How Level Is That Playing Field?

April 16, 2013In light of yesterday’s events at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, our hearts and thoughts at Catalyst go out to those spectators and runners impacted by this horrible tragedy. I have run this marathon three times, and I have been struggling to make sense of this event.

I won a 24-hour race last November by running 104.87 miles in 24 hours.

Wait, scratch that. I was the number one woman. I came in second overall. I don’t have the privilege of saying, “I won.” Even though I placed first in the women’s division, the only person who ran more mileage than me, a man, was the big winner.

At the recent BUS 3-Hour, Operation Endurance 24, JW Corbett 50-Miler, the Hinson Lake 24-Hour, and the Cajun Coyote 100-Miler, where I also came in first among the women, I can’t say I “won” either.

We know that men can reach higher rates of VO2 Max (maximum oxygen consumption) than women, men generally have lower percentages of body fat than women, and men have higher rates of muscular mass than women—all key advantages for athletes. Yes, women do have two big advantages: higher pain tolerance and greater endurance. But a simple look at women’s Olympic athletic records—and then a look at men’s—will reinforce the argument that men have certain natural advantages.

Still, the fact that men may be biologically stronger doesn’t mean women should be considered second-class citizens in the world of sports. Yet so often we are.

While Title IX greatly expanded opportunities for women athletes, it did not ensure equality:

Do these gaps persist because women are still considered “the weaker sex?” We now know enough about biology to realize that if a woman runs a marathon, her uterus won’t fall out. But even today, men athletes are “legends” and women athletes are “ladies.”

Currently, women tennis players only play best out of three sets, as opposed to men’s best of five. When I ran track in high school in Nassau County, girls ran the 1,500 meters (versus the boys’ 1,600 meters) and the 3,000 meters (versus the boys’ 3,200 meters). As a college cross-country runner in the Northeast United States, I raced the 5k (3.1 miles), while my male counterparts ran the 5-miler.

Women make tough athletes, and we should be afforded equal opportunities to demonstrate our skills. We can play that extra set and run those extra 100 meters. I think raising standards for women in these small ways will help ensure that women get the respect they deserve in the sports world—and help close the gaps in salary and opportunities.

So how can we help make this happen?

First off, I would urge you to support women in sports—watch a women’s game, live or on TV. Encourage your daughters, nieces, and friends to get involved with sports. Demand equal pay and equal treatment for all athletes.

Because men and women are built differently, I don’t believe that women athletes should be measured directly against men. But that doesn’t mean we should be given fewer opportunities to play and/or paid less when we do.

Ultrarunning magazine listed 18 ultra-marathons which women won outright in 2011. That number will continue to climb as more and more women enter the world of ultra-marathons. As a serious runner and the director of the Black Rock City 50k, I hope that I will someday be as lauded for my achievements in my field as men are for their achievements in theirs. 

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.