#EmbracingEquity in the endurance events industry
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With International Women’s Day 2023 upon us, and with this year’s theme of #EmbracingEquity in mind, we wanted to open up a conversation about gender equity in our industry. We sat down with 3 of our female event organisers to find out more about their experiences in endurance events, and the barriers women face.
UK Events Manager and Endurance Coach at 2:09 Events, who offer travel packages to the world’s best marathons, and also organise their own running events in the UK. Their events are designed to be fully inclusive and are open to athletes of all abilities.
Race Director at Blast Running. Established in 2019, they offer a variety of trail and road races in Edinburgh. As a female business owner, Cat pays close attention to ensuring her start lines are evenly split, female and male.
Founder of She Runs Outdoors, organisers of guided trail runs for women. Rachel encourages women to embrace their adventurous spirit and take up trail running.
On Societal Expectations
All 3 of our female event organisers mentioned societal pressures as a key barrier to female participation in endurance sports.
Catriona mentions that finding time to train, especially for mothers, is difficult, as there is often an expectation that women should prioritise family and caregiving over athletic pursuits. “It’s the women that often take on more of the mental and physical role in a family, so it’s hard to find the time to train.” Blast Running’s lunchtime runs are counteracting this by providing the opportunity for women to come along to a friendly 5k on their lunch breaks, while kids are at school.
Alexandra and Rachel, who are also both mothers, encourage women to accept that it’s ok to have “me time”, away from family duties. It wasn’t until Alexandra started running herself that she “found her own voice and identity” separate to being a mother and wife.
It also was apparent from our conversations that women lack the confidence shown by men when it comes to participating in endurance sports.
“Women don’t think they have a place as much if they aren’t elite. It’s vital to change their belief in their own ability. It's not just about results”, says Alexandra. We spoke at length about women being far less likely to take part in a race if they don’t think they will do well.
In fact, this is what spurred Rachel to run trail events especially for females. “By creating a women-only experience, I aim to provide a relaxed environment where you can tap into your adventurous spirit without any pressure and whilst having fun.” Rachel believes that “Trail running is all about taking risks, getting dirty, making mistakes, learning, growing, building confidence in your physical ability, but most importantly, having fun!” She hopes that by taking out the competition women will realise their potential and in time, build their confidence to go out and compete.
Alexandra, previously a chemistry teacher, looks at the barriers in a more scientific way. She describes a lack of consideration for what women have to deal with day to day, from periods, to menopause, to energy deficiency. She calls for more research into women’s endurance sports, taking into account the intricacies of women’s training and biology.
The majority of research into the effects of endurance sports has been carried out on men - in Alexandra’s eyes, this has led to “a lack of thought for the female experience when organising events.” She's tried to think about this more when planning her events - for example, she provides a supply of free period products at event toilets.
Safety is a serious concern for women training and taking part in events, particularly during the winter months when training in the dark can feel less safe.
Catriona first got into running as a teenager, when her older brother encouraged her to take it up. “Even then there was an inequality - he warned me that as a girl I couldn’t run the same route at the same time in the interest of safety. Girls have to train differently.” Catriona strongly encourages women to join a club or group so they can continue their training all year round, meanwhile, while Rachel hopes that her female-only events provide a safe space for those wanting to up their mileage and take part in a fun shared experience.
On Embracing Equity
While it’s obvious our industry has some way to go, it was very clear from our conversations that there are things to be proud of. All three women spoke about the strides the industry has made towards achieving equity.
Alexandra is proud that runners in general are supportive of everyone, regardless of age, gender and race. As a woman, she found her confidence in the community, and encourages others to “jump in and keep showing up. It won’t always be fun, but keep going, it will be worth it.” Rachel also celebrates the community aspect. “It’s been a place I’ve made new friends as an adult. There’s a place for everyone, whatever your ability.” She hopes that “by helping women find their trail confidence, we can turn this tide together, and I can help women find the joy I have from running in beautiful places.”
Catriona thinks that equity based movements, like the uptake of pregnancy and post-partum entry deferrals are forcing more and more organisers to think about equity in a new light. She herself has made a conscious effort to #EmbraceEquity by gearing her marketing efforts towards women, and has seen an increase in the number of females on her start line. “Small things like more event imagery of women encourages them to think they can do it, because they can.”.
We want to say a huge thank you to Alexandra, Catriona and Rachel for talking to us and sharing their insights. Thanks also go to them using their positions to create inclusive and safe environments for women. Long may it continue.
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