Do What’s Right: Why Ultrarunning Needs to Solve Its Gender Inequality Problem Now

Normally I reserve this column for some sort of training topic devoted to making readers more prepared for their ultramarathon goals. However, there are times when I feel I should use this platform for a bigger purpose, like now. We need more women in ultrarunning, period. The current gender inequality in the sport is bad for all ultrarunners. We all have opportunities to help the sport and its participants, and we should.

By Jason Koop, CTS Coaching Director
Author of “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning”

Two iconic races held their lottery processes last weekend: the Hardrock 100 and Western States 100. While each race has a slightly different process to select their fields, the results speak for themselves. If the Western States 100 were held tomorrow, 76 of the 353 entrants would be female, an underwhelming 20.5% of the field (assuming that the Golden Ticket races spots are filled 50/50, there’s no movement in the waitlist, and no other adds). Hardrock is even worse. If it were run tomorrow, there would be 13 women standing in the Silverton High School gym ready to make a loop around the San Juans. This is just 9% of the field. I admire and respect each of these races and their management teams, and I know the final fields of both of these races will change slightly between December and the race dates. I also understand the reasons Western and Hardock designed their lotteries as they have. However, neither lottery advances women’s participation in ultrarunning, and that’s a big problem for all of us.

In 2016, 33% of ultramarathon finishers were female, and female participation has been gradually trending upward. However, there is still a vast imbalance in male/female participation in the sport and, in particular, ultrarunning’s biggest races. This is bad for the sport, and it is time for the sport’s leaders – including race directors, gear companies, coaching organizations, and influencers – to take steps to narrow the gender gap.

WHY THE GENDER GAP IS A PROBLEM 

Assuming the gender distribution of entrants into the Western States and Hardrock lotteries is about equal to the gender distribution of those selected to start, what’s wrong with keeping these lotteries gender-blind? We need only look at the development of road running.

The modern competitive marathon originated at the 1896 Olympic Games, but it was another 61 years before Katherine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant. At the time, distance running was not a mainstream sport for women, and even after event directors started allowing women to enter, participation numbers didn’t automatically rise to parity. Recognizing the size of this potential new market, race directors and gear companies jumped in to create women’s-only marathons and other women-centric products and events. More women saw more women running, and more women told more women about how much they enjoyed running. Fast forward 50 years and female participation in road running is equal to – and in some cases greater than – male participation.

Taking proactive steps to increase female participation in road running had profoundly positive effects on the sport as a whole. A sport with skewed gender participation numbers – in either direction – can’t take advantage of economic, community, and competitive opportunities that are available when you have gender parity.

If we want to increase female participation in ultrarunning we need to lower the barriers to entry and encourage a more inclusive culture. This means taking a proactive approach, particularly by leaders in the field. Ultrarunning will remain a male-dominated environment and culture, unless we take the following steps:

RESERVE LOTTERY ENTRIES IN PREMIER RACES FOR WOMEN

Leaders lead, and ultrarunning’s premier races are in a position to set the tone for the entire sport. Make no mistake, the Western States and Hardrock lotteries are not egalitarian, nor do they need to be. Both lotteries are already contrived to reward persistence and experience. The Hardrock 100 is absolutely transparent in their desire to award 25% of entries to new runners, 50% of entries to returning/experienced runners, and 25% of entries to grisly Hardrock veterans. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s their race and it’s their decision. But, because it’s their decision they are also in their power to set the tone for the rest of the sport.

There’s no question iconic races like Western States and Hardrock could change the gender composition of their fields. I feel they should at least double the number of women who toe the start line. The demand is there; it’s primarily a matter of will amongst the races’ leadership. The question is: What are the benefits? Doubling the size of the women’s field at Western States means 152 women start the race instead of 76. That means 152 women go back to inspire their local running communities instead of 76. It means 152 women who influence buying behaviors for female gear consumers instead of 76. You don’t derive that inspiration or gain that influence from the grassroots up; you gain it from premier events down. Doubling the female lottery recipients in these races won’t make the fields 50/50, but it’s a step in the right direction and it makes a statement to build on in future years.

INCLUDE WOMEN IN POSITIONS OF INFLUENCE 

Both men and women need to be included in conversations and decisions at the top levels of ultrarunning. Currently, the Boards of Directors of major ultrarunning events, the C-suites of major gear manufacturers, and the staff of major coaching organizations, are dominated by men. I include coaching organization in that list because – as the Coaching Director for CTS – I recognize my own coaching staff is disproportionately male. While CTS has had women in positions of influence at the General Manager and Director levels, women make up only 23% of our coaching staff across all sports, and even with proactive efforts the steps toward gender parity have come slowly.

We are committed to taking steps toward gender parity in our coaching staff, however, because we see the substantive impact our female coaches make on the athletes they work with and the professional organizations they interface with. For the most part it’s not that men actively work against the interests of women in sport; it’s that we don’t recognize or consider that women may have a different – and equally valid – view on a particular subject.

PROMOTE FEMALE AMBASSADORS

Actress and activist Geena Davis has said, “If she can see it, she can be it.” The optics of 13 women in a pack of 145 ultrarunners tells aspiring female ultrarunners: this is not a place for you. The women selected to stand on the Hardrock 100 start line will have trained, sweat, and sacrificed to be there; as a sport we can and should do more than heap the responsibility of growing female participation in ultrarunning on their backs.

When races, gear manufacturers, and coaching organizations take steps to promote female participation in ultrarunning, everyone wins. When we ignore the gender gap we do so at our peril. Eventually, the lack of female representation at races, in boardrooms, and in coaching organizations will simply reinforce the male-dominated culture of the sport and further diminish female participation.

In an effort to be part of the solution, CTS strives to achieve gender equality – across all sports – in our Sponsored Athlete Program. Personally, of the 11 ultrarunners I coach in the CTS Sponsored Athlete Program, seven are women. Every one of them was accepted into the Program on merit, but I also know increasing the talent and depth in women’s ultrarunning will elevate the performance level of the athletes I coach, as well as the benchmark for peak performance.

CULTIVATE INCLUSIVITY

If you want to keep a community small, make it exclusive. A male-dominated culture excludes half the potential members of the community. If we want ultraunning to thrive – with or without an increase in total participation numbers – the culture has to be inclusive. Even the economists would agree: women have a greater impact than men in terms driving consumer sales and economic development.

So what can the average ultrarunner do to help bring women into the sport? Lead, take part in, or support events at the community and running club levels that encourage female participation. Support the efforts of local running stores and race directors who are working to bring new ultrarunners into the sport. And be a positive and encouraging ambassador for the sport of ultrarunning in your interactions with all trail runners. The slow trend toward increased female participation is likely to continue, but if we get proactive it can happen a lot faster.

There are no downsides to increasing female participation in ultrarunning, but it won’t happen without proactive steps from the leaders within race organizations, gear manufacturers, and coaching groups. The lotteries for Western States and Hardrock have already set the fields for 2017, but now is the time for these iconic races to take steps toward gender parity in 2018.

Comments 45

  1. There are always exceptions, but men a generally faster runners than women. Qualifying for some big races is more of a struggle for women and older runners, which will leave most of the entries being submitted by males under 60. I am a female and I would love to see the WAVA table used, but I know that it would be too cumbersome for the RDs. Thus, we need to accept that there will be more males winning the lottery because there will be more males entering the lottery. Just a fact of life. We cannot always make things fair and equal.

  2. I don’t want special treatment because I’m female. Leave the lotteries blind.

    When I see women breaking the barrier down it’s because they’ve done so without being treated as someone who needs outside help.

    They are ceasing to bring the barriers down when they are given special privileges to ‘help’. At that point they have become charity cases.

  3. Had to get pretty far down before Pat hit it. In short, the societal expectations put on women are largely incompatible with the training requirements for running ultras. The low low low percentages at those two particular hundreds are illustrative of the fact that you generally have to qualify for several years before you get a shot (for WS *consecutively*). HR allow non-consecutive, but the QR’s are harder and require better training. See above.

    The way men can help is by taking on an equal load, and creating the space in women’s lives that men already have.

  4. Sorry, but a blind lottery is fair.
    Yes it would be nice if female participation in Ultras was at 50%. But do not give woman an unfair advantage based on gender. If you have 1,000 people in a lottery for 100 spots then your odds are one in ten. Period.
    If you have 667 men and 333 women then the random split will still come down to one in ten. But if you try to get the race 50 men and 50 women then women would get roughly a one in six probability and men only a one in twelve, not fair. Do not try to force a world view onto a blind lottery.
    Among my friends the split is roughly 50-50 on gender, and the most accomplished ultra runner I know is a woman.

  5. Maggie,

    I’m all for a pregnancy waiver.

    I’d like to hear from some RDs about real world examples of this. I am sure RDs have been contacted about this issue.

  6. JJ,
    I think you are exactly on point.

    There are always a host of reasons that determine the social fabric of our society (you mention several), including gender rates at ultras. Women are clearly as fast (if not faster), as competitive and deserving of their victories as men.

    The vast majority of trail races use a purely market based system (first come, first serve) that does not discriminate. This to me, means to bring the gender gap closer to parity more women need to be involved in ultras at every age. Whether it begins in High School at a cross country meet or a family hiking trip to a National Park.

    Also, parity shouldn’t be the goal to attend or attempt a race, only in the results, eg. AG by gender and top 3 finishers. If no women (or men) sign for a race that does not mean the RD or the ultra community is culpable. I believe that it is in the best interest of RDs to create a fair system for all individuals, because ultimately that is what determines participation.

    Lastly, the author provided few implementable actions to improve outcomes. This was my biggest issue.

  7. while it was an interesting perspective, I must disagree. I’m not sure why we NEED to increase the womens’ numbers. Women are a growing population of the running community. I believe I read that women outnumber men in the half marathon. More women will run the ultras as the marathon becomes a less unique goal. More women will run ultras when they realize they can.

  8. Lotteries should be blind. If I want to succeed in the world you need to show up and work hard. I have a full-time executive job, train for ultras with high volume and also compete in the field of equestrian jumping with a horse that I own and train. People who get ahead are people who work hard. No one said life was easy. No one guaranteed you life was fair.
    I just won a 100 miler and I didn’t get interviewed at the finish. Why? Because the male finisher broke 14 hours and I finished in 17 hours. Do I feel slighted? No.
    If I got passed up for a bonus in my career would I feel slighted? Yes.
    Running ultras is play time and we are fortunate to get to enjoy recess.

  9. If you’re a white male and you’re commenting on here, regardless of what you said, you should probably stop. You don’t have the experience necessary to make an informed, educated opinion about this matter.

    When the entire system is setup against a group (i.e. systemic discrimination) then not only should we make extra allowances for that group (gross understatement) but it is absolutely necessary.

    White males need to stop talking about this stuff. Just shut your mouth and listen once in a while. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

  10. As usual, the vast consensus of dissenting opinion, completely misunderstands (or misrepresents) the intention of affirmative actions.

    For instance:

    “Everything must be equal, all of the time. Realities like the actual number of female applicants don’t matter. Neither does the fact that there is nothing stopping more women running ultras and entering lotteries.”

    Indeed, there are far too many things stopping more women running ultras and entering lotteries:

    – Childbirth
    – Household maintenance inequity
    – Pay gap
    – Emotional labour disparity

    All these things, and more, contribute to women having (on average) far more on their plate, in daily life, than men.

    This article, and other movements towards gender equality, don’t suggest that the issue lies with specific areas of our culture. It is systemic.

    But the push to regain the balance must come from anywhere and everywhere.

  11. Thanks for addressing this important topic, Jason.

    If men were only 76 of 353 Western State participants then people would pay immediate attention to this discrepancy, they would set up a special committee to remedy this, to this horrible miscarriage of justice – but because it is the other way around….not so much.

    Not only would there be more brand bang for women’s running clothing with more women Western States participants but there already is a majority of women buying all athletic wear. Women have always made up the majority of our country’s purchasing decisions and the thanks they get is gear largely designed by men and at best slightly modified to fit women.

    And this is not even getting into media coverage of women in races. How many times have we seen highlight reels of major races (especially in European races) with maybe a quick flicker of the women’s champion then a final crescendo of the men’s podium that goes on forever. They all run the same race, they all go the same distance but most of the time only the men get the final notice and that’s part of the justification for the sweeter contracts.

  12. To Micah and Samantha- the way that these two specific lotteries work is that every year you don’t get in and qualify, you get an exponentially larger amount of lottery tickets the following year. Historically, since more men have been entering these races, they have an exponentially larger amount more of lottery tickets- therefore skewing the odds towards them, and continuaing to skew the odds towards them as a lot of
    Men don’t get in and get more entries the following year. I understand the ideal of blindness, but gender blindness doesn’t create gender equality. If the goal is gender equality, then I do think we need to re-evaluate how the lotteries are structured.

  13. The way I read the article was that the lottery systems aren’t necessarily the problem. The issue is various factors that have contributed to inequalities in the sport, as in other areas of life. Changing the lotteries to help even out the gender balance in larger races is just one thing that one group of people can do the reset the inequalities. There are certainly other ways this can be accomplished, but it is one option. Thank you, to the author and commenters, for adding to this discourse.

  14. Anna Mae,

    I’m always inspired by you. Thanks for the thoughtful comments and I am sorry to hear of some of your previous experiences. I hope you continue the good fight and find success in ultrarunning.

    Koop

  15. Gender inequality is real, and it is prevalent in our society. If you are male and are concerned with gender biases if a few more females were allotted entries into top tiered races then this article is the beginning of your own wake up call. If you have children you might understand why it is important to have equal representation of women competing in top tiered races. If you are male and are upset by this article perhaps you are concerned that you will have a lesser chance of competing in these top tiered races, but that’s just straight up selfish. Lets also keep in mind that running is a privilege and a sport that we happen to enjoy as a past time.

    IMO if more women are given the opportunity to compete in these top tier races the standard for elite females rises and is beneficial for elite females trying to make an income. The stipend/salary disparities can then begin to shrink. You know how many times I’ve been asked how I’ve become the elite athlete I am today? Younger women everywhere message me to ask specific questions about races, and how they can follow in my footsteps. I must say I am very fortunate to work for an equal opportunity sponsor team, Hoka One-One. I must also say I have worked REALLY hard to get to where I am today. I also had to deal with a male dominated management team where it was obvious that my achievements went unrecognized both in social media and compensation. You really would be in shock to know the specifics of my previous contract terms. Yet like so many woman who find themselves in positions like my own you move on with a smile on your face and keep pushing, keep conquering, keep trying to break records, and when nothing you do seems to phase the company you are trying to impress you just dig deeper until something, just maybe something will give so you can continue to make an impact on the world.

    Snowshoe Nationals: Champion
    WTC: 3rd
    Lake Sonoma: 3rd GT
    Quad Rock 50: 3rd
    Broken Arrow 55k: 3rd
    Four Pass Loop: FKT
    Speedgoat 50k: CR win
    Pikes Peak Ascent: 2nd

    Fulltime teacher and for all of these races……. Guess what stipend I received?

    All across the world women find themselves competing with males for stereotypical male roles. The society we live in now has repressed females from playing sports, holding jobs and were taught to stay at home and take care of the home. It is time for American men to wake up. Females in ultra running are badass, and are a role model to both genders across age groups. Take Courtney Douwalter and Camille Heron taking the lead in ultra running CRs and winning the OA.

    1. You raise some very good points about sponsorships, stipends, etc.

      However, aside from possibly Hardrock, which races don’t provide an equal opportunity to compete? How are women not “given the opportunity to compete”?

      There are many areas where equality may be an issue, but I don’t see access or ability to compete as one of them. Hardrock may be the exception, but it is just a single race and doesn’t represent what is occurring throughout the sport.

      1. Excuse my grammar, run-on etc….

        Because even if women do well in a race same position i.e. podium placed females vs podium placed males will receive more recognition and more opportunity than the females. I can attest to this.

        One way to change this is for the top tiered races to make a statement by increasing the % of female lottery winners- increasing/skewing the odds. Another way is to increase the prize purse for females. In several races in our nation the prize purse is less for females because their are fewer women in the race. However, if this type of inequality is permitted then fewer and fewer women will compete.

        I honestly think this is a hard idea to understand being male because you are most likely unaware of your daily routine in comparison to female peers. This sport is heavily male dominated because of the pure nature of the fact that when ultra training you must be independent and often run in the mountains on your own. You are often running at night in the mountains and might feel less encouraged to do so if you are a female just getting interested in the sport. Also if you have a family the female is traditionally responsible for taking care of the family, running errand etc. Whilst the man is making the money and running with his buddies in the early am or evenings after work. It just isn’t as common for females to spend 3+ hours a day in the mountains in inclement weather.
        I know that many of my female friends and acquaintances always ask me how I do what I do… So when females who have actually taken the time to build up and venture into the unknown with support from their family or just pure passion that transforms from with in and completes in a Hardrock qualifier and has the mindset to prep for that race…. they my friend have already won. They, all of them, deserve to tow the line. Not to say their male counterparts do not, but it’s a beautiful thing for a female to feel the strength, the passion, all the feels transforming to a more independent woman- Less reliant of males if that makes any sense. Do some research on the female ultra runner leaders over time…. They are pretty amazing females paving the way for future females.

    2. Sorry – but this “rant” — and I’ll call it that, is one of the reasons why some males don’t want to put up with a supposed “fairness” argument that is anything but that.

      In two fields I’ve worked in – software engineering and aeronautical engineering I’ve found the females working in it to be exceedingly well qualified; in fact much better qualified than the average male. Is their lack of numbers caused by myself, or most other males that work in the field – NO! The numerical discrepancies are caused by a whole host of societal issues (e.g. schools/parents pointing girls away from STEM fields), women finding that working in a male-dominated field is not to their liking, and much, much more than any systemic plan or method to keep women from working in these sorts of jobs. Schools/colleges want women engineers/scientists. Companies want women engineers/scientists. Men in the field would like to see more women engineers/scientists. So, it may be nice and easy to use historical stereotypes and occurrences to say that a woman can’t get a “fair” break — but it’s not quite so easy or accurate.

      As for the ultra-endurance events — you basically say that a male who has put himself in the lottery for an event multiple times is somehow “selfish” for doing so.
      Huh? — this person keeps themselves ready to run the event, and makes the lottery effort multiple years in a row — but they are “selfish”? Meanwhile, a woman who is maybe entering the same lottery for the first time, is supposed to be given a better chance of entering the same event. Why? Race organizers can definitely choose to skew their process to get whomever they want. I’m willing to bet though that most race directors know that if they drop the “improved” lottery chance rule — that the numbers bothering to make the re-attempt will drop a great deal. It might be prudent to cap the number of attempts or to automatically enter somebody who’s waited like 4 or 5 years — but I’d guess there’s good reasons why race directors have used this process (and they aren’t to keep women out).

      PS- As you noted — running is a privilege. So, why should women be given an automatically improved chance to get into an ultra event over men?

  16. Any lottery system that favors “veterans” – i.e., past finishers of the race – is going to perpetuate historic imbalances in how groups are represented. That’s just the nature of the beast. If you want to try to remedy such an imbalance, the first step ought to be changing your system to give everyone who meets your qualifications an equal shot of getting in. People get upset about anything that smacks of affirmative action, but it’s not even necessary to go so far. Just stop institutionalizing a preference that has the effect of excluding people from the other gender (and other racial groups, too, if we’re being honest).

  17. No need to be disingenuous. That WSER only granted 20.5% of entries to women are reflected in the linked article that shows that women made up 21.5% of 100 mile finishers, even if they did make up 33% of all ultra finishers. The opening paragraphs imply a bias in the lottery, which obviously, there isn’t other than that it grants more luck to multi-year entrants when (recently and slightly) fewer women were in the sport. The author’s goal is noble if not economically greedy – empower women and expand the market simultaneously. Given the growing ranks of women in the sport though, I have to wonder what can be done to make the longer distances more accommodating to women. Why has their participation rates in 100k and 100M flatlined at 25%?

    1. The general argument that women’s numbers “NEED” to be increased in ultra-running events, because there is something wrong with the fact that it’s kind of stuck at around 20% women begs the question – WHY?

      I don’t see anyone saying — Oh NO – women make up over 50% of a fair number of the larger marathons or half-marathons… so this must be a problem and we need to add men??

      It’s good to always investigate/check why something is out-of-whack in relation to the societal demographics, but gee if we are going to really start concerning ourselves with this —– I don’t see anyone making the same effort into making the demographics match up for say non-whites. Is there some reason those numbers don’t match up. Of course, we can assume/find many of the reasons — but is it imperative or necessary to try to make every demographic group in athletic events just “right”.

      What is always important is truly equal opportunity, and attempting to improve opportunities for those who don’t currently have them.

  18. It is an important topic worthy of careful consideration.
    You have WS and HR lumped together, but there is a unique (and important) difference.
    The WS100 isn’t (IMHO) overly biased on gender participation based on current interest and registration; and, the existing women’s field (including the returning Top 10) is (also IMHO) at least sufficiently large and distributed to create a meaningful race experience for women. There is a critical mass: there are existing and sustainable 100M races with a similar overall starting field (men and women combined). Some improvements could be made to increase participation, but it’s not strictly a bias.

    HR100, OTOH, has a unique *temporal* bias. Because of the lottery structure, the distribution is locked into decades-old participation trends. The organizers are correct that there is no bias in new entries, and that there wasn’t a bias inherent back-in-the-day, but the problem lies with not being able to keep up with modern trends. To me, it’s akin to saying there isn’t a bias in historically male-dominated fields like computer science because of fair enrollment procedures, while ignoring the fact that nearly all of the professors or managers are male. Because of that, there is not a critical mass of women racing HR. This is exacerbated (although not the race’s fault) because of the wide variance in finishing times…All the runners are amazing and work and train their butts off, but wouldn’t it be great if the top bunch of women and the 48-hour runners, and everyone in between, had surrounding women to run with and against? (No disrespect to the amazing history of Darcy, Diana, the Betsy’s, etc. — in fact, the opposite — because of the amazing feats they have achieved with humble resolve).

    The HR lottery has a significant lag, now getting closer to ~10 years, of expected time to entry.
    This one could be improved: the vets and else could be tailored to meet current enrollment trends. The lottery structure is such that a desired balance of vets and rookies has been constructed, but implicitly this means that those factors have been identified as more important distinctions than gender balance. It’s time to re-balance, but it requires sufficient will. To start, 4 or 5 of the 5 ‘secret’ picks should be women. The few ‘vets’ and more ‘else’ women should be included at a higher percentage among their categories, to start generating a critical mass of women’s experience on the course.

  19. I worry that the point is being missed by some — I did not read this as Jason saying the gender-blind lotteries are bad or discriminatory in themselves. He is offering up one solution to the widely accepted unequal gender numbers in ultrarunning. In having these discussions on a much smaller level, my peers and I have been struggling with how to approach the “chicken versus the egg” dilemma of gender inequality (disproportionately low number of women) – which do we tackle first, the low numbers in smaller races or the way things are handled at the top? Jason provides very direct suggestions as to how the leaders of our community can help address it, which is very much heard and appreciated! It is a discussion that needs to be held, and an issue that needs solutions. It has to start somewhere. If anyone has better ideas that Jason, please share them. Because these have been a few of the best I’ve seen so far. Thank you!

    1. Here’s the methodology.. though no guarantee on solution.
      Since Jason finds this to be a troubling “problem” — then he needs to get himself
      (or his surrogates) to attend the expo events for any medium-to-large sized marathon event, and stand at a booth promoting ultra-endurance racing. Even better, he should be giving talks, presentations, seminars wherever he can – specifically promoting the idea of women running in these events (I would say he’d do even better if he had women giving the talks). I’m sure there’s a multitude of other venues – magazine articles, online articles, etc that he should be giving this same spiel to.

      Rather than try to somehow help wedge the limited set of women (who may have missed out on a lottery )– wouldn’t it be much wiser to actually grow the entire set of women who might be interested in the sport?

  20. Thank you for the support! As a female ultra running I would not personally want any special treatment. Ultra running is special in a way that everyone is running the same course on the same day from the person who finishes first to the person who finishes DFL. The trail is the real test and I believe if we treat everyone like the trail does by not seeing gender we are truly equal. Thank you for the support and I will continue to encourage everyone to run ultras.

  21. IMO part of the problem is society has told women/girls in the past NOT to be achievers…..their place was in the home providing support for the y chromosomes in the family to achieve…..I saw this as a young boy especially prominently in the 1950’s, 1960’s & 1970’s. Obviously, this has changed substantially but needs to change even more. Lots of facets to this low entry problem and IMO this is one.

  22. This is a ridiculous premise. The lottery is a gender blind process. Like others have stated, weighting it toward female applicants would introduce gender bias.

    The numbers of women toeing the line at these popular lottery based races reflects the percentages applying.

    I’m missing how this is “bad for all ultra runners.”

    1. I’m missing how this is “bad for all ultra runners.”

      Because this is the accepted dogma of the gender “equality” movement. You look at some numbers and decide that if there are less women than men doing something then it is a problem and something must be done about it. Everything must be equal, all of the time. Realities like the actual number of female applicants don’t matter. Neither does the fact that there is nothing stopping more women running ultras and entering lotteries.

  23. The framing of these articles and threads is simply wrong and unsupported by any data I’ve seen cited to date. There’s no question that participation numbers for women are lower than men. That doesn’t justify the conclusion those numbers result from inequality or bias. I always find myself coming back to the same starting point in this and other threads–there are no gender-based barriers to entry. And it’s interesting that Jason states barriers to entry need to be mitigated and removed without identifying a single gender-based barrier (arguably the point regarding gear makes that case, but I think it’s both weak and increasingly factually unsupportable). What I think is fantastic about Jason’s article is that he’s right up front in explaining the potential benefits of expanding addressable market for the discipline and consequences of failure to do so. It was my daughter–who trained and competed through injury to help win multiple regional and state championships in her endurance discipline, who challenged me to prepare to run an ultra with her, and inspired me to return to running. I love seeing women compete head to head with men–and have thoroughly enjoyed the interactions and encouragement shared with the men and women I’ve been able to train and compete with in trail and ultra disciplines. I have seen reports of unequal treatment, for example in prize money for podium appearances in women’s divisions–but even believe that warrants scrutiny as an unfair discriminatory practice when we see women making open podiums in local, regional and national events which are gender neutral. Instead of coming at this framed as a negative, I recommend we all look at it as a de facto challenge to increase participation in demographics–gender and others–for which the numbers represent clear opportunity. I agree wholeheartedly with Jason’s observations about those opportunities and benefits for the sport, race directors, manufacturers, retailers and participants, of expanding participation. One among many selling points for ultra competition is that the data also supports unvarnished opportunity for women and men to be competitive, and to compete, head to head. That, in my experience and estimation, brings us all closer together. The issue is one of recruitment, not gender or other demographic-based barriers to entry, inequality, and bias. I am prepared to stand corrected, but haven’t seen a data and fact based evaluation to the contrary yet, and think the sport will benefit from a positive approach rather than one that comes off in a way that has us all touching our behinds as if we just got spanked for doing something wrong. I really appreciate, in any event, Jason’s articulate outline of the issue and points he is focused on in support of his perspective, affording us an open and intellectually honest forum in which to comment and learn from one another.

  24. I agree Savannah! I want to be treated the same way as my male runner friends and don’t want special treatment or easier way to get in.

  25. The use of the word “inequality” is so misused these days. A low percentage of female entrants in these events is not a determinant of equality. Are women and men treated equally in the qualifying and lottery process. The answer is yes. Women and men have equal opportunity to qualify for the events, enter the lottery and be selected. There is no inequality against women and no bias in favor of men.

    If you want to argue against bias, then you wouldn’t argue for differing rules based on gender. It is a contradiction to argue against bias or inequality and then argue for separate rules that treat one gender differently than the other.

  26. Pingback: Ultramarathon and Trail Running Daily News | Tue, Dec 5

  27. Additionally, WS already skews their entry process to have greater female participation by their top ten and golden ticket entries. They don’t grant the top 20 finishers (regardless of gender) an entry into the race the following year. They grant the top 10 male and female entrants entry. This process is clearly biased towards females. If the process was not gender biased, a male runner who finishes 14th overall would get entry compared to a female runner who may finish 35th overall. We should remove all gender bias in the sport not instill more bias.

    1. The men’s and women’s races may be on the same course, but they are two different divisions and different races. Shalane Flanagan won the NYC Marathon. Sara Hall won the USATF Marathon Championship. That’s not gender bias. There are just two separate competitions. We don’t make men and women compete against each other for the limited number of spots in the Olympics. When Molly Huddle makes the Olympic team, nobody grumbles about how that spot should should have gone to the No. 3 man in the mens’ trials. That would be absurd.

      1. Well that creates a new argument. In trail running, there aren’t separate, distinct races. Everyone starts at the same time, runs the same course and results are listed together. Likewise, the lotteries and entrants are grouped together without regard to gender.

        I guess the argument could be made that trail races should segregate their races to create different gender based divisions with equal spots to each gender. However, you then have the issue that women would have much higher odds of getting to run the race. I suppose women would mind the higher odds of getting to run the race, but men might complain about the inequality.

  28. Thanks for posting this! I think the stats speak for themselves (and support your argument). I especially like your point about gear and the need for more input from female consumers.

    Many people will say reserved spots are unfair – but I think your underlying argument is that woman have largely been excluded until recently, so the fact that many don’t apply or qualify is a systematic problem that can have a systematic solution. I agree. I think a phased approach might appease your critics- maybe there are 50 reserved women’s spots in year 1, 40 in year 2, 30 in year 3, etc… until the lottery has no reserved again, and hopefully the inequities have (hopefully) been eliminated. I think there will be some ongoing issues. For example, I have a hard time with the fact that women would lose out on a lottery if they are pregnant, and I’d love to see a pregnancy waiver. In any case, thank you for thinking critically about the issue and being willing to speak.

  29. I respectfully disagree with the article. The lotteries are gender neutral and not biased. You don’t solve inequality by inserting gender bias into the process. By arbitrarily setting some quota on the number of female or male participants, you are skewing the odds for that gender – by dictating a certain number of female participants entry into WS, then they would have higher odds of entry than male participants, based on number of entrants and thus the entry process would be gender biased. If you want to remove gender bias, don’t include it as a basis for entry, treat every entrant equally, which is what WS does.

  30. Jason, I respectfully disagree concerning the lotteries. Lotteries are blind. The fact that only 9% of the names drawn for Hardrock may in fact be a result of there being many fewer female names to be drawn than men. I have no problems with encouraging women to participate in any level of running. I have three daughters and I have run marathons with each one as well as with my wife. Running is probably the most inclusive sport there is. Simply pay the entry fee and show up for the start.
    To set a gender quota for lotteries would be unfair in the other direction. Men who have trained just as hard as the women and waited just as long as to hear their name announced would be placed at a disadvantage. I believe this would be a move in the wrong direction. Leave the lotteries as they are and let the chips fall where they may.

    1. I agree with Micah. Lotteries are blind… as they should be! The fact is that there seems to be LESS women runners than men runners; especially in the longer distances. That isn’t anybody’s fault. We can all definitely encourage women to get out there and run/race. I feel like men are more apt to do the longer distances (100 milers) whereas some women aren’t as “gung-ho” about them. I personally love the 50k distance and don’t foresee a 100 miler in my future just yet.
      I have been running for over 6 years and have yet to deal with any inequality issues. All the runners I have met have been amazing! I’ve been treated with respect by both guys and gals in the running communities.

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