Women’s Races: Some Thoughts

Monday was my most visited day ever, so I assume I must have some folks out there who like running! Thanks for the views and the comments.

If dirty is the new hot, I'm showering waaay too often.

After posting my race report yesterday, I got an invitation via e-mail to participate in the Kiss Me Dirty Race Series. It seems this event is coming to Tucson and I have some friends who are putting together a team. My response was almost instantly negative, and it got me thinking about women and racing. I’ve participated in women’s races before, and there seem to be more of them every year. Why is that? And how should women runners respond to this trend?

As is true of the world of sports in general, the world of running is gendered. Races award prizes in male and female categories, you have to specify a gender when entering a race, shoes and clothes are different. This has been the case for a long time. The good news for the women who run is that things have gotten better over time. Not only are we now allowed to compete in races where we couldn’t back in the day (think Olympic Marathons, Boston), but we’re also getting faster. Statistics have shown that the gap in speed between elite men and women at the marathon distance has been steadily narrowing over time, and is now about 20 minutes. In 2010, this prompted discussion about whether the Boston Marathon qualifying times for women, which were 30 minutes slower than they were for men, should be toughened. Another interesting finding, though, is that what holds true for elite women does not hold true for everyone. While the time gap between elite women and men is about 20 minutes and getting slower, the time gap between men and women overall is closer to 30 minutes, and shows that there is a divide amongst women: Those who run alone and run fast, and those who run in groups but finish more slowly. The suggestion is that women do, to some extent, run differently. While there are some women who race in the traditional sense, there are many women who prefer to run socially, training in groups and racing together. Based on my experience, there’s truth to this. Though I usually go for runs alone, I often register for races because I have friends who are going, and socializing is a part of the training and racing process for me.

Jonathan Mederos: Disney Princess Half Marathon Champ. Don't be that guy.

Considering this, it’s not surprising that there are a growing number of races targeted specifically toward women. From the perspective of race directors, it’s good business to target a group that’s likely to bring their friends. From the perspective of women, it makes sense to run a race that’s going to cater to you: helping you find training and pace groups, allowing team sign-ups, and allowing for slower finish times. I’m all in favor of races catering to women, but I think it’s acceptable to give space to men, too. (I’m not going to discuss transgender individuals and running here, but that may be a subject for a future post. It’s a problem in racing, and in every sport.) Many men may also enjoy running socially, especially when they are running with wives, daughters, female friends, and they should be allowed to enter, with the understanding that they will probably run these races in smaller numbers. We shouldn’t exclude people based on gender, as was done to women in the past, but it also seems acceptable to me to either consider men separately for awards in these races, or to not offer awards to men at all. A man coming to a woman’s marathon to win an award in a field where, he admits, he would have been “slaughtered” had other guys participated seems, well, low.

By now you may be wondering, if I’m OK with women’s races, why the repulsion to the Kiss Me Dirty event? Well, for one thing, take a look at the web site. To me, there’s a distinction between an event that caters to women as serious runners and athletes, and an event that appeals to women to dress up and roll around in the mud. Nothing about this event seems to appeal to me as a runner; the attraction seems to be based entirely on sexuality. Look at the text on the site: Becoming a “dirty girl,” getting someone to “kiss you dirty,” even encouraging your man to come watch. (And, of course, it must be a man… are lesbians not allowed at this event?) I mean, to each his/her own, and much respect to the money that’s being given to charity, but there’s something disturbing and degrading to me about this. It’s like a women’s race gone wrong, because it’s not a “race” in the sense that they seem to expect you to run it, and I have to question whether this is even “for women.” When it’s all about getting sexy/dirty and getting someone else to look at you, who is this event really all about?

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