incite necessary change.
For Yesenia Radics, Alison Desir, and Ashlee Lawson, running is more than just a recreational sport - it’s a form of resistance, resilience, and empowerment. As leaders in three of the most unique running clubs across the country, they are responsible for uplifting dozens of runners on a weekly basis. But even as they strive to improve their strides, they are still working to overcome their own personal adversities.
YESENIA RADICS (THREE RUN TWO, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS)
‘It’s better to be under-trained than over-trained.”
Growing up right outside of Chicago, running has always been part of Yesenia’s life. She started running in high school after her physical education teacher noticed that she finished the mile test in such an impressive time. “He told me I needed to join the track team,” Yesenia recalls, “but it wasn’t until about four years ago that I started to take running seriously.”
And when she did, she joined Three Run Two, a diverse community of all sorts of runners based in Chicago. “What I love most about Three Run Two is the atmosphere,” she says. “It’s not just about the sport, but we go out together, have meals together – we’ve grown to become a group of friends.” In 2014, Yesenia ran her first full marathon, only after running one half marathon and a few 5K races.
“Although I had a watch, I had no idea what I was doing and no clue what pace I was going,” she says. “I had heard that qualifying for Boston [Marathon] was a big deal, so all I could think during the race was ‘I’d better run fast enough to BQ’. Luckily, her time did allow for her to qualify and run the Boston Marathon - and she was lucky enough to have her family there to cheer her on.
Not only did running with the Chicago-based crew teach her discipline and structure, but it’s also the way she met her husband. “Rudi and I crossed paths at a 3Run2 Thursday run and we’ve been inseparable ever since. It feels good to share the same passion and that definitely helps whenever the other needs a push with getting up at 4 in the morning for a track workout or a long run.”
Currently, Yesenia is the only woman holding it down on Three Run Two’s racing team that will take on the Illinois Marathon next month. But even with all of the training, long miles, dealing with injuries and recovery runs, running has without a doubt changed her life for the better.
“I can’t think of a better metaphor for life than running,” she says. “The ups and downs of training, the excitement of a PR, the heartache of having to cancel a race because of injury. Whether the feelings are good or bad, I hope I can experience them for the rest of my life.”
ALISON DESIR (HARLEM RUN, HARLEM, NEW YORK)
“Running has given me an opportunity to be alive, period.”
Since she was a little girl, Alison Desir was always on the move - so much so that her dad gave her a unique nickname that she has carried ever since. “He called me “Powdered Feet”, which in Haitian Kreyol describes someone so active you never see them – just the footprints of where they have been in powder,” she recalls.
But Alison’s long-distance running journey began in 2012 when she was going through a really deep depression and felt as though she had no purpose. “I was so depressed that I was regularly engaging in behavior that could have meant I would not be here today; as in, sooner or later, taking too many sleeping pills would've killed me.” After watching a friend’s transformation through training for a marathon, she decided to go out on a limb and try this impossible goal.
“I signed up for my first marathon in exchange for raising $3,500 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society,” Alison says. “What I found almost immediately is that running gave me a sense of structure and sense of power over myself, and it really changed my perspective. When I got to the finish line, the seeds were planted right then. I thought this could change so many lives.”
In November 2013, Alison launched Harlem Run with the hope of sharing that same experience - the transformative power of running - with her community. It would be about four months before anyone else showed up, but within a year there were over 100 people running through the streets of Harlem every Monday and Thursday night.
Three years later, Alison felt that same energy shortly after the presidential election and started the initiative, Run For All Women as a way to get her community involved in activism in a meaningful way. In January 2017, she and team of12 runners ran a 250-mile relay from Harlem, New York to Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March, raising over $100,000 dollars for Planned Parenthood along the way.
‘The run was less about resisting the presidential election and more about taking ACTION in support of the vision 3 million more folks voted for,” Alison says. “I really wanted to do something meaningful with the run, and that’s where the fundraising piece came in.”
Women from all over the world reached out to Alison, with the desire to participate in this 250-mile journey. While they hoped that it would be supported, she knew that she was a huge leap of faith.
“It was bigger than anything we ever could have imagined,” she recalls. “There were people who met us at 3 o'clock in the morning, people who were canceling work, mothers who were bringing their kids with them, so they could be there the morning of the Women's March. We made it there and there was this beautiful realization that there's so much power in running, and in community.”
Alison’s running journey has taught her discipline, resilience and the power of community – all lessons that have challenged me to confront her doubts and step into her power.
“For anyone who wants to start running, my advice would be to just start,” she says. “It's going to be difficult and you probably won't feel the so-called "runner's high" for a minute; don't let that stop you. Be patient with yourself and don't compare your journey to anyone else's.”
ASHLEE LAWSON (DISTRICT RUNNING COLLECTIVE, WASHINGTON, D.C.)
“I didn't see myself in the space at all until I inserted myself.”
Ashlee Lawson’s running journey seven years in Chicago, Illinois - long before her days as a lady captain of the District Running Collective began. Living in the Windy City, she wanted to find a way to stay in shape without breaking the bank. “I saw that there was this beautiful lakefront at my disposal and a number of my friends who were running often, and thought, ‘let me give this a try,’” she recalls. “So one day I laced up my sneakers and started running, and haven’t really stopped since.”
When Ashlee moved to Washington, D.C. in September 2013, running was more of a way for her to get acclimated to a new city and meet new people.
“It’s funny because my first run with District Running Collective was actually an event to celebrate Women’s History Month in March 2014,” Ashlee says. “We went on a quick 2-mile run in the rain through Adam’s Morgan and I did terribly.”
But that was the very motivation she needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Since becoming a captain of DRC in 2015, Ashlee has not only had the chance to get make a difference in The District, but as a brand ambassador for Under Armour, she’s had the opportunity to travel across the country (and the globe) and share her experience in an athletic space where women – particularly black women – aren’t often seen.
Redefine your impossible" is their motto. Bigger than running, District Running Collective exists where fitness, culture, and community collide. As a crew, they support one another up every hill, across every bridge, and through each painstaking mile. Pairing hard work with even harder play, every mile is a party whenever they lace up.
“As a black woman, I don't see myself represented in running culture often,” Ashlee says. “When people often think about runners, they usually envision a frail man with short shorts running all the marathons or a skinny white woman. You never see black women, you never natural hair – and I got
So instead of accepting that as her reality, Ashlee and five other women have joined together to launch RUNGRL a digital platform that will serve as a place of information, inspiration, and celebration for black women runners. The new-media platform will officially launch at the end of April, which culminates their 12-week training program for the National Women’s Half Marathon.
“With the training program, we wanted to use it as an opportunity to tell the stories of 12 very different women coming together through this common thread of running, with the ultimate goal of everyone achieving a personal record (PR) at the National Women Half.”
RUNGRL will be from the lens of the black woman runner and discuss everything from protective hairstyles to how to deal with street harassment, to heart health, and other barriers that black women may face in the sport.
“Here’s the thing -- black women are out here!” Ashlee exclaimed. “We are running these races and getting these medals, but we’re not always at the top of mind to most of the running population. With RUNGRL, we want to change the narrative of running and tell the stories of women who are killing the game in running.”
When it comes to celebrating Women’s History Month, it doesn't always have to be things of the past – which is necessary - but it’s important to talk the achievements being made in real time. Yesenia, Alison, and Ashlee are proof that women don’t have to wait for permission to be the change they wish to see.
“Whatever it is you love doing,” Ashlee says, “use that tool to create your own history right now.”