You may have seen India Cook’s “Miles from India” videos on YouTube, or listened to her podcast with Tommy Mitchell, The Run Duo. You may have heard her as you toed the line at a race and as you crossed the finish line, or even been coached by her! India uses all of those platforms to make the running space more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming to all runners.
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India ran track in high school, but preferred cheerleading on her high school’s highly competitive team, and when she realized that she’d gotten out of shape during college, she returned to cheerleading to regain her fitness. She ended up doing semi-pro cheerleading, but she was in her late 20s, and as the oldest one on the team, “There was a lot of cattiness with the girls.” She decided that cheerleading no longer was for her, and she found a new love – running.
She initially ran purely to keep fit, but then she discovered the community and social aspect of the sport. She joined the Movers and Pacers run club in Atlanta, and, she explains, “When you get connected with people, and you find friends and run groups that are exceeding your distances that you’re doing now, you kind of get positively peer pressured into doing more than what you’re doing.” She quickly became a captain, and “That’s when I learned that I had a niche or interest in being a leader, or an example in the running community, or inspiration, whatever title you want to put it.”
The club’s “positive peer pressure” motivated her to run a marathon, but when she searched for information and inspiration, she didn’t see people who looked like her, and so “It didn’t seem obtainable or something that I would do. It is very different now, but I had to overcome that and say, ‘You know what? Regardless, you can do this and you can do hard things.’”
As she posted about running a marathon on her social media, she started hearing from people who had questions about her training. That lit a spark of “Maybe you should document what you’re doing, because there’s so many more people than you realize that are interested in your journey, that are interested in your story. Maybe you should just document it for them.”
She documented her first two marathon journeys on Facebook, and connected with Tommy Mitchell, now her co-host on The Run Duo podcast. “One thing kind of snowballed into the next, and then as I learned and developed the confidence of me doing my videos and being able to speak about running things, it was to the point where I said, ‘Okay, there still are people that want the knowledge.’ But the biggest thing for me is being the person that I did not see when I started running. And I said, ‘How can I be what I didn’t see?’ As much as I Googled, looked on Youtube, did all these things, yes, the content was there, but it was from people I felt like I couldn’t relate to. I’m sorry; I can’t relate to a seven minute, eight minute, nine minute, most of the time, ten minute, eleven minute mile. So if I’m talking to people, and they’re having all these acronyms and all of these things about running that I don’t understand, how am I gonna be interested in continuing to grow in that space?”
She realized that only people who already knew her saw her videos on Facebook, and that there was a much larger group of people who could benefit from them. “Okay, India,” she told herself, “you’re gonna reboot this video life and do a YouTube channel.” She struggled with imposter syndrome, but drew confidence from friends and family who told her, “The experience is what has gotten you there; even though you may not feel like the pace or the time is what qualifies you, the experience of doing it is what qualifies you.”
Still, she says, “There are some topics that I just won’t address because I don’t feel as qualified, but I also feel like if I’m going to be what I didn’t see, then I have to put myself out there and give the topics that I was looking for. And so I think when I first started running, it was very much ‘How to do, what is, this is what I use’ type topics. But then I transitioned a little bit more into the realness of going to run with me, because I feel like that’s the transparency that social media misses, the realness of what it looks like to be a runner and figuring out how to even get to the point of running some of these races.”
That’s not to say that she’s given up on providing instruction. She’s found that there are a lot of people who don’t know “the basics,” and that even those who do, sometimes forget about them. “We get into the mode where we think we know everything and we forget the real reasons why we should be doing things. We stop doing them, and then we have to remember we were told, ‘This is why you should be doing this,” and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s true. Let me get back to the basics.’”
India gives back to the running community in person, as well. She’s a certified coach and worked for a time with ARC Active Resolute Connected, a non-profit with the mission of breaking barriers of race, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status, and perceived ability to empower women through movement and running.
When she isn’t running in a race herself, India can be found cheering on the runners, especially those at the back of the pack. Being a runner herself, she knows what to say – and what not to say – to provide encouragement, and she’s taken that ability to the next level, working as a race announcer. “To see people smiling and excited, and knowing that it’s my voice that’s on the mic that started their race and ended their race, it’s just a joy that I absolutely love.”
Her announcing goes beyond the race course. She served as emcee at the Take The Lead Retreat, which she describes as “A retreat that afforded people of color to come together, women specifically, or those that identify as women or non-binary, to basically talk about what it is to be in the running industry. It’s a lot of networking, a lot of understanding, a lot of coaching and teaching, and a lot of people being able to really feel heard. People being able to really feel like they’re not ‘the only’ and feeling like they’re not judged when they bring up certain topics. It was definitely very much a safe space for women of color in the running industry.”
Safe spaces can only exist when people take action. When India first went into race announcing, she asked herself, “What do I bring different to the table that can change or evolve what the running industry will look like? Sometimes it’s more actionable items that you’re doing that can change the narrative, versus going to people and telling them that they need to change. So for me, I try to step into spaces where people are not expecting me to be, and that’s my way of transitioning the narrative, versus maybe being on a board and trying to tell the CEO that they need to change their mind and their way of thinking.”
“There’s no face, no pace to running and movement, meaning that if you’re moving, your body is great, no matter what the pace is. If you’re interested in stepping into a new space, do it. Even if you are interested in doing something different than you think someone else is doing, do it. You’re your own person.”
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“Thank you” to India! We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.