A Los Angeles running crew meets at night to admire the city’s street murals and graffiti
Running to see LA’S murals and graffiti at night
ERIK VALIENTE keeps his head up and camera ready when he laces up his trainers to take to the streets of Los Angeles. By combining two of his passions – running and art – Valiente has earned himself a digital and
literal following. ‘I’ve always been a street art fan and I’d post pictures on social media of art that I’d see on my runs,’ says the 28-year-old executive director and marathoner. ‘My friends were like, “Where are you finding these cool art pieces?”’ Valiente invited them to join him on a visual foot tour of the city. His mates were so impressed with the roving art show that they persuaded him to make it a standing date.
The word spread and in three years Valiente’s group, now known as Blacklistla, has grown to more than 500 members. The club meets every Monday night for threeto-four-milers that take in public art in downtown LA and surrounding neighborhoods. Valiente can keep his routes varied thanks to the fact that LA is home to thousands of murals and graffiti works. ‘ The art pieces are usually within a two-mile radius of our meeting location,’ says Valiente. ‘In one month we try to discover four new art pieces. Our runners love experiencing Los Angeles in a unique way.’
Valiente sets a 10pm start time to escape LA'S notorious gridlock and to cater for busy people who are more likely to be able to meet up when work is over and kids are in bed. ‘I get that people have work and families, and there's a need to be in your car,’ he says. ‘But we leave for work in a bubble and then come home in a bubble. I want to help people feel the city and be a part of a community. Time seems to slow down when you’re out at night.’
Blacklistla attracts a mix of locals and tourists, artists and runners. ‘We get serious runners and art enthusiasts, but once they join our group they’re both,’ Valiente says. Daisy Martinez, 25, is a good example. A graduate student at California State University, she never considered herself a runner before a friend introduced her to Blacklistla last year. ‘I ran my first three miles with them and now I'm running marathons,’ says Martinez. ‘ The support and guidance I've received is unbelievable. Blacklistla isn't just a club – it’s my running family.’ Artists feel the love, too. Runners interact with them by tagging them on social media and artists often respond. ‘What the club does is amazing,’ says Septerhed, a muralist best known for his intricate line work and use of psychedelic colours. ‘I love the group photos in front of my work on Instagram. This is another
platform to promote awareness.’ On two occasions Blacklistla has happened upon street art ‘in progress’ and talked with the artist. One time, an artist even joined them for the remainder of their run.
Blacklistla has grown in both size and ambition since its inception. In 2015 it launched its very own race – the Happy Birthday LA 5K – to celebrate the birth of the city on September 4, 1781. The evening event is now an annual fixture. Last year, it introduced Project 4242, a free training programme geared towards local races from 5K to marathon distance.
‘We felt the need to create Project 4242 because our runners continued to ask, “What’s next?”’ says Valiente. ‘ The desire to set higher goals, have more community, and an excuse to go outside more and live, still existed.’ Runners get weekly training plans, live coaching advice and supported runs with volunteer pacers. So far, almost 350 people have completed a race through Project 4242.
Valiente hopes runners in many other cities with thriving public art scenes will follow his lead in connecting people through community art and running. ‘Sometimes I ask people to describe the art works in their neighbourhood and they can’t,’ he says. ‘ They're running by it, but they aren’t taking it in. I want people to appreciate the things around them.’
From Blacklistla’s code of conduct: ‘ We are communityorientated and stronger together. We inspire movement, celebrate each other and we all ooze positive vibes only.’
Blacklistla’s name is a reference to the former underground ‘blacklisted’ status of street artists.
Photos taken on the run by Blacklistla members fill the club’s Instagram feed.