On the first weekend of October, nearly 2,000 people ran through the streets of Southwest Atlanta as part of “The Race,” the largest Black long-distance running event in the country. The brainchild of race director Tes Sobomehin Marshall, the event includes a 5K and half marathon on Saturday, followed by a day of community service, with participants packing food supplies with Hosea Feed the Hungry, helping landscape local parks, and volunteering with other neighborhood organizations. In addition, $5 from every entry supports nonprofits including Empowered Readers, Girls on the Run Atlanta, and the Carrie Steele-Pitts Home.
For Marshall, the Race—which launched in 2018—is the culmination of more than a decade of building inclusive community running groups and starting races in parts of town overlooked by other organizers.
“When I started racing in 2010, I didn’t see many people that looked like me and thought it would be cool to find other Black women to run with,” says Marshall, a former high school and college basketball coach and personal trainer whose charisma, cheerleader-like energy, and team-building skills make her a natural race director.
So, she signed up to be a local ambassador for Black Girls Run, which organizes training communities across the country. Marshall started more than 10 groups in the metro area—helping make Atlanta’s chapter the fastest growing and largest in the country. She quickly found she enjoyed not only recruiting and training with other runners but also the excitement of finishing a race and gathering afterwards to sip a beer, cheer on competitors, and make new friends.
“I love the energy and community of race day and thought it would be fun to put on a race myself, as kind of a passion project,” she says. “Plus, at the time, most races in the city didn’t go west of Northside Drive or south of downtown, and I wanted to change that.”
She sought the mentorship of local race directors, learning about course planning and logistics, volunteer management, and fundraising—eventually launching her first race in December 2012. Today, her Run Social Atlanta series includes half a dozen races per year, including the West End Mile and the REI ATL Relay, 10K, and 20K benefiting the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association.
“All of our races are social events, almost like a big neighborhood block party,” explains Marshall. For example, the Monday Night Brewing 10 winds through the Westside’s brutal hills before finishing with free beer for participants at the brewery.
“We were the first race in Atlanta to finish at a brewery,” Marshall says—adding that centering events around fun destinations like Topgolf and UrbanTree Cidery makes them less intimidating and more welcoming to newcomers.
Those same principles of accessibility and community apply to the Race, which Marshall developed in partnership with other local businesses and running groups, including South Fulton Running Partners. “We wanted to put on a race that celebrates what we’ve built in Atlanta’s Black running community,” says Marshall, who funded the first year’s event with a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $75,000 from more than 1,000 individuals.
The October series has quickly become a destination for Black runners, drawing almost 1,500 participants from more than 40 states in its inaugural year and bringing in over $60,000 annually to support local businesses like Iwi Fresh and Kika Stretch Studios, which participate in the large pre-race expo. Thanks to the brand’s savvy social media presence, virtual race options, and online programming that includes live DJs, workout classes, and interviews with race sponsors and charitable partners, enthusiasm has continued to grow—despite its having to go virtual last year.
“We are excited to be back in person with a live weekend event and continue our mission of supporting Black neighborhoods, runners, and businesses in Atlanta,” says Marshall. The new mom, who gave birth to her first child in May, adds, “I am creating a legacy in this city that my daughter and our race participants’ children can tap into and be proud of for years to come.”
This article appears in our October 2021 issue.