Running and Gender

I realized something this weekend spectating the Ironman…than this endurance community has really removed a lot of the natural boundaries of gender in my life. Because this community is also my social network, I have just as many male friends as I do female friends…and everyone else in my group could probably say the same. I don’t hang out with my friends and their husbands, I hang out with my friends and their spouses.

This popped into my head as I was eavesdropping on a conversation occurring next to me on Walnut Street bridge on Sunday. A woman and a family member were discussing this hobby of the woman’s husband and she said, “My friends just don’t get how he can leave our family for an entire Saturday to train but I don’t get mad about it. It does frustrate me sometimes, but he’s so good to us when he’s not training I feel like he deserves this Jack Time.”

(I guess his name was Jack. Or maybe his bike’s name was Jack?)

I thought about this for awhile because none of my friends would bring this up since they’re all in the same situation, ditching their families for an entire day for a race, or a training session. We all share stories with each other on how best to train for endurance events and still keep a hold on your role in your family. Men and women. I’ve gone on trail runs and bike rides (although not many of the later) where we discuss this very thing as husbands AND as wives. As Fathers AND as Mothers.

I also have a very equal view of capability. Yes…most race winners are men…but the women aren’t far behind them. And in terms of the people from Huntsville I was spectating on Sunday? The one who finished first was female. She blew my husband’s BEST Ironman time out of the water by almost an hour, and she’s several years older. When I’m thinking about the athletes locally who hold standards to which I could never achieve in terms of endurance or speed…it’s women AND men on the list. My female friends have done 100-milers and Ironman events as often as my male friends. And often they do better than my male friends.

It’s just interesting how I’ve built this network of friends using my running and tri community where my kids go to races and see plenty of women beat their SUPER fast Dad. They see men and women socializing together. They see badasses in both genders digging deep to finish amidst obscene amounts of pain.

There’s still the difference in that most of my female friends are trying to also balance more of the domestic responsibility alongside of training, just like with the rest of the world, but it’s just nice to look around my peer group on any given day and see almost as many men as women and all of us sharing something significant in common. It’s also great to have so many couple friends we see before a race and we honestly don’t know which one is racing the event. It’s conceivable that they both be doing it. It’s happened to us on the receiving end at races before, where our friends ask if we’re doing a race and we respond, “Nope…just here to spectate.”

I guess that’s just an unexpected perk of this social life I’ve built around my running and tri communities…that it’s allowed me to look at situations and be unable to make assumptions based on gender. You look at a couple outside the race world and you might assume the male is the bread winner and the woman is the caregiver. But when you are eating dinner out the night before an Ironman, you’ll see just as many men there to support their wives as you see women supporting their husbands. I saw several men-with-small-kids on the side of the road Sunday cheering for their wives. I saw boyfriends cheering for girlfriends. I saw women flying down the road past a dozen men to dig deep and finish ahead of them all. I saw women weaving around men on bikes and amateur women athletes jumping out of the water ahead of male pros.

Notice this pic from the brilliant Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville…almost as many pink swim caps as green! (They do those because winners are divided by gender so it’s easy to tell in the water if someone might be in your competitive groups. And they all wear bright colored swim caps for safety reasons.)

It’s just an observation, but one I’m glad my kids are making as well, even if it’s in their subconscious. Wesley won’t grow up assuming he’s faster than all girls and Nikki won’t grow up assuming all boys will finish ahead of her, and I like this as a bonus of this life we’re living.

1 thought on “Running and Gender”

  1. Great post! The funny thing for me is that while I’ve recently become friends with several women and men through the running community, it has been the first time in years that I’ve really connected with other women! I work in a male dominated field and have usually found it easy to be friends with male colleagues. In the running community I find everyone to be more accepting of others. It is great to be part of it!

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