Running Gives Blank Bruno the Confidence to Be Themself

“Running allows me to engage parts of my psyche that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

blank bruno nonbinary runner
Courtesy Lucie Beatrix

Fresh off of a remarkable marathon debut, Blank Bruno, 27, is elated. They ran a 2:44:13 in the 2022 El Paso Marathon on February 13, 2022, and placed 2nd overall in their first attempt at a sanctioned 26.2-mile race.

It’s been just five years since Bruno started running. In 2017, at the age of 22, they found themself whirling in a downward spiral of emotions, feeling a heavy sense of depression, and they were looking for some kind of relief. Looking back on the happiness they experienced when they were younger, Bruno remembered the joy physical activity brought them. And lacing up some running shoes felt like the simplest way to get their body moving. So they headed out the door onto a rust-colored dirt path near their home in El Paso, Texas.

With every step, Bruno’s inner battles began to subside, and just three miles in, they knew they were a runner. That feeling left them transformed, so they continued.

The road that led to running

Growing up, Bruno wasn’t given a word to describe who they are. There was a sense that they were different from many of their peers, but they got along with everyone, while remaining solitary and self-explorative.

While Bruno experienced many positive moments in their youth, there was also another side. At 6 years old, they were aware of a looming darkness that made them suffer internally—what Bruno would later self-diagnose as depression.

Then, at just 13 years old, Bruno tragically lost their father to sudden cardiac arrest.

“It shook me to the core. It felt like God abandoned me. It felt like all the foundations I thought I knew about life tumbled before me—I felt loss, disoriented, apathetic,” Bruno said. “It was definitely rough and I think that’s what put a damper on my development as a human. That made me fall deeper into escapism.”

blank bruno nonbinary runner
Courtesy Lucie Beatrix

At this time, Bruno formed a close bond with their grandmother, who was legally blind. The two shared a connection as Bruno assisted her with simple house tasks and getting around. Meanwhile, Bruno’s grandmother blanketed them with love, which also came with blunt direct speaking, as well as constructive criticism. In their time together, each would guide the other.

Only a decade ago, another person close to Bruno expressed the trans identity and it encapsulated perfectly how they felt. When the term “nonbinary” entered the collective understanding, that’s also when Bruno felt at home with a description.

Becoming an every day runner

Since Bruno’s first run in 2017, they made it a habit to run six miles a day, adopting a ritual of movement that sandwiched their various service jobs, while also attending college. On top of a full schedule of training, working, and studying, they intertwined their free time with running and their other labor of love as an artist. They sketched the inner workings of their mind and used both these outlets—running and drawing—to process the world around them.

With each easy-paced run, Bruno felt a calmness washed over them and found a new sense of therapy through movement.

“Running is a great way to expunge excess energy that I have, that I would otherwise use to overthink myself into oblivion and fall into a depressive hole and get into my own head about things,” Bruno says. “It allows access to more constructive thoughts.”

blank bruno nonbinary runner
Courtesy Lucie Beatrix
blank bruno nonbinary runner
Courtesy Lucie Beatrix

It’s also the bond with nature that Bruno experiences on the run that draws them to running. They familiarize themself with the nearby dirt trails as they explore rugged mountains. They’ve come to know the lush forest grounds under their feet like they know the back of their tattoo-etched hands.

“There’s nothing like being on top of a mountain or that feeling after a long run where you just feel like you are here—and that’s all there is,” Bruno said. “That’s the thing about running that I really gravitate towards that keeps me going.”

In addition to helping Bruno fight depressive thoughts, running also helped them connect to their physicality and work through their emotions. It gave them the confidence to express themself. This eventually led Bruno to restarting hormone replacement therapy. (They had initially started in 2016 only to take a break for over a year, due to fear of what the world would think.)

Each grueling workout or progressive tempo creates space for Bruno to externally exist in the way they have always felt internally. Some days this means wearing a sports bra, which is one of the first ways Bruno told the world who they are. They also changed their first name to “Blank,” an androgynous name to better suit themself.

Running allows me to engage parts of my psyche that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” Bruno said. “Where we can really strip down the layers of our personality and can be the most authentic version of ourselves that we possibly can.”

Supporting competitive nonbinary athletes

When Bruno started the El Paso Marathon, they poured every inch of themself onto the course and averaged a 6:16 minute-per-mile pace.

The catch is that the greatest challenge was not the tremendous amount of effort required to hold a quick pace. Instead, the biggest hurdle Bruno faces is finding a place where they truly belong in elite competition, as a nonbinary individual.

As running competitively becomes an integral part of Bruno’s journey to self-acceptance, they often face antiquated labels in competition, forcing them to identify as either male or female, which prevents them from existing as an honest representation of themself.

“I guess that’s the struggle I face every time I sign up for a race. Most of the time, there’s no representation there, and it’s kind of frustrating. But that’s the way it is in most of our societal structures anyway; so it’s frustrating on a whole different level outside of sports,” they say.

When asked what can be done to make strides toward more inclusivity in racing for nonbinary athletes, Bruno says, “acknowledge we exist by using our proper pronouns.” Learning to use pronouns correctly is crucial, as words carry a lot of weight. “Changes start with a collective understanding that there is more to gender than man or woman,” they say.

blank bruno nonbinary runner
Courtesy Lucie Beatrix

Bruno also expresses how there needs to be competitive categories and time qualifications for nonbinary athletes at all races, so athletes like Bruno can enter as their true self.

Fortunately, large sanctioned races like those put on by New York Road Runners and NYC Runs in New York City now have a category for nonbinary runners. International race organizations like RunSignUp have also included the nonbinary category for their events across the country. While these bigger races make space for nonbinary competition, smaller cities and races still need to follow suit.

As far as what else can improve, Bruno expresses how research should continue to develop surrounding more than the binaries of male and female. “Sports science needs to catch up because we are working based on very outdated data points,” they said. There’s a disproportionate amount of information on athletes from male to female, and more needs to be done to elevate our understanding of gender and how it relates to performance as a whole.

As Bruno sheds light on their own path of self exploration, they hope that those who identify similarly can feel safe to run wild and free, proud of their gender identity.

When asked about long-term goals, Bruno remarks, “I feel like if I could get close to the Olympic Trials that would be amazing.” The women’s standard is 2:37, and men’s is 2:18, with no standard recognized for nonbinary. Society at large might have a long way to go before designating a category of nonbinary on the world stage, but every step Bruno takes is a leap towards athletes of all gender identities having a place in elite competition.

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