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“If we can locate the barriers faced by women, we can remove them one by one.” Making the Marathon More Gender Inclusive


Of all the ramifications of the pandemic one certainly includes the declining number of women participating in the marathon. The numbers are down. In 2019, 38% of the marathon runners at the Vancouver Marathon identified as women. Last year that percentage was down to 32%. At the TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2019, 32% of marathon participants identified as women. That percentage dipped to 28% at the same event last year. In 2023, the London Marathon fielded 10,000 fewer women than men. 

“It’s about the fact that if women are needing to create the time for training for a marathon then they won’t be home to take care of the kids, cook meals and clean house, but the women who have the inclination to run a marathon—who confidently have household and family support—run the marathon and do it well. Just look at Malindi and Natasha Wodak as examples,” says Lynn Kanuka, 1984 Olympic bronze medalist and BC-based running coach at “The women I’ve coached online all have had great support at home, and if they did not then they never did more than one marathon.” 

And that is key, having that support. Statistics Canada shows that by April of 2020, 55% of women remained in the workforce, down 6% compared to January 2020. By August of 2022, fewer women than men worked full-time. In fact, more women started working part-time in that same month. The reason for women pursuing part-time work? Not surprisingly, for women ages between 25-54, caregiving is the reason. Moreover, the gender gap widened during the pandemic due to caregiving. Canadian women on average spend 3.9 hours per day on housework, including child care, compared to 2.4 hours per day for men.

Like the marathon, says Kanuka, golf is a sport that requires an exceeding amount of training to master and thus also falls in line with marathon percentages: 71.6% of golfers identify as males. To combat the gender inequity in the marathon distance, race director of the TCS Waterfront Marathon Charlotte Brookes is assembling a Women in Running Event this evening in Toronto—streamed live at 7:45 p.m. EST at IRunNation on Instagram—including a host of female marathon runners, fitness entrepreneurs and coaches, including Heather Gardner founder of Kardia Athletics, Melanie Murzeau founder of Black Runners of the GTA, Keri Wong at Nuun and Mizuno Ambassador and 5-time marathoner, Sabrina Young, Producer at iRun Magazine, and Amanda Richardson, co-founder of Chix Run the 6ix.

By offering lactation stations along the Toronto Waterfront Marathon course, a Pregnancy and Postpartum Deferral Policy and tailored to the individual training programs from RunKeeper, Brookes says they’re working towards creating a space that is more inclusive and supportive in shortening that gender gap.

“COVID obviously took a huge toll on people and maybe the statistics are revealing that a lot of the childcare and home schooling fell on women,” says Brookes, who also offers this bit of optimism that might reveal a path forward: her overall marathon participation numbers exceed—in July—her entire overall number of marathon runners from last year.  

Perhaps this means runners post-COVID are finding more free time to train? 

“There are so many different factors at play that it’s hard to isolate just one,” says Brookes, “but I think increased participation begins with conversations like we’re having tonight and learning ways we can better support women at our events—if we can locate the barriers faced by women, we can begin to remove them one by one.”  

There’s clearly nothing wrong with participating in an event at any distance. Just like there’s nothing wrong with running for fun and keeping out of public running events. It’s only curious that the marathon participation numbers by gender—which approached parity in the United States in 2015—seem to be sliding backwards. To that end, ASICS is conducting a survey called Move Every Mind on the gender exercise gap and encouraging all of iRunNation to get involved. The link to have your say is right here, and the link for tonight’s important town hall is here. We’re only in the middle of July. There’s change that can be made for October.  


  1. Time limits are a key. USA marathons are generous and the they have close to gender parity. Canada and Europe tend to be in the 5:00-6:00 range. At any given time limit, there are more men who can meet it than women.

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