5 Ways to Promote Women’s Running

fri5Recently, iRunFar published an except of Vanessa Runs‘ book, Daughters of Distance.  In it, Vanessa takes on the gender inequity in endurance cycling as it pertains to sponsorship and prize money. As Pepper wrote a few years ago, her own boyfriend (now husband) argued that women athletes should not be afforded the same prize money as men! I’ve heard so many times from disgruntled chicked men that the only reason I or another woman runner won something was because hardly any women compete at the top.

And it’s not just arguments. Elite ultrarunner, Ellie Greenwood discussed the gender inequity in prize money in the ultrarunning world. In my own sphere, a good friend of mine raced a 5k that advertised prize money for the winners. She raced well, coming in first woman and fourth overall. When she went to claim her prize, she was told that the awards were only for the top 3 overall and there were no specific women’s awards. This was a year and a half ago!

My friend Sandi of Sage Running posed this question on Facebook: how do you support female athletes? Good question! So, what can we do to ensure women runners get the respect they deserve? How can we support women in our sport? Read on!

1. Follow women runners on social media!

When sponsors look for athletes to support, they look for athletes that have a following. These days the best way to demonstrate a following is through social media. If the sponsors see that male runners tend to have way more followers than women, then they will sponsor way more men. So if you haven’t done so, get on twitter, facebook or instagram and follow your favorite women runners now!

2. Be a fan of the sport.

One of the most common arguments against equal treatment of competitive women runners is that they don’t have the fans tuning into races the way men do. And it’s true. Studies show male runners are far more likely to compete in races than women and this competitiveness also drives them to enjoy watching others compete too. Many women runners, on the other hand, would rather participate without competing. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, it means we women who do choose to compete must spread the love and follow our professional counterparts. I’m not sure how well trickle down economics worked, but as the pro-women gain support, so do the rest of us.

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Bring little girls to the track!

3. Be a good example.

Don’t be afraid to tell people you compete. Do your hardcore workouts in public. Wear your competitive runner badge with pride. Yes, sometimes I feel like a freak doing a tempo on the treadmill at my gym, but the high school kids, the old guys walking on the treadmill and everyone else working out see me and see that it’s ok for a middle-aged mom to run her butt off during her preschool-aged daughter’s basketball class and be a competitive athlete. Ok, I’m sure they still think I’m weird, but I’m one example closer to making it normal for every day women to compete. Normalize competitive women’s running!

4. Compete on the track.

Oh, I know. The track can be a scary place for those of us who’ve never raced on it. However, the track needs us! While women make up 52% of road racers, competitive men outnumber competitive women in these same races by a factor between 2 and 4! That means at least twice as many men are competing in those races as women, who as I mentioned above tend to favor participation over competition. The disparity is much worse on the track, where only the most competitive runners show up. That means there are many track meets, particularly age-group meets with little if any female competitors. If we want women to be taken seriously on the track, then we need to show up!  *Gulp!*

5. Mentor the next generation of competitive women runners.

Being an example of a competitive woman runner is a great start to showing young women that competitive running is where it’s at! But if you want to take it a step further, you can volunteer with an organization like Girls on the Run or Girls with Sole that seek to introduce girls to sport of running. Mint wrote a great post about the power of Girls on the Run. Besides these organizations you can look for schools or youth running clubs that need volunteer coaches. I’ve helped out at a local cross-country camp a few times and it was a great experience!

What do you think? How else can we support women in our sport?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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5 comments

  1. We have to be mentors and idols to the young generation, and we have to assist them learning to be self esteem – not only on the track or road – also in their daily life.
    Furthermore, we have to teach EVERY woman – no matter how old she is – that she doesn’t compete against another woman! She has to concentrate on herself and give the best of her. I think a lot of women fear races because they afraid of being the second one…

  2. I’m curious what you meant by teaching other women to not compete against one another. In athletics, I believe competition is healthy and necessary. In fact, I’d say it’s important to encourage other women to be unafraid to compete, whether it’s against others or themselves. Competition, to my mind, is impetus for self-improvement. It’s certainly not something to scorn!

  3. Young girls’ community and school-based athletic programs are critical to improving health, confidence, and self-esteem. Inclusive programs like Kathrine Switzer’s “216 Fearless Program,” which seek to encourage and support women in walking and running, regardless of ability, with the greater goal of helping us all find strength (physical and mental) and fearlessness in our lives, should be embraced at all ages and levels. The community of women runners is an ideal place to begin to see ourselves, our children and our grandchildren, as leaders. Consider “Half the Sky,” Nicolas Kristof and Shery WuDunn’s book about turning oppression into opportunity for women, where community and support and self-esteem are critical factors in bringing women in all countries into the picture. Running can be a stimulus for this. Even one girl or one woman at a time is an achievement. Find someone in your community and encourage her to walk or run or swim or bike. It will work.