We find most people think “that’s a bit odd’ when they realise some races have different distances, age categories and prizes by gender. There are some questions that come up regularly (mainly on race distances!) – the responses below may help.
This is about equality, not distance. Everyone has their own view on what the perfect race distance is (especially when you have middle distance and ultra specialists racing together), but the principle of equality is more important.
OK, equalising an XC race won’t close the pay gap, but… women racing a shorter distance is a small thing that shores up much bigger structural inequalities. When you’re told you are weaker and slower and the things you do are less important, you begin to believe it – and so do other people. Before you know it, you are paid less and given fewer opportunities.
Juniors immediately pick up on gender differences. We’ve seen talented girls who genuinely believe they aren’t capable of running the distance the boys do, we’ve seen juniors watching senior races try to come up with reasons why women can’t run as far as men. We strongly believe our sport should set a better example to our young athletes.
Equalising distances should not mean that the distance should change to what the men currently do. Organisers should feel free to choose the best distance to provide a satisfying compelling race on their course, whatever that is.
Some runners are faster than others. Statistically, a population of 30–40 year old runners are a little faster than 40–50 year old runners (with a lot of overlap). We don’t put them in separate races though.
Unequal distances probably suppress participation. It’s not easy to feel goodwill to an event, or to expect that you’ll be welcomed as a competitor or a volunteer, if you don’t feel that your own event is respected.
Equality should firmly be a core value of community organisations like our running clubs. If your club or league don’t support the principle of equality here it feels like an odd place to be – out of kilter with the principles of gender equality in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Equality Act.
Equalising distances is unlikely to mean big changes for athletes. For an event like the nationals, equalising distances is likely to mean that that both senior events become something around 10k. Or organisers have the potential to offer a long course event and a short course event to women and men. In many local leagues often women race 6km and men 8km – equalising will only mean very minor changes. Most club and league events are somewhere between 5 and 12km with a range of distances through the calendar – it feels reasonable to offer an equal distance somewhere in that range.
The organisers know best about the details. Practically it doesn’t seem helpful for us as clubs to dictate to organisers what length their events should be – they need to juggle packed schedules, different venues, short days, foul weather, the needs of volunteers etc.
Anyone who has been on a starting line knows we will always grumble in advance, say we want to run shorter etc, but the reality is that we turn up and run whatever the distance.
Often in races faster athletes will lap slower ones, or pass the last finishers from the previous race. Race organisers have many ways to manage this safely, including timetabling, marshalling, start/finish placement etc.
Women should not become ‘veterans’ before men. Evidence from World Masters Athletics age factors show that over 5k/10k men start slowing down marginally before women, at around the age of 35 – full analysis here. This suggests that if anyone becomes a veteran sooner it should be men. We feel that given many club athletes continue to improve in their late 30s (and later), V40 is the right time to start veteran categories.