Sugar And Spice And Too Nice For The Trails?

From Pam:
Yearly statistics on ultrarunning show that less than 30% of the participants are women. Yes, women are well represented in trail 5k’s and half marathons, but even at the marathon distance on trails, women’s participation drops off rapidly and is very close to that same 30% as noted in ultras, despite women making up close to 50% of road-running fields. Many have speculated about the number of commitments women have, particularly those women with kids, and that lack of time may be issues. Obstacle racing, where the majority of the races are relatively short in both length and actual duration, shows a strikingly similar trend to ultrarunning, with Tough Mudder reporting that approximately 30% of its 1.5 million participants last year were women. It seems that as races get ‘burlier,’ women’s participation falls, regardless of the distance of the race.

While I am sure there are myriad reasons why women’s participation in ultrarunning is not as high as men’s, I do think one of the reasons is that is just isn’t ‘girlie.’ Please remember that the Barbie doll–with her perfect makeup, closets of fashionable clothes, and loads of stiletto shoes–is the best-selling girls’ toy, EVER. And do you think Barbie runs ultramarathons? Hell no! She’d get plantar fasciitis after a lap around the block with those crazy feet made especially for high heels and she would not look nearly as good in a bikini if her sports bra gave her chafing!

Ultrarunning is a dirty sport, especially when you are talking about trail ultras. I have experienced all of these things at some point in my ultra career (and many of them on a regular basis): blisters, vomiting, chafing in just about every place imaginable, falling, scars, extreme sweating and body odor, pooping in the woods, diarrhea, poison oak, snot rockets, trail bronchitis (with lovely green phlegm), lost toenails, and eating stuff that fell on the trail. Heck, at the end of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile I even had a dead worm in my shoe AND a live beetle in my sports bra! It’s not a glamorous sport. It’s probably no surprise that I was fairly rough and tumble growing up, and that I never owned a Barbie.

Pam Smith and her sister playing in mud

Pam and her sister getting dirty at an early age. Photo courtesy of Pam Smith.

I think a lot of women are willing to ‘dip their toes in the mud’ for a 5k or a half marathon–because it is a relatively short period of time to be dirty and it avoids a lot of ‘unsavory’ issues like chafing, eating with dirty hands, running in the dark, and going to the bathroom in the woods. Plus, many of these shorter events are aimed at beginners, with smoother trails and more runnable terrain.

From Liza:
I’ll weigh in as the former Barbie-playing, pink-bedroom-sleeping, and tea-party-going little girl, to add diversity to our commentary.

Liza Howard playing tea time as a little girl. Photo courtesy of Liza Howard.

Liza Howard playing tea time as a little girl. Photo courtesy of Liza Howard.

I think some women do avoid the trails because they’re not interested in getting messy. I used to dread dropping my son, Asa, off at preschool because the road-running moms always looked so perfect in their cute, matching shorts and tops and perky ponytails. They wore full makeup and sometimes perfume. The road-running culture there valued appearance a lot. And, like you said, Pam, trail running doesn’t lend itself to staying neat and tidy.


Ann Trason after finishing the IMTUF 100 Mile in 2013. Photo: Tony Salazar of Tempus Photo Design

Certainly my morning trail running uniform–well-worn clothes already smelling slightly of sweat, a hat to hide my hair, and sotol-scratched legs–made trail running less alluring to that particular crowd. (I realize many female trail runners make more of an effort with their appearance than I usually manage to, but I’m sure there are some women reading who have also felt underdressed around a group of female road runners.)

Ultimately, though, I think more women avoid trail running simply because they are unfamiliar with being on trails. When I try to sell trail running to female friends here in San Antonio, Texas, they tell me they worry about their safety. “I’m afraid of snakes.” “Are there mountain lions?” “I’m afraid of falling.” “I’m afraid of getting lost.” Road running and racing is really straightforward compared to trail running. The road is a known quantity. There are also so many images of female road runners out there that new runners can relate to. “I look like that. If she can do it, I can do it.” I think the majority of images of trail runners make trail running seem less accessible to women.

Anton Krupicka training in Colorado's Sawatch Range. Photo courtesy of Anton Krupicka.

Anton Krupicka training in Colorado’s Sawatch Range in 2013. Photo courtesy of Anton Krupicka.

Rob Krar runnig the UROC 100k after a fall snowstorm. Photo: Matt Trappe Photography

Rob Krar running the 2013 UROC 100k after a fall snowstorm. Photo: Matt Trappe Photography

Anita Ortiz in 'burly' terrain. Photo: Kurt Hardester

Anita Ortiz racing in ‘burly’ terrain. Photo: Kurt Hardester

Nikki Kimball looking pretty happy during the very challenging 2014 Marathon des Sables. Photo: Kirsten Kortebein

Nikki Kimball taking on the very challenging 2014 Marathon des Sables. Photo: Kirsten Kortebein

In the end, I think it’d be a mistake to discount what a big deal going to the bathroom in the woods is to a lot of women. Surely both of you have been asked where you go to the bathroom when you train and race? I’ve heard it almost as much as I’ve heard “I don’t even like to drive 100 miles.” And races don’t cater to female runners in this regard. You can argue about whether it’s a legitimate desire, but I think it’s definitely something that keeps women running road races with port-o-potties stationed every mile or two. As happy as I am to poop in the woods after years working as an outdoor educator, I definitely think the bodily function scene at Marathon des Sables is one of the factors that keeps female participation so low.

Marathon des Sables womens changing room

The women’s ‘changing rooms’ at the Marathon des Sables. Photo: Marissa Harris

From Gina:
This may come as no surprise to some, but I grew up playing in the woods, climbing trees, building forts… and loved every second. When I attempted the more ‘girly’ way of things, my little sister would make me be Ken when we played Barbies. I suppose she didn’t like it when I would have Barbie shopping for climbing gear instead of stilettos, so she gave me what she should was the more appropriate role to play. But to me, Barbie was a kick-ass outdoor chick. She could do everything the boys could.

When I was a kid and a game of tag was put together, it seemed like is was composed of about 70% boys and 30% girls. Boys seemed to love running around outside, whereas girls were more interested in playing with their My Little Ponies or tea set. Running around the neighborhood was a no brainer for me. It felt much more natural to go outside, explore, and play in nature than to stay inside and play with plastic toys.

I always noticed the difference between boys and girls when it came to the outdoors, but never quite understood it. I assume now, as an adult, that the differences in the ways we played as kids arrived at least in part from social norms we adopted from the world around us. Females were perceived as the weaker and more gentler sex. We were made to wear dresses, cook, and cater to things inside the household. We were too emotional and easily upset. As for guys, their stereotype was to be tough, do labor/work, provide security. Their appearance was acceptable regardless of what they did, and because of their tough exterior, emotional thoughtfulness could fall short. Growing up with these biased opinions or stereotypes can set the stage for a person’s decisions and interests.

When it comes to trail and ultrarunning, I believe most women define the sport as intense, dirty, unsafe, and unbecoming. The aggressive nature of bounding down dangerous, muddy trails where you might encounter a another forest dweller could make a woman feel less attractive to a potential mate.

Ironically, road running has many of the same distinctions, so the participation numbers make things quite curious. I’ve run many 5k’s in sub-par weather where I ended up looking like a drowned rat. As for the danger factor of falling, I find running on pavement in the winter much more treacherous as compared to trails. I’ll happy dodge rocks and roots versus negotiating slick, icy sidewalks any day. For the women worried about animals on the trails, sure there is a possibility you might see a bear one day, but how about all the human predators who have easy access to picking you up off the sidewalk or side of the road?

From Pam:
Liza said she thinks more women aren’t on the trails simply because they aren’t familiar with the trails. It seems like so many of the women in trail running were ‘nurtured’ in to the sport, like Gina who grew up playing in the woods. My dad was a road runner but my family did lots of trail hikes, so moving to trail running wasn’t out of the box for me.

Pam Smith at Crater Lake as a child

Pam Smith at Crater Lake as a kid. Photo courtesy of Pam Smith.

Whether you think ‘girlie’ behavior is ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’ in women, the fact exists that trail running can be a dirty sport and not necessarily in line with being feminine. But as trail running has become more mainstream, I think a lot of retail companies have helped to make trail running more appealing to women: there’s been an explosion of running skirts and even dresses, there are clothes with cute designs and women’s themes, and more women-specific products. But as a community, I think we need to find ways to keep encouraging women to get into the sport and to help them feel comfortable on the trails. I know I poked fun of a few ladies running the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile with full eye makeup earlier this year (I was in a dark place; it wasn’t personal), but if that’s what it takes to get more women out on the trails, I say bring on the Maybelline sponsorships!

[Editor’s Note: iRunFar has previously explored this idea. Check out the Trail Sisters’s article from earlier this year, which puts numbers on the specifics of gender disparity at various trail-race distances. Also, check out Ellie Greenwood’s article from 2012, which focused on creating a discussion on why women are generally participating less in ultras than men.]

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Women, did you find there were gender-based behavior stereotypes presented to you as children? Were there certain activities you were expected to take part in or exempted from because you were a girl?
  • Ladies, as a child, did you find yourself bending gender-based expectations and doing things normally ‘assigned’ to boys? In addition to playing outdoors, what other activities did you do that had you sharing the company of more boys than girls?
  • Women, were you ‘nurtured’ into trail running with a childhood spent outdoors or adulthood relationships with people who passed on their love of doing things outside? Or do you think its more in your ‘nature,’ that you were born to love trails?
  • A question for men and women, future forward, what are some things we can do to increase women’s participation in ultrarunning now and to raise the next generation of women who will feel comfortable being ‘dirty’ if they choose to be?
Trail Sisters

is a group of three women, each with unique opinions, ideas, and attitudes toward all things trail and ultrarunning. Pam Smith is a mom, physician, and lover of running who lives in Oregon. Liza Howard is a mom and 100-mile specialist from Texas. Gina Lucrezi is a Colorado-based short-distance speedster exploring the realms of ultrarunning.

There are 12 comments

  1. sdjackie

    Great article! I have 2 brothers and was never a girlie-girl growing up. I was out there throwing the football with the boys. I went to one girl scout meeting but then quit because I wanted to be outside with the boys. My parents never held me back from anything I wanted to do because I was a girl. I am old enough (50) that I had to compete against boys in high school on the swim team and in water polo. It wasn't anything special to be around and compete against boys/men. So I believe in my case my personality and choice of activities was mostly inherent but also supported by my external environment. I have mixed feelings about trying to get more women in trail running…I kind of like it the way it is and if people want to run trails they will without my encouragement. None of my friends are running on trails because of me, they just think I'm nuts!

  2. lizahoward

    I also wanted to be a Boy Scout after the Girl Scout troop I joined took a trip to a field in order to sketch it. I know there are Girl Scout troops that are more adventurous, but one group here in San Antonio just took their troop to look at butterflies while the Cub Scouts went canoeing. All this is to say, I think a lot of girls still have less exposure to outdoor events growing up that would make them feel at ease heading out onto the trails. (PS. Sketching and butterflies are both great things.)

  3. @bpurcell72

    Instead of just looking at the current M/F percentage, it's better to look at the historical trend. Is female participation in ultras going up, down, or flat? With road racing in the 70's, 80's, and even early 90's, the M/F ratio for half and full marathons was tilted strongly to males. That shift changed mid 90's to where now half's are dominated by females and marathons are often split down the middle. Could this just be the evolutional shift as more and more women become confident in their abilities and are able to see other women doing the same thing?

      1. @bpurcell72

        I've compiled some historical data looking at Way Too Cool, American River 50, and Western States to see if there's any trends. I'll post a google doc as soon as I have time. WTC and AR50 are good to look at because they have data going back to the 80's and they are considered good entry races for first timers. In general: WTC started in the 27% range (female participation) in the early 90's, moved up to the 34% range until 2011, then has steadily increased to the 41% range the last 5 years. AR50: <20% for the 80's, <30% for the 90's and 00's, and then big jump to 36-41% range the last 3 years. WS100: 10% range for 80's, then pretty much static in the 16-21% range from '90's through today.

  4. @bpurcell72

    Also, remember that ultras is in a major growth spurt right now. That means that the number of males doing their first ultra isn't even close to peaking yet, which could further skew the M/F ratio. What's the raw number of female participation compared to historical data? One of the reasons for the huge change in M/F ratio in road races the last 20 years is that male participation increase is slow dramatically, while female participation didn't really get going until the mid 90's. In general, I dislike the stereotypical labeling of girly and non-girly, and I remember when I was young in the 80's being told that women didn't run because they didn't want to sweat in public.

  5. Nvtrailrunner

    I did not participate in sports growing up as my mother could not afford it and in a small town sports were few and far between. I ran my first 67km trail race (STORMY) on a whim and a mantra 'mind over matter'. I was 30 and had never run more than 10k on road. I finished it, and was hooked. How much faster could I finish if I actually trained??? Then I got pregnant….

    I think there are less women participating in trail races, especially ultras, because of time commitment. I took 7 years off from running because I just didn't have the time. I work full-time, I come home make lunches, dinners, etc…traditionally women are the primary caregivers and it seems that I willingly took on that role (control issues)…now that my son is older I have more time to run during the week and most of the day on Sunday's. My husband and I work out a running schedule that enables both of us to get out and hit the road (for him) and trails (for me).

  6. @GWEpiontheRun

    I grew up in a family that didn't have traditional gender based expectations. Although there were two daughters and no sons in the family, we were encouraged to pursue whatever made us happy and push the boundaries. My mom enjoyed long walks in the woods and nature so we spent a lot of my childhood in the woods and blazing trails around our rural property. I think that's a big reason why I was so drawn to trails when I picked up running again later in life. It brought back that joy that I experienced in childhood, and I had no fear associated with trails or being in the woods. Because of that, I also think nothing of popping a squat behind a bush because that's just what we did when we were out hiking.

    1. @GWEpiontheRun

      Part of my comment got lost…I am a leader for a group for running moms, and I find that a lot of the moms are not interested in trail running for 2 reasons: 1) fear 2) time. A lot of them are terrified of being on a trail and getting lost, and most of them will not run trails alone. Having grown up in a rural area and on trails, I don't experience this so I'll try to get them out there on the trails for group runs. Being working moms, it is difficult to get groups together to run or to find a running partner with the same schedule needs so they usually end up going back to the roads. The other issue that was raised previously was time. A lot of mothers (working or stay at home) take on the role of primary caregiver so time is really limited. It's much easier to squeeze in some miles on the road in the neighborhood or on the treadmill at the gym instead of on the trails. It's that way for me too a lot of the time, but I am fortunate to have a supportive partner who also runs trails/ultras so it's much easier for me to take the time that I need to train and run on trails because he gets it. I think a lot of other women feel guilt that they are taking time away from their families because training for ultras and running on trails can take up a large chunk of a day particularly for those of us who have to drive some distance to get to the trails. Without a supportive partner, this can be quite a challenge as well.

  7. erinlynngood

    I volunteer with a group that mentors underserved youth through outdoor adventure and leadership training. We mentors meet our cohort of students the summer before they enter sixth grade, and we follow them through to graduation. During our training, a facilitator shared that the mentor agency has graduated several complete cohorts of boys (meaning no student left over the six years), but they have not yet had a complete cohort of girls remain all the way through. I asked why, the answer was something along the lines of "girls don't like to get dirty as they get older." I don't like that answer, but I get it – developmentally speaking, peer approval is critical during adolescence, and girls (and boys) are more likely to be rewarded with approval and attention if they conform to their prescribed roles. For girls, this generally means a distinct absence of dirt.

    I think this might translate to trail running as well – it's hot, it's dirty, it's dusty. I sweat a lot, which leads to breakouts, and then I have to deal with being 34 years old with the chin of a teenager (to reference Tina Fey). I have gravity problems, and I've definitely had colleagues ask me about bruises. I will never be a leg model, unless it's a model for a calendar of sweet, sweet knee scars from tearing downhill with varying degrees of success.

    The funny thing is that I feel the most wild, free, and beautiful when I am running and covered in filth. I see it in the girls I mentor, too – I just joined, so the girls I'm currently working with are around 12 years old and still eager to scoop up bugs and fling mud at each other. They are so brave, strong, and fierce, and it is my greatest hope that they keep that fire. I want so badly to keep them in that place where wearing seaweed crowns and running down trails as fast as possible is still cool, and I hope that seeing their adult female mentors doing those things right alongside them will provide them with a good role model to keep that spirit strong. And ultimately, I'd rather be a role model than a leg model.

  8. EmersonTA

    You ask: "A question for men and women, future forward, what are some things we can do to increase women’s participation in ultrarunning now…" My partner and I question this question. We are raising a daughter who is athletic. We both run ultras but could care less if she runs ultras, unless she wants to. We would ask: why do you think it is important to increase women's participation in ultras? Is it to fit your paradigm of what a woman should do and who she should be?

    1. Meghan Hicks

      @EmersonTA, I didn’t write this article, but formulated the question that you’ve answered and asked a question back toward, so I feel compelled to answer. I hope the article’s authors don’t mind! Of course, I personally want no woman (or man) to do something they don’t want to do. However, women tell me, to my face and over and over, that they do not participate in certain events for reasons other than a lack of wanting to. I would like to see the (real and perceived) barriers that these women feel exist removed so they can participate in whatever event they wish, precisely because they want to. It’s perhaps a similar sentiment to what you wish for your daughter: I want women to become whomever they want to be. :)

      1. EmersonTA

        Meghan, thank you for your thoughtful response. If I may, since you raised it: what reasons, other than a lack of wanting to participate, do these women share with you as to why they elect not to participate?

        1. Meghan Hicks

          @EmersonTA, I should have given a couple examples in my original reply to you, sorry! :) I have a lot of notes on this topic, and here are several. Direct quote: “Aren’t you afraid of being by yourself as a woman in Morocco, I mean, traveling there to race?” Direct quote: “There’s no way I can take the time to be away from home to train at the altitude I need to for that race.” Direct quote: “I know where all the bathrooms in this town are, and there are no bathrooms on those trails. I only run on those trails for as long as I don’t have to go to the bathroom.” Direct quote: “I am not as brave as you.” Direct quote: “What if I get hurt? How long will it be until someone finds me?” Direct quote: “You couldn’t pay me to trail run in the dark or alone. That doesn’t leave me much opportunity to trail run.” Direct quote: “I envy you that you feel free enough to just run off down a trail.” In these quotes, there are some direct mentions of reasons several women don’t trail run, and there are also a few inferred reasons. Hope this adds to the conversation, somehow.

          1. EmersonTA

            Thank you, Meghan. Drilling down, the comments you obtained express, in order: Fear, perceived lack of time/selflessness, hygiene, fear, fear, fear, fear/self-domestication. It seems fear wins — by a lot . Bummer. Though not surprising given that we are fed fear in large dollops by the media. I wonder if something in the cultural noise makes women more fearful than men — if they are more fearful? Book suggestion for anyone dealing with fear: The 50th Law. Happy trails, Meghan.

  9. Hillrunner50

    My daughter is a college gymnast. As she made her way up the ranks in junior olympic competition in elementary and high school, I always wondered why she wanted to do what she was doing, but never criticized it. She does it for the same reasons I run, and that's for the love of it. I never needed to ponder why far more females do gymnastics than males and why my son didn't want to do gymnastics. It's interesting to ponder why there are fewer female ultra participants, but in the end is there a purpose to know why? Does there *need* to be a push to get more females involved? If people do this for the love of the sport, then does it matter who participates? I personally don't think it matters at all.

  10. Sarah

    Great discussion. I'm particularly curious about why the fraction of women racing the hardest 100s is so small. One point I'll make, based on years of observation: women tend to be more social, or want to belong to a group. The longer and harder the ultra, the more time you have to spend (generally speaking) training in those conditions, often solo. Organized running groups work great and are popular for runs up to 3-4 hours, but are hard to organize for half-day or longer efforts (especially for women — and men — who have kids they have to get back to). It takes a certain kind of woman to not only have the time for ultra-long training runs, but also to feel psyched about being out on the trail alone for so many hours in rugged backcountry. I'm grateful to the tough ladies and guys who've invited me on gnarly all-day outings. It's usually just two or three of us, but that's enough to make a difference. Kudos to the trail friends who buddy up for adventurous training runs. The more you can invite and mentor newbies, the better. But I also would say to female trail runners who haven't run much without the comfort of a group: Go for it. Take safety precautions for going solo, and then get used to being alone for hours out there. It's more empowering than lonely!

  11. deleted6643275

    I have no problem getting dirty (and staying dirty through various public kid pick-ups and drop-offs throughout the day). I love to run on trails, and I'd love to train for a longer race than my typical 50ks, with the occasional foray into 50M. But I can run on pavement from my house, and I can run a 50k in the morning and be home in time to share dinner with my family. Getting to trails, even just driving 15-20 minutes to the closest single track system, takes time! I am interested in pursuing longer races and spending more time running on rocks and dirt, but it's hard to find–and even harder to justify–the additional time it would take. For me (and many others, I suspect), the limiting factor isn't dirt or stereotypes or fear, but rather the time-intensive tasks of working and parenting. If I have time to drive to a state park, I try to take my kids (of both genders) with me to hike and explore. I'm not sure how so many men manage to find the time… maybe less guilt? Or partners who pick up the slack?

  12. rob_up40

    I wonder if the 70-30 split explains the reason women's course records / winning times are usually 17-18% slower than men's when in every other distance from 100m to marathon, they are consistently 10% off. If women's fields increased by a factor of 2.5, we'd see that gap shrink for sure.

  13. Trail Runner in Mo.

    I love being a big fish in a small pond! Don't you ladies? I enjoyed being the minority in ultra distances. But I don't belong to a running group. I don't have anyone male or female in the entire county that runs. I'm probably known as the "crazy runner lady."
    Trail racing has the best community in the world. Sharing the great scenery & experiences + Hours of adventure unfolding over the miles = Ultra Trails. I love the trail race atmosphere. It's a humble group of runners hoping that they reach the finish.

    1. lizahoward

      I think the smaller numbers of women do make it easier to make conversation and strike up friendships with other female ultra runners/ fellow "crazy runner lady" types.

  14. jesseluna

    I would say that overall I see more women out on the trails than men, when it comes to just being out there. It's a lot easier to quantify things when people are racing because listing gender is usually a required part of the entry process. I point this out because there are questions about whether trail running is too "burly" for most women and I think the answer is "no." But when it comes to training for a race over a marathon it takes an inordinate amount of time to prepare and that might help segment out a lot of women who have family duties outside of work and don't have the time. Maybe some of these trail running and hiking women are "cross training" for road races and then the question is whether more women should be trying out trail races.

  15. dsue

    While these reasons might come into play for some women, they do not for me. Okay, maybe the fear factor a bit, but honestly, I often think road running puts me in contact with scary people more than trail running. In fact, if I had to choose between a bear and questionable human character, I'd choose the bear.

    What does seem to be missing as a reason is huge for me – guilt. Guilt because the expectations of others, including my own children, does not include a mom who is strong and willing to take time for herself to run and train for more than an hour at a time, who does not fit the societal mold as a "soccer mom." Guilt is something I also bestow on myself, as before I head out on a run, I am constantly thinking of the things I feel I need to do for my family and for others; things that, according to my upbringing, should be placed well ahead of any interests of my own.

    This paradigm was a huge limiter for me. It has only been during the past couple years that I have learned the importance of making time for myself and pursuing a passion that makes me healthier and ultimately, a better person overall. I have always been a trail runner, but I only ran as long as an hour would take me. During my lifetime, I have been taught that my role as a female is to serve. Taking the time out to pursue my own interests felt like a selfish and indulgent act. Overcoming that hurdle was (and still is) a huge struggle.

    Looking pretty was never an issue for me. Personal safety is an issue, but that exists on trails AND roads. The time it takes to get out to a trail and train, ultra or no, and dealing with the guilt I feel because of gender-related paradigms — that is the barrier that has kept me from trying.

  16. toniasmith897

    Mom guilt definitely shapes us and out actions. I know dads experience guilt, too, but it doesn't seem to be at the level that moms feel it. I find that if I pick two races per year, i can justify most of the time I spend training. It is about the elusive balance. Furthermore, as a survivor of pancreatic cancer, taking care of my health is extremely important. I need to exercise, eat well and keep my weight in check. While exercise is important for everyone, I used to really only thing about the effect on my psyche. Now I try to remind myself when I feel like skipping a lot of workouts that it is important for me not to neglect my physical health. If I start to slack off long-term, I could experience a lot of negative consequences. My family will have me around a lot longer if I take good care of myself.

    1. dsue

      Me too. I attribute a large portion of my success in overcoming chronic, debilitating migraines to ultra and trail running training, in particular LSD runs (long slow distance!). Not to mention the confidence and strength I have found by winning over a condition that I feared every single day. This training is for me, but when I feel the pressure, I remind myself AND others that my running and my focus is ultimately good for them too.
      I don't race often, and I don't run with groups. I do set goals for myself and run personal challenges. Perhaps that is what other women do too, rather than showing up publicly for a race.

  17. @wheresalison

    When I was a kid, I read a book about wolves that described them as having an effortless, ground-covering gait with which they would often cover more than forty miles in a day. I had woods, and trails, and a creek outside my backdoor, and I would go out there, and pretend I was a wolf, trotting along, effortless and free. I also read about Native Americans, and how their scouts could move through the woods in silence, without leaving any footprints, and I tried to do that as well. My childhood literature and my love for animals created this connection between me and the land, my breath and my body. What nourished me, and awakened my imagination then, nourishes me still.

  18. Buzz

    An excellent discussion as always!

    My initial thought, also expressed by EmersonTA, is concern at the pre-supposition women SHOULD run ultra's. Participation numbers are lower for women in lots of things, like war and obstacle course racing – should they be doing more of those also?

    We definitely need to examine and then reduce the various factors that limit women from reaching their full potential and authenticity, but somewhere in there let's respect that smart people can make smart choices, which might be different than what a large number of males might be doing.

    The many trail/ultra women I know might be offended by the the "girly/non-girly" reasoning – if they don't run ultra's, it's because they have honestly and intelligently made the choice to prioritize something else, not because they don't want to get dirty and appear unattractive.

    I also feel the "time" factor was dismissed a bit quickly. Bowing to societal or family pressures or expectations is not healthy, but prioritizing one's career, family, hobby, or friends over ultrarunning certainly can be. I've seen many a runner start a family, and when they do their time priority shifts quickly – for the male as well as the female – as it should. Ultra running takes a lot of time, and there are various reasons some people do not want to prioritize that.

    Again, it's all good! My perspective is always just to look beneath the activity itself, and support what is authentic and healthy for each individual.

  19. Steph J.

    Great discussion! I'd echo the time factor as well–I like running distance but even when I prioritize my training, I am still trying to squeeze it in around a myriad of other things (my husband is too–no inequity). It takes time for me to get out on the trails.

    My husband and I own a group running program where membership is 85% female. However, there are still more male than female trail runners. Time is one factor and fear is another–some women might run trails more but don't feel comfortable running on them alone. It is much easier to find road running partners.

    One other factor I haven't seen raised–reasons for running. For many women in our group, running is their outlet, their hobby that is theirs alone. Some of them are quite competitive but I would say most run as a way to de-stress. Several have told me that they just don't find trail running to be that relaxing, because they are constantly paying attention to the terrain. They find trail running (not just women–some guys as well) to be mentally exhausting.

    Oh and lastly, for many of our speedier women, they just hate to see their slower times when they hit the trails. I'd generalize and say that the folks in our group (men and women) who enjoy trail running are the ones for whom pacing isn't as important.

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