Running hair—yup, it is a thing. Whether it’s too bouncy, whipping against your face, slipping from your elastic or sweaty at the roots, hair can be a challenge when you’re working out. But your locks shouldn’t be a distraction on race day or when you’re logging those training miles. And for some people, hair maintenance can stand as a barrier to running or other exercises.
We interviewed road and trail runners with all hair types and textures for tips to tame your mane while running. Read on to find out their strategies and advice, from high puffs to double braids and everything in between.
Where she runs: She likes discovering new trails in the city.
Favorite running moment: One year, Achia set a goal to run a half marathon every month. She did 19 of them that year. But her most memorable moment was running the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa, Florida, with three other women.
Favorite running hairstyles: “I have natural hair, so my favorite hairstyle is a high puff. It’s easy to take my hair down after I run and go. I either do a high puff or as the days go on, I’ll do two puffs. I wear a Black Girls Run! headband (I’m a former ambassador for the group) to keep the sweat from soaking into my roots, which is key to preserving my hairstyle and making it last longer. I exercise first thing in the morning and move on with my day. I need it to be functional. It’s easier to maintain natural hair and work out. If I don’t want my hair out, I wear faux locs. They’re movable and they’re not too heavy.”
Her advice: “Never let your hair get in the way of your overall health. Your hair is healthy because you’re exercising more so than not. If you’re taking care of your body, your hair will look great.” Another tip: “Let your scalp completely dry before you restyle your hair or your roots will puff up.”
Where he likes to run: Along the Chicago lakefront
Favorite running moments: Running the Chicago Marathon, especially the first time. Another highlight: “Improving my endurance and mental capacity through running and becoming a better version of myself each time I run.”
Favorite running hairstyle: “I often wear a hat or headband. When I don’t wear either one, I prefer a short haircut and I use pomade to hold my hair in place. Having your hair bounce up and down can be distracting. You don’t want your hair to get in your face. Hair is not just an issue for women. Making your space more comfortable when you run is what it’s all about. You don’t want to make the race more difficult than it can be.”
His advice: “Run at your own pace. Focus on yourself. Keep your eye on the target.”
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Where she likes to run: Endless dirt roads in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she trains at high altitudes
Favorite running moments: Qualifying for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 after battling injury for almost a year before the trials, and then finishing eighth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Games.
Favorite running hairstyle: Two Dutch braids gathered together in a low ponytail
Her advice: “When it comes to hair, it has to be functional first. You can’t have your hair distracting you from the race or workout. But it can also have this magical superpower of giving you confidence and swagger when you are attempting something hard, like your first marathon or a PR (personal record) in the gym. Braiding my hair is a part of my preparation routine, and just the act of braiding it helps me feel more ready to take on a challenge. It’s just hair, but it’s really a powerful tool for empowerment!”
Hometown: San Francisco Bay area
Where she runs: Local trails such as the Marin Headlands
Favorite running moments: Running the Boston Marathon twice. She’ll do it a fifth time in April 2022.
Favorite running hairstyle: “My hair is long, straight and thick, so I normally wear it in either one or two ponytails, and I always wear a hat or visor. It generally stays put. I try to wear two rubber bands in case one breaks. Lately, I’ve tried braids for racing and am excited to experiment a little more.”
Her advice: “Hair is so individualized, like everything else with running. Find what works for you. It’s about what makes you feel good.”
Hometown: Killeen, Texas
Where she runs: Local trails
Favorite running moments: “The first 5K that I ran with my mom. That was very sentimental. It was great to be able to go out and share that run with my family. Also, the first time that I ran in the foothills in Albuquerque. I was in the Sandia Mountains, watching the sunset, listening to the birds chirp, seeing the deer come out. It was a nice moment to catch my breath.”
Favorite running hairstyles: “My go-to is the two-strand twist. It’s protective for all of my hair but specifically the ends. I can leave my hair in a hairstyle for a couple of weeks. If I’m wearing my hair in an afro, it’ll be up in a puff but that leaves me exposed to getting caught in trees (I’m six feet tall). I prefer the two-strand twist because I don’t come home with as much nature in my hair. It’s a good go-to for winter and summer, and it’s kind of a cute hairstyle that I can use all the time. Sometimes, I use box braids. When my hair is straightened, I’ll usually use a scrunchie or Buff or tie a bandana around my hair. I don’t use elastic rubber bands because they break my hair.”
Her advice: “There are tons of hairstyles that are not only protective but cute. I think it’s important to play around. I learned the two-strand twist from YouTube and by watching natural hairstylists. It’s definitely a game of what works best for you and your hair.” Also: “Be aware of how the moisture or dryness in the air or outside elements are impacting the moisture of your hair.”
Where she likes to run: Around Seattle’s Lake Union, the high school track and nearby trails
Favorite running moments: Qualifying for the Boston Marathon with 45 seconds to spare.
Favorite running hairstyle: “Ponytail with two hair ties. My hair is so thick, I can never put it up and expect it to stay with one hair tie. Two hair ties are always a must. I like to wear my hair in a ponytail mostly, but braids are also great. I’m not sure what it is about braids, but when I wear them I feel stronger. They have a strong look to them. The only problem with braids is I start to get a headache after a while. My hair is too thick and heavy to keep them in too long.”
Her advice: “If you only have one hair tie and your hair is thick, wear your hair in a low ponytail. Then it will stay put.”