We have made significant strides in ultrarunning in recognizing that women are amazing athletes and competitors, and more than worthy adversaries. But last weekend I was reminded that there is still a long way to go in the fight for gender equality in our sport.
On Saturday, I passed one of you in a race. You had your head down and were walking. You did not look good. When I stopped to ask if you were injured or needed help, the first words out of your mouth were, “I was doing okay until a woman passed me.”
I did not stick around to listen to your excuses or explain that we have no place for this attitude in our sport. But I did have several miles to reflect on what you said, and I would like to address you now.
First, if you cannot be respectful of your fellow runners then go run by yourself somewhere. Stay on your treadmill fantasizing about your male dominance. We do not need or want you on the trails.
Second, when a woman (or anyone, for that matter) passes you, say something like “Great job,” or “You’re doing awesome, keep it up.” Stop pouting. It’s not her fault that you trained your ego better than you did your body. That woman, and the several others that would pass you in the race, worked hard to get here. They are physically and mentally stronger than you.
Third, why does it bother you in the least that you were beaten by women? How are you not excited by the fact that women are crushing it in our sport? Did you not see that 10 women placed in the top 20 overall finishers at Western States? These are our daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and friends. These are the people who mean the world to us. Why in the hell would you not want them to succeed? How is it ever an insult when one of them beats you? Do not be so insecure that you look at a woman’s success as your own failure. Instead, celebrate it.
To the rest of you, I want to encourage you to keep moving forward. I think the ultrarunning community is ahead of the times when it comes to gender inclusivity in sport, and we should be proud of this. But we are still a long way away from reaching the summit. Look no further than this weekend’s Hardrock 100, which, as of Thursday, has only 15 women registered to run out of a field of 146. This does not add up. It is good to see that Hardrock is addressing this issue by implementing a policy to increase women’s participation in 2022, and I hope other races follow suit. Still, we have work left to do to make ultrarunning the example that other sports should follow when it comes to gender equality. Here are a few things we can do to help make this happen:
- Do not register for races that don’t offer equal prizes or payouts to men and women.
- Do not sit idly by and listen to people tease or joke about you or other runners being beaten by women. Call them out and explain how ignorant and unacceptable this is.
- Do not buy running products or endorse brands that don’t promote equality or offer sponsorships to women.
- Forever remove the term “chick’d” from your chauvinistic vocabulary. I never want to hear this word again.
- Educate yourself on the challenges that women runners face. Listen to what might be holding them back.
- Write to running brands and publications and let them know you would like to see more women featured in articles, ads and social media.
- Encourage your female running friends to sign up for more races and let them know that they are more than capable of crushing it.
- Use your platform to promote gender equality in our sport—whether it be through your online presence or simply explaining to co-workers at the water cooler how talented female ultrarunners are. “Hey Bob, did you know that at the most competitive ultramarathon in the country, half of the top 20 finishers were women? Pretty great, right?”
You’re damn right it is.
Call for comments: I know many women ultrarunners who have a ton to add to this discussion. I would love to hear your suggestions on things we can do to improve gender equality in ultrarunning. Thank you!