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Rio Lakeshore's Run for Justice

My innate sense of time, accompanied by the composition of birdsong, wakes me up from my slumber. No burden, purely an intrinsic keenness to get out and run again.

Since the dawn of my humble running beginnings, I have always seen fit to approach every day with a ritual. The first thing I consume is water, drinking enough to fill the Pacific Ocean. Next, a less flattering image of digestion, followed by a vacant gut and a moment of visualisation meditation topped off with oatmeal and caffeine. Now I am a warrior whose mind is set on the run.

Today I am running for a cause at one of my go-to training destinations. Silver Lake reservoir is a 2.2mile loop located in a residential neighbourhood of Los Angeles, where artists and runners collide. This track is the home of Silver Lake Track Club’s Spring and Fall classic, an event where semi-elite, masters, and casual runners are all welcome. Although I wish this was a run of a competitive nature, Covid 19 and the subsequent city bans on public gatherings have affected all manner of life, including running events. I have no race strategy, no start line jitters, there are no PB’s, or time splits necessary for this is not a race. I, along with a tribe of allies and runners alike, hold the souls of the hundreds of victims killed at the hands of police in our hearts. One foot in front of the other all in the act of running for justice. Along the fence that divides us from the vast body of sun glittered water, worn cloth intertwines through the chain-links spelling a multitude of names each accompanied by a laminated photo to memorialise the unwarranted deaths. Where there is fence, there is memorial, and I am certain that if the fence was unlimited, so too would be the names.

Toby Burke Hemingway, one of the founders of Silver Lake Track Club (SLTC), stands above the crowd to introduce the participants to the race, amplifying his words of gratitude through a megaphone. I asked Toby to share what inspired him to organise “Run for Justice!” and what the running community meant to him.

Toby: “I started SLTC (silver lake track club) because sport and exercise have been a great support for me since I was a kid, and I think people need to be encouraged sometimes to engage in it, even if they don't see themselves as "jocks." In Silver Lake, I think traditionally, the old guard has treated the reservoirs as their own private oasis, and I was inspired by the idea of making it a public space, something focused on physical and emotional well-being.” “Run for Justice! is merely an extension of that ideal. We need to broaden our sense of what a community is and include people that may not look like us or live near us and accept that being a part of a community is a responsibility that extends beyond what we see day today. The memorial shows us that. Also, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery came at the very beginning of this current awakening, and it felt very personal to me as a runner. We all need to look out for each other, and whether it be because of God-given ability or the colour of our skin, running means different things to different people, and we shouldn't take the opportunity to jog out our door and run the reservoirs for granted. It is a huge privilege, one we should defend and share as widely as we can.”

Unlike a regular race where registration fees go towards staffing, equipment, timing, and prizes, today an honorary donation to the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter is all that is required. There are no bibs, just a sea of black attire to pay homage to the movement.

As we begin to run, I observe the other runners around me, mostly white, some older and still going strong. The youngest participants wheeled along the compressed dirt path by their parents. Running past the names of the victims floods me with copious emotion—every fifth footstep I take displays another casualty. I have a sense of bewilderment but I am grateful to the allies who took the time to organise these memorials and optimistic about what is to come.

The memorial piece "Say their names" started with one family's desire to act after realising that another death in police custody had happened yet again. George Floyd was the first name to be woven into the fence, followed by a community call to action to continue weaving the names of those that may not be so well known. As one Silver Lake resident attested, it was the “spirit of their youth and their energy level that allowed that audacious step to keep moving.” This statement is all-encompassing, and it is this same spirit that I observe in my fellow runners.

Previous renditions of this course have had me pushed to the limit physically, but today was different. I slowed my pace and immersed myself full-heartedly in this moment. As much as my heart desires another personal best, another medal, and another triumph, I know that this run was, in essence, a testament of what the running community can achieve.

Photography by Alex Welsh. Instagram @alexwelshphoto

 Rio Lakeshore. Instagram @rio_lakeshore