Diverse running culture is spreading beyond the big cities - we meet two women who are pioneering its expansion into the suburbs.
When Edna and Norma join us via video link from their hometown of Westchester County, New York, it's immediately clear that the two women are on the same wavelength.
Sitting together, both smiling, Norma with her arm casually draped across Edna's chair, both are proud to be rocking Bad Ass Run Krew t-shirts.
"Part of me thought, what if people don't want to say "ass"... is it a no no?," muses Norma.
"She told me 'it has to be Bad Ass'," retorts Edna, laughing. "I was like, ok!"
"But when we're running, and we have the shirts on," Norma continues, "whether it's a trail or a race: people shout 'Yes you are a Bad Ass run crew. I love that shirt, I love it!'. That's how I know we picked the right name."
Picking the right name was just the start of it. Since Norma and Edna founded Bad Ass Run Krew in November 2020, the group has gone from strength to strength. Norma (a personal trainer) and Edna (a creative marketing director) have combined their skill sets to bring big city diverse running culture to the suburbs.
Perhaps their success is partly thanks to authenticity. Both women raised their families in the suburbs, but grew up in inner-city areas, alongside everything that comes with them. It was fascinating to sit down and hear how Edna and Norma's running stories took shape and - eventually - converged.
"Brooklyn was very different from what it is now"
"I grew up in Brooklyn," explains Norma. "Back then Brooklyn was very different from what it is now: very ‘Soho', very hip."
"I had my mongoose, my bmx, but I was only allowed to go one block," she continues. "Down a couple of blocks you had drug dealers and hookers. Beyond that… well it was dangerous. It really was."
"Today people love it down in Domino park, but it used to be a working factory surrounded by a lot of abandoned buildings."
"Once, I got bored of just going round and round one block, so I went a little further from home. Then I heard this honking… it was my father in the car!" Norma laughs. "I wasn't allowed back out that day."
Norma still has plenty to smile about looking back on her childhood, but recognizes that her own children have grown up in a very different environment.
"Up here, it's different. My kids were allowed to go on their bikes, provided they had their helmets on," Norma says.
"But I didn't wear a helmet! I had pegs, and a friend behind me holding on," she laughs.
Edna's upbringing has clear parallels with Norma's - albeit she enjoyed less freedom in her childhood days than Norma did.
"I was born in the Bronx, not the greatest neighborhood", she explains. "We moved around a fair bit. You move somewhere, it gets bad, you move somewhere else."
"I wasn't allowed to go out AT ALL," Edna continues. "I looked out my window and just watched people ride their bikes back and forth."
"Eventually we moved to Queens, a better neighborhood, although predominantly white. I went to 12 years of Catholic school, that's how protective my parents were of me!"
Norma: "I was told by men that I wasn't going to make it, because they didn't. But guess who did?"
Norma never thought of herself as an athletic person growing up - but lived a relatively active lifestyle by taking dance at high school and, later, college.
However, sometimes it's easy for life to get in the way of regular exercise. In subsequent years, encompassing marriage and children, Norma had gotten out of shape.
"I saw a picture of myself and hated the way I looked," she admits. "I was obese. I was not looking healthy."
"I knew that year I had to do something. I didn't like looking in the mirror or how it felt."
It was something as simple as a raffle that sparked the change. Norma one a 3-month gym membership, hired a personal trainer, and never looked back.
"I lost 20 pounds," she explains. "I got the fitness bug and I eventually became a trainer myself."
"Do I love running? No," Norma continues. "But I love how I feel after exercise. That feeling beats everything else. That's why I run: that runner's high."
"I know we're supposed to love the journey, but the journey is secondary."
At this point, Edna interrupts to say that Norma hasn't even mentioned the running medals and even ultra marathon medals that she's won over the years.
"When I did the ultra I was so scared that I wasn't going to make it!" insists Norma. "In the ultra you have to achieve a certain time, even mid-race."
"I was told by men that I wasn't going to make it, because they didn't. But guess who did?," Norma beams.
Edna: "I never had a 6-pack in my life until I was 45 years old!"
Like Norma, Edna eventually found a consistent active lifestyle later in life. More specifically, in the Zumba class that Norma used to teach at a gym in Westchester!
"In Queens I went out a little bit more. I was active but I wasn't active in anything big," Edna recalls.
"I dabbled in going to the gym, but I would be very intimidated by the people there. I never knew what I was supposed to be doing," she continues. "A lot of women in that age group jump on a treadmill and start walking because they don't know what else to do."
When Edna moved to Westchester, she started looking for a new gym. She was craving something different from the type of gyms she had experienced previously.
"I found the studio that Norma worked at," Edna recalls, "and it was perfect!".
"You would have a group trainer who you met twice a week - 6-8 people per group. They just trained you. They told you what to do, they helped you create a nutrition plan…. I never had a 6-pack in my life until I was 45 years old!"
In the context of her gym, Edna was also experiencing many of the attributes that underpin successful running crews in cities across America.
"The other thing I loved about the gym was that there was a lot of diversity," she recalls. "People of all ages, all sizes. People who were healthy and wanted to maintain it, but also people who wanted to lose a lot of weight and become healthier."
"It wasn't intimidating, it was a community," she concludes.
"She just said: Let's do it Norma, Let's do it!"
Both Edna and Norma had found a love for exercise in a positive community setting. In time, the gym closed down and that community ceased to exist. However, it wasn't long before Norma and Edna teamed-up once again.
In 2019 - with a sprint triathlon, an ultra marathon and two marathons under her belt - Norma was looking for a new challenge. She found one in the 5k challenge: running 5k every day, all 365 days of the year.
"Edna and I lost touch a little bit," explains Norma. "The gym closed, people live their lives… but then she reached out [while I was doing the challenge] and said ‘Hey, do you want some company to go on a run?'".
"I didn't want to slow her down!" laughs Edna.
"But it was fun!" says Norma. "It was so much fun!"
Edna picks up the story: "I invited her to a race with Latinas Run, it was the first in-person race during COVID. We had loads of fun there too!"
"And on the drive home," continues Norma, "I was telling Edna about Bridgerunners and Boogie Down; how I ran with them, how much fun they are, and their energy."
"I said ‘we need that vibe up here'. The people were already there, we just needed somebody to get it done."
"Edna just said: ‘Let's do it Norma, let's do it'."
"That energy, that vibe… it was overwhelming"
Before we hear more about how Bad Ass Run Krew came to be, we're interested to learn about Norma's experiences with Bridgerunners and Boogie Down; two New York running crews who kick-started diverse running crew culture as we know it today.
"I was training for a marathon," explains Norma. "But I was training on my own. I felt like I needed to find somebody to run with and train with - and my search led me to Bridgerunners."
"I reached out and they were so inviting. I got to go to their special event on the Saturday and that was it, I was hooked! I loved it, and through them I found everybody else."
"The first time I ran with Boogie Down, they were running for Junior," Norma continues.
In 2018, 15 year old Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz was murdered by gang members in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx. It was a case of mistaken identity, Junior had no involvement in gangs.
"Murals of him sprung up," Norma Recalls. "And Boogie Down was planning on doing a run, all dressed in white, to spread the message of peace and nonviolence in his memory."
"I felt like I had to go. Even though I didn't know the neighborhood or even know anyone there. Everyone was so welcoming! That energy, that vibe of peace… It was overwhelming. I was crying because it was beautiful."
"Our Motto is ‘No one gets left behind' and we really, truly follow that"
After hearing about their life experiences, both shared and individual, you might conclude that it was inevitable that Norma and Edna would come to start their own inclusive running crew.
Norma was left moved by her positive experiences running with crews in New York, Edna thrived in the Westchester gym which also had a strong sense of community - meanwhile both women shared great experiences running with each other.
However, we should be careful not to take away from the courage, determination and sheer hard work that the two women have put in to make Bad Ass Run Krew such a success. Edna explains how Bad Ass Run Krew went from a pipedream on the journey home, to what it is today:
"We tried to pick a neighborhood where there was as much diversity as possible. Somewhere there was a need for it," she explains.
"I actually live in Dobbs Ferry. I showed Norma the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail which is right behind here. It's a beautiful trail that runs from Manhattan all the way up to the North."
"We decided to meet at a local coffee shop. The owner, who also started out during COVID, welcomed us and let us put up flyers in this shop."
The crew started meeting up on a Wednesday, with Norma ("a big personality on social media!" - Edna) publicizing the runs on Instagram. You get the impression that Edna and Norma could make anybody feel comfortable and welcome, and sure enough, the group attracts a diverse range of people.
"We have a lot of people show up," explains Edna, "But they don't all show up at the same time. For example we have a lot of moms who have commitments with their kids."
"A lot of people who run with us originally lived in Manhattan but moved to this neighborhood in the pandemic. It's a good way for them to meet new people."
Diversity also means accommodating people with diverse abilities, or those who are at different stages of their fitness journey.
"We have all types of paces," says Edna. "Including walkers and even people with injuries who want to stay active. But then we also have people who are training for marathons and are very fast!"
"I love that Norma instills that, when we're out running, we all meet halfway and wait for everyone to join. It makes it a safe space for anyone to run with us."
"Yes!" says Norma. "So if Lisa has to do 12 miles, but Anthony is only doing 3. We all meet at 3."
"And, hey, maybe Anthony wants to try 6 someday? Then it's easy for him to do that too: 'OK I'm feeling good, I'll go with you a bit further!'."
"Our motto is ‘No one gets left behind', explains Edna. "And we really, truly follow that."
"We're co-creators, not founders"
With the crew recently appointing two new captains, Bad Ass Run Krew is already taking the next steps towards expanding and involving even more people in the community.
"We don't want it just to be our thoughts," explains Edna. "We want to hear from the group. We talk together, throw out ideas… it's all inclusive."
"I don't see it that I'm the leader or she's the leader," says Norma. "I think of it as different roles. We mesh. Sometimes life gets in the way and I can't be there, or I can't do something. So then Edna steps in. Then we revert back to our roles."
"Not roles, strengths," observes Edna.
"On our Instagram, we're co-creators, not founders," continues Norma.
"And we created this particular crew to be one that prioritizes mental health and feeling comfortable. We don't care how fast you go. We just want you to come and be a part of it and experience the positive vibes!"
Not everyone gets to live in big cities like Boston, Chicago or Philly. For diverse running culture to grow, pioneers like Edna and Norma will have just as important a role to play in spreading those positive vibes. And in Edna and Norma specifically, anyone thinking about starting or joining a run crew couldn't ask for better inspiration.