Running Down a Dream

“Ego is one of the biggest blocks to creativity. It’s like a drug planted inside your body in order to make you fail.”

Running is a superpower that lives inside your body.

At some point, you’ll be exposed; no one will help you. What do you do? We learn about ourselves when we’re tested.
Charlie Dark—DJ, poet, youth organizer—is my hero. With his message of inclusiveness, beats and empowerment, he’s made running cool and spread love from his homebase in London to Paris, Copenhagen, Toronto, Vancouver, L.A. and Berlin. Dark, awarded the Power of Light award from former British Prime Minister Theresa May, replaces inner-city chaos with inner-city pride, and his Run Dem Crew is now followed across the world. “If the average man in the street realized the power and potential within them, the world would be a different place,” Dark told me, and his mantra is: “Leave your ego at home.”
For sixteen years, he’s brought running to hard to reach places and says the pandemic has only brought more people into our sport. “Running is a superpower that lives inside your body,” says Dark.”
  • Ben Kaplan: How do you start to run?

    Charlie Dark: Go outside, take your phone and walk. Take pictures for a month. Do that and your body gets comfortable. Then run for a bit. Just a bit. Then walk. Mix it up; eventually, the walking gets shorter and the running gets longer. You run.
  • BK: Do you wear a watch or measure your speed and distance?

    CD: I measure emotion. How does going outside make you feel? Outside is an exciting place. Outside is where you need to be. We spend too much time inside. I run to flip the way people think.
  • BK: What do you mean?

    CD: Like running is a sign of weakness, something you do in fear. You run away when you’ve done something bad. But let’s reframe it: running is positive, empowering—it brings connection and exploration. We have kids in Bridge the Gap who’ve never been out of their city and we take them to New York for the marathon. There are dreams happening on our runs.
  • BK: How does running make you feel?

    CD: Strong, empowered, liberated. It makes me feel alive and gives me purpose. It also helps keep my head.
  • BK: How do you find peace on a run?

    CD: It teaches you to be present.
  • BK: You sound like a weed smoker.

    CD: Lots of runners smoke weed.
  • BK: Explain again why anyone can run.

    CD: Don’t look at running through the lens of time or distance, but the lens of emotion. It’s about how it makes you feel and the lessons you learn about yourself when you’re out running. That’s how I started my crew. I thought about who I wanted to share that emotion with and what impact I hoped it would have in the world.
  • BK: Like therapy.

    CD: Like meditation.
  • BK: How did you start?

    CD: I reached a point in my life when I needed something and I didn’t know what it was and running was an easy exercise that didn’t require a team, going to a gym or special equipment. It was easily accessible, but I never expected all this.
  • BK: All what?

    CD: Everything changing. I remember running my first ten kilometers in my neighborhood and feeling elated. Like I’d reached a landmark, like I conquered something, and from there it didn’t take long to realize that what I found through running I could apply to the rest of my life.
  • BK: How so?

    CD: Breaking large things down into small manageable chunks.
  • BK: Like opening a store or starting a business.

    CD: Training for a marathon is the perfect metaphor. Training might take sixteen weeks, that’s a lot to get your head around. OK. But a little each day. You’re building something. And the more you do, the better you get, the further you go—it breeds confidence. I also found out something else about myself through my running.
  • BK: What?

    CD: I like rules. I like structure. I’m a DJ, you know? We’re taught we don’t like structure, and I would’ve told you that I don’t need help and I don’t need guidance. But through training for a marathon, I was humbled. And being humbled is good. Through running, I learned things that I started to apply to the rest of my life and once I connected what I was learning on the run to what was happening in my life, I started to thrive.
  • BK: At which point you decided you had to share your message.

    CD: It’s not enough to do things for yourself. I’m part of the sharing culture, it’s about community. And if running was motivating me to see positive changes in my own life, I knew it could also work for my neighbourhood.
  • BK: I love that you say, ‘Leave your ego at home.’ Why is that so important to you?

    CD: Ego is one of the biggest blocks to creativity and self-expression. It’s like a drug planted inside your body in order to make you fail.
  • BK: What does that have to do with running?

    CD: People approach running with ego—how fast can I go? How far? But you can’t build communities with everyone thinking about themselves. From the beginning, I knew the feeling was special. It was the feeling—not the competition—I wanted to share. I don’t care how far or how fast you can run. Run Dem was based on crew culture. You help one another, not beat one another down.
  • BK: Run Dem has changed one of the oldest sports in the world. You made it cool.

    CD: From the beginning we wanted to capture the fun and vibrancy of crew culture. Why do something if it isn’t brilliant?
  • BK: It’s such a different way of framing the sport—having it not be about $300 sneakers and a medal and instead about feeling free.

    CD: Run Dem isn’t about running, it’s about inspiration. Running is just a tool we use. And the people I want to reach aren’t inspired by speed or distance, they're inspired by emotion.
  • BK: How so?

    CD: We live our lives with emotion—from when we wake up to when it’s all over, there’s a fight or flight instinct ingrained in our bodies and there’s a large amount of PTSD and trauma in our communities. We’re taught the world is a threat and you can’t ask for help, but Run Dem is trying to reframe that—when you empower a young person who feels threatened, they become less confrontational, less afraid and more true to themselves.
  • BK: I love this so much.

    CD: The thing about running is, at some point, you’ll be exposed; no one will help you. What do you do? We learn about ourselves when we’re tested.”
  • BK: Tell our readers about Bridge the Gap.

    CD: It’s a community I built fifteen years ago that brings people together to explore cities under the cover of darkness through the art of running and helps one another be the best they can be.
  • BK: It’s a running club?

    CD: Remixed to our current times.
  • BK: What would you tell KIND readers about running?

    CD: Join me. It’s family. It’s intergenerational. Running is open to all ages, colours, creeds, religious beliefs. It’s not about talent. It’s about coming together. And it’s always, always a good time to begin.
  • BK: What’s next for you and the crew?

    CD: We’re trying to give people the tools they need to survive the city. Give people resilience, confidence and hope. It’s hard living in a city like London, or Toronto, Vancouver, wherever, and two years of a global pandemic? Everyone is isolated, feeling the pinch. That connection, through running, is important to me.
  • BK: And that’s why you run?

    CD: I’ve spent most of my life bringing people together and if I can connect the dots between music, fashion, running and culture, I’m happy. Running is a beautiful art. It’s a superpower that lives inside of your body and we want to empower the future. Running will help you become the CEO of your life.
Many members of our team have been here since day one.