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Onetrack Paper

Why She Runs: Dora Atim

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

I started running ten years ago when I was 27 and it was transformative. Running changed how I saw myself and I wish I had found it sooner. In trying to understand my own relationship with running, I've started to ask other women about theirs and the challenges they face. The "Why She Runs" series is mainly to satisfy my curiosity but I hope that by sharing experiences, more women will feel at home in the sport.

Dora is a running coach who started her journey as a novice runner who wasn't sure about running. Many marathons later, she’s extremely passionate about making sport accessible and is all about creating safe spaces to train, trying new things and having open discussions, whilst educating in a fun and approachable way, using the lessons she has learnt over the last ten years. Dora works with Nike London, UK running team as a coach and has been working on a variety of running initiatives for all kinds of runners over the last 5 years.

Dora is also the founder of Ultra Black running, which is a community created to provide memorable experiences, championing Black Women and Non Binary people in the world of trail running.

How did you get into running?

Running started with a boxing class, and wanting to be better at it. It was a scary, long battle to get started in the first place as it was a sport that I was completely new to, and the only experience I had running was in PE, on the track which was a whole other experience in itself. As I got started, I would go late at night because I was too embarrassed and thought that people might know that I have no clue what I am doing. I obviously look back and laugh because in reality no one actually cares and absolutely no one was watching. When I became more familiar with what my body was doing, I decided to go as long as I could late one night and I ran too far out and realised it was SO late so I ran 30 minutes one way and had to turn around in a rush to get back home. What I didn’t realise until I finished was that I ran 10km without stopping; a huge achievement and the longest I had ever run. And that’s when I decided I was going to call myself a runner (even though if you run, you are a runner, no matter the distance).

What were the barriers that stopped you from running before you got into it? Are those barriers still there?

I think there will always be barriers that women will have to face in running. Me personally, my perceived barriers are less than what they were 10 years ago. I no longer feel I have to conform to any standards and also I like to think that I am unapologetic with my running, and I do this by completely making my running my own.

All those years ago, I thought running was super boring and everyone who ran was super lean and skinny so what is the point? I was just entering my 20’s when I began running and running for me was you were either really good at it, or have been doing it since childhood. Young Dora was experiencing body dysmorphia and I only ever saw running on TV and it was the London marathon or olympic games.

Do you think running has changed the way you view your body? And has the way you eat changed to ensure you're fuelling your body to work?

One thing about me: I am always going to eat what I want and not reduce myself to dieting. I am on the journey of body acceptance. I say acceptance because even though I am happy in the body I am in, there will be those days where that will change and it is totally normal for women to feel like this. I also say this because our bodies are going to change for the rest of our lives. In terms of what I eat and consume, I try to maintain balance, and I try to keep it on the healthier side, and less fast foods for example.

I would say running has definitely changed the way I view my body. 10 years ago when I began running I did lose some weight and thought oh wow amazing, I will most definitely keep this up so I can lose more weight etc. But that was because the running I was consuming featured women who were super lean and fast. Now I run because, well now it's my job to, but because of what running gives me and I also use it as a tool to learn about myself by training for events and stuff.

What do you think would encourage more women to run?

Women need to see other women running, but women that are relatable. Sometimes if we are trying to speak to runners at the very start of their journeys, it helps to also see others in the same boat as them, even down to the content people are consuming online. Whilst couch to 5k is wonderful, some women might not want to attain 5k, and it may be that they would like to generally just move more and make a healthy habit out of it. Some women may also want to know how to get from couch to marathon, couch to ultra marathon, but will not know where to start as that is a journey with multiple destinations to arrive at first. If these stories exist, they should be told in order for women to see them and think ‘ah yes maybe I could do this too’.

Do you think male runners have a part to play in welcoming more women to the sport?

Well, it is a male dominated sport, so yes there are multiple ways that men could support. When we talk about running races and events, decision makers, who are often men, need to think about how these events are appealing to women.

What do you think we can do to support girls running?

Creating spaces where women will feel comfortable, sometimes this may be having women only sessions, sometimes it may be adjusting sessions or events that will appeal to women as mentioned in previous answer.

Do you consciously think about your safety when you're running?

Women’s safety is always at the forefront of my mind. We sadly are faced with tragedies frequently. I am often asked what can be done to make women feel safer, and in my honest opinion, for me to actually feel safer, there just needs to be no violence towards women in general but also when we are peacefully just trying to run, it is really as black and white as that. It frustrates me that we constantly have to leap through hoops before we get out the door, as someone who has been followed from being out on a run I am constantly thinking of all the ways to avoid danger: no posting in real time, sharing location with friends, the list goes on. In all honesty, even for someone who is hyper visible in the running scene, I feel completely powerless when it comes to this topic because there is nothing I can do to stop danger from happening. Thankfully I have a wonderful running community and can at least share experiences, and share how I prepare for runs, so at least mentally I know I have done absolutely everything in my power to feel like I have control of my situation whilst being on a run, and that is all I can do really.

What would you tell your younger self about running now that you're in this space?

I would tell young Dora, to go after everything she wants in life but especially in running, want to do a race? Do it. Don’t want to do a race? You do not have to. I would also tell younger Dora that create your own lane and thrive in it, show up to every run you do as your authentic self and running will make more sense to you, as you are navigating it your way and your way only.

What running does for you in 3 words?

Running gives me clarity, freedom and occasionally sore muscles.

Anything else you want to get off your chest about running or anything else?

Don’t worry about what other people are doing, do not compare yourselves to others journeys, because believe it or not, you are inspiring people you don’t even know about yet!

You can follow Dora on Instagram here. Meet more runners and discover the perks of a Onetrack membership here.

Onetrack empowers everyday athletes with elite training knowledge. Our goal is to bridge the gap between elite sport and everybody in the pursuit of performance. We do this by providing access to physiological testing and intrinsic biomechanical assessments and personal training in our studio spaces in Farnham & Soho as well as offering online run coaching to those further afield. Onetrack Run Club is our community offering; a support crew to motivate you and an expert coach to guide you.

Onetrack was founded in 2016 and has grown organically from the sponsorship of two athletes to become a virtual and physical community that has supported thousands of runners through our studio services, run clubs and running app. Onetrack has been featured by Sunday Times Style, Evening Standard, Independent, Metro, Women’s Health, Selfridges,

Runner’s World & more.

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