Carolyn Su Founder of Diverse We Run
- March 14, 2023
Over the last couple of years here at Mid Strike Magazine we strive to cover diverse runners within the run community where their lives are solely based on what they do when it comes to their time, speed, and awards. We strive to spotlight runners who are simply running everyday while staying committed to the lifestyle that may help them to find a sense of achievement, purpose, fulfillment and most importantly inspire. The everyday runner runs for more than just fitness but also works to balance life every day. We are all more than just runners, we are people, we work every day, we balance life and when possible, we train. Carolyn Su is the definition of what an everyday runner is. Carolyn is an advocate through social media, helping to spotlight BIPOC runners within the community through social media, she's a mother, founder of Diverse We Run and most importantly she's a runner. It's women's history month and what better way to kick it off than getting to know Carolyn Su, her journey and most of all her why.
MSM: We launched Mid Strike Magazine back in July 2020 and shortly after we came across your Instagram page Diverse We Run, we’ll get to that later but I feel like our mission has been parallel these last few years and continues to be. I'm also interested in the ice cream hoarder as well which we’ll get to later as well, BUT for now let's start out with who Carolyn Su is and where it all began when it comes to running.
Carolyn: Yeah! Well, I am Chinese American, born and raised in Houston, TX. I spent a large part of my life straddling two worlds: being immersed in the Chinese-immigrant community in which my parents were very highly involved and trying to figure out my place and identity in white-American suburbia. While my parents and relatives instilled within me a strong sense of pride in our cultural heritage and history, the message I received from the white peers, teachers, and adults from the surrounding areas of my life was quite opposite: being mocked for embodying physical traits that were different from my blonde and light-eyed classmates taught me that black hair and almond-eyes were not as desirable; seeing teachers and school authorities favor and give free-passes to the “All American, Abercrombie-type students reinforced that certain people groups were “better” than others; or witnessing the ways the elders and adults in my community were spoken to with impatience and contempt, made me feel embarrassed by association and motivated me to ensure my own vernacular was without accent and that I conducted myself with efficiency.
I operated with internalized white supremacy (though I did not know that’s what it was at the time), and that self-loathing of being Asian American also manifested itself as an eating disorder, starting at the age of 13. It was through trying to conform my body into white, European beauty standards that I stumbled into running, my freshman year of college.
All the health and fitness magazines praised the exercise of running as an ‘efficient’ means of burning calories and sculpting ‘lean’ bodies. So, being the star-achiever that I am, I diligently incorporated a running regimen into my weekly workout routine. I did not think about whether or not it made me feel invigorated, or whether it was mentally therapeutic, or even if I enjoyed running. All I saw it as, was a means to an end.
And it served its purpose as such, for a while. One summer break, while I was out on a run, I saw an auntie out running, and I was surprised. No one else I knew was a runner, and in fact, I was more used to having to defend or explain myself to my parents and friends as to why I even prioritized exercise. To see a friend of my parents (a full-blown adult!) outside running was so stunning that I immediately found myself running up to her and joining her on her run.
Turned out, she was training to run the Houston Marathon, which she had run every year for a decade as a charity runner for her hospital! My mind was blown: what was this thing called a marathon? 26.2 miles?! And she had run it not just once, but MULTIPLE TIMES?!
This auntie (Auntie Estella!) was the representation I needed in running. She broke barriers for me – as a young, Asian American woman who had constantly been told that sports were ‘tomboyish’ and a waste-of-time, ‘Western-American’ hobby – in validating that YES, Asian American women CAN RUN, and YES, running can be PURPOSEFUL, and YES! I was not alone!
After returning to college that Fall, I signed up and trained for my first marathon. Representation and community in running forever changed my trajectory and understanding in the sport.
MSM: There’s always “THAT” moment as a runner for us when we realize that this is indeed a lifestyle, the weird part about it is running is running for most is a love/hate relationship especially when it comes to the marathon, yet the accomplishment of finishing is a feeling that most can't understand unless they can do it. For our readers take us through the moment when you knew that running was indeed going to be a part of your everyday lifestyle.
Carolyn: There wasn’t necessarily one, pivotal moment that marked when running became a permanent fixture in my life. It just somehow, continued to remain as a part of my life. I will say that over the course of my life, however, the role that running has played has evolved and looked different, as I have gone through different seasons of life, grown, and evolved as a woman.
When I first started running, the motion of running was very detached and distant to who I was as a person. It was merely a tool, something I ‘did,’ like brushing my teeth. Later, every cycle of marathon training served as a source of constancy and reliability – something that was tangible and certain that I could check off, every day, during a time when my life felt chaotic in my early 20s. When I became a young mother, and when my family moved to a completely unfamiliar part of the country, running was a source of physical and mental respite, a space where I could listen to myself breathe, get grounded, and explore new neighborhoods. Now, running is a form of community and connection with others. Running is now not simply a part of my lifestyle, but really, a part of who I am as a person.
MSM: We’re all about catching a good podcast, especially when it comes to running. You’re also the creator of Relay Site, a collaborative of elite runners and running content creators publishing high-end writing, audio/podcasts, and video, which also includes one of our favs Marcus Brown. How can our readers listen and support?
Carolyn: Ah, yes! Marcus is such a remarkable human (and one of my favorites too)! In fact, he was one of the very first features on Diverse We Run! It’s been exciting to be a part of this Relay Team with him and with the other athlete-creators. I’m most excited about the podcast that Stefanie Flippin and I recently launched on Relay, the Making Strides Podcast, where we talk candidly about navigating the running world as women of color. We hope to first and foremost be a space where athletes who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color will feel seen, understood, and recognized.
Every person on the team brings unique aspects (and accolades!) to the sport, and that’s what we want to offer the community. Readers can subscribe at our Patreon page, https://www.patreon.com/relay, and follow us on IG @relay_site. Thanks so much for asking!
MSM: We touched on the accomplishments with running, what have been some of your favorites over the years that have stood out and for you what was that race that brought you back? As we mentioned there’s usually that moment as a runner and what follows that moment is usually a race that essentially reels us in. I always said I'd never run a marathon again after my first one. The sad and best part for me was that the New York City Marathon was my first marathon so it was kind of set that it wouldn't be the last for me after that experience.
Carolyn: Oh gosh, let me think. Well, my definition of ‘accomplishment’ in running has also evolved over the years. In terms of race times, I’d say that the time I raced my half marathon PR in the Fall of 2017 was memorable, not because I hit a PR, but because of my mindset during the race. For months prior to the race, I had been rehabbing tendinitis, and then the week before the race, I got sick. I showed up at the Start Line with tissues stuffed up my sleeves and all my racing expectations thrown out the window. I let myself reframe my perspective to viewing the race as an opportunity to be grateful for all the ways my body was able to move and for all the lessons I had learned through the preceding months of injury-healing. I was grateful for the person that injury had given me the opportunity to grow into, and I ran the race based on feel instead of based on my watch. I finished the race feeling strong and exhilarated, and it was a sweet bonus to later learn I had also PR’d!
The other race accomplishment I feel proud of myself for was when I ran the TransRockies Run – a three-to-six-day race through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, covering 120miles and 20,000ft of elevation gain. It was my first trail race, and my first multi-day race. I was given an entry to participate by Mirna Valerio, a friend and fellow advocate in the running world.
Despite rehabbing from injury (yet again), and despite having had zero experience in the trail and ultra-world, I ultimately agreed to participate as a way to help change the demographic and landscape of the trail running scene (i.e., being 95% affluent, white men). Not fitting into any of the descriptors, I had additional planning and work to get done, on top of simply training for the race. I worked at piecing together sponsorships to support my travel, training, and gear. I intentionally documented and shared all the things I was learning on social media, in order to help remove the barrier of intimidation and of the unknown to fellow runners of color, as well as to educate white runners on the ways accessibility into trail running and large race events were different for many underrepresented communities. And yeah. I had to learn how to get comfortable running and racing on trails!
I ended up completing the 3-day circuit of the event, and I returned home tired, but super proud of how I listened to my body’s cues and honored its needs, and how I accomplished my goal to take up space as an Asian American woman on the trails.
MSM: Let's go back to your early days in running. The media tends to show what they “think” a runner should look like. Runners should be fast, slim, close to Olympic speed or qualifying, etc. A lot of publications to me tend to miss the mark with runners that they tend to feature or highlight. For me personally it was something that I struggled with early on as a runner. I couldn’t relate to runners that I was seeing in magazines, nor could I relate to them as their stories did not reflect what I was used to, to the point where I stopped running for a few months. I asked myself what I was doing this for. It was for my health obviously, but I didn't see anyone that looked like me, talked like me or worked and balanced life like me. Take us through some of your early experiences as a runner and some of your early struggles.
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