What Does A Balanced Sport Look Like?

An excerpt from the book ‘Daughters of Distance’ by Vanessa Runs about women’s equality in sports.

By on March 12, 2015 | Comments

[Editor’s Note: This is the last of three excerpts we’ve published from the soon-to-be-released book Daughters of Distance, written by Vanessa Runs about endurance running from the female perspective. The book will be available for purchase around the end of March. We published the first excerpt two weeks ago, ‘Mother Nature Is A Woman’ and the second one, ‘Sponsorship And Prize Money: Gender Inequalities In Endurance Sports’ last week. Be sure to read all the way through because we’re giving away a copy of the book!]

When trail runner Robyn Reed was a little girl, she lived on a lake with a beautiful antique wooden boat. Robyn’s dad worked hard to keep his boat in top shape. Together they would take it out on the lake, feeling pretty proud of it. “But,” her dad warned her, “there’s always someone out there with a bigger boat.”

Robyn loves that story because she believes the same is true for endurance. There’s always someone who has run more miles, steeper miles, crazier miles, who gets up earlier or trains in more extreme conditions. “And especially in the era of ubiquitous social media, it’s easy to find extremes,” observes Robyn. Her best advice is: “Think about your season of life and your commitments. Think about how you want to balance things. Acknowledge that someone will have a bigger boat. Then go out and enjoy a long sunrise cruise in your own boat.”

What would a truly balanced and guiltless sport look like? Here are some ideas:

  1. More women in endurance would rise to the top.

In a backpacking book I read about the Wonderland Trail (a 93-mile loop in Washington around Mount Rainier), I was surprised when the author mentioned endurance runners and recommended, “resisting the urge to trip them” as they ran by. She also suggested one of the reasons these runners could travel so fast was because they were pampered with “veal dinners” to greet them at the end of each day. Huh? The runners I know are dirty, tired, sore and hungry. Many of them attempt these amazing feats completely self-supported or on shoestring budgets.

Insinuations like the ones from this author used to cause me to shy away from endurance. I didn’t want to be “that woman” flying down the trail, knowing that some people wanted me to fall on my face. In a perfect world, women would no longer feel that sting of condescension that can come with success. They wouldn’t be afraid to rise to the top. They would feel free to do their best without threat of anyone wishing to trip them as they run by.

  1. Women would reinvent long-standing rules and traditions.

Traditions are lovely, but sometimes they don’t work for our lifestyles. Do we really have to home-cook every meal? Is dinner with the entire family always necessary? For some it may be, but ideally a woman should feel free to pick and choose the traditions that work for her family. It could be that new traditions are in order, like a family turkey trot or a camping trip in the mountains.

Pam Reed’s son, Andrew Koski, said of her: “We usually don’t sit down together as a family. Mom feeds Jackson and me and then she and Jim go out to eat. We’re all doing our own thing. I like it this way… I remember one Christmas, when our dinner was turkey and popcorn. No, I think it was pretzels. Something weird. French fries—turkey and French fries.”

  1. Women would support stay-at-home dads as one of their “own.”

Domestic dads are largely unsupported, though they face the same juggling act and struggles as women do. Working within the home is tough for both genders. In a balanced world, gender wouldn’t matter. If you’re a mommy or a daddy taking care of your kids at home, you would have the same community of support from other parents doing the same thing and sharing your challenges. Gender would be a non-issue, both at home and in the workplace.

  1. Women would embrace their right to leisure.

A [study published in] Leisure Sciences by Catherine A. Roster reported that women don’t have the same opportunities to participate in leisure activities as men do. This can be due to time constraints, limited financial resources, the woman’s central role in the caring and nurturing of her family, or gender roles in the household (eg. women stay inside and do quilting while men go outside and play golf).

My hope is for women to understand that they are entitled to and fully deserving of leisure time, especially when our “needs” seem like a frivolous run in the woods. I would love to see leisure time for women become a no-questions-asked habit for all females. We have the right, just like any other human, to pursue the passions that interest us without self-condemnation or guilt.

  1. Women would embrace the bigger picture.

Our lives have seasons, and perhaps there are some seasons when a six-month thru-hike is not possible. That’s okay. Accepting that we will have other opportunities is not the same as making excuses, running away from our dreams or wasting time. Each season has its priorities, and just because another woman is in a different season doesn’t mean we will never have the freedom that others seem to enjoy. Plan ahead and expect to do the things you are passionate about, in the timeframe that best fits your priorities.

  1. Women would teach their kids that there are no limits.

By shattering expectations and living beyond what “should be” women would teach their kids just how much can be done with a little training and determination.

Rali Roesing sets an example for her kids by running ultramarathons and staying active. She teaches them that “you can do anything, you can start late, you can push the limits and blow yours and everybody’s mind. You can be that healthy and eat that well, and go that far. It’s possible. My kids have all run several 5ks, competed in swim meets and ocean swims, and have ridden their bikes farther in a day than anyone they know at school (both sons did a century when they were nine years old on mountain bikes.) There are no limits.”

Lori Lyons says: “I’ve decided kids don’t listen much to what you tell them. Lesson: show them. If you want to teach them what hard work looks like, what a healthy body and healthy food look like, what failure and winning and doing your best look like, you don’t need to say a word. Just run.”

  1. “Because I want to” would be a valid reason.

In Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed writes:

Doing what one wants to do because one wants to do it is hard for a lot of people, but I think it’s particularly hard for women. We are, after all, the gender onto which a giant Here to Serve button has been eternally pinned. We’re expected to nurture and give by the very virtue of our femaleness, to consider other people’s feelings and needs before our own. I’m not opposed to those traits. The people I most admire are in fact nurturing and generous and considerate. Certainly, an ethical and evolved life entails a whole lot of doing things one doesn’t particularly want to do and not doing things one very much does, regardless of gender. But an ethical and evolved life also entails telling the truth about oneself and living out that truth.

Women need to remember that it’s still okay to do things just because they interest and challenge you—because you want to. No other explanation is needed.

  1. Women would have more fun.

Our sport is supposed to be fun. Although it may be hard to fit in a training session, once we’re out there we should enjoy it to the fullest. Don’t waste your time worrying about chores or thinking about other obligations. This is your time. Have fun with it. Climb a tree, hop in a lake, stop for ice cream. Most of us do this because we love to be active, not because we’re making a ton of money from it. So enjoy your journey fully—that’s your payoff.

  1. Women would savor the milestones.

Instead of rushing through every challenge to come home and cook dinner, let’s take a minute to savor our milestones. Every small goal accomplished should be a big deal. We only have our “firsts” once: first marathon, first ultramarathon, first triathlon… Let’s acknowledge those wins. You don’t have to celebrate alone—tell your family what goals you’ve accomplished and celebrate together. Take them out for a meal or enjoy a special treat at home. Let them see you rejoice in your steps, no matter how minor they may seem. Don’t immediately rush into the next challenge—there will be time for that. Celebrate and savor everything before moving on.

  1. Women would be kind to themselves.

Two things struck me when I listened to what women had to say about balance in life and running:

a) How much women actually do on a weekly basis (an obscene amount).

b) How unkind we are to ourselves about how much we accomplish, always demanding more and rarely satisfied with what we’ve done.

I’ve heard women I deeply admire speak negatively of themselves and criticize their training results, even though they were incredible. Some women were putting in 30 miles of cross training on top of 50 miles of running per week, on top of holding down jobs and cooking dinner every night. They were getting up at 4 a.m. They were making it work… and yet they still felt it was not enough.

If I could send a message to women everywhere it would be this: We do enough. We have enough. We are enough. We deserve to be kind to ourselves.

Remember: There are no hard and fast rules for what balance should look like. Take the tips that best apply to you, or make up your own.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

We realize that gender equality in general and in sports specifically 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.

  • Of Vanessa’s elements for a balanced sport, which ones are you good at doing and which ones could you use some more work at?
  • Do you ever see your female running friends falling prey to externally and internally created pressures and guilt?
  • For those of us in relationships with female runners, what can we do to encourage women to find balance in our sport and in our lives?

Giveaway Contest

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

Guest Writer
Guest Writer is a contributor to iRunFar.com.