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Q&A with Ashley Hicks and Toni Carey of Black Girls RUN!

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Now that the official countdown to summer has begun, many of us will be hitting the gym to get bikini-ready before Memorial Day. But when it comes to Black women and exercise, we've faced an age-old dilemma: how to deal with our hair while breaking a sweat. For Ashley Hicks and Toni Carey, the founders of the nationwide running group and blog Black Girls RUN!, this is an issue they've both faced and conquered. The ladies sat down with us to talk about how BGR got started, maintaining workout hair, and their mission to motivate Black women to get fit.

ESSENCE.com: How did Black Girls RUN! get started?
ASHLEY HICKS: Toni and I started BGR three years ago and at the time I had been running for two years and she had been running for a year. All of our friends and family were asking us how we were staying in shape and we’d tell them we were running. The reactions would always be, “Oh, you’re running?  Black women don’t run. Aren’t you bored?” From there Toni and I said we should really blog about this to share our advice with our friends and family and start interacting with other black women who do run. Initially we didn’t set out to get black women to run, it was more so just to find those who already did and come together. We started blogging in March 2009 we used Twitter and Facebook to build a following. It was really fun. Everyone told us we should start a running group and we were hesitant at first but we said let’s go for it and see what happens. To our surprise it just completely took off. We launched 30 groups the first time and last year we launched an additional 30 groups. Now we have about 25,000 members.

ESSENCE.com: What made you start running?
HICKS: I was a lifelong athlete. I played soccer my entire life and then afterwards got out of shape. When I started back working out it was with running. I have an older cousin who had always been a runner and she encouraged me to get into it. I tell everyone it takes a good two months of consistently doing it and then you're hooked. You'll want that "runners high."
TONI CAREY: Ashley was telling me about her running journey and at the time I had recently relocated to New Jersey for a new job and I was ending a relationship. I needed to renew myself. I got to a breaking point where I knew I had to do better. I became a vegetarian and decided to check this running thing out. I literally went and bought some shoes and just started.

ESSENCE.com: What about for those of us who feel we cant just start?
CAREY: One of the things we recommend is the C25K program which stands for “Couch to 5K.” It’s a beginner program that’s a run-walk method so you walk 2 minutes and run 3 minutes. That’s the easiest way for people to begin but I really think it starts before that. A lot of it is just mental. If you keep telling yourself, “I can't do this. I’m going to pass out,” then you won't be able to do it. You have to hype yourself up and say, “I can do this. There’s no reason why I can't."

ESSENCE.com: Let’s talk about running shoes. How do you make sure you have the right shoe?
CAREY: Go to the running store and get fitted. It's free. You get on the treadmill and you run for a minute or so and they have a camera at the back of the treadmill. When you watch the video clip, you will see whether you overpronate or underpronate or are a neutral runner. Then, the professional at the running store will pair you with the right kind of shoe for a perfect fit.

ESSENCE.com: Okay, we can’t talk about running without talking about Black women and our hair. What advice do you have for hair maintenance as a runner?
CAREY: The hair issue is so interesting. We came on the scene at the perfect time, just when the natural hair phenomenon was gaining steam. I think runners get to a point in their lives where we say to ourselves “I don’t care what my hair looks like as long as I’m feeling good.” As far as a hair regimen, I really don’t have one. I use Hair Rules products.
HICKS: I use Hair Rules, too, because I find that even after I workout my hair still looks great. I’ve been blond for about a year now so since my hair is colored, I use a lot of leave-in conditioner and a little bit of olive oil.

ESSENCE.com: For women who want to start running, one of the biggest hurdles is our hair. You’ll hear someone say, “I just sat in the salon for five hours” or “Do you know how much I pay to get my hair done?” What do you say to get women over the hair hump?
HICKS: What we do is encourage them to come out to a group run. Even if the hair is an issue, they will come out and love the fellowship.  Once they’re out there with the support and encouragement, they’ll realize that there are other people who have figured out a solution for their hair and they will start sharing tips. On our Facebook page, there is a lot of information about hair and different products. Once they experience BGR then they let go of the hair issue. We've had girls call people out like "Hey, I know you're getting your hair done this week, but I hope to see you on Thursday." [Laughs] 

For more information on how to join a Black Girls RUN! group near you, visit the BGR website or Facebook page.

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