“I choose to be visible”: trans athlete from Anchorage runs marathon in heels to raise awareness

Justin Dickens, jogs at Westchester Lagoon on Friday the day before the Mayor’s Marathon in the outfit they planned to wear on their run on Saturday. Dickens wears a cape that says “BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER”. (Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

The Mayor’s Anchorage Marathon on Saturday had its fair share of quirks, including a black bear who blocked the track and detained dozens of runners.

Perhaps an even more extraordinary sight was a runner finishing the race in a pair of 3 inch black heels.

That runner was Justin Dickens, who ran in these non-traditional shoes to increase visibility for transgender people in Alaska.

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Running long distances is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one, Dickens said. They know this from experience, having run two marathons, a 50-mile ultra-marathon and a 100-mile ultramarathon.

“I lost a toenail in this race,” Dickens said of the 100 mile distance.

But for the mayor’s run, Dickens decided to take it up a notch by running in a pair of heels.

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“I’m pretty sure running 26 miles in heels will be worse than running 100 miles in my goodwill running shoes… or something.”

Running this way is part of their coming-out story, a story that has been brewing for a decade.

“I like when people use their pronouns to refer to me because I see myself as trans and not binary, and maybe more specifically, trans female,” Dickens said. “I just said a lot of words that a lot of people don’t know about the connection and the relationship and that’s okay. For me it has been a 10 year journey to discover them. “

Dickens only knows two other people who have run races in heels before, and they were inspired.

a person wearing sports clothes, high heels and a cape that indicates "BLACK TRANS LIVES COUNTING" pose in front of a body of water
Justin Dickens, ran the Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon in high heels. The day before the race, they posed for a photo at Westchester Lagoon with their cape written “BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER” on it. (Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

“I was like, okay, this is a strong way to get out of the world. I will do it.

The shoes are black, and Dickens would have preferred something more colorful. But the shoes took several trips to Goodwill to find and had the best fit, structure, and comfort.

“But that’s okay, there will be a big contrast to the Injinji toe socks I’m wearing which are pink,” Dickens said.

Dickens also wore a handmade cape, a sparkling blue, white and pink transgender flag with black letters that read “Black Trans Lives Matter,” representing the additional barriers trans people of color face.

They said the shoes, the socks, the cape – it’s quite an effort to get out physically and mentally.

Recently, a friend of theirs was severely assaulted in Anchorage for being out and trans, Dickens said. It really shook them.

“So it happened and I realized I was afraid to go out in heels,” Dickens said. “It hit home.”

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After a difficult year, which also included a divorce from a long-term partner, having a goal like this gave Dickens something to focus on.

“I had to come back, in a way, to the part of me that I had sort of put aside. When I was in California and Washington and other states that were a little more trans-welcoming than Anchorage, Alaska, I wore heels every day, ”Dickens said. “So some people here, they don’t know that, because I literally had to not do it when I got a job here.”

a person wearing sports clothes, high heels and a cape is jogging by a biker in front of a body of water
Justin Dickens ran the Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon in high heels, jogging at Westchester Lagoon, wearing their cape that says “BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER”. (Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

Dickens put on his heels for a few miles before the race and took petroleum jelly and other items to take care of his feet during the race.

But, before the race, they had other concerns.

“I choose to be visible and I want to go out. But there are still fears in there, ”Dickens said. “I have been ignored for jobs, and I know [it was] because of my transited in other states in progressive states. And it happened here. I am therefore aware that violence is a threat.

But, Dickens said overcoming this fear of visibility is already a victory. More than anything, they hope this will spark a conversation.

“When someone does something like that, what I want people to know is that there is a really good reason,” Dickens said. “Ask questions about your own gender, your own sexuality. Ask questions about why someone wouldn’t want federal protections for other humans. Ask questions about why there is so much violence against the trans community in the world.

Dickens said it wouldn’t be the last time Anchorage would see them in heels. For them, the marathon is just one of many stages – or 26.2 miles of steps – on a new journey of a lifetime.

Dickens finished the 26.2 mile race with a time of 6 hours and 39 minutes.

Contact reporter Mayowa Aina at [email protected]

An editor error incorrectly identified Dickens’ pronouns in a photo caption.

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