Black With Endurance founder Lani Woods
Representation. It’s a simple word that carries so much meaning in the black fitness community as we struggle to see images of us not only in the run community but also in the endurance/spartan run communities. Over the past couple of years what we’ve been able to accomplish was to essentially show that the endurance communities are indeed diverse and mixed with runners of color who can indeed run and hang in various endurance road races. This month we get to chat with Lani Woods, founder of Black with endurance, podcast host of unrelenting humans and lastly a spot on the TV series Ninja warrior (yes the tv show).
MSM: Welcome to Mid Strike Magazine, when we started this publication one of our main focuses is to make sure our communities are represented and our stories are shared and told the “right way”. For our readers who is Lani Woods?
Lani: First and foremost, thank you for this opportunity, I am honored to share my story with you all. I love what Mid Strike Magazine is doing for the running/ athletic communities. My name is Lani Woods, I am a mom of 2 living in Compton CA. I am a former EMT turned Vascular Ultrasound tech, now embarking on entrepreneurship in the endurance sports world as Founder / CEO of Black with Endurance. When it comes to sports, I like to call myself an adventurer, I am not a pro or an elite at any sport, but I love trying new sports. A few of my favorites are running, obstacle course racing, hiking, and my newfound love for road cycling.
MSM: All of our journeys begin when we’re at a point in our lives which is considered a tipping point. For yourself what was it that led you into the journey of endurance racing.
Lani: My life has had a lot of tipping points, ultimately, I started running as a teen as an escape. What I didn’t realize at the time was it therapeutic for me. Moving forward a bit, in 2016 I started working out more, going to the YMCA, taking cardio boxing classes, running, lifting weights, this was my escape from home life, where I was in an abusive relationship. After 3 years of enduring the abuse and experiencing the escalation, I finally felt strong enough to fight back and get out of the relationship. Which also gave me confidence in other areas, and made me willing to try new things…like obstacle course racing.
MSM: (updated question) this is all uncharted territory for you which makes your journey super interesting. Why Endurance sports? There can be so many other avenues of fitness, what was it that made you say this is the lane/path I’d like to venture into?
Lani: Why Endurance sports? Good question! Well the definition of endurance is
“the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way” and through life I have encountered and lived through many different unpleasant and trying times, so when I see athletes doing this as a sport, I’m like “ Yo! I know I can do that.” I seek challenge, I love resilience, there is nothing sweeter than proving yourself wrong. When you get to a breaking point, and you feel like you can’t go any further, when your brain says, “I can’t,” but your drive says, “oh but you will,” is what separates the average from the exceptional, and I don’t know about everyone else, but I am by no means average.
MSM: Give our readers a peek into some of your accomplishments in the endurance game. What have been some of the races you’ve been a part of, what are some of your favorites that have stood out?
Lani: I’m new to endurance sports, my intro to endurance was Spartan race, which is one of my favorites, the spartan community is dope! Doing a spartan expo series led to me doing a few races, which led me to triathlon, cycling and the opportunity to compete in American Ninja Warrior. I recently completed my 1st triathlon, and my 1st Century ride, in the same week. Which is my proudest accomplishment to date.
MSM: One thing I love about the mission statement of BWE is the work that you’re willing to put into planting the seeds in our youth. Essentially showing and teaching them about the sport at a young age. What have been some of the ways you’ve educated the youth about the sport of endurance racing?
Lani: BWE’s goal is to normalize nontraditional sports in the black community, and it starts with planting those seeds. During the pandemic I emailed Spartan sharing my story of where I live and how I found them, suggesting they reach out to these communities and have more races accessible to inner city folks, as well as many other suggestions that I have proudly seen come into fruition. I also worked briefly as Director of a Non-Profit that started as a social activist organization, and I redirected them to help the communities that need it most by introducing nontraditional sports along with performing arts to the youth to give them different avenues for opportunities. In the spring before competing for Ninja Warrior I led an intro to obstacle course racing class at the Watts empowerment center in the Imperial Courts housing community, as well as introduced the program to the Jordan Downs community here in Watts. Now I am focusing on BWE Media to have a greater reach, to really see the change we are seeking.
MSM: Endurance training and marathon training both take a lot out of you mentally and physically. I really feel that you’d need to have a different level of training when it comes to endurance training. What does a training cycle look like both mentally and physically?
Lani: Endurance training is a lifestyle. It’s not like traditional sports where you show up for practice a few hours a week and go home and eat McDonalds. Every choice makes a difference. I live an active life, run, jump, climb is basically in my daily regimen but when training for a specific event, I’ll use my century ride as an example, I’m going hard for 3 weeks, 5 days a week, a minimum of 10 hours a week of training, Minimum! Gatorade and water are my drinks of choice, and an athletic brewing upside dawn is my celebratory drink. The fourth week, I cut down to 4 low intensity days and focus on nutrition, high protein, high carbs, more fruits, and veggies, still lots of water and electrolytes, no alcohol. Mentally, I get anxious before any event, I haven’t mastered that yet, it’s just part of the process, push past the self-doubt, and the self-sabotage talk and go be great!
MSM:The year 2020 was such a taxing one, it really challenged us mentally and physically, most of all it taught us to be still, to reflect, to really focus on us individually. With that came new ventures such as BWE. What was the process in launching the brand?
Lani: 2020 was a doosie for sure. On top of the pandemic, I had 3 knee surgeries, I had to learn to sit still, and I also had to relearn how to walk, which is transformative. 2020 allowed me to reflect on my values. In almost every room I have been in I have been one of the few black people, and usually the only black woman, as an EMT, at school, in radiology, on the trails, on a start line, it’s exhausting. During the pandemic I listened to a lot of podcasts and read articles of athletes doing remarkable things and 95% of the time the athletes were white, and I’d look up black athletes doing the same thing, with little to no coverage. So, I wanted to start BWE not just to highlight these athletes’ capabilities, but to humanize them as well, tell their stories, their struggles, their why! In most cases black people come out of the womb enduring, being born in poverty, single parent households, having gone through some form of trauma before being an adult, I want to share our resilience and how that resilience and endurance translates over creating some of the best athletes on earth. After months of fantasizing, I took a leap of faith, and decided I was going to launch a podcast called Black with Endurance, and I need a knowledgeable co-host that I can trust, and viola here we grow!
MSM: To launch a brand usually takes an entire process while others are created on a thought, when did you know that launching BWE was the route that you needed to take? To be a safe place for the diverse community?
Lani: Launching BWE took a lot of consideration on my part, though I am very impulsive, I had several projects on my plate at the same time, and sadly with the racial distress in this country, I didn’t want BWE to be attacked by certain groups, but I felt it was needed. I didn’t have the resources to launch my vision how I see it, but I knew I could start with what I had so I created the podcast. I sat on BWE for 6 months before launching, the catalyst was when I was watching a show, and a company (I won’t say no names) basically used black athletes, not to highlight them but to exploit them, putting them in situations they were not prepared for, against other athletes that have been doing these sports most of their lives, Imagine asking a person who plays softball to play in a 1 on 1 tournament against LeBron James, no chance in hell. That lit a fire in me to create a place to highlight US!
MSM: As you are continuing to learn about life as an endurance athlete and competitions do you see yourself venturing into the world of becoming a triathlete?
Lani: I’m finding my way as an endurance athlete, I like the challenge of Triathlon, though my skills as a swimmer are subpar, it gives me something to work on. I will be doing another triathlon sprint in October called Tri LA, I want to complete a half Ironman in 2022.
MSM: Afew weeks ago you were featured on an episode of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, WOW!!!! What was that experience like?
Lani: Competing on Ninja Warrior was one of my bucket lists goals, so I was super excited for the opportunity. I had 6 weeks to learn how to be a ninja and boy did I learn a lot, but still fell short of making it past the 1st round. People ask will I try again, and my answer is probably not. I met so many people who have been training their whole lives hoping for the opportunity to be on this show, and when I come on just to knock it off my bucket list, I feel like I kind of cut the line, and took that opportunity from someone. So, it’s checked off my bucket list, I have so many other things to experience and so many other spaces that need me.
MSM: Most runners that get into marathoning are usually focused on running all 6 of the World Majors, running all 50 states or on all 7 continents for those extreme runners. For a person as yourself what are some of the larger races and goals that you have in the endurance game.
Lani: As road running is not my strong suit now, my immediate goals are to complete the spartan trifecta, run an ultra, I am also training to cycle 600 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2022 I haven’t picked the best date but knowing me it’ll be sooner than later. Things that I want to do is an adventure race such as “World’s Toughest Race” and I promised Amy Palmero Winters that I would do a Spartan Death Race, that will be in 2023 as long as this body permits. Another bucket list endurance event I want to do is a transcontinental ride, so if anyone is reading this and is planning one, contact me, I’m so down.
MSM: For me when I first got into running there was an intimidation factor not because I was worried that I couldn’t keep up but more so due to the fact that I wasn’t seeing people at races that looked like or represented me. As you progress into this world do you find yourself having these same feelings as you progress further into the world of endurance racing?
Lani: I definitely see the lack of diversity. I live in Compton, everywhere I go I see black people, but when I go to these events, I must search for us. Recently I flew to Jacksonville Florida for an OCR event, I had never been previously, and it was different. In SoCal there are a lot of events that lack black participation, but I don’t feel like I’m treated poorly, maybe feel uncomfortable, but not treated as subhuman. My answer to that is, I’m going into these events knowing we’re not there, so I’m going to interject myself into these spaces, and share my experience, to show if this single mom from South Central can do this, so can you.
MSM: As I’ve been sitting here putting together these questions and this article it seems that BWE is very informative to its followers when it comes to information, resourceful information for those that are interested in endurance racing. I’m pretty sure there’s lots of excitement and fears. What have been some of the consistent questions and concerns you’ve received over the past year?
Lani: We try to share as much information as possible to connect people. The question we get the most, is “How do you find these people?” the short answer is I look, I see events I go through photos and hashtags to find the black people. I go to events, and I literally look for black people especially in the elite and pro divisions. We also get asked about events, were a currently working on adding an event finder to our website, we really would love to highlight events that are created by black organizers, or that are more catered to people of color, so this should be a great resource for everyone.
MSM: One of my favorite questions that I tend to ask all of the folks we interview, what is your inspiration? What drives you to get out there and be the change? To be the difference?
Lani: The thing that inspires me, is hope. I never liked traditional team sports growing up, I was just a fast runner with a lot of energy and no direction, always pushed toward basketball or cheerleading. Whereas If I would have known about endurance sports at a younger age and had the opportunity to be coached, not to toot my own horn, but it would be over for a lot of these athletes lol. No but for real, I could totally see my participation in sports as a youth being different. My son, who is 12, doesn’t like track, basketball, or football, but like obstacle course racing, as I imagine a lot of young people will, so I see it as my job to help show them that there are more competitive sports you can play and that doesn’t make you any less black.
MSM: Black with Endurance is still fairly new, still fresh, where do you see BWE going in the future?
Lani: BWE is my newborn baby, I am so protective of it, that is why I can’t say too much, but BWE is a vessel to help bring exposure to black athletes in nontraditional sports, so the podcast is just scratching the surface. We will be partnering with other organizations to bring events to the community and offer more coverage at events.
MSM: What are the chances/possibility that we see an endurance race sponsored/led by Black with Endurance. A race that is for our community and possibly held in our community.
Lani:The chances are very high!
MSM: We’ve yet to get into the BWE podcast which is pretty awesome by the way as it speaks to athletes about overcoming adversity and how that transfers over to sport amongst other topics that needs to be discussed. Proper dialogue is the best way we can create the changes we want to see, being informative is the best way we can all learn. What have been some of your favorite guests that you’ve had on the podcast?
Lani: Honestly, I love all the guests we have had on, some of our best interviews haven’t even been released yet. Coming up we have Brooke Goudy, co leader of Black Girls Do Bike Colorado, who just completed “The Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail” and well as Chase Merriweather, who is a quadruple amputee who plays all types of sports, and Coach Marcus Fitts, USA Triathlon Coach of the year who is doing so much for diversity and inclusion for the sport of triathlon and cycling. Oddly some of my favorite episodes are when Koach and I are sharing our personal stories of our experiences, because we learn from everyone we interview, like Koach got advice from Khadija Diggs, first black woman, and 1st hijab on the USA triathlon team, and Dr. Oida Brown encouraged me to try a triathlon. We are all family, I love it!
MSM: What’s on the horizon for Black with Endurance, what can our readers look out for?
Lani: Black With Endurance is for the people, for the culture, we will be adding some segments to showcase some athletes that are interested in starting their own podcasts, just to give the listeners some variety, and these athletes a foundation to start something new with no real risk. We will add and event page, and more video interviews on Instagram live.
MSM: I think I speak for many of us when I say thank you for everything that you’re doing with representing our culture, any last words that you’d like to share with our readers? Also how can we keep up with BWE?
Lani: Koach & I are honored to do this work, though we both have stacked schedules, we genuinely do this out of love for our community. You can keep up with BWE on our website blackwithendurance.com subscribe to the mail list; on instagram @blackwithendurance follow, DM us and tag us to be featured. Also on our website you can purchase BWE merch, or donate to our podcast to show support. Thank you all for taking the time to read this, you can follow me @lanitheadventurer DM me if you have questions or need advice, I’m here.
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