at the races Making Running Safe and Supportive for Women is an Immediate Need and...

Making Running Safe and Supportive for Women is an Immediate Need and an Essential Service

CALGARY, AB - MAY 29, 2022: The Servus Credit Union Calgary Marathon at on Sunday morning (Angela Burger/Calgary Marathon).

“Running has been one of the most important parts of my postpartum and motherhood experience—I get outdoors, clear my head, get some fresh air and my children are outside, not cooped up inside and on screens,” says Brittany Arora, whose two children are six and 22-months-old.

Arora, who recently moved to Calgary from outside Edmonton, plans to take advantage of the Servus Calgary Marathon’s recently announced on-course Infant Feeding Stations, and says that initiatives like the Calgary Marathon’s on-site kids camp are exactly what running needs to make our sport safer and more inclusive.

“Breastfeeding is still a little taboo and a subject that people don’t openly discuss so I’m glad the Marathon is giving me an opportunity to be seen and heard,” she says. “The running community is known for being accepting and taking people where they are and if races can gear their programming towards women it will go a long way towards helping people achieve their goals.”

With recent allegations in Kara Goucher’s book The Longest Race against famed, disgraced running coach Alberto Salazar dominating the recent running news, efforts like the ones in Calgary are an over-do and important corrective. From Megan Brown’s accusations against coach Dave Scott-Thomas at the University of Guelph to every sordid detail surrounding the Canadian World Junior Hockey team and the alleged sexual assault, sports need to do more to support and ensure the safety of women.

Sasha Gollish, an elite Canadian racer who holds two Canadian running records, and an outspoken voice in our sport, says Goucher’s allegations, while shocking, come as no surprise. “For so long sports, including running, have been dominated by a win-at-all-costs attitude. From funding models to a lack of diversity in coaching and boards of directors, we should not be shocked that this behavior was pervasive,” she says. “It’s slowly changing, the question is, is it changing fast enough?”

FEEDING FRENZY: Brittany Arora feeding Zayn, at 10-weeks-old, after a race.

For her part, Kara Goucher is actively ushering in change. 

“To the men telling me The Longest Race was hard to read—thank you for getting through it,” she said in a Tweet. “I know it’s a tough read, but these conversations are going to make things better for your wife, daughters, granddaughters, sisters and friends.” 

At distances of the half marathon or shorter, between 52 and 60% of participants are women. 60% of participants in the 5K are female, and over 60% of Canadian races are led by females, according to Cory Freedman, who launched her women’s race series in 2007. 

“Races designed for women by women ensure that we offer spaces for breastfeeding, tampons at the port-a-potties, and pregnancy deferral policies. Offering inclusive gender registration options along with inclusive results and awards are other ways  to recognize the diversity of our community,” says Freedman, director of the PUMA Toronto Women’s Run Series. “Being more inclusive on all of these levels, as we are seeing at many races across the country, enables us to collectively help the sport grow and evolve.”

Jon Bird is the Executive Director of Run Calgary, a runner and a father, and believes that initiatives like the one launching this May at The Servus Calgary Marathon are just the tip of the iceberg and something he’d like to see more of across Canada. This year, the event has partnered with SOGO Adventure Running to provide programming for 4 to 12-year-olds, so that parents can run. There are only 100 spots in this year’s program, but there’s always the potential for the good idea to expand.

Bird says that if running can provide a space for women that’s inclusive, supportive and safe, perhaps it can influence society at large.  

“One of the great things about running is that we’re all tied into each other and our sport is seen as a leader of inclusive, progressive movements—whether it’s a well-balanced male-to-female participant and leadership ratio or else non-binary inclusivity,” says Bird. “We want to do good things at our events because we all live in this world together, and the hope is that good things—equality, safety and inclusiveness—can translate decency to life outside of sport.”