Something 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 …
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!