Women’s Only Races
One of the many reasons I started this site was because of a conversation I found myself having repeatedly. Women’s only races. It kinda goes without saying that I’m pro-women. I am one, hence, have kind of a vested interested here. Given the evidence that women are more likely to work out if they can do it with a friend, I like the idea of women’s only races. All the gals, in it together, sisters doing it for themselves and all that. But then, well, then there’s the execution of said races and it all just falls kind of…flat.
I want to love them, I really do, but it’s just made so hard when you’re slapped in the face with stereotypes and being patronised at every turn. Firstly, any women’s races in the UK are 5 or 10K, which kind of implies that we’re not capable of going further. Can’t we get some half marathons and marathons going for women? I’m all about just getting people moving and having 5 and 10K options is great, but it’d be nice if longer distances were an option.
Then there’s the half naked men holding up the mile markers or the corny signs. I heard of a sign at a women’s only race recently that read ‘run like you’re late for a spray tan’. Of course! Because we’re women, so we’re vacuous beings who have nothing better to think about than our precious spray tans. Talk to me when there are some ‘run like you’re late for a board meeting’ signs and I can respect it.
And when the race finishes, you can get your hair blow dried or a manicure done – because you just ran, so you might look a little sweaty, quick, GET PRETTY! I do understand wanting to freshen up post-race, but as a woman, I’m judged by the way I look 24/7 and I rather like that when I’m running or working out, that’s my time to focus on my body in a positive way. To finish a race and be reminded that I once again have to fit into a social norm (because, God forbid anyone sees us sweaty) is kind of sad.
I’m not saying any of these things are wrong per say, I just wish that people’s interpretation of ‘women’s race’ wasn’t to simply throw glitter, lipstick and pink feather boas at it. The dynamic of and reasons for women working out is changing. Thankfully, through sites like this and others, women have been able to tap into a message about exercise and body image that is far more powerful than years gone by, where all that mattered were the numbers on a scale. Women now are working out for reasons that go way deeper than the purely aesthetic. Races aimed at us need to reflect that. The message needs to be about empowerment, bettering oneself, pushing yourself, doing your best. Better yet, that you can do all these things and still be feminine but that doing them with a fresh manicure is not the be all and end all.
A couple of years ago, I did the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco (and I hope to do it again this year). I loved it. It was empowering and uplifting and full of badassery and awesome. To run alongside that many women was an experience I’ll never forget. But what was great about it was that while the event was for women and was distinctly feminine, I did not once feel patronised. There was a half marathon and marathon option that day. My training was respected, the huge undertaking of a marathon was taken seriously. There were firemen in tuxedos at the finish line to present you with your finishers necklace – probably just the right amount of catering to the girls (note how they didn’t need to be topless and oiled up though).
It’s a fine line – how to get women to exercise in a comfortable, non-intimidating environment and keep it feminine without tipping it over the edge so as to be completely patronising. I wish we had more women’s only races, especially of longer distances. It is a real opportunity to empower women and to spread a positive message about exercise and training, but we have to get the balance right.
What have your experiences been like with women’s only races? Are you for or against them?