It’s been two years since I first ran with an LGBTQI running group, our feet pounding the wet asphalt in unison as we weaved through the streets of Soho.
I realised then that although our sexuality doesn’t define us, it connects us.
That same run, with a now defunct group, was also my first through central London. At that time, I’d just moved to the capital from Sheffield, nestled in the southernmost tip of Yorkshire, cradled by the Peak District. The move itself was one of those “life-defining moments”, complete with a significant break-up, the rehoming of a cat and a tearful drive to The Big City in a rental van filled with everything I owned.
Those first couple of weeks in London were a whirlwind of bright lights and late nights, so much so that running through the streets of London on that cool October evening was one of the first times I’d felt fully “awake” since arriving in the capital. Bella Mackie, author of Jog On: How Running Saved My Life, wrote recently about a run that “... gave me a feeling that there was a world out there beckoning me, promising hope; it gave me independence and the sense that I had reserves of strength that I wasn’t aware of.” These words pretty much describe my run that night.
It’d be a year before I felt “enough of a runner” to seek out another club, but that night had sparked something in me that, up until then, I hadn’t had the pleasure of experiencing while running. Looking back, it feels something like serendipity. Running had almost passed me by on at least two occasions before then.
Hit fast-forward (as London has an uncanny habit of doing) to today, and I’ve become something of a runner in waiting. A “Frontrunner” in waiting, actually. You see, I’m waiting (im)patiently to become a member of the International Frontrunners, a running club for LGBTQI people and allies. Founded in San Francisco in 1974, the organisation now has “about a hundred” clubs around the world, including the London Frontrunners.
“Running with others who happen to love running and identify as queer means I get to bring my full self to the run.”
I’d have signed up as a member months ago if it weren’t for a persistent niggle in my right hip… It’s just about all that’s been holding me back from pulling on my trainers, bursting through the club’s (metaphorical) doors and finding myself, I hope, surrounded by new friends (something that doesn’t always come easily in London). Thankfully, before becoming said runner in waiting, I ran with the club on two occasions. Once on an introductory, weeknight club run and more recently with friends in their annual Pride Run 10km on a breezy morning in Victoria Park (imagine Pride but with less alcohol and [fewer] ass-less chaps).
Before that first club run, I remember stuffing my running gear haphazardly into my backpack and making my way to the meeting point in the quiet backstreets of Kentish Town. Turning a corner, I spotted them, all smiles and stretches. I got speaking to a small cluster of men – some club aficionados, some yet to officially join – when a woman holding a clipboard (the ultimate sign of legitimacy if there ever was one) bounded over to me: “You’re new, right?” I nodded and she introduced me to another first-timer before pairing us up with two other women, longtime LFRs, who’d lead us along the planned route through Regent’s Park.
After a short walk to the starting line, everyone gathered in a circle and introduced themselves, followed by short but enthusiastic applause. Dispersing into smaller groups, we set off. The pace was steady and conversation flowed easily. We spoke about how long we’d been running, where our home turf was, what we did for work – the usual first-timer topics. A little further along the route, as we passed others playing frisbee, rounders and softball in the late summer sun, the conversation turned to why we’d each sought out an LGBTQI running club.
Now, I don’t doubt that most running clubs across the UK are wholly inclusive of runners of all genders and sexualities, as they are other minority groups, but as a recent investigation by BBC Radio Five Live found, recorded reports of homophobic abuse in the UK increased from almost 6,000 in 2014-15 to well over 13,000 in 2018-19. Of course this may, at least in part, be because queer people feel more able to reach out to the police for help, but whatever the multitude of causes for such a significant increase, one thing is crystal clear: there’s still much that needs to change before non-heteronormative sexualities are fully “usualised” and integrated into the social fabric of the UK.
Thing is, running with others who happen to love running and identify as queer means I get to bring my full self to the run. It’s as simple as being able to say: “Oh yeah? My girlfriend’s getting back into running too,” using the line “She’s a total Shane” and having people get it, or running in a vest top when it’s too warm not to and not feeling at all conscious about the fact that my underarm hair has been left to do its thing.
It’s small stuff, and others in the community will feel this much more acutely (which is also one of a number of complex reasons why LGBTQI people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than their heterosexual peers). To put it simply, running with others who understand those community-specific intricacies means my “inner-mind buffers”, which quietly whirr, ready to polish my sentences into more heteronormative ones, are completely switched off – instead of being left on standby as they more often are when meeting new people. Instead, I can focus on running.
Back in Regent’s Park and coming to the end of my first club run with the Frontrunners, I felt it again. That same spark or “beckoning” – and so I followed it, dutifully in fact, straight to the local pub with my fellow runners, where we spent the evening chatting about everything and anything, buffers off.
Since that first night in Soho, running has become one way of reorienting myself against this new, inner city backdrop. It’s at the intersections of both of these communities to which I belong, however, that I’ve really begun to find myself in London. With one foot in each, I think I might just be on the right path...
After all, all we all really want is to find ourselves running on common ground, right?
Want to know more about London’s inclusive running club for LGBTQI folk and allies? Visit londonfrontrunners.org
To find your nearest International Frontrunners club visit: tinyurl.com/findmyfrontrunners
Danielle Mustarde is a freelance journalist and senior staffer at DIVA magazine. A London-based northerner, when she’s not writing, you can find her Googling “recovery time gluteal tendinopathy”. Say hello @wordsbydanielle, she’d like that.
Frederick Saunders is an illustrator and animator working his socks off in London, UK. He is a new dad and no longer has any time for anything that isn’t directly related to his daughter. Except croissants. www.fredericksaunders.com IG: @frederick1800
This article originally appeared in a Like the Wind collaboration with lululemon
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