Ditch the diet culture and run for joy. That is how Kelly Roberts approaches running with the Badass Lady Gang, a community she founded that gives women a safe haven in the fitness space
Kelly Roberts grew up in San Diego, California, but now lives in New York. She calls herself the Former President of the “I F*cking Hate Running Club” because for most of her life, she despised working out. It was always a punishment and a means to a never ending end to weight loss, something she didn’t enjoy, and found inaccessible. But after she graduated from college with a BA in theatre arts, she felt really lost. She’d lost her community, which felt like her power and purpose, so she started running as a way to literally run from her problems. Eventually, running became one of Kelly’s many tools to work through her trauma, and this led to a career in the running world and athletic space when she founded Badass Lady Gang and the movement #SportsBraSquad.
Glorious: Would you have ever described yourself as sporty/have an interest in watching or playing sports?
Kelly Roberts: Absolutely not. I hated sports. Didn’t watch them. Didn’t play them. I was a theatre kid. To be honest, I still am. I don’t really watch sports or enjoy playing them. I have a love/hate relationship with running but that’s about it.
Glorious: It was a force of circumstances that made you start running, tell us about these and your first memories of how running made you feel.
Kelly Roberts: When I was in college, my younger brother Scott passed away unexpectedly. Running became a way for me to work through my grief when I lost my support system in college. Before I became a runner, I had this idea of what made someone athletic and I had no clue how many people use movement as a way to work through their grief. At first, running was a really healthy distraction. It was something I used to run from my problems and eventually I discovered how beneficial it was, not only for my mental health but for my body image as well. It took me years to ditch diet culture and redefine what it means to be strong.
Glorious: What was your first impression of the New York running scene, was it what you expected?
Kelly Roberts: After I moved to New York, I only ran by myself so I didn’t know anything about the New York running scene. I had no clue that this vast, diverse community was right there. I was terrified to run with people because I was insecure about my pace or ability to keep up. I didn’t think I was a “real” runner, so seeking out the running scene wasn’t something I thought I’d be interested in. The first group run I joined, I got lost in Central Park and was left behind, so I thought that running with people was wrong. We’re lucky in NYC to have so many different clubs, crews, teams, and communities. There’s truly a place for everyone. It can be scary to show up but so worth it.
Glorious: You are the founder of Badass Lady Gang (BALG), so how did this movement come about?
Kelly Roberts: BALG is a very different type of running community. We strive to be your safe haven in the fitness space. We aim to ditch diet culture, find flexibility and joy in movement, and spend just as much time chasing big goals as we do scaling back and moving in ways that are just plain fun. Once I started coaching, I saw how crappy training options were. If you’re a 10+ minute miler, most running plans weren’t designed for you. They leave athletes at risk for injury and overtraining. We focus on helping women understand how to run strong, make fitness work with their schedules, and have more fun moving without overtraining. We have free group runs in our local chapters, a free online community, and affordable online training options. We have a lot of fun.
Glorious: The focus of BALG is to ditch the diet culture and empower women to get active. How has running and your relationship with the community of runners transformed your life and how you feel about yourself?
Kelly Roberts: The running industry is steeped in diet culture. It’s everywhere. We work really hard to provide the BALG with education and resources that will help them unlearn all the lies the diet industry has perpetuated over the years. But it’s a lifelong battle because diet culture isn’t going away anytime soon. The best way to fight it is to have tools to reach for when you’re served the poison punch. And it all starts with learning how to appreciate what your body can do instead of focusing on what it looks like.
Glorious: Are you surprised at how quickly BALG has grown? What are the challenges of managing this movement and what are your long-term goals?
Kelly Roberts: It may seem like the BALG is an overnight success but the truth is, it’s a few years old. We’ve been working really, really hard to grow the movement. But we believe in what we’re doing and see how important it is to help women see that movement can be something they enjoy instead of something they have to suffer through to look a certain way.
Glorious: In your wildest dreams you probably never expected to make a career out of running. As a coach, you must have many inspirational stories to tell.
Kelly Roberts: A life in the running industry was not something I had in adult Kelly’s bingo card, that’s for sure. I think any community builder can attest to how rewarding it is to see people find friendship and a sense of belonging in the movement they’ve built. That’s why I do it. It’s really, really hard to make meaningful connections and friends as an adult. Every time I hear one of my athletes talk about their athleticism after a training experience or the friends they made in the gang, it makes every single long day worth it.
Glorious: How often do you run? Doing exercise can easily become an obsession, so how do you manage a healthy running/life balance?
Kelly Roberts: How often I run changes throughout the year. When I first started running, I felt like I needed to have a race on the calendar to keep me motivated. I really thought that if I wasn’t working towards a goal, I’d quit running. Now, I don’t need a race or goal to keep me motivated. Sometimes, I run two days a week, or 4-5 days a week. It all depends on what’s going on in my life, how much spare time I have, and how I feel about running. The pandemic was a huge gift in the sense that I got to rediscover why I run, how far I run, and what intrinsically motivates me.
Glorious: You record the number of dogs that you see on your runs, what’s your record?
Kelly Roberts: Counting dogs is something my best friends introduced me to during the pandemic. We’d go on these long walks and count dogs. It’s a fun way to distract myself when I run. When I ran a half marathon in San Diego I only saw 45 dogs! It made me appreciate how many dogs we count in New York City during a long run. The highest dog day we’ve had was in the 300s! INSANE.
Glorious: What do you prefer, running for fun, or training and setting a goal for your next marathon?
Kelly Roberts: I think in order to have a healthy and lasting relationship with any sort of activity like running, you need both. I love chasing outcome goals and PRs just as much as I love running for fun. It took me a long time to learn how to find balance between chasing goals and running just for the love of it. But it’s changed how I move. A healthy combination of both keeps it fresh and exciting.
Glorious: When you’re not running, what other interests do you have – do you play/watch other sports?
Kelly Roberts: I can’t say I watch other sports but I love live theatre. My favourite part about living in New York City is how close I am to so much great theatre! Whether it’s a small production or Broadway, there’s nothing like watching a show.
Glorious: You are also the founder of #SportsBraSquad. Tell us about this movement.
Kelly Roberts: The #sportsbrasquad started as a body positive movement and evolved into a body image resilience movement. Through storytelling, visibility, and educational resources, we want to empower women to get curious about what they say to themselves, what it means to be strong, and what they can do to identify why we all feel like we need to make ourselves smaller in order to be seen as “healthy” or “strong”.
Glorious: If you could run around NYC with four inspirational women, who would they be and why?
Kelly Roberts: There are so many women I’d love to run with! But if I had to choose four, I would have so much fun on a run with Mindy Kaling, Michelle Obama, Michelle Wolfe, and Brene Brown.