Supporting women in long distance races

Supporting women in long distance races

Over half of 5k participants are women, but this number drops significantly for longer distance races. Less than 20% of starters at longer races are women, and only 16% of ultramarathon participants are women. According to a survey by SheRaces, a group focused on increasing female participation in races, 96% of women have experienced unequal treatment in a race. Women are capable of running these distances, but the barrier lies before the starting line 

What makes races less inclusive for women?

  • Early cut off times- many races have strict early cut off times which penalize women who tend to have more even pacing throughout the race
  • Marketing- many races feature mainly photos of men in their marketing which make women feel less welcome
  • Unsure logistics- women may not sign up for a race if they aren’t sure about travel logistics and having appropriate bathrooms and changing areas. 
  • Childcare- women tend to take a larger burden of childcare which makes training for and traveling for races more difficult

Women are extremely capable of running long distance races. The things keeping them away from them are due to society and race organizers, not the women. 

What can races do to increase female participation?

SheRaces has released race guidelines with suggestions falling under three main categories: level the start line, equal the experience, and respect our competition.

  • Imagery- include photos of women in promotions, and give equal coverage to female finishers and winners
  • Safety- offer rolling starts, buddy up during night races, and have female volunteers at aid stations
  • Provide adequate facilities- Races should have comfortable toilets and changing areas stocked with toilet paper and period products for longer races
  • Cut offs- since women tend to have more even pacing, allow early starts for slower athletes
  • Deferrals- many races don’t allow women to defer their place if they get pregnant. Races should allow all new parents (dads too) to defer and not lose a lottery placement

What is being done?

Luckily, the culture of long distance running is changing and becoming more inclusive to women. Since the launch of SheRaces in 2022, three marathon majors and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc have announced pregnancy deferral policies, so women don’t have to give up a lottery or qualifying spot when they have children. The London Marathon also introduced breastfeeding spots along the course, and many races have committed to having equal media coverage of the men’s and women’s fields.

by Carlyn Johnson

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