Chicks Rule!

Posted by Filed Under: Inspiration & Motivation, Ultra Running, Women's Running

womens runningSomething different is happening in the world of ultra running.

In most sports, dare I say, all active sports, it is difficult or impossible for women to compete head-to-head with men. Do you think women will ever beat men in a cycling road race? Or maybe in the 200-meter dash? Differences surrounding lung capacity, muscle size, body composition, etc., all play a role in this, and the physiology of sex differences is beyond the scope of this article. Is it possible for women to beat men in some active sports? Can competition really be equal?

Some races, such as the popular Life Time Fitness Triathlon in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have created competition between men and women by creating an “equalizer” element. Top triathletes from all over the world descend on Minneapolis each July to take part in an event that handicaps the women, who start earlier than the men. The goal, of course, is for the men to catch the women, making for an exciting finish. The Los Angeles Marathon has also created a similar environment. The list goes on …

Ultra Good
But what about ultra running? This sleepy—but growing—little sport has no equalizer events. In fact, in some races it seems that the men are the ones who need the handicapping. Here are some recent examples of women winning ultra running events:

1. Badwater Ultramarathon (2002 & 2003). Pam Reed beat out 50 or so other competitors to take home the top honors for this brutal race two years in a row.
2. Javelina Jundred (2005). In this 100-mile Arizona race, Stephanie Ehret took home the Number One spot and four of the top six finishers were female.
3. HURT 100K (2006). This event in Hawaii earlier this year was won by Darcy Africa. She even beat out her husband, who tied for second, 47 minutes behind her.
4. 2006 Trail Runner Trophy Series. This annual point series sponsored by Trail Runner Magazine ends on September 30, but to date seven of the top 10 are female, with Van Phan currently holding on to the top place.
5. Kettle Moraine 100K. Kami Semick not only took the victory in 2005, but also set an overall course record for this 10-year-old race in the process.

Despite the low ratio of women to men competing in these races, women are winning a good number of them. This is not something you see happening in shorter events, which also have a much larger pool of women competing.

What is it about the sport of ultra running that allows women and men to be so competitive with each other? While the answers may not be so clear, one thing stands out: the competition is fierce among elite athletes, and, in at least some ultra races—Chicks Rule!

About Jessica

Jessica lives in Orange County, CA, home to hundreds of miles of trails and 30% green space along with the Santa Ana Mountain Range. After moving to California from artic Minnesota in January of 2005, she quickly became addicted to trail running, and upon meeting Dean Karanzes at a book signing was inspired to run her first marathon, and subsequently ultra marathon. She completed here first 50K race in July of 2006 and has 50 and 100 mile aspirations. In a short amount of time, Jessica has been active in the Orange County running scene by re-igniting the Saddleback church running group, founding a trail running group, and starting in 2007 launching a series of trail races throughout the county, beginning with the Twin Peak Ultra Marathon in February. In 2002, Jessica had open-heart surgery to repair a leaky mitral valve. Aside from running, Jessica is also a published author and an independent filmmaker. She works as an Information Security Engineer and part time at the flagship Nike Women store. When not out on the trails, working, blogging, writing, making films, or promoting races, Jessica can be found relaxing with her friends at the movies, lounging by the pool, or sharing a tasty meal and a good bottle of wine.

  1. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on August 24th at 2:38 am

    I think that it is very exciting that women play such a prominent role in the ultramarathon and trail circuit. Not only is it good motivation for us men, but it is also great press and I hope that it continues to bring more women (and men) into the sport.

  2. 21stCenturyMom on August 24th at 8:51 am

    I expect that having more body fat is an advantage. At least I would assume that a woman’s ability to endure long distance faster than their male counterparts is due in large part to physiology since it is physiology that keeps us from winning on the basis of sheer muscular strength.

    They (you know – them) say women naturally carry enough extra body fat to sustain a second life for 9 months through a famine. I guess we need to add “or keep up a good pace over 100+ miles.”

    It goes without saying that it isn’t about determination or grit. Anyone who can endure Badwater or any other ultra marathon has plenty of both.

    Three Cheers for Ultra Runners – all of them.

  3. bex on August 24th at 6:48 pm

    Theres’s been a number of articles on how women are becoming better athletes, especially in endurance sports such as ultras. We’re also getting faster, and we’re closing the gap in marathons.

  4. Melanippe on August 26th at 5:05 am

    Hi, ever heard of equestrian sports? These are the ONLY sports in which men and women do compete at *the same level*: showjumping, cross country, eventing, dressage… just say one 🙂
    And please don’t tell me that these aren’t *active sports*… if you do, you’ll only reveal that you never, ever even tried to ‘sit’ on a horse, not to mention ‘ride’ it ^_^

  5. Jessica on August 26th at 5:54 am

    You do raise an interesting point. I would never say that equestrian events are not active, however they are also not won on the sole power of the rider. Sort of like Danica Patrick and other cometing in Indy Car. Still a sport, but both of these examples are a joint effot between rider and horse or driver and car. You could put a great rider on a slow horse or a great driver in a bad car and there is only so much they can make up for.

    Thanks so much for your comment. Perhaps that part of the article could have been worded differently in reference to women winning ultra races under their own physical power.

  6. RunnerGirl on August 29th at 9:02 am

    I think that it is wonderful that us women runners are getting some attention as holding their own!

    Great article Jessica…