I arrived at Nike’s headquarters to start a six-week 10K training program with a fresh blowout. Honestly, it's rare to see me without my hair perfectly laid. I see my preferred stylist at Drybar every two to three weeks, and she shampoos, conditions, detangles, blowdries my hair, and then uses a flat iron to give me loose curls. Wrapping the curls around my head each night prolongs the style for at least three weeks.
This ritual of regular hair maintenance is one I learned from my mom. When I was younger, my mom instilled in me a somewhat rigid hair schedule: See a stylist every two to three weeks and work hard to preserve it until the next appointment. I learned the cost of cute very early in life — there were the Easter hairdos I slept on my face to keep, First Day of School looks I propped my head up on the pillow to avoid flattening, not to mention sleeping with those super uncomfortable rollers in — if you can think of it, I’ve probably done it. All so that I can truly say, "Yeah, I woke up with my hair like this."
Since going natural six years ago, my style upkeep hasn't been quite as painful, save for bathing with both the shower and the bathroom door open and the exhaust fan on to help rid the moisture in the air. When you have natural hair that's styled straight moisture of any kind is the devil. And that's exactly why I shy away from any sort of exercise, except for maybe a short run timed with wash day. So, training for this 10K was about to make things interesting...
When I got to Nike’s headquarters, I was nervous about sweating my edges out so soon into my blowout. I thought we were going to ease into things, but instead we started with three miles. Three! I brought my hair brush and head scarf to wrap my hair up, but immediately felt embarrassed to do such an intimate thing in front of strangers. Luckily, it was just Arianna and me, along with another girl I was pretty friendly with, in the locker room when I tied my hair up. Nike also provided us with a hat that I wore on top of my scarf. I don’t like to wear my head scarf in public, so this already felt like a lot of emotional labor. It almost felt as agonizing as running, but I realized quickly I was going to have to get used to it.
I was feeling empowered because wrapping my hair and running outside was working out nicely. I’d been sharing my hair’s progress on my Instagram Story, and a lot of people commented that it didn’t look like I had sweated at all. Running made me feel strong, and thus far, it hadn’t sent me running to get an emergency blowout.
I did try to style up my run once — I attempted to fashion a printed silk scarf as a turban to hide my plain black head scarf for our longer run on Saturday, and well, it proved to be more of a hassle. The knot kept loosening up, and eventually came undone, so I did the unthinkable: I took it off. I tried to run with my hood up, but it kept coming down, so I finally gave up and ran with my head scarf showing. I felt exposed. But my hair still had some bounce to it when I took it down later!
This was where things got tough for me. Even when I'm not running on the regular, it’s a challenge styling my hair the dirtier it gets and the closer I get to my blowout appointment. I was thinking about getting braids because I was going to Coachella the following week, but I decided against them because they might be too heavy to run with. Instead, I relied on my trusty old standby: the super-high topknot. My edges were still very straight, so my bun looked intentional — not like a last-ditch effort to make my straight hair last one more week.
I was beginning to feel like I could be more than just a casual runner, even though this whole process pushed me way outside my hair comfort zone. With the bun, I didn’t even have to wear the head scarf when running, which was a plus. I should also point out that this week, we ran in the rain. I did not cover my hair. I did not flinch about the water hitting my hair, either. Usually I'd go running for shelter if there was even a hint of rain in the atmosphere. Something about wearing my head scarf outdoors and forgoing my perfectly pressed blowout put me in a more comfortable place. Plus, I had bigger things to stress over, like not passing out in the rain during our run. The next day, I did have to bring out the extra extra hold gel to get my puffy edges back into a bun, but it was clear my entire mindset had changed.
Thanks to edge control, a toothbrush, and my trusty scarf, I was about to lay down the curly edges that had rebelliously sprung up — me and my bun were still rocking out. I didn’t hate it, but I was starting to miss my hair flowing freely around my face. I didn’t really feel like myself anymore, and it didn’t help that my body was really sore. I’d developed a bad case of runner’s knee after our weekly four-mile run, and it even hurt to walk! My head also hurt from needing to tie my scarf so tight to lay down those edges. Every. Thing. Hurt.
My runner’s knee got really painful at this point. I could barely make it through our Tuesday run and decided to give myself a few days to recover. I was leaving for Coachella that Thursday, so I visited Drybar on Wednesday night. My usual stylist wasn’t available, which is never a good sign. Not all the stylists at my regular location have the skills to do my natural hair. And, honestly, I think some of the stylists don't like to deal with my hair texture.
I called to specify I needed someone comfortable styling Black hair. When I arrived, I told the stylist I would like a center braid, a loose bun on top of my head, and the rest of my hair out in loose curls. Suddenly, my hair was back! Except...it wasn’t. She wasn't able to get my natural hair as straight as I like, and my curls were really big. Regardless, I loved having clean hair again. Side note: I hadn’t run all week, and surprisingly, I really missed it.
WEEK 6 — The Finish Line!
To maintain my hair at Coachella, I used flexi-rods to keep the curls bouncy and edge control gel to keep my edges flat to my head. When I got back to New York, I combed the center braid out and pulled my hair into a really high ponytail. I usually steer clear of this style because I already look incredibly young for my age, but this one was working for me. I got a ton of compliments at work, and one of my fanciest friends (she works at Gucci!) kept telling me how much she loved it, which kind of made me love it, so I decided to make this my race day hair.
I was getting nervous about running six miles in the heat, especially because Coachella left me with a cold that kept me from running and my knee was still pretty sore leading up to the big day. But when I put on my race-day outfit and unwrapped my hair for my biggest run yet, I felt incredibly proud to have pushed myself so far out of my comfort zone.
I was able to change the way I’ve been conditioned to feel about how my hair defines me. Instead of focusing on maintaining my hairstyle for as long as possible, I was zeroed in on another goal: getting stronger during the six-week training process so that I could cross the finish line. Without my hair being the focus, I was able to experiment in other ways. I really got into my running outfits, and I loved coordinating my pink Nike Flyknits with brightly-colored socks like the yellow ones I wore during the 10K. I know that my hair will always be a challenge, but this experience inspired me to push through that and just keep running.
Travel, accommodations, and training were provided to the author by Nike for the purpose of writing this story.