Women-Only Races: Brilliant or Holding Women Back?

Women-Only Races: Brilliant or Holding Women Back?

The Nike Women’s Half Marathon took place in DC. When I was considering racing halves this spring, this race made my list of “maybes” due to the timing, the location being not too far from NYC, and rumors about the course being flat and fast. Music to my ears. When I mentioned to some people that I was thinking about the race, I got mixed reactions – anything from, “Do it! So fun and a great race!” to “Wait… really? I can’t imagine you would even consider that race!”

I will say I was a bit thrown when the inaugural race website for NWM didn’t even include a course map until after registration had closed. The course map and elevation definitely weigh into which races I’m trying to PR at, and I was less than impressed with the lack of course information. After the race, I heard about the “Expotique”… where not only can you pick up your bib, but you can get your hair and makeup done.

I have no words.

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Image: William Murphy via Flickr

Now, my knowledge of women’s races is limited to the two that I’ve completed myself, while the rest of my thoughts are due to the marketing of various races. My first women’s race was the SheRox Triathlon in Philadelphia – a well put on race that I have no problems with outside of (orange) flowers on the shirt. The other women’s race I ran was the Mini 10K. As the first women’s only race, it serves to celebrate women in running and remind us of a time when women were thought incapable of running. Of course, it is also called the “Mini” as a salute to the miniskirt, but that’s another story.

Either way, the Mini 10K reminds us that not too long ago, women weren’t thought capable of running. That our uteruses (is that the plural? Uteri?) would fall out of our bodies. When my mom was growing up, girls were cheerleaders or majorettes and went on to become nurses or teachers. How quickly one generation can changes things, as I grew up playing every sport under the sun. I may have ended up a nurse, but not for lack of options.

Which is why I suppose it surprises me when I see women’s races that seem to be taking a step back from all the growth we’ve made over the years. Granted, that fact that it’s accepted that women actually can run/swim/bike/etc without people questioning our fragility is a step in the right direction. However, many of these races geared toward women have a few things that irk me.

And so we begin:

Female stereotypes. The Nike Women’s Marathon is known for having firemen in tuxedos handing out the Tiffany’s finisher necklace. The Run Like a Diva Series features roses, champagne, feather boas, and tiaras, not to mention a pink explosion with an emphasis on the bling you receive. The Disney Princess is all about every little girl’s dream of being a princess. All women like flowers, right? And pink? Did I mention pink? Grabbing a boa in the middle of a race sounds like a sweaty mess, and for the record, I was GI Joe for Halloween in kindergarten. Cinderella can keep her tiara.

Doing it for the looks. There’s actually a race called the “Perfect 10 Miler.” The ad campaign on the opening page of the race website says things like, “My beauty is within and that is why I am a perfect ten.” The Run Like a Diva Series (same as above) once had each first place winner receiving Botox. (Third place got teeth whitening, which, with the amount of coffee I drink, didn’t sound terrible.) There’s a race series called, “She is Beautiful – The Pinkest.” Even women’s running articles are often about weight loss. If you’ve ever seen my race photos, you’ll know I don’t look like a Perfect 10… instead, I look like a hot mess when dropped sub-7’s or any pace at mile 22, and I do not apologize. Nor would I trade those times for some pretty race pictures.

Emphasis on just being out there and the lack of competition. At least the Nike Women’s race (SF version) had a sign giving women the option of going in the badass lane (vs. the sexy lane). Most of the time, signs simply say things like, “You’re great because you’re here!” A race series is called, “Women ROCK!” – we’re awesome for being born female. (And the website is pink on pink on pink with many mentions of “hot men” along the course.) Many races promote themselves as great times for a girls’ weekend, where you can be together and celebrate being women. Why shy away from the emphasis on training and pushing yourself? Can’t women train hard and be competitive, if only with other women? Where’s the line between being supportive and being competitive? Can we be both?

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