Sponsorship And Prize Money: Gender Inequality In Endurance Sports

[Editor’s Note: This is the second of three excerpts we’re publishing from the soon-to-be-released book Daughters of Distance, written by Vanessa Runs about endurance running from the female perspective. While iRunFar is a running website and this excerpt is about gender-inequality issues in cycling, we feel there are relevant parallels between the two sports and the issues women who practice them face. The book will be available for purchase around the end of March. We published the first excerpt last week, ‘Mother Nature is a Woman,’ and we’ll publish the last one next week. Be sure to read all the way through because we’re giving away a copy of the book!]

In most circles, it is accepted that women deserve equal pay for equal work. In endurance cycling however, this topic is still debated. Not only are women paid less, but we can’t quite decide whether they should be paid equally.

All male cyclists who reach the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Pro Continental level are allocated a minimum-wage annual base salary. In 2011, [then] UCI President Pat McQuaid was asked whether female professional cyclists also deserved a minimum base salary. He replied, “I am not so sure. Women’s cycling has not yet developed enough.”

A 2013 survey by the Women’s Cycling Association showed that 50% of female pro cyclists are paid $3,000 or less per year. Because women in cycling cannot earn a living wage, many resort to working fulltime on top of their busy training schedules and personal lives. Women’s cycling suffers a high dropout rate due to financial pressure and a shortage of women’s teams. 2011 National Road Champion Robin Farina works more than 40 hours a week, while training fulltime as a pro cyclist.

Consider the following examples from Kathryn Bertine’s Half the Road: The Passion, Pitfalls & Power of Women’s Professional Cycling:

  • The 2013 UCI calendar had 370 races for the men and only 77 for women.
  • As of 1998, the “Tour de France” would not allow its name to be used for a women’s event.
  • There are 23 UCI events worldwide for junior boys. There are only seven for junior girls.

As Kathryn points out in an ESPN column, the sport of pigeon racing is more lucrative than professional women’s cycling. A pigeon owner with a fast bird can take home 10,000 euros (about $11,000 US). A winning women’s cycling team usually makes $1,000 or less, to be split up between team members. Each athlete may walk away with a couple hundred dollars. In comparison, the top male winner at Paris-Roubaix, a famous cycling race, takes home about $40,000 US. Women are not allowed to race the Paris-Roubaix, and there is no female equivalent.

Here are a few of the arguments behind why women should not be paid equally. Keep in mind: these are not comments from the early 1900s. These are arguments that are made today about female cycling.

  1. Women don’t work as hard.

Because the races are shorter and the stages are fewer, professional female cyclists don’t put in the same amount of training hours that men do. Since there is no equal work, there should be no equal pay.

The counter-argument to this is that riders insist they do indeed train as hard, but that they lack equal opportunities to prove themselves alongside men.

  1. Women aren’t as popular.

There is a lack of market appeal in women’s cycling, and ultimately the market determines how much an athlete should get paid. Spectators don’t want to pay to watch females race.

The counter-argument: The perceived lack of market appeal exists because the media doesn’t cover female racing equally. Cyclist Emma Pooley says, “I’ve heard a lot of people say that the best race they’ve ever seen was the women’s race at the Olympics. A lot of our races are like that, but you don’t get to see it.” Besides, cycling is a sport, not a popularity contest.

  1. Women don’t get enough sponsors.

Sponsors help pay salaries and women don’t get enough. Companies aren’t interested in female athletes because they don’t have as much exposure. It’s not sexist; it’s just a business decision.

But, if women have trouble getting sponsors, it’s because they face handicaps in media and race opportunities. It is not true that female sports are a bad business decision. Colavita and Gold Bee, an olive oil and fine foods company, is one of the biggest sponsors in women’s pro cycling. They originally sponsored both a male and female team, but found the women’s team delivered the greatest value for their brand.

  1. Women aren’t big enough, fast enough, strong enough.

Biologically, men are built better suited for sport. You can’t overlook the fact that men are simply stronger. They ride harder and faster than women.

The counter-argument observes that smaller athletes use different tactics and techniques than larger ones, but that doesn’t make them any less athletic, gifted or entertaining. Bigger is not always better, especially in endurance.

  1. Women don’t get enough media coverage.

Female cycling isn’t news. The public just isn’t interested. Since 50% of the public isn’t interested in women’s sports, they shouldn’t get half the coverage.

Countering this, it can be argued that it’s impossible to measure interest when there is little coverage, and few opportunities to see women play. In 2013, 10,000 people signed an online petition over two days asking women to be allowed to race the Tour [de France]. Three weeks later, nearly 100,000 people had signed. So much for no interest.

  1. Women have less competition.

Because fewer women are racing, the competition is soft. A woman who gets first female because she’s the only female does not deserve the same prize money as the first male who had to best hundreds of his competitors.

But, female athletes should not be penalized because other women choose not to race. Especially at the elite level, both genders have put in comparable time and training. Female participation is growing. Remember that women have only been allowed to participate for a short amount of time.

What can we do to improve these glaring inequalities? Here are some ideas courtesy of The Women’s Sports Foundation:

  • Attend women’s sporting events;
  • Support companies that advocate for women’s athletics;
  • Encourage television stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports;
  • Sign up to coach a girls’ sports team, whether at the recreational or high school level;
  • Encourage young women to participate in sports; and,
  • Become an advocate: if you are or know a female athlete who is being discriminated against, advocate for her rights.

These are not women’s issues. These are societal issues of deep concern to both men and women. We don’t just need women fighting this battle—inequality lowers the quality of sport for us all, not to mention diluting the spirit of camaraderie and competition. We need to change this together.

In her book, As Good as Gold, Kathryn Bertine says that many devoted ESPN readers have promised to print out her columns and give them to their daughters to read. Kathryn thanks them, but suggests they also share her words with their sons. She writes:

I believe the beauty of athletics knows no gender boundaries, as stories of loss, triumph, underdogs, and superstars all ring true to male and female athletes alike. Giving boys articles on female athletes will have an incredible if subtle impact on gender equality. Straight from the womb, many girls, like boys, have innate athletic drive and ambition. Imagine what strides could be made—what female athletes of all ages and abilities could achieve—if women’s sports were given equal coverage and attention to men’s.

Many team sports like tennis and volleyball have their own extreme examples of gender disparity [as well]. To learn more about the plight of females in non-endurance sports, I recommend watching the short film by ESPN Women called Title IX. In the end, we are all fighting the same battle and a win for one sport is a win for active women everywhere.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

We realize that gender inequality in sports is a sensitive topic, and we ask that the conversations that occur in the comments section be respectful. Disagreeing and alternative opinions are always welcome as long as they are presented in a constructive manner. Thank you in advance.

  • Vanessa has focused on gender disparities in cycling, but they exist in endurance running as well. What gender-based inequalities do you observe in the trail and ultrarunning community?
  • Are there any opportunities that women in endurance running have that men don’t? As in, can you think of any examples in which women have better access or treatment than their male counterparts?
  • What are some specific things our community can do to continue promoting gender-based equality for women in our sport?

Giveaway Contest

[Editor’s Note: The contest is now closed. Thanks for entering!]

There are 70 comments

  1. Mic_Med

    Alright, I'll be the d*!k here. Women's sports do not get as much media coverage because women's sports don't have as many fans. Simple as that. The media is so much smarter than anyone gives them credit for. IF there was an interest, the media would cover it. I follow soccer, fanatically. I've watched hundreds and hundreds of men's soccer matches. I've watched 1 women's match in it's entirety and that was with having the ability and access to it. It didn't appeal to me. The women's world cup gets the same amount of air time as the men's…. but the numbers don't come close to equating. So, follow the road: Less interest means less media coverage. Less media coverage means less access/availability which equals less opportunities for marketing which means less sponsorship money. Unfair would be paying someone MORE than they deserve based on gender.

    1. alicia_h

      A couple of things:

      "IF there was an interest, the media would cover it."
      The article addresses this very point: "Cyclist Emma Pooley says, “I’ve heard a lot of people say that the best race they’ve ever seen was the women’s race at the Olympics."" The article also mentions 100,000 signatures in three weeks on a petition asking for women to be allowed to race at the TDF. So, I'm not sure that your own personal lack of interest is truly representative of the public in general.

      Second, have you considered that your lack of interest in women's soccer matches might have something to do with the discrepancy between you having watched hundreds and hundreds of men's matches while only having watched one women's match? It's hard to be engaged/interested in something that you know nothing about and have no experience with. I find that for pretty much any sport, the more you follow it, the more interesting it becomes.

      1. Mic_Med

        Thanks alicia for the reply. I'll go in reverse order answering your questions: My lack of interest in women's soccer does not come from a lack of knowledge. I follow women's soccer, know the teams, know the players, know the superstars, etc, just find the product less appealing. That's simply an opinion I hold, but it's also an opinion that mirrors the majority.
        Second, the article does NOT address my point. The article says "Cyclist Emma Pooley says, “I’ve heard a lot of people say that the best race they’ve ever seen was the women’s race at the Olympics." The article gives conjecture based on supposedly hearing from "a lot of people." Furthermore, you can't point to ONE event with ONE specific outcome and try to apply that over a broad field. Example: The US and Canada played an absolutely thrilling 4-3 soccer match in 2012. Incredible match. But the 5 matches preceding it and the 5 matches following it were dull and the ratings were terrible. So, based on that one incredible match, I can't make a blanket statement that women's soccer is the best thing ever.
        Also, a petition getting 100k worth of signatures is insignificant in 2015. In less than a week "Deport Justin Bieber" reached 100k. The viewing audience of a given Tour de France is close to 3.5 BILLION people. What that tells me is this: 3.5 Billion people are happy enough with the TdF to watch it, while 100k want it to change… but will probably still watch it.

        1. alicia_h

          So much of this could go either way, though. Yes, you could say Emma Pooley's statement is just conjecture, but equally you could say that your leap from "I'm not interested" to "the public isn't interested" is an even greater amount of conjecture. In the same vein, you could say that 100k signatures on a petition isn't much, but you could also say that, considering that only a tiny fraction of the people who agree with the petition will have ever even seen it, let alone taken the time to sign it, that 100k suggests there is a much bigger number of people out there who would like to watch a women's TDF. Keep in mind that a women's TDF would almost certainly be broadcast separately from the men's, so you're talking about viewers who would watch an additional program if it were to be made.

          As far as the issue of following women's soccer, I would say that there's a huge difference between reading about it online and actually watching it.

          I certainly wouldn't disagree that there is *less* interest in women's cycling (and ultrarunning) than there is in men's. But I think there is enough interest (not to mention talent/effort/training) to warrant better coverage of the women's events, and with that better coverage will likely come increased interest. This phenomenon (more media coverage—>more interest) has been played out over and over again in many different subjects, ultrarunning, for men at least, being a prime example!

          1. Mic_Med

            I read about it online and have tried to watch the matches. The quality of play is higher on the men's side which provides a better viewing product from my point of view. Simple. It's not a politcally correct answer, but I'm not alone in that opinion as the numbers back it up.

    2. Matt Flaherty

      I see how your argument is logically appealing, but I think the reality is far more complex. So you're not interested in women's soccer as much as you are in men's soccer. But who's to say that if equal media coverage, equal pay, equal sponsorship opportunities, etc. had existed throughout your entire life; and that if compelling stories about sportswomen had been told by media, by friends, by your parents, etc.; that you wouldn't be equally interested in women's soccer? I know you don't _think_ that you are biased (in your words, you "follow women's soccer, know the teams, know the players, know the superstars, etc, just find the product less appealing"), but the reality is that a anti-women-in-sports bias has been part of your entire life (as it has all of ours) and it's impossible to know what you might think in a more equal society.

      I had a professor once who explained affirmative action (and this issue is relevantly similar) with a useful analogy (and one that will appeal to us as runners!). Say you have two people running a 10k race. Runner #1 begins the race with no issues, while the other runner has to carry a 30 lb weight from the start. Partway into the race, as one might expect, the unburdened runner has completed 5k while the other runner has only managed 2k, struggling with the massive weight. Then, realizing things might be unfair, we take away the weight that runner #2 has to carry. Nobody is burdened by anything anymore. So all is equal and great, right? No. It's pretty obvious that due to _what has happened in the past_ even a superficially "equal" playing field now (halfway through the race) is not equal at all.

      Runner #1 is of course your male athlete, while the other runner is your female athlete. The male has run unburdened from the start, while females are burdened by all sorts of things (lack of opportunity or outright bans to competing, lack of participation due to societal pressure and gender role norms, lack of equal coverage by media, etc.). Some (not all) of these inequalities have been removed. So superficially the playing field is now (closer to) equal. We can point to equal media coverage (in the case of World Cup soccer, for example), then point to the numbers, and say, "see, there just isn't interest in women's sports—they don't deserve the same opportunities/money because it's a business decision and there isn't requisite demand… sorry!" But just as in the analogy, a superficially equal playing field does not mean that things are actually equal.

      Even once there is equality in media coverage, sponsorship dollars, race opportunities, etc. (which again, is not yet a reality), women will _still_ face an uphill battle for a while. This isn't because their stories aren't compelling or they're any less interesting or tough or hard-working than men. It is because of past gender inequalities that are systemic in our culture, and still pervade much of the sports world.

      1. Mic_Med

        I get your response. It's a very "college" response. In college they taught me that 2+2 does not equal 4, because what if it's 2 gallons + 2 quarts = 4 pounds. Blah blah. But in this case, 2+2 does in fact equal 4. And here's what I mean: Market a women's world cup match the same as a men's world cup match and see who gets more viewers. Men's. Right? So I get it, I'm not dense and I'm not sexist, but you can't force people to watch something they don't want to. You can't gain viewers just cause "it's the right thing." More men watch sports than women. Fact. Men's sports are more popular. Fact. So what do you want to happen? And you can say it's not that simple (and your analogy is spot on by the way) but it really is that simple. It's not fair, and it's not right, but it's the reality.

        1. @amysproston

          "More men watch sports than women. Fact. Men's sports are more popular. Fact." Maybe therein lies the problem. I don't necessarily care what happens at the front of the men's pack of an ultra. If I'm going to watch iRunfar preview videos, I'm far more likely to watch the women. I'm more interested in the women's results. Just like with track and field, I watch a lot of Flotrack videos of T&F events, 90% of them being the women's events. I'd rather watch women compete, in part, because I can relate to it. I get frustrated when I watch a major marathon on TV and they only broadcast the men, with a few shots of the women thrown in, often missing any breakaways, etc. Maybe more men watch sports because a majority of televised sports are of men competing, and many women aren't really that interested? Maybe I dislike football as much as I do because it's a bunch of overweight dudes tackling each other, which I really just can't connect with.

          And no, it’s really not that simple. The fact that my mother, who is 71, wouldn’t have even had the option of competing in the Boston Marathon until she was almost 30 is a little unfathomable to our generation. Women are still relatively new to distance running; our moms didn’t even have the option. It’s going to take some time, and maybe the need for a little unequal boost towards promoting women (even if less popular) to make up for decades of inequality.

          1. Mic_Med

            But the problem isn't the media's problem. As I keep saying, the media is not dumb. If the viewership demanded more coverage of women, the media would provide it. If you want more coverage of women marathons, then get more people interested in woman's marathoning. If you dislike the NFL, guess what, they're still covering it because America LOVES the NFL. I hate the NFL, but I'm not mad that it's on every network channel on Sunday.

          2. @SageCanaday

            Hey Amy…I don't watch football as well (much for the same reasons!).

            But in referring to some of the comments above from guys:
            Because we are guys we have to admit that there is some inherent bias…you can't just say you're unbiased… – And Matt's comments are great…our society (and childhood views) have shaped our perceptions and values (distorted now as they may be).

            We have a long way to go to close the gap, but the first step is awareness of these discrepancies…so articles like this are great!

            One positive thing we see in the US is that in terms of actual numbers I think we have more women running half marathons and marathons on the road. Prize money structures on the road/track are equal. Also, for some bigger event races (even the LA Marathon coming up) there is an elite women's start that goes off before the elite guys and masses. Hopefully something like this can help showcase the top women's field (and make it easier to cover). But these are just small steps…there is much work to be done to allow women more opportunity in sport (and, maybe even more importantly, to influence and empower younger generations of future female athletes)

            1. @eLLiejG

              I would LOVE to see an ultra where the women start first and then the men. The Vancouver Sun Run (50, 000) participants is for the first time this April starting the women well ahead of the men so the first person over the line will be a women and thus showcase their performances. If you ever fancy a 10k road race Sage, it's a great one. Good luck at LA.

          3. @amysproston

            And it's really not that simple. Decades of inequality have created inequalities and biases that are more complex than "more people like to watch men's sports." My mother, who is 71, couldn't have even run the Boston Marathon until she was almost 30. This is so recent, yet almost unfathomable to me.

        2. Matt Flaherty

          In my opinion, you're mistaking realism for reductionism.

          The example you give in your response, which is the same you made earlier, is one single example from which you draw fairly sweeping conclusions with little context. The relevant inquiry is _why_ are men's sports more popular and _why_ do more men watch and participate in sports than women? It almost certainly has to do with pervasive and enduring gender inequalities and the legacy of many, many years of unequal opportunities.

          I think the "college" reference is meant to be condescending and to make my argument seem immature or somehow otherwise failing to see reality. But I don't think you actually discounted my argument at all, which is to look at your women's soccer example in a broader context.

          One last thought for your consideration. As a male, it is actually impossible for you (or me) to know what it's like to be a female athlete. Discrimination is a lot harder to see when you're not the one being discriminated against. For that reason alone, I think women's opinions on this issue are worth paying close attention to.

          1. Mic_Med

            No, it doesn't have to do with pervasive and enduring gender inequalities. It's economics. If women's sport had interest, the media and broadcasters would cover it. These aren't stupid people, it's their profits. If a women's only marathon would make them money on TV, they'd show it. It doesn't. It's not due to gender inequalities, it's a lack of interest. It's dollars and cents.
            The "college" reference is because you're giving complicated answers to simple questions. Why are women's sports not popular? Due to a lack of interest. The interest isn't lacking because of coverage or dollars, it's lacking because people aren't as interested. Men watch sports more than women, men watch men. It's not complicated. It's that simple.
            And your final thought for consideration is crap cause it has no bearing on what I'm trying to say. The question is why are women's sports not as popular? The answer is a lack of interest. Not because I'm a male, not because I don't know what it's like to be discriminated against.

            1. Matt Flaherty

              I appreciate your opinion, though I (quite clearly) hold a different view on the matter. You say women's sports aren't as popular because of a simple lack of interest, I say it's complicated and due in large part to our culture and history. Maybe this even reflects differing world views altogether! Either way, seems we may just have to agree to disagree on this one. :)


            2. Mic_Med

              I tip my fedora to.you. Listen, you're intelligent and your responses were valid. I'm 100% for equal playing fields, equal prize money, etc. I'm debating your reason for a lesser interest in sport when what I should have done is made it more clear I simply believe current interest needs to be expanded before coverage expands. Anyways, well played and thanks for commenting.

      2. @eLLiejG

        One of the reasons that I love ultrarunning is because of the men who hold opinions like Matt's expressed above and in his other comments – total support for women participants. Great thoughts Matt.

      3. wMichaelOwen

        Great response Matt and great affirmative action analogy. After all, it was just 1967 when the race director tried to tackle Kathrine Switzer off of the Boston Marathon course and another 5 years until women were actually allowed to enter the race officially.

        When did men start running marathons? – it has been so common place that no one has ever questioned men running the distance. Now, I am at least glad that society can accept that women can run 26.2 miles and way beyond. However, we are still a far way off from inherently discriminating against women in society and in running. Some comments and posts on this article show this.

        Sometimes when I catch myself being discriminatory against a sex, race, etc. I try to flip the script. So, what if men were not allowed to run marathons until the 70's? How would men feel about trying to play "catch up" for the next century? This is hard to do, but it should at least start making everyone think.

        Mic_Med's central argument about why women are discriminated against is because there is a lack of interest. This viewpoint is trying to make something that is really complex too simple. Viewpoints like this add to gender inequality and confirms that it still exists.

    3. Meghan Hicks


      Those who study the psychology of sports fans will tell you that people become fans of a particular sport when they develop intellectual and emotional connections with the sport itself–the actual movement, the tactics, etc.–and the teams and/or athletes who play it. There’s a chicken-egg argument here, that coverage/exposure to women’s sports is a prerequisite to women’s sports developing a fan base. In this model, it is, thus, the media and women’s sponsors which then have the opportunity to provide potential fans with access to female athletes, to help develop a fan base, and to help grow women’s sports.

    4. colbra23


      I'm a football fanatic too and I personally prefer men's code to women's. I agree with the "less interest =less coverage=less sponsorship". However THAT vicious cycle is the problem.

      In marketing, you usually get out what you put in.

      FIFA spent almost $2 Billion (not million) marketing the Brazil men's World Cup tournament. It raised $3Billion revenue ($529M just from ad revenue). not bad ROI.
      Sadly, FIFA spent only $90 million on the Women's World Cup in Canada. It raised only $17 million ad revenue. If FIFA spent more muscle promoting the Women's code, sponsorship would come with it, and then the players can be paid accordingly.

      And there is interest in the women's code, if not from you or me: The 2015 Women's World Cup final was THE most-watched U.S. football match in US history — including men's, and more Americans watched the Women’s Final than the 2015 NBA Finals (13.9 million) or the Stanley Cup finals (7.6 million).

      It's also quite alarming to know while 40% of all athletes are female, women's sports receive only 4% of all sports media coverage in the United States. What sort of support of women's sport do you expect to receive when 12 hours of US local network news segments cover men's sport, and only 32 segments (about 23 min) feature women’s sports. A study showed from 405 national segments (nearly 14 hr footage), 376 segments covered men’s sports (over 13 hr) and only 13 segments featured women’s sports (17 min). Embarrassing.

      If it's all about bigger, better, faster, stronger etc and that's the reason we don't watch women's sport, then why is boxing still popular? Why do people bother watching the lighter divisions under Heavyweight? :)

  2. @BourryYang

    Isn't it often easier for women to win prize money in ultrarunning? Take the TNF50 in San Francisco last year. As far as I'm aware there were equal prizes for men and women, yet there were 108 women competing for the prizing against 427 men. The gap between the top 5 men was only 17 minutes, but there was nearly an hour between the top 5 women.

    1. Meghan Hicks


      This conversation pertains to argument six in Vanessa’s book excerpt. “Easier” is certainly not the word I would use. In your specific example of the TNF EC 50 Mile Championship in San Francisco, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the course and the times the top women are putting down on it, but they are running so bleeping fast. :) Indeed, the women’s field remains less deep at that (and most) races than the men’s field, but that does not mean that doing the work at the front of the women’s field is somehow “easier” than doing the work at the front of the men’s field. I have watched this race take place for almost all the years the race has happened (and a lot of races around the world each year), and I’d argue that the lead women and men behave exactly the same: they are working to the furthest extent of their capacity that day. Maybe you mean that the statistical probability of a woman winning prize money is higher?

    2. wnyates

      Have to agree with Meghan on this one. Maybe the women's field at TNF50 wasn't as deep as the men's for that race, BUT why wasn't it as deep? "There is more depth in men's ultra running" seems to be a consistent argument from people, but does anyone stop to think why? I would put money on it that if more money was given to women ultra runners you would see deeper women's fields. The only way Michele was able to afford to go to TNF50 in 2013 was because she won prize money at Run Rabbit Run 100. If she didn't win RRR 100, you would have had the winner of the TNF50 race that year not even be there.

    3. @eLLiejG

      @BourryYang, I hope that you are not suggesting that women should receive less prize money at events such as TNF50? As you know from the workouts you do with myself and many other female athletes (Kim, Anne Marie etc) we work our asses off just as much as the men do. There was a rare occassion when I was the leading woman in a VFAC workout and for a millisecond I felt pleased, then within a millsecond I came to my senses and said to myself 'who cares if I'm leading a VFAC workout, if I want to win Comrades I've got to chase down as many of the men ahead of me as possible'. Women put in equal work, women deserve the current recognition in races such as TNF50 of equal prize money.

      1. idonotrunfar

        Don't you think that to get true equality everybody should be in the same race with one unique mixed category ?

  3. Matt Flaherty

    Agree with Meghan here, that "easier" might be a touchy characterization, because there is no doubt in my mind that the top women are working every bit as hard as the top men. And "easy" might make someone think you mean that they aren't working as hard, which isn't the case.

    I take your point about the depth of the field though (both total numbers, and in most cases, competitiveness—as illustrated by the 1-5 gap in your example). The depth on the women's side probably isn't quite as great as on the men's side right now, but that is in direct correlation with participation. Hardly the top women's fault. And any possible benefit one might think they get by winning prize money in a comparatively less-deep field, I'm sure is in most cases greatly outweighed by lesser opportunities elsewhere due to gender inequalities in the sport. If we truly want an equal sport, there will be some minor distortions like this (to borrow from my affirmative action comparison in my previous comment, you see similar protestations like "isn't it easier for X minority to get into this school or get this job"… logically appealing, sure, but only one data point in a very complex set).

    For a non-gendered example, let's compare the ultra scene on the men's side 10+ years ago to today's scene. Would Scott Jurek have won seven straight WS100s in today's era? Impossible to say, but it seems pretty unlikely. He had it slightly easier, comparatively, in terms of depth of competition. Does that mean Scott isn't a great runner or that he didn't work hard or that he wasn't deserving of money/opportunities/recognition? Of course not.

  4. andrealopezba

    I received a very analyzable comment from a guy, running Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge last year regarding my choosing of a Salomon skirt for the event: "I would not have chosen THAT to run this race". And I won't even go to the point that those skirts have compression tights underneath, that they are long enough to prevent chafing, etc. and thus are a very rational choice. The level of comfort for him to judge my choices as wrong and explained by the vanity of the gender was disgusting. Sadly, I did not finish the race, but the skirt had nothing to do with it.

    1. Mic_Med

      I'm curious why that comment is so outrageous? If he saw you wearing racing flats and posed the same question, would he be sexist?

  5. ftmsb

    Does anyone know if there are sports that are on par? I know women sometimes (often?) top the prize money rankings in FIS nordic skiing (see e.g. http://www.fis-ski.com/cross-country/news-multime…. I suspect (but do not know) that prize money is the same for both men and women. Women race shorter distances, but race just as often as the men. Based solely on crowd sizes from watching world cup feeds of nordic races, the men's and women's events seem to draw equal crowds. I do not know if it is the same on the alpine side. I also do not know if men and women are earning anywhere near the same from endorsements.

    I wonder what it is about one sport that allows for equal (or more nearly equal) treatment between the genders? Is there simply a longer history of participation by both men and women in the countries that drive nordic skiing (think Norway, Sweden, etc.)?

    In the running (and cycling) world, the whole thing does seem very much like a chicken and egg problem. Does marketing drive the audience or does the audience drive the marketing?

    1. alicia_h

      Funny, I had just started wondering the same thing. I was actually thinking that, although road running still has its inequalities, it makes for an interesting comparison to ultrarunning since at least in comparison to ultrarunning, the prizes and coverage are more equal. I was thinking a bit about why that might be and came up with a few possibilities:

      -Ultras have the false-but-widely-believed myth that the biological advantage of men disappears at ultra distances. This one is on my mind because I wrote a blog post about it recently, after being frustrated to find that it was still around, http://aliciasrunningandracing.blogspot.com/2015/…. That's a problem for women's ultrarunning because it provides a supposed justification for dismissing women's ultrarunning performances if they don't match up to those of men.

      -Ultras often have less depth in the women's field, leading to perceptions like the one above that it's "easy" for the top women to do well or that the race isn't as interesting as the men's. But I wonder whether people who feel that women's ultrarunning isn't interesting because the fields sometimes lack depth would also say that, for example, the TNF 50 men's race wasn't interesting because a lot of the top international runners weren't there? Or is it maybe time to stop penalizing runners for whoever doesn't happen to show up?

      -Road running nowadays has pretty much equal participation from both men and women, whereas ultras still have a greater percentage of men running. It's only natural that male ultra runners are going to be more interested in the results of other men than of women.

  6. mikehinterberg

    It's an interesting topic certainly worthy of dialog. I think the strongest part of the essay are the bullet points on what to do to address disparities closer to the roots of access. Matt's comments are spot-on: "It's complex."

    Cycling has had high-profile issues with prize disparities (among other things). My impression is that running generally does a better job of this — would like to hear more input. In the cases where it didn't, &lt ;https://www.irunfar.com/2012/09/the-politics-of-prize-money.html>e.g. the Indiana Trail 100, it was rightfully rectified. To be fair, though, another cycling example would be the USA Pro Cycling Challenge race in Colorado. It's been difficult to engender(!) multi-stage bike racing in the US, but the USAPCC has now settled on a profitable model after a few wildly successful (but highly unknown) test years. This year, there will be a women's race, which many of us are very much looking forward to. It's very unlikely that both races would have been able to succeed if they were attempted from the beginning. So, 'it's complex.'

    For actual advantages in access of endurance events, a scant few might include the fact that, even adjusted for age and gender, it has been shown that the young female qualifying group for Boston is disproportionately easier than others, based on performance standards. Ironically, middle-aged women have one of the hardest standards! There are some pretty cool women's only endurance events. My wife has done a few and the energy and spirit on the course is great. I'm all for it.

    For inequalities (among numerous), some of the worst, as several people have mentioned, are inappropriate sexualized comments (e.g. based on how someone looks or dresses). Some have even been made in comments on this website in the past. There's no place for this, and no place to stand by and tolerate it if you hear it. Another thing is safety — whether real or perceived (depending on the location or situation), women may have to worry to a degree about going for a run by themselves. We had an unfortunate case in Colorado this year of a series of assaults on women walking or jogging at night; to make things worse, people would make judgmental comments on how it was foolish for women to be out by themselves at night in the first place! Frankly, this sucks.

    A commenter used the word "easier" in regard to gender competition in some situations, which might not have been the best word choice, but I think the idea of being honest about differences in competition is important in addressing it. I think he was pointing out how the variance of time across the top 5 in the women was larger. A more salient (yet extreme) example might be the inaugural Run Rabbit Run race, in which payouts went 5-deep but there were only 4 female finishers! That means *any* 5th place finisher would have been in the money. Similarly, local fast female friends of mine have made comments about placing well in less-competitive events, downplaying their own achievements as being sub-par as they weren't really pushed…

    …which is also a drawback. As Vanessa said, it's not an individual racers fault as to what the competition is! Anyone who is competitive enjoys deep competition to draw the best out of themselves. In this regard (and others), women have less opportunity to train and race hard against each other, and/or for younger girls to see enough role models and success, and have it be encouraged by parents and mentors (let alone peers), than boys.

    One thing that's pretty cool about running, though, is we really can mix it up together, whether in races or training. We have races where different distances overlap, and in training, even the fastest have easy days or hard days that might overlap well with somebody else of different ability, at least for a few miles.
    There are no easy answers, as it's a complex question, but there's good work already being done, and more work to do.

  7. jjgolightly

    The best thing I can see to do, as the article says, is to take the time to promote your daughters, sisters, girlfriends, wives,all women you know in sport, TAKE YOUR SONS, boyfriends, SO's, to their events, share female athletes successes and failures with them, and then maybe we can start to see some genuine changes, and more respect for women's athletics. Great article series, looking forward to reading Vanessa Runs's "Daughters of Distance"!

    As far as the running environment goes, I feel well-supported by the men in my immediate running community and in my family. That said, once I go further out, I definitely experience preconceived assumptions about my running, that I am not as good as my husband, or the men I run with, and that my running is "cute". In reading the blogs, articles, and posts I follow in social media and in the news, I find that the disparities in compensation for all elite runners, especially compared to other sports, is out in the media more these days. I do see more of this being voiced by female elite road runners, which may indicate an even greater disparity between male and female elite road runners. In the trail running world, it seems that it is still a fairly quiet sport in the media, especially in the US. I don't know enough about the compensations in Europe between male and female runners, only it appears that men and women both, are very much lauded for their achievements. I hope that the US will follow suit in seeing trail running as incredibly as in Europe. I know I am always talking and cheering for road and trail runners everywhere. Thank you for the article, and for this site where we can follow this amazing sport!

  8. WillinDbq

    Lots of good points here on a very complex topic. I don't have much to add except that I think it's awesome to have a mostly civilized and articulate discussion on a forum that includes some of the elites like Sage, Matt and Amy (go Norse!) as well as some not-so (or not-yet!) elites like the rest of us. Thanks to Meghan and Bryon and all the contributors for creating this space for all of us to talk about the sport we're passionate about!

  9. Bryon of iRunFar

    Hi All,
    I'm over in Spain working hard to cover the pending TNF Transgrancanaria race, but I wanted to briefly chime in and thank all of you for so thoughtfully and civilly discussing such a touchy subject. Surely not everyone will agree on all points and nor should we, but having a true dialogue, even if it means only respectfully sharing and listening to one another's views without any change in our own, is valuable and, I dare say, reassuring. Thank you so much!


  10. kjz

    I'm pretty sure I could ramble on about this for awhile, but I'll stick with a few thoughts.

    1. I appreciate iRunFar for providing excellent coverage for both men and women. I do think we can still work to still highlight the complete top 10 or top 20 women just as we do men. I know it means someone stands at an aid station to record who that 7-8-9-10th woman is if it's a more spread out field… I've been that person standing there. I've arranged for someone to text me info after I left so I could fwd the info on. I do feel like iRunFar is setting the bar really high for equal coverage and I appreciate that. I hope it continues to spill over to other entities that are providing coverage in running… maybe we can even positively influence the TnF side?!!?

    Where I'm going with this is that I think you have to have some media coverage to stir the interest. I don't have a TV, but if I did, I can only watch what's covered. If I want to follow women's sports on my computer, I can only find what's posted. If it's not posted, I can't watch/follow it, and then how can I develop an even greater appreciation of that sport and the folks in it? Chicken and egg? maybe, but…

    2. Equal prize money to equal depths is a must. why does it matter if the 5th woman had an hour gap back from 4th and the 5th man was only 5 min. Why does that diminish the effort that the 5th, 6th, 7th woman put in fighting for the last pay-out spot? pay it and don't make a big deal about it except to cheer just as hard for 5th as for 1st.

    3. Shoe companies and gear companies… make women's specific versions of your stuff. stop making me fit into unisex stuff. or instead… how about you make the men fit into women's stuff. No? :) we buy lots of gear and we like to rip it up with properly fitting stuff, too… and we buy tons of stuff for family members and friends, so… :) Properly fitting gear can only help.

    4. National teams–pay for your women like you pay for your men to go to the international competitions or national team comps or whatever. why is this hard? why would one of our elite/sub-elite women choose to rep at a team USA event if there's not enough $ to help cover the cost for the women's team vs the men's or only will cover a portion of the women's team but all of the men's?

    We're only 2 generations out from Title IX. We have tons of room to improve and to grow and to surpass old records and etc. Give us an equal chance!

  11. Meghan Hicks

    Earlier Matt Flaherty said, “The relevant inquiry is _why_ are men’s sports more popular and _why_ do more men watch and participate in sports than women? It almost certainly has to do with pervasive and enduring gender inequalities and the legacy of many, many years of unequal opportunities.”

    I couldn’t agree more with Matt, on multiple levels.

    I’d love to hear a comment from someone my mother’s age, or Amy Sproston’s mother’s age, who could provide a bird’s-eye view into what it was like to attempt female athletics back then. That fact is that sports for women my mother’s age in western cultures were in their infancy. Few sports opportunities existed for women, so there weren’t many female athletes. And even more, there wasn’t a culture that supported women’s athletics, that encouraged women to do sports. That was literally so recent, while there were, in some cases, men’s sports already hundreds of years old. The development of women’s sports is operating on a totally different timetable than men’s sports, and I think it’s, thus, incongruous to even compare, for example, men’s and women’s trail running. Apples and oranges. It’s my opinion that we almost have to look at women’s sports as an independent entity.

    The development of a female fan base for (both women’s and men’s) sports is arguably operating on an even more delayed timetable than male fan bases for sports. For a long time in western cultures, several generations, it’s been culturally acceptable and encouraged that men watch athletics in their leisure time. Be it in Europe or the U.S., stadiums, bars, and people’s living rooms are typically filled mostly with men when sports are being watched. As a fan of sports since I was a kid, I’ve often found myself as one of the few females in sports-watching situations. The idea of women devoting leisure time to the watching of sports, of whatever gender, has only recently come into public acceptance. So very, very, very few women, in comparison to the volume of men who do it, define ‘watching sports’ as one of their pastimes. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to, and that we won’t do so in the future (perhaps also in ways that look very different from the ways men watch sports), this just means that this culture is in its infancy. Again, in my opinion, it’s an illegitimate statement to say that, simply, fewer women want to watch sports as compared to men.

    Finally, media coverage of women’s sports. I agree with earlier commenter Mic_Med’s statement about coverage of women’s sports reflecting interest, as least when it comes to major networks providing mainstream coverage. Major networks are bound to viewership, ratings, and advertising as they are in constant battle with the bottom line and other networks. Their business models, thus, require them to balk at coverage of women’s sports when they can get 10 times the viewership for showing a men’s competition instead. Women’s sports will be perpetually screwed by big-money anticking, as no big (existing) network is going to walk out into left field to spend five or 10 years devoting themselves to developing/supporting women’s sports when they can make much more money off men’s sports. I stand by my earlier statement, however, that media coverage is one of the biggest ways we can develop women’s sports, by bringing forth stories and allowing potential fans to get to know the women and teams and experiences being had on the proverbial playing field. As trail and ultrarunning media grows, it will be, in my opinion, really important that media avoids constraining itself by that same big-business model of mainstream sports broadcasting. Unfortunately, I already see hints of it dropping into our sport but I still think that we’re in place where we (athletes, sponsors, fans, media) can choose who and what we want to be.

    Like a few others have said, thank you for the productive and kindly discussion here, everyone.

  12. @LRMuir

    This article is extremely refreshing. I wonder what we can do in our everyday lives to help combat this. The sexism in running is strong. Ever hear a male runner say: "I just got chicked!" or "I almost got chicked, but I just couldn't let that happen!" There are interviews here on irunfar where some very talented male athletes say things like that.

    It's sexist and we need to start calling each other out on these things! Also, why don't people find women's sports as entertaining? Because American society is patriarchal and values male athletes far above female athletes. We truly don't see females and males as equals, which is the root of such inequality.

    We need to change our mindsets individually and foster respect and equality in our daily lives, families, and communities. These little things is where the change begins.

  13. idonotrunfar

    If we want true equality across gender, races, ages, BMI, weight, height, diet, # of working hours, # of kids, hair color, muscles fibers, genes, etc… then the solution is:

    Do a race with everybody in the same group and the fastest one wins and prizes are attributed based on positions.

    Simple as that.

    Anything else that divides into groups is discriminatory in its own way.

    What if a 37yo runner wins the race, should he wins X% more compared if a 25yo runner wins because he is 12 year older ? Is it an injustice if he doesn't ?

    Anyone want to discuss whether #10 should be equal paid to #1 because he put as much work (if not more) as #1 ? :-)

  14. PatRunsInVA

    "Bigger is not always better, especially in endurance." Bigger might not always be better, but in a running race, faster is better. I think for most observers, there will be more interest in whoever happens to be the very fastest runner in a race. Every once in a while this will be a woman, but in elite races this hardly ever happens. Until it does, I think you'll see women generating somewhat less popularity and sponsorship money. It's not sexism; it's just a natural curiosity about people who are able to perform at the very highest levels and redefine what we as humans are capable of. This is what draws most people to pay attention to sports in the first place, and you can't blame people for appreciating it.

    1. @amysproston

      I have to disagree. I don't expect that in an elite marathon field that a woman is going to win. It's never going to happen and if you think it will you're delusional. I still care to watch the women's elite pack, because they are at the top of the game, and watching them, to me, is exciting. Women and men are built differently. Women are never going to approach the 2:03 marks that men are putting down. Does that make a 2:20 woman any less exciting to watch? To me, not at all. There is a gender difference and yes, the above comment is sexist.

      In ultras you occasionally see a woman winning overall; I have for that matter. But that's purely a factor of who shows up on race day. In a competitive field, like Comrades or Boston, a woman is never going to compete for the overall win, but that in no way lessens the excitement of the race or (my) interest in the women's field. Take Ellie at Comrades last year. Was that not exciting to watch because she only passed the Russians and didn't catch up to the lead guys?

      1. PatRunsInVA

        Thanks for responding. I definitely agree that the women's races are often competitive, exciting, and very much worth watching. On many occasions, I've been impressed by an especially fast female, or for that matter, an older or younger athlete who is especially good for their age. Anyone who only pays attention to the top elite males in a sport is missing out. But, with that said, I just think that if most people are given a choice, they're going to say that seeing the very fastest athletes would be their preference.

        I was a swimmer in college, and had some success at the Division III level. I loved it, and would be excited to go see a Division III meet today, but if I had the choice of seeing any swim meet, I'd pick Division I over Division III, and I'd pick the Olympics over an NCAA meet if that were an option.

    2. ftmsb

      I don't know if I buy that argument in endurance sports. A close and well-fought race among a leading pack will in my opinion be more interesting than a blow out by an individual runner, even if the blow out is run faster. From a fan and spectator perspective, I would argue that the relative speed of the field is more important than the absolute speed of the winner. So the depth of the field matters. In ultras, where the field might not be as deep on the women's side (at least as argued by some in this thread; based on irunfar coverage it seems a lot of women's races have competition at the front, so it might not always be true), then the men's side might be more interesting. But I don't think that is a factor of "faster is better." I follow world cup nordic skiing. The women have finishing times slower than the men, but the races are as (and often more) dramatic, hard fought, and engaging as the men. Of course, as a U.S. fan, it does not hurt that the U.S. women perform better on the world stage than the U.S. men.

  15. PatRunsInVA

    I think it's easy to say "of course women should be paid as much as men," but should there be equal pay no matter what, or should there be equal pay for equal performance? To me a fair way to dole out prize money in a race would be to award the most money to the fastest runners of either gender, then also give additional money for runners based on how they place within subgroups like men's, women's, master's, etc.

  16. alicia_h

    I'm starting to find the dynamics of this discussion almost as interesting as the issues themselves. For one thing, it's hard not to notice that only two elite women runners have commented. It's possible that no other elite women have seen the discussion or have had time to respond to it, but given that Ellie and Amy have somehow found the time, it does seem possible that others aren't commenting either because (a) they're not interested, (b) they feel it would somehow reflect badly on them to comment, or even (c) they feel it's pointless to bother commenting given the quality of the debate (for example, as of now, various comments from Meghan, Ellie, and Amy are currently at negative comment scores, but the people giving the comments a "thumbs down" have made no attempt to offer a rebuttal to what was said in the comments). If any of these three reasons even partially explain the lack of elite female response, then perhaps an important step towards improved equality for women's sports is removing the conditions that lead to those (valid) reasons that women might not even want to participate in the discussion?

    1. kjz

      I noticed also that all the sudden the women's comments were getting negative comment scores. awesome. I'd better kick my shoes off and get back in the kitchen… actually, i'm starved–my super awesome snowy mtn trail run earlier obviously requires a few more choc chip cookies to refuel… that smoothie just ain't cutting it.
      –midpack woman

      1. alicia_h

        Ha, I know, and some of those negative scores were for comments saying the same thing as men did in comments which got positive scores! It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry…

    2. wMichaelOwen

      I noticed the comment score aspect as well. I feel like the comments made supporting gender equality in ultra-running are receiving thumbs down more so than the ones against equality. I don't read every article of iRunFar but I typically enjoy the discussions of the comments of the articles that I read, and I typically find that ultra-running is a fairly progressive community, but I'm disheartened some of the viewpoints on this article from ultra-runners (unless they are trolls).

    3. EricWhitbrook

      The neg comment scores were very troubling… probably the most disheartening aspect of this whole post/debate-

  17. @AllisaLinfield

    I'm super pumped about the US Skyrunning series but can anyone explain why the scoring is different for men and women? Top 40 men get points at any given race and the women's scoring only goes 15 deep. I know that the women's fields are smaller but I usually see that the top women's contingent is just as competitive as the men's group.

  18. markymoro

    I have to admit, part of the reason I am drawn to running in-general and ultra running specifically is that it is one of the most openly sexist sports around.

    A running race is among the purest forms of sports competition. The winner covers the exact same distance over the exact same course in less time than any other runner, except for when he – or more often the case – she, doesn't.

    Case in point, Brian Condon at the 2014 TNF CA: He had an outstanding race. He is undoubtedly among the hardest working and talented ultra runners in the country. He had an amazing finish time of 7hrs:7min:18sec for 23rd place overall. What did Brian get for his effort? To the best of my knowledge, he got exactly what I (a middle/back of the pack runner) got: A tech tee and a medal (did we get medals? I was too out of it to recall). I can only hope someone handed Brian a well-deserved beer as well.

    Magdalena Boulet – another one of the most talented and hardest working runners in the country – finished a little less than a minute after Brian. What did she get for her outstanding effort? $10,000, interviews and accolades, and – I think it reasonable to assume – a slew of sponsorship offers for her to consider.

    Was this fair to Brian? Should he feel slighted in that his efforts were not recognized or acknowledged in any special way?

    I love that these questions probably never even occurred to Brian, much less anyone else.

    1. @eLLiejG

      Hi Markymoro. My perspective on this is that, even in ultra running, women are on average slower than men due to physiological differences and however hard a women trains and is gifted with the best genetics possible for distance running, she will still be slower than a man who trains with the same level of commitment and same great genetics. Women are just slower, however hard they work, and so this is why in 99% of races organisers in fact hold 2 simultaneous races – a mens race and a womens race. A woman can never be a man and similarly a 50yr old can never be a 25yr old, hence age group awards – but age group awards are not equal to overall mens and overall womens awards, I guess in part because we can say that the 50yr old had a chance to run fast – he just should have done that 25yrs prior! (Unless we look at races such as Quad Dipsea where overall award is age graded). Congrats on Brian for his great race but he had a physiological advantage over Magda in that he is male and so no, he should not earn the same money as Magda (in my opinion). And before we get onto the discussion that well in that case we should have separate categories for people with black hair, or people with short legs or some otehr such category – no I don't think we should as factors like those have not been scientifically proven to alter ones ability to run fast :)

      1. idonotrunfar

        Can you point me out to some studies that underline the exact physiological difference and stimuli responses between genders as well as the identified genes responsible for running performance ?

        In all practicalities, we should not find differences just because it serves our own financial interest to justify a separate group.

        You dismiss obvious physiological differences between people but just decide to keep the one you are most interested in at this time, however, there is an obvious one you briefly touched. There are actually tables that are fairly accurate to calculate running performances based on age group relative to each other, those are fairly well accepted in the running world. Yet. I haven't seen ANY race that is giving equal prizes for winners of each age group.

        Explain to me how this is fair ?

        Based on my height and skeletal density, I'm at a high disadvantage compared to people of lighter frames. Should I have my own group too ? I'm all for it, that means my chance to win a prize money increase dramatically

        Is this fair ? Well.. yeah it would be fair…

        But at this stage, to reflect true equality, we could as much create a group for every individual… which means we take the prize money, we divide by the numbers of finishers. And done, we are all happy, we each won against our own physiological and genetic disposition.

        1. @amysproston

          Bangs. Head. Against. Wall.

          "We should not find differences just because it serves our own financial interest to justify a separate group."

          Yeah, just stick us all in the same race. Maybe we women can try to equal men's performances by a quick hip replacement surgery to get the right angles. And then there are maybe some body composition issues to work out, and a quick tweak to testosterone levels….oh wait, that's doping.

          Wait, you were kidding, and I missed the joke.

          1. wMichaelOwen

            idontrunfar, you are walking down a bad path with your comments.

            Yes, you have physiological differences as you mention compared to other men. But, they are so minor compared to the differences in women and men, some in which @alicia_h touched on. Do you have a wife who has had your child? My wife is 7 months pregnant and let me tell you, her body has transformed in crazy proportions that men never have to experience! So to say that having a "larger trunk, smaller extremities", etc. etc. like you mention, warrants not even creating a separate group for women is absurd. You, like you are accusing amysproston and alicia_h of, are creating an argument that benefits you (men).

            1. idonotrunfar

              I'm entitled to the opinion (and science supports this) that there are massive physiological differences between individuals even of the same gender, most of this is due to the genetic lottery. I see no reason to find hypothetical groups to discriminate people (because in the end that's what it is) and pick a gender group.

              Steve Way comes to mind has a perfect example of being probably a fairly gifted individual. Being able to run a marathon on a whim in 3:07:08 with 3 weeks of training while being chain smoker and 230lbs, is something that is unfathomable to most runners where it traditionally takes years of discipline and diet to reach this level. The fact that he is know 150lbs or so and can run a 2h16min marathon is certainly amazing. I applaud that and I see no problem in lining up the start line with guys like this that are naturally more gifted than I'm and don't see any problem if my various fees contribute to any prize money he wins. That's how it is.

              I'll stop there my comments since the ideal of equals rights in human society is a bit of a lost battle against greed and self interest.

              I have no doubts ultra running will see a significant transformation in the next couple of years, I'm curious to see already if the influx of younger, faster runners and the increase of prize money (which will likely be followed by east africans runners) will turn this sports on its head.

              Happy runs !

            2. @SageCanaday

              Steve Way's story is a bit of an outlier. Amazing and inspiring nonetheless and good to see that (in reference to Pre's legendary quote: "to give anything less than our best is to sacrifice the gift.") …he is making the most of his given talent (more "talent" than what I was given) But I think that is what most of us in sport strive to do: To do what we can with the time/energy/body we have . Steve trains very very hard now and piles on 30-40 mile long runs at around 6min pace. As Arthur Lydiard said: "There are champions everywhere." Walking around the school at my high school (about 1600 students) I used to always imagine that if we got some of the kids playing soccer and/or football to come out for track that maybe they'd kick my butt…that there was more "talent" lurking out there waiting to be discovered and smash school records.
              But I know tons of guys that have run year-round since age 12…they ran all seasons in college and trained their butts off at 130-140 miles a week…and no matter what they do they can't get down to a sub 2:20 marathon. Heck it took me 5 years to go from 2:21 to 2:19 (5 years where I averaged 90 miles a week including breaks) in the marathon. Some guys have a lot better genes than i do. But so what? I'm going to try my best.

              Now to say on subject with why women deserve equal prize money (and of course should not have to race against guys!). To compare the genetic variations and "talent" or "gifts" between individuals of the same sex is one thing (and very valid although IMO not with prize money distribution structures)…but to expand that comparison across sexes is an obvious fallacy given the overwhelming scientific data that explicitly demonstrates the multitude of physiological characteristics that consistently give a men a huge advantage over women.

        2. alicia_h


          I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you genuinely do not know the science behind why there is a performance disparity between men and women. Here's a quick overview:

          Men have much higher testosterone levels than women. Roughly 8 times higher, as I've just learned: http://www.clinchem.org/content/50/3/678. Testosterone is an anabolic steroid. Does that sound familiar, maybe from the WADA banned substances list? It's on there for a reason: it improves athletic performance by building and repairing muscle and shortening recovery time.

          Estrogens: While levels will vary during the month, women generally have at least 4 times the amount of estradiol (the main estrogen) as men do. Estrogens can impact athletic performance in lots of ways, nearly all of them bad. You can read all 42 pages' worth of those impacts here: http://www.familymed.med.ualberta.ca/Library/Docu

          Pelvic bones: As Amy mentioned, men and women have very differently shaped pelvic bones. One shape is better for giving birth, the other is better for running.

          Body fat: Female athletes are not just gratuitously lardy compared to their male counterparts. Women need higher body fat percentages to survive. The downside for athletic performance, of course, is that women need to drag all that extra fat along for the ride.

          To move on to your questions about categories within running, the running community doesn't seem to have had any trouble at all in determining that there are two reasonable distinctions to make, based on physiological differences between runners, when giving out awards: male versus female, and overall versus 40+ years old. Both of those distinctions are easy to make, require no subjective judgment, and don't have the unwanted result of breaking races down into minute categories.

          1. idonotrunfar


            I'm sorry if it annoys you, but again, you are trying to use arguments to justify the creation of a separate group that suits you while as you are also perfectly aware, science is not able to explain how the combination (I insist on combination here) of physiological characteristics benefits sport performance.

            "Athletic performance itself is a multifaceted entity—a complex and intricate kaleidoscope of cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic, endocrinological, and psychological factors that all must interact to enhance and facilitate sporting success. "

            That's actually in the 42 page paper you pointed out where they say they need to do more studies.

            The arguments you use use can similarly be found in papers that have identified physiological differences between races: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/6/1392.full

            As an exercise, maybe try to list the areas where average men physiology may unlikely be an advantage for running. I think you may find more than a few.

            Given women can make top 10 overall in most competitive ultra running races with a stacked men field, clearly the physiological differences between genders are not that huge of a deal if any compared to the interaction of all of it.

            Instead of trying to find various excuses, I'd would likely prefer that prize money increase and gets well distributed for maybe the top 25 or even top 50 runners overall. Doesn't suit well, but that's certainly the most fair overall.

    2. wMichaelOwen


      You bring up a scenario about Brian Condon. I know Brian and actually paced him at Western States this past year and lost to him narrowly at Ice Age. And the scenario you bring up at the 2014 TNF EC CA is the exact scenario with me and Michele Yates at the 2013 TNF EC CA. MI ran with Michele for a lot of the race and ended up being a short 42 seconds in front of her. I was 19th Male and she was 1st Female. She received $10K and I received a little product package from TNF for an age category placement. Was this fair to me?? ABSOLUTELY!! – and Michele more than deserved her prize money for being 1st place female!

      I'm not sure you are insinuating anything from your post, but I hope you aren't. From the below responses by Ellie, Amy, and Alicia, there are physiological different in ME that give me an advantage compared to Michele. But what probably happened, is that Michele trained harder, executed a better race plan, fueled better, paced better, during that race which for her, bridged the gap of those physiological differences. Her performance was simply better than mine (even if I did finish in front of her).

  19. @DirtProof

    One of the things that I love the most about our sport, which makes it unlike so many other sports out there, is that men and women really do get to perform at the same exact level. We run the same exact distances, the same courses at the same time, we undergo the same course conditions, and we must fulfill the same time limits (and for races with time qualifiers, the same standards). Women aren't automatically forced to run modified courses or shorter distances, and they aren't offered more generous cut-offs. Any race that a man can run, a woman can run. I absolutely love that!

    In terms of equal prize $ in ultras, in 2013 I had to fight for an equal prize purse for the top 3 men and top 3 women at the Aspen Power of Four 50K (a race which this year will be the Skyrunning Championship!). The race was offering $200 more to the 1st male than 1st female. A chorus of local CO ultrarunners (both men and women) raised their voices and the race directors responded immediately by equalizing the prizes. I really applaud the race for their quick correction and for listening to the community (as a result they also equalized the prizes in their mountain biking and skiing races too!). However, the fact that it was a change that we had to raise our voices for… in 2013… was frustrating, to say the least. The initial discrepancy in prize $ was justified as being a result of numbers: less women participants means less prize money. The argument of quantity over quality makes no sense. Sure, there were less women than men running the race but that does not automatically mean that the quality of the women was any less than that of the men. And perhaps a reason for the lack of female participation had to do with the fact that the race wasn't planning to recognize them equally for an equal performance on an equal course. Out of principle, I did not sign up to run the race until they equalized the prize purse.

    Finally, I want to thank iRunFar for taking on this subject and for striving to provide equal and generous coverage of female athletes. And thank you Matt, I really appreciate the thought you've poured into the subject and the efforts you take in your Quick & Dirty column to showcase male & female talent equally.

  20. Luke_B

    I've always liked ultrarunning for the great performances, which aren't always the fastest. I know I'm not alone in feeling that the really important and interesting part of the race happens long after the winners are showered.

    Literally the first ultra name I learned was Ann Trason. Women have always been a compelling part of the sport for me. If a race wants my attention they would benefit from attracting a good women's field. I stop short of saying this is a moral obligation.

    And I really think we need to steer clear of equal pay for equal work type arguments. Others have pointed out that loads of midpackers work as hard as anyone. You win by running fast, not working hard.

  21. theroad

    I got 3rd on a race and was happy to see that the prizes for the podium were the same for women and men. However, we didn't get flowers. I like flowers too!

    Other than that, the Voorne duintrail in holland is awesome :-)

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