by Rachel Bambrick
photo credits: Jesse Lee Keenan (@jessefive)
With the support of HOKA, I'm thrilled to announce, “Women In Ultrarunning: A Series”! This is a 4–part series on ultrarunning, designed for individuals who identify as female. We will cover topics including: mental strategies, hills & technical trails, and nutrition. Runs will begin at 1 hour in length, and increase by 30 minutes each month (with options to shorten routes if needed). Pacing will be casual and conversational (think close to 13 min/mi on the trails). HOKA will be on hand supporting with snacks, giveaways, and maybe even some special prizes! The series kicked off on January 7th at 8am and met at Valley Green Inn in the Wissahickon. Here is the recap:
The rain began to break on an otherwise frigid and cloudy morning. As I drove closer and closer to Valley Green Inn I couldn’t help but think, “is anyone going to want to show up to run in this weather?” Much to my pleasant surprise, just a few minutes later I watched in awe as more and more women walked out of their cars and up to the trail. Bracing the cold, but eager to be there.
We reviewed trail etiquette, which proved almost unnecessary on a day like today when there was almost no one else on the trail, and off we went! Up to the icy, muddy trails of the Wissahickon. We kept a steady pace, running the flats and hiking any sketchy or uphill sections. We even befriended a dog for a minute or two! Conversation bubbled up around me, with friends new and old, and I felt swept up in the power of community. The power of female ultrarunners taking up a space we undoubtedly belong in.
Once the run concluded we gathered again for breakfast treats from HOKA (and later enjoyed a few raffles too!), and delved into our first topic; Intro To Ultras. We reviewed the basics, what an ultramarathon is, typical terrain, and historic and local races. Then we moved into the topic that brought us all here, why are women so underrepresented in this sport? The ultra world is one of the only spaces where women are winning races all out, but yet in 2022 only 23% of ultra runners identify as female.
Why is that?
First, I feel that “traditional” roles for women are still very much entrenched in our society. There is more guilt for women to take time away from their families, and ultrarunning and training is extremely demanding and time consuming. Far more often women are asked “where are your kids?” when training as compared to their male counterparts.
Then there’s the way that tough ultra races are often portrayed. They are often made to look very traditionally “masculine,” dark, or gritty, and this may discourage women from seeing themselves represented in that space.
Finally, studies have shown that men are more willing overall to attempt something even if they think they might fail, whereas women often are not willing to put themselves in these situations and will wait until they feel much more certain they will succeed. You can see how this lends itself to ultras which often come with a TON of uncertainty, thereby leading women to be less likely to take that risk.
All of these factors create a self–perpetuating cycle. If these above issues are occurring, women will continue to sign up and run ultras at lower rates than men, they will continue to be portrayed less in the sport than men, and women will continue to look at the starting lines of these events and see so few people who look like them.
So what can we do?
• Show up in safe spaces and learn from one another like at the Women In Ultrarunning events! At the events, you are surrounded with others who are willing to feel vulnerable and learn something new.
• Encourage race directors to feature women equally to men in race content, social media posts, etc.
• Encourage race directors to save lottery entry spaces for women in order to ensure gender parities are reached
• Speak up, show up, and share!
The next Women In Ultrarunning event is Sunday February 4th at Valley Green Inn in the Wissahickon. The event will feature a 75–minute run, a discussion on mental strategy with special guest Michelle Goldberg, and a giveaway from HOKA for the first 30 participants there! Register at https://link.heylo.co/8ebn
Please also use Heylo to join our Women In Ultrarunning community! This will allow the learning and community building to continue outside of the event space. https://heylo.group/women–in–ultrarunning
Finally, if these words or this event series is inspiring you to take on your first ultra, I am a UESCA certified ultrarunning coach currently accepting athletes. Get in touch with me via my website: https://bambrickrachel.wixsite.com/runwithrachel