Last Saturday was a big deal for me. I won the Canyons 100k. I finished top ten overall (8th to be exact) in a stout men’s field, close to an hour after the male winner, Bob Shebest. What I’m even more proud of is my time. I completed all 63 miles of that course in 11:32:16, just under Magdalena Boulet’s 2015 time. *The only faster time is Magdalena’s course record set on a rainy day in 2016; the kind of day where untouchable course records are set, a comfortable 55 degrees and misting.*
On April 29th I didn’t have such good fortune. I fought for that 11:32 tooth and nail in a blistering 85 degrees at Foresthill (and God only knows what it was towards Rucky Chucky). I smiled, I laughed, and I cheered on my fellow runners. But it wasn’t all highs. During the race I let out an involuntary scream of frustration at mile 45, having been without water for over an hour and still miles away from the Rucky Chucky aid station. However, I fought through it.
Not only did I fight during the race, but also every damn day leading up to it, balancing a full time job as a teacher, the heartbreak of getting laid off, training in the dead of winter in below zero temperatures. My commitment put strain on my relationships and at times my own wellbeing. I made sacrifices. The Canyons 100k 2017 was a reflection of that. It was years of hard work coming together. I had a breakthrough performance, and yeah, you can bet I’m proud.
When I crossed the finish line Sean Garbutt and Molly Nugget, two of my closest friends, greeted me. Hugged me. Told me how bad I smelled.
I sat down on the pavement, unable to move and overcome with happiness.
The race director, Chaz, brought me a big ol’ trophy and an awesome new backpack. I told him how hard the course had been and how excited I was to use my new backpack. I’ve wanted to start commuting to work on my bike, but have needed a backpack large enough to fit my lunchbox, running gear, work clothes, and the crafts for my kindergarten class. I mean, what a functional and fortuitous prize!
Still stuck to the pavement just feet away from the finish, I called my partner and number one fan, Ryan, who couldn’t be there that day. However, Ryan was there to see the work I put in everyday. The commitment I made to sleep and recovery. My sacrifice of our precious couch time so I could go to bed early, and that 4 AM alarm would sting a little less. During those winter months, I barely saw him, which was hard for the both of us. Nevertheless, I could hear how happy Ryan was for me as I spoke to him on the phone. Still unable to stand, I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude.
But wasn’t someone supposed to be announcing the finishers? That was someone’s job. The first woman came through the finish, me. Molly tried to get the attention of the crowd to watch as I broke the tape. The 2nd and 3rd place women came through shortly after, and still only a few friends cheering. Jenny Capel and Annie Rutledge just podium-ed at The Canyons Endurance Run 100k. Holy crap, what a feat! But for some reason, the women didn’t get the same race day attention as the men. Why had the announcer felt that it was only necessary to stay for the men’s top three finishers? I understand he was likely just a volunteer, but I knew that guy. He’s an important dude in the sport! One with a voice! Was he so uninterested in the women’s race that he couldn’t stay one hour longer?
Honestly, when I was down at the finish line, I couldn’t care less. What an amazing day that had been! The moment was mine and I was nothing but grateful to have been a part of such an amazing event. But on Monday morning when the excitement had settled, I got a Facebook message from a friend. It was a link to a popular website, which recaps some of the major races in trail running. I scrolled through in anticipation, looking for my name but only found a recap of the men’s 100k and 50k races. A congrats to Bob Shebest and Cole Watson written by the same guy who should have been responsible for announcing both male and female races on Saturday. The women’s 50k champion, Jena Benna left unrecognized after months of build up and winning a well-executed race. Or were there not two winners? Did we compete in an all men’s race?
I was angry. I sent the article to my coach and complained to Ryan about the complete disregard for the women’s race. I talked to my boss, a wonderful woman who is only a fan of the sport because she is a fan of me, who then commented on his site on my behalf (and without my permission). Something I was too afraid to do. I couldn’t call this guy out. He’s a big deal in the sport. He is the media for trail running.
But isn’t that exactly why I should call him out?
Founder of Trail Sister’s, Gina Lucrezi published an article last week on irunfar.com titled Women’s Verses Men’s Pay in Trail and Ultra Running. It not only brought light to the differences in pay, but also highlighted the roots of gender inequality in the sport. Today, the cause that stands out to me is “fear of rocking the boat.” As Gina states, very few women speak out publicly regarding the inequality they face in the sport. It IS scary. I’m scared out of my mind publishing this! But what would be worse would be to sit back and do nothing about the unequal media coverage I, and the other women competitors, have experienced.
Would female athletes get paid the same as their male counterparts if the media gave them adequate coverage? Would basketball fans be more likely to watch a WNBA game if it were equally as advertised and promoted with the same enthusiasm as men’s games?
One could say it all starts with equal media coverage. How can fans of a sport get equally excited about female professionals if all the hype is around men’s athletics? How can fans follow the women’s race if there is no coverage of them? If women’s athletics aren’t covered in the same depth as men’s then OF COURSE women wont bring in the same kind of revenue to the companies that sponsor the athletes!
Covering women’s events less gives those who sponsor professional athletes an excuse to pay women less.
The media is the voice of this sport and it is the responsibility of the media to cover both the men and the women’s race equally. Yes, it is true that The Canyons 100k was not the most important race of the season, and one may argue because of that coverage doesn’t have to be too extensive. Fair enough. But as a leader and voice in trail running it is my opinion that you cannot cover a men’s race, and leave the women’s race unspoken for. That sends the message that one race is more important than the other. It is a responsibility of the media to use its voice within the sport to work towards mending unfair practices in ultra running.
This sounds like a whole lot of complaining and I don’t want to be that person who complains about nothing. Rocking the boat is not typically my style and believe it or not, I like flying under the radar. Anyone who knows me understands that I’m generally a quiet person who just loves mountain sports, going to bed early, reading and watching The Office with Ryan. That’s my comfort zone, no boat rocking here. But like I said, it is the media’s responsibility to include both male and female athletes in their coverage, and it is my responsibility to speak up about it when I feel mistreated as a female athlete.
I have a voice and a platform, and from here on out I intend to use them for the sake of equality for future women runners.
That’s not to say we, as a sport haven’t made major strides towards gender equality. In fact, I think that trail and ultra running as a whole could set an amazing example to the sports industry. We are part of a sport where women compete with the men, and it is recognized. Admittedly, even media coverage is pretty equal in most cases. Other leaders in ultra running coverage such as irunfar.com did recognize my performance and more importantly, all of the notable performances from the weekend.
But it takes every runner and every voice to make the difference.
I would like to note that this is not in any way a reflection of my experience at The Canyons Endurance Runs 100k. I loved every second of that race. The course, the volunteers, the aid stations, and the race director, Chaz, were nothing but absolutely wonderful and all excited about the women’s race. I cannot emphasize enough how lucky I feel to have been a small part of such a special day, (thank you Chaz!!!!).
I also don’t think that anyone is intending to cover one gender more than the other in this sport. But it is negligence that I believe has to be pointed out. So I hope this a friendly reminder that even a short, two-paragraph recap of a race is not complete without congratulating both the men and women participants.
It’s a small, but important, step towards gender equality in all sports. We can set the example.
Quick thanks to my title sponsor Salomon Running, who supports me with shoes, gear, race entries and kindness through the good and the bad. I feel so honored to represent a company who sees value in supporting athletes of both genders. In fact, Salomon is dedicating all of this month to women in trail and ultra-running. Go us for setting a good example for fans and athletes alike!
*Not in any way taking ANYTHING away from Magda’s 2016 performance. She is a friend, a hero, and I was thinking about how impressive that 10:58 was ALL DAY. Furthermore, this is not a piece to brag or say I’m better than anyone else in the sport. I have so much respect for this community and the people who contribute to it.