Speak up: Equal Distance For All

By Molly Peters and Kasie Enman

This past summer 228 strong, fit, competitive athletes gathered for the 2015 US Mountain Running Championship in Bend, Oregon. The course was set on a 4.2-kilometer loop up and down Mount Bachelor. Three races took place: a three-lap men’s championship race, a two-lap women’s championship race and a one-lap open community race.

At the conclusion of the championship races, ten top finishers were offered the privilege of representing the USA at the World Mountain Running Championship. If you were paying attention as the newly selected teams were brought to the podium, you might have noticed six men standing in front of you yet only four women.

Rules currently state that at the World Mountain Running Championship countries are allowed to enter up to six men, of which four score and up to four women, of which three score. That is fact. The first question everyone should be asking is why fewer women? And the second: why why do women and men race different distances? In the U.S. qualifers as well as in the world championship races, men must run approximately 12 kilometers and women 8 kilometers in distance, along with required amounts of ascent/descent.

And the third question is: What message does this send to our young female athletes?

It is hard to believe in 2015 this type of discrimination is still happening. It is occurring at the local level as well. If you go to any college cross country running race or eastern collegiate Nordic ski race you will notice that the distances are almost always less for the women. Race distances are also unequal at the highly competitive Eastern Cup Nordic races, where no matter what the race distance the women’s course is almost always 5 kilometers shorter than the men’s.

We are only hurting the development of our young female athletes by not challenging them, by putting women in an inferior position. Unequal opportunity between the genders promotes the acceptance of second-class citizenship and sends incorrect information to women about their own abilities, assuring the discrimination continues. We need to take a stand and demand equality.

We have seen progress from the 1960s when women were banned from competing in distances longer than 800 meters on the track. Everyone now has the opportunity to compete in the full range of distances on the track and on the roads thanks to laws like Title IX and leaders like Katherine Switzer and Joan Benoit. We now know that a woman can safely complete a marathon without her uterus falling out. In 2013 a whopping 243,500 women completed a marathon in the United States (and no uteri were lost!).

In addition, according to Running USA, women’s participation numbers in running events from the 5K to half marathon have surpassed men’s participation with 57 percent of all road race finishers being female.   So why have our governing bodies corrected their rules for some similar endurance sport events, but not others? Why are we still telling women they can’t field a full team or go the distance?

After competing at the World Mountain Running Championship, members of our US women’s team publically called for equal team size, equal distance for all and some even ran an informal third loop of the course because they could. Just as we were writing this article, Paula Radcliffe, a leader in our sport, spoke out and got distances equalized for women and men at the World Cross Country Championships, yet the junior race distances at that same championship were left unequal.

It is time for us all to stand up and ask why. We need to send full women’s teams to events and we need to be competing in equal distances with the men. Men and women please join us in questioning these unjust, outdated standards. Talk with your fellow athletes, coaches, and organizers. Visit our website www.sportequality.org to sign our petition and learn what you can do to help.