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My Support Story: Reggie Harrison On Life As A Black Triathlete

Next up in our support superheroes series is Reggie Harrison. As a black triathlete in the USA, he’s a rare breed. In fact, figures¹ suggest that less 1% of all US tri-ers are African American. Reggie discusses the obstacles he faces when training, how he overcomes prejudice and the support that’s helped him to do it.

 

For the majority of us, the most we risk when training is getting injured or lost. When Reggie trains, he’s risking his life. 

  

Reggie Harrison is an On Ambassador and budding triathlete from Atlanta in the USA. Formerly a competitive swimmer, he now focuses on triathlon and has completed several Ironman 70.3 races and three full Ironman distance events. 

     

For the uninitiated, Ironman events involve swimming, cycling and running. But as a black triathlete in the USA, living and training in the same state where Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot while out running in broad daylight just this year, Reggie takes extraordinary measures to avoid provoking any negative reactions to his training.

        

He plans all of his runs and his outfits in advance. He can’t train at night and he sticks to public routes. Following an incident where he was nearly pushed off the road by a vehicle, he never cycles alone. 

     

Read on to find out more about Reggie’s transition to running, his support system and the lengths that he has to go to just to keep up his training. 

     

      

Hey Reggie, how did you first get into running?  

      

I joined the track team as a teenager, but swimming took priority and I eventually dropped it. The day after I turned 30, I tore my ACL. After surgery and rehab, I agreed to join a friend running his first half-marathon. It would be mine too. I did it and have been running ever since.

 

I'm not really a lifetime runner. If anything, I'm actually a lifetime swimmer. I swam competitively for most of my life and was always around the pool. So coming to running and doing longer distances for me was a really, really big change. 

  

Reggie's Choice: The All-New Cloudflyer
“I really like the Cloudflyer. As a bigger runner with larger feet, the toe box is pretty wide and lets me spread my toes. It’s super, super comfortable on long runs. And has support so that I don't feel like I'm hurting my knees, ankles or my shins. It feels great and has a lot of spring.”
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What does support mean to you? 

 

I absolutely believe in support being necessary part of the sport. For me, it was important just to learn about the sport. I've had to lean on people to give me an education. How much are bikes? How much should I pay for shoes? What shoes do I need? And so on.  

    

I wouldn't be where I am without the support of my friends, family and teammates. Support means a whole lot to me. It’s really, really important to succeed in triathlon.

 

Then, of course, there's moral support. You know, I spend a lot of time with myself. I'm in a sport that not many people know about –  at least in my circle. So, there’s a guy I grew up swimming with, and he has been sort of my main moral support. He knows how to push me in training sessions. It's really helpful to have someone like him in my life to kind of help me with training. 

 

And because I’m doing so many miles, I need a shoe that's supportive. Training can lead to wear and tear, so having the right equipment to properly support the physical strain I'm putting on my body is really important. 

 

Who is your support system? 

 

I lean on people like my wife. She's always there for me, giving me something to eat or reminding me to get some rest. Then there's my mom and my other family members – people who will give you support during those times when, you know, you've had a hard training session or maybe you fell a little short of your goals. They’ll remind you that just being out there is inspiring. And this helps motivate me to stay in the game.

              

  

What kind of obstacles have you overcome in terms of becoming who you are today?

 

There's the mental stuff, like self-doubt, for sure. Learning my limits, pushing past them. Feeling like you're by yourself in a foreign place. There's also safety. Staying injury-free and sometimes, avoiding "other factors". 

   

When I'm training, I have to be very careful about what routes I take and what I look like. Unfortunately, right now – at least in my particular community – it's pretty difficult to not be profiled. Unfortunately, I can get picked on just because of how I look.  

    

The representation of black athletes in triathlon, or really the lack of representation, in the sport is discouraging, emotionally and morale-wise. People are their best when they feel welcomed to bring their full selves to the table so any message of inclusion is diluted when you don't see many people like you around. I have to make sure I take special measures when training. 

      

I have to wear clothes that look like running clothes. I have to think about the time of day, about public routes where I know there will be lots of other people or runners. I'm proud to be part of the 0.5% of American triathletes that are black. 

          

 

Where do you find the willpower to do what you do?

 

My father was one of the first multi-sport athletes I knew. He recently passed, but he’s one of my biggest inspirations. He would always tell me there is no second place. I used to think that this was about being competitive but, for him, it was more about if you put forward your best effort, then you’ve already won and there is no second place. It doesn't exist. Effort is enough. So I would say my father is definitely the biggest inspiration I have for succeeding at being involved in a sport like triathlon.

 

If you put forward your best effort then you’ve already won, and there is no second place.

    

What gets you through long runs?

 

When it comes to long runs, I just repeatedly remind myself to take them one step at a time. And to just win the battle that I'm in right now. If I think too much and think about how much I have left to go, it can be overwhelming. 

  

I try to think that the good days will add up, all these good steps will add up. 

 

What is the longest run you've ever done?

 

The longest run I've ever done is about 30 miles. And it was by accident because I got lost.

   

  

Do you have a running goal or are you just working towards bettering yourself? 

 

I have a lot of running goals. One of them is that I would like to run the marathon in less than three hours 30 minutes. I know for elite athletes, that's probably a walk in the park, but I'm not an elite athlete. I'm about 185 pounds and six feet. I'm a heavy guy so I think it's a pretty reasonable goal and ambitious enough, for me to at least set the tone.

   

How did you find the Cloudflyer? 

   

As I said, I’m kind of a heavier guy. And I have pretty big feet. I'm a size 13 and my toe box is pretty wide. So I've always looked for shoes that gave me space to split my toes and can support my weight and my profile as a runner. I came across the Cloudflyers because they actually hit those same marks. I learned through my running coaching that I pronate a little, so a shoe like this with light stability support helps to compensate for that. 

   

It's super, super comfortable on long runs and feels great to have a lot of spring. So it’s been an excellent transition shoe for me coming into triathlon, because it’s helped me start from almost zero to progress to the longer distances safely and comfortably. The Cloudflyer has been spot on.

    

    

Check out Reggie’s Instagram account for more snapshots and for an entire Story series called Running While Black where he provides information on how to maximize training and minimize any danger. 

 

¹  

USAT Just Made a Big Step Toward Increasing Diversity in Triathlon - Triathlete

Hampton University, located on the southeast coast of Virginia, will introduce women's triathlon as a varsity sport starting in the fall of 2019. Hampton is the first historically black university to do so, and it comes as part of a larger initiative from USAT to work with historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) to increase diversity in triathlon-a sport in which less than one percent of U.S.

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