Women in Ultras: The Feminine Baddasses

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When I recently signed up for the Bighorn 100 I took a minute to scan through the entrants. What I saw was a screen of utter disappointment: 10 pages of male entrants and barely one page of female entrants.

For real? C’mon ladies!

No, I don’t think ultra-running needs to be the #1 sport for women. Innately it is one of the least feminine sports out there. Let’s face it: it’s a sport filled with farting boys, bloody knees, and crusted sweat. Given the typical trail runner attire and the nature of getting entirely worked over racing 50+ miles, women ultra runners often look like Rainbow Bright dunked her head in a toilet and came staggering across the finish line.

antelope finish

10:06 Antelope Island 100k win

OK, so ultra running is not a pretty sport. This doesn’t mean that our tutu wearing, tiara-toting, road-running counterparts need to avoid the sport in its entirety, does it? If we outnumber the men on road marathons, why aren’t more of these “50k ready” women racing trail ultras?

In the past, ultra running was labeled as a masculine sport. Women-specific designs and colors were limited. Slowly more feminine colors and flattering fits are being introduced to the market; it seems that product designers are discovering that we don’t want another grey or blue item. I love the new brightly colored windbreakers and race vests that are coming out this year. In 2013 a handful of classic male trail shoes were redesigned with women’s specific versions. If this grace of femininity continues in ultra-running, maybe someone will finally design a women’s fast pack! (You know, because a strap right across the boobs on the current unisex versions are really “unisex.”)

sunset peak

As with any sport, companies create what the market demands. Female participation in trail running has a direct effect to the quantity of women-specific designs. It’s a well-known fact that we ladies enjoy product shopping more than men. Aren’t we, statistically speaking, the consumers? More women racing ultras would open the doors for the creation of more women-specific products for ultra running. Hydration companies are starting to launch women specific lines, and there is a lot of hype surrounding some of these products. While a product line aimed specifically at women is a big step in the right direction, there are still four times as many product lines for men. This is where we stand in the industry: four times as many products available for men, and the new women’s line… is navy and grey.

Why aren’t more women participating in ultras? Perhaps it is because our voice in the sport is as small as our selection of gender-specific equipment. Male athletes are given exponentially more media attention than female athletes. Live race coverage for major races on twitter follow the top 10+ male athletes. If we’re lucky, we’ll hear about the top 3 women as well… but only if we’re really lucky.

UTC.2

Setting a FFKT on Utah Triple Crown

FKT’s are a growing trend. Media coverage of attempts, successful or unsuccessful, is also growing exponentially. But an FFKT? What’s that? The extra media attention female athletes receive when running in a bikini top is only an indication of what gender ultra running media is geared towards, since using sex appeal isn’t going to sell the sport to more female runners.

Where are the women on race day? I don’t know. I can only hope to reach out there and virtually high-five all the women that get out and brave our male-dominated and male-oriented sport. Y’all kick ass! Thank you, you inspire me! Also, you are paving the way for new products, faster course records, and more women thinking that an ultra is possible for them. Since our sport is still in it’s infancy with female participation, we have a big opportunity to shape what media coverage we want, who we want to place as our role models, and how the industry product standards should be set. We can start this by increasing our participation and letting our voices be heard.

women on LM (2)

Ladies peak bagging in winter

There are a lot of things ultra running does not need; it’s a sport of simplicity. What it does need is more women racing. 10 to 1?! How are we going to improve the margin between our fastest times and the men’s fastest times when we’re outnumbered 3 to 1 up to 10 to 1? Yes ladies, we’ve got the added issues of creeps at night, tampons on race day, and hormonal post-race chocolate binges. We have pregnancies and boob-chafe and menopause. These extra concerns only prove that we’re damn tough.

Ladies, let’s get out running- help each other push our boundaries. Besides, someone needs to show those “pansy-ass pretty boys” that pink windbreaker or not, using a fast pack that actually fits or not, we’re a sport full of feminine badasses.

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Author: Jennilyn Eaton

Read more from Jennilyn on her personal blog at http://jennilyneaton.blogspot.com/

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14 Comments

  1. It’s not because we don’t like the running gear. It’s because we’re working and raising our kids. Ultra running is the most time-consuming sport I can think of. I’m just trying to stay healthy enough so that when my awesome daughter goes to college in several years, I can get out there and do hours-long back-to-back training runs on the weekends with the guys. I’ll be well into my mid-50s by then, so I don’t think my race times will be noteworthy :)

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    • I’m lucky enough to have a husband who understand my love and drive, I don’t have to wait until my toddler is a teen or goes to college, but I am just getting past half marathons and running my first marathon this November. But trust me, I’m trying to get out there into the ultra scene, just trying to do it conservatively and smart. :)

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    • Hmmm…that’s funny because I am raising 3 children, homeschooling, working and I run Ultras. You want to do something bad enough, you make time. You get up early. Work things out with your partner(if you have one, or a friend/family member who can hang with the kiddos)Many people I know in the ultra world are out before the sun is up(myself included at times) getting long runs in so it doesn’t interfere with family time. It can be done. SO please don’t group all of *us* into your *we* because any of *us* ARE doing both.

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      • Julie, you homeschool? Where are you? I’m in Socal and I also homeschool :-)

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    • YAY for your post!!! I have ran several 50Ks and am running my first 50 miler in two weeks! We ladies need to be our advocates to change the Ultra Running Culture! Go you!!

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  2. Great post. PS On a positive note, with 2 females, you will be on the podium.

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  3. Kudos!

    I enjoyed this article; I’m gearing up for my first trail Marathon on Saturday. As a trail runner and a Mom, I must say that the idea of running an Ultra and the time commitment that it would require are overwhelming. I think a lot of women who would be out there tackling these huge distances with you are moms like me who just aren’t willing to sacrifice the amount of time that it requires to train for and maintain those distances, at least not with little ones at home. For me and my family, I think a Marathon is far enough, at least until my little one is older! Happy trails!

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  4. Great article, Jennilyn. I especially love that in that bottom picture there are nearly 21 kids between the moms ranging in age from 2 months to 20 years.

    Helen, I think you’re right that raising families is the biggest reason more women aren’t in the sport. Life is about priorities, and sometimes running isn’t a high enough one, and that’s how it should be. There are plenty of women over 40 running ultras (me among them), and I’ve been so imspired by women even older than me who could still beat most college-aged girls in a half marathon. Here’s to you and me both getting in some quality mileage in the years to come! :-)

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  5. I have to say…last I checked most trail/ultra runners I know are far less concerned with the clothes they wear(comfort? check. No chaffing? Check.)and far more concerned with just running. Running because they can. Running fr the pure joy of it. Running to something, from something, running…because. Are women in the minority in Ultras? Sure. But I doubt very much it has ANYthing to do with the clothing options as I don’t believe we are really that shallow. I am lucky if I have on a matching pair of socks when I leave the house and I could give a sh*t tbh, lol…Having run Ultras for the better part of 6 years and been a runner for well over 25 years I can say MOST people run because they enjoy running. I think the reason women are not more prevalent in ultras is not because its a man sport, but more a *oh, I could never do that* issue. As women being told we are the *weaker sex* and some take that to heart. I think it is changing now, but we may never see equal numbers at races. And as much as I LOVE ultras, it is not something I would go out and recruit people into doing. It really is something you need to be drawn to for your own reasons. It really is something inside of you. Its not about the clothes/shoes/packs being *cool* its about that need to go and run for hours and hours on end, often alone, up and down trails and mountains because it feeds your soul. Besides…being a *badass* is WAY overrated.

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  6. im a 45 y/o mom of 5, and my last 2 are only 5 and 7 years old. i’ve been running almost 4 yrs, and ultras/trails for a year. I love it so much! it takes a lot.of time, and.its hard work, but I wouldn’t trade ut for anything!

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  7. I agree. I love trails and my future is going to be spent mostly on the dirt, not the pavement after 16 years of pounding it. I’ll give you my theory on why so few women are out there, and it’s a theory I hate: Women like the bling and the swag that comes with all the big, noisy road events. Something about that motivates them to put on tutus and sparkle and get out there. I think many women run today for the whole “event” atmosphere, not for truly testing and pushing themselves. Trails, on the other hand, are quiet and subdued and you have to be comfortable with yourself and your own thoughts with none of the cheering crowds, etc. Just my two cents and it’s not a two cents that I like!

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  8. I am a mother of 3 teenagers, but my youngest son is mentally and physically disabled and is fully dependent. He is my full-time job and requires my care all throughout the night. I still manage to run very high mileage as well as participate in ultras up to 100 miles. It’s definitely about prioritizing. If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen. This I believe. Dusk, dawn, not enough sleep, skimping on some house chores, etc., I can’t help but to get out and run every day. Granted it does help tremendously to have a very supportive husband. If ultrarunning is important to you, it becomes a regular part of daily life without question. Just my thoughts. Great article!

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  9. Women may still be outnumbered in ultras but it is exciting to see our numbers growing. The more female ultrarunners I meet, the more convinced I am that we are the tougher gender and are made for this sport.

    And who says it’s not a feminine sport? I run in INKNBURN skirts and still get jabs about looking too “matchy” but I do think you can run 100s, be badass and still be feminine.

    Thanks for the great read!

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