DORA ATIM interview – Ultra Black Running – Runner’s World, Sept 2023

Dora Atim didn’t have many followers on TikTok until she posted a short clip of herself doing warm up drills ahead of a trail race while four white guys stared. ‘Take a picture darlin’,’ she wrote. Eight hundred thousand views and 4,000 comments later she was exhausted from reading other people’s opinions about why they were gawking at her.

‘Not that I’m the only person doing this stuff, but it can be so difficult  being among those people that are trying to create change,’ she says. ‘It’s been tiring, but I went from 80 followers to about two and a half thousand and a lot of them are black women, so I was like: ‘Winning!’’

Growing up in west London, Atim, 30, was initially a boxing enthusiast who ran as part of her training. Once she joined running groups, however, the sport took over. She started showing up at the Nike+ Run Club in White City, then the London-based clubs Track Mafia and Run Dem Crew. ‘I loved the social aspect of it,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t about getting PBs, though obviously I want to get faster. That isn’t the be all and end all. It became a lifestyle.’

She discovered the joys of offroad running when lockdown caused a temporary move to Hampshire, but it wasn’t all positive. ‘I was running a lot because there was nothing else to do. There weren’t a lot of people that looked like me in that area and I started to feel like I didn’t belong. I’d get stopped. People would ask me what I was doing. There were all these weird interactions.’

So in June 2020 she launched Ultra Black Running online, to support black women and gender non-conforming people who wanted to take to the trails. She gave it that name because she wants to run an ultra herself, but it’s really about the community, not the distance. There’s no membership fee. You just receive a DM telling you where that weekend’s run will be. It’s usually places where Londoners can feel like they’re in the countryside: Richmond Park or Epping Forest perhaps.

‘When we started meeting regularly it was the time of Black Lives Matter and this global uprising, and it felt like everything was just on fire,’ she says. ‘We would never have been able to have the conversations we were having there with our non-black friends or at work, because we wouldn’t feel comfortable enough. It felt so important, so we had to keep going.’

They put on their first official race in July 2021, in collaboration with the event organisers Maverick. ‘We had black food vendors, black women DJs, bringing this abundant energy. Who has a dancefloor at the end of a trail race? We did!’ In June they’re going international in collaboration with Nike, who have provided 100 places in the 10km race at the Marathon du Mont Blanc in Chamonix.

She recognises that although running as a whole is a relatively accessible sport to take up, the extra kit and travel costs required to reach the trails can be a barrier. ‘We can remove the cost of entry, give people access to group coaching sessions and physios, and soften the blow,’ she says.

But it’s also about allowing everyone to feel like trail running is open to them in the first place. ‘Decision makers: who are you putting on your websites? What are you putting in your marketing? I live in the city and I like trail running but if I’m not seeing people I can relate to, I’ll feel like it’s not for me. It starts from up top.’

Instagram: @ultrablackrunning


‘Running in scenery is my meditation, hearing the sounds of nature and exploring new routes. There is always an adventure and opportunity to escape from the lousiness of life. It feels to good to tackle the trails with people who look like me. Ultra Black Running is a blessing to be a part of. It’s provided a way to connect with other runners in a safe and comfortable environment where we are not the minority.’

– Patience

‘Many times I go on trail adventures or races, I’m one of a few if not the only black person there. UBR has made trail running more accessible to a lot of black people through building a community, and I for one love to see it!’

– Kemi