Leslie Sexton breaks down the sexist regulations of cross country running where women are still not permitted to run the same distance as men.
- There are no physiological reasons why women cannot run the same distances men.
Men have an advantage over women when racing shorter distances due to their higher levels of testosterone, muscle mass, and lower body fat percentages. The only relevant physiological difference between male and female distance runners is that women are slower than men by approximately 10%. Being slower over a given distance does not make women less capable of completing that distance.
- Men and women run the same distances on all other surfaces.
We don’t race the 1350m instead of the 1500m, or a 38k marathon instead of 42.2k. If men and women are equally capable of racing the same distances on the roads, the same is true for cross country.
- Long distance running is more popular than ever among women.
From 2009 to 2014, marathon participation among women worldwide increased by 26.9%. During the same period, women made up 44% of marathon finishers in Canada. Statistics indicate—clearly—that women have interest in distance running.
- Unequal cross country distances need to be revised to reflect the progress women have made.
Until 1984, the 1500m was the longest event women could contest at the Olympic Games. Women have fought to compete in long distance events and been successful. The women’s marathon was added to the Olympic Games in 1984, and the 10,000m was added in 1988. Cross country needs to update its women’s distances to reflect the progress we’ve made.
- Offering equal distances helps develop confidence and self-worth among girls.
When girls cross country distances are shorter than those of boys, the implication is that girls are less capable. By offering girls separate races with equal distances, we send them the message that they are equally capable of rising to the challenge that running long distances offers.
- Equal distances offer equal opportunity for girls and women to try longer distances.
Boys have more opportunities to try longer distances during their formative years than girls do because they get to run longer in cross country. The status quo limits girl’s options and development. If cross country distances were equalized, girls would have the same choices and opportunities to try racing longer distances.
- Equal cross country distances offer better long distance development for women.
Providing women with the opportunity to race longer distances will help in the development of runners who compete at distances 10k and longer as post-collegiate runners. When the women’s championship distance only increase from 5k in high school to 6k in university, women miss out on the opportunity to experience the training required to prepare for longer events.
- Longer cross country distance can help female middle distance runners build their strength and endurance.
For middle distance specialists, longer cross country distances can seem daunting. Yet many coaches encourage their male middle distance athletes to race 8-10k cross country to become stronger runners. 1500m Olympian Charles Philibert-Thiboutot has raced at the Canadian Cross Country Championships every year since 2013, and Corey Bellemore, the 2015 Canadian 800m champion, recently won the Ontario University Cross Country Championships. Female middle distance runners can also train for and race longer distances and thus benefit from their improved endurance when they shift back to middle distances.
- Empowering women to run longer distances can help to build lifelong runners and continue to improve women’s participation in the sport.
For post-collegiate runners who are not contenders to make national teams, there are better competitive opportunities in long distance road racing than there are on the track. To maximize female post-collegiate participation in competitive running, coaches should prepare women to train like long distance runners. By preparing women to race longer distances in school, more women can successfully make the transition to road racing and stay involved in Athletics as lifelong competitive runners.
- Women in distance running are tough.
Girls aren’t getting involved in this sport because they think it will be easy. They are running cross country to challenge themselves and test their limits. Why not offer women the same challenge of running longer that we present to the men? I, for one, think girls and young women are ready to rise to the occasion.