No Boys Allowed: One Woman’s Thoughts on Women Only Races.

Not on my list of preferred race gear (Photo credit: alicetiara)

I’ve been a subscriber to Women’s Running magazine, ever since our very own Salty was featured! I’m like a little kid at Christmas when a glossy, new magazine appears in my mailbox each month, but, I must admit, I was a little bit taken aback when I opened the front page of the August issue. The headlines flashed at me:

Reward me with a glitzy medal! Pamper me in the freshen up lounge! Celebrate me with a Bubbly toast! Treat me with a cookie cafe!

Hmmmm…where was this going?

Oh yes, Women Only races. Upon this realization, I think my eyes rolled across the room.

I picked up my eyeballs and opened up the magazine, resolved to keep an open mind. The first feature was all about the “Women’s Running Series: Half Marathon and 5k Weekend Getaways.” Here are some of the profiled races and the little blurbs describing them:

Nashville, Tennessee: September 28, 2013:

Highlights include a designer, reusable goodie bag and a  “one-of-a-kind medal” with a removable center charm.  Finishers can add the center charm to any necklace or bracelet as a “constant reminder of her achievement”.

Scottsdale, Arizona: November 3, 2013

An upcoming event for this one includes a “Ladies Night Like No Other” complete with sweet treats, drinks and massages to kick-off the training.

The finisher medal has a removable charm center that can double as a necklace.
The finisher medal with a removable charm center that can double as a necklace must be a “thing.”

San Diego, California: February 22, 2014

Perks for this one include giveaways, just for signing up. Makeovers are selected randomly bi-weekly on Mondays and all participants are automatically entered to win a “glamping” getaway in Santa Barbara. Glamping (apparently made popular by The Real Housewives) winners get a canvas-tented rustic paradise that is fully furnished with a heater and lamps. Beach cruisers and a heated pools are some of the perks included.

Wait. These are races? Ok, the open mind didn’t last long. I soon found myself getting pretty irked. I’m not known to be a hardcore feminist or anything, but my blood really started to boil! Why are women’s races marketed as pampering sessions? Why do these races think I’m enticed by baked goods to register for a race? Why must my medal be convertible into jewelry?

Despite (apparent) popular belief, women runners can be pretty bad ass, too. Give me a little money to compete for, an unripe banana and a ticket for a warm can of beer at the end and I’m good to go, thank you. I guess I can see both sides of the coin here, but I wanted to see where our readers weigh in on this new “Women Only” racing series phenomenon that seems to be popping up, well … everywhere.

I can see why some women might be interested in these events. I’m not under any delusion that all women are comfortable in the sweaty male-dominated conventional race environment. Many women take up running after never ever being athletic before and I can imagine are intimidated by a more athletic-centered environment. These more female-centric “races” could be a gateway for more women to enter the sport? There is definitely an audience for this type of race; otherwise, it wouldn’t exist.

Chocolate tasting selection
Yea, I like chocolate as much as the next girl, but I think a good old fashioned medal is way better. (Photo credit: waldopepper)

I guess for me, as a runner who sometimes feels like conventional races don’t always take women runners seriously, I think these women’s races that take the focus almost entirely off competition and park it on the swag and the comfort (are races supposed to be comfortable?), it just seems to perpetuate the stereotypes that already drive me batty. For serious female runners who train and push just as hard as their male counterparts,  this seems to almost patronize such efforts, in my opinion. I can’t help but picture a boardroom filled with male executives scheming how more women will want to enter a race, with astronomical race fees and, therefore, profits, when there’s CHOCOLATE, DIAMONDS, and COOKIES at the end! Barf!

Have you or would you ever run a women’s only endurance event? Do you love or hate them? Am I missing something? 

I'm a new momma, full-time non-profiter, and coffee lover. I write about healthy body image, half marathon training, and recovery from eating disorders. I'm currently training to maintain fitness throughout the winter and break 1:27:00 in my next half marathon.

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  1. Oh, girl! I feel you on so many levels! The boardroom scene made me LOL and is something I’ve also pictured. Just like mud runs and color runs, the “women only” theme is a marketing gimmick and for that it annoys me.

    On the other hand, it’s really the marketing that annoys me in that it assumes women aren’t competitive. If the blurbs said, come race and push yourself against some of the best women runners in the country … AND get pampered and all this swag, it would actually be pretty sweet imo. What do you think?

  2. I absolutely agree with you on this. I’ve run one race that catered to women (men could run but weren’t even given an official finishing time) but I don’t plan to run another one. My husband is also a runner, and traveling and running races is something we enjoy doing together.

    We’ve fought so hard for gender equality is so many areas, why some women would want to give it away in a race is beyond me. To make if fair, how about having a men’s only race be part of the same racing weekend? Maybe their medal could be in the shape of a naked woman, and instead of getting chocolate, how about a case of beer?

  3. Right there with you! My husband and I run together…well not quite…he’s about 15-20 minutes ahead of me….but he isn’t comfortable running a women’s race…so we don’t get to run together. When I ran Nike DC…I loved everything about it except people’s negative attitute towards the men in the race and people getting hair and makeup done AFTER the race…seriously!!!! I want to be treated like an athlete not a runway model. I’d much rather get lots of SWAG and Beer like at the Shamrock 1/2 in VA Beach!

  4. These races seem like a money making scheme, plus I would never run a women’s only race because I enjoy having a pack of men chase me.

  5. I could support women’s only races if they focused more on female empowerment and creating a race for women who might not necessarily feel comfortable yet in normal races. It’s the emphasis on pink and “girly” things that really gets me. What if I don’t like pink or sparkles or tutu’s (I don’t for the record). Also on the flip side how would people react if there were mens only races? I could just be a party pooper though because I’m not really a fan of themed races

    1. I really don’t get the whole running tutu thing. The Another Mother Runner page just did a giveaway for tutus and I find it so weird. Doesn’t society put enough pressure on us to be dolled up in our everyday lives? Now we have to be pretty while we’re sweating, too? I feel equally baffled by the pretty pusher birthing gowns.

        1. – “Pretty Pushers labor gowns are a smart, soft, and stylish alternative to the unisex hospital gown for modern labor and delivery.”

          I wore the standard hospital gown for my first, and I think I was only wearing my bra for the second. The idea of looking “pretty” was so far removed from my thoughts at those times.

  6. This makes me SO angry – it’s one of the things MOST guaranteed to get me riled up.

    Obviously the marketing is horrific – the pinkness, the chocolate, the champagne. (And I like all of those things). The stereotypical-ness (is that a word?) drives me crazy.

    But the thing that really gets me is the basic sexist nature of it. Can you IMAGINE if there was a guys’ race that the women weren’t allowed to run? Can you IMAGINE the backlash? Oh…remember when women weren’t allowed to run Boston?? Remember how we women took that snub gracefully and quietly? NO! It’s blatantly sexist. Aren’t we big enough girls to run with the boys yet????

    Grrr…off to drink some champagne and eat some chocolate to calm down!

  7. My husband and I train and race together, when we were looking for upcoming races to register for I was irritated by all the women only races. For me it’s not so much of the ridiculous pampering, etc. that comes with them, but how would women (and society) react if there were men-only races? That would be sexist. I’m more upset about the double standard than anything else.

  8. These events are gross and hold no appeal to me.

    I am running a women only race on Saturday. It’s nothing like the events described above, it’s actually pretty low frills. No medals, no sparkle/glitter, just handcrafted AG prizes. The last enticement I saw from the RD on the FB page was that they were going to have wet sponges for us. (It’s almost always hot and humid for the race). I love my little event so my defenses go up a little when women start trashing women’s races, but I don’t think my race is in the same category as the messes described here.

  9. I ran the Nashville Women’s Running Half last year and loved it for the sake of being a great race regardless of the pink. The swag bag came with a bunch of samples and goodies I enjoyed. The shirt left something to be desired but still makes it in my rotation. The medal isn’t my favorite, but this year’s medal looks super cool. My tote bag is my favorite for groceries. I skipped the cookie bar for a protein bar at the finish. Parking was easy, gear chck was quick and well organized, and the volunteers were fantastic at the aid stations.

    I trained last year with a group of people from both genders who love the course, the crowd support, and have run it multiple years. For reasons listed above, when people ask me about my favorite local race, this is it.

    Admittedly there were lots of tutus and people who walk. Despite this, I had a blast racing with like minded Nashville natives who were using this course to PR. It’s a great course. Not because of a pink grocery tote. Not because of post race cookies (FYI there was no beer. Had to go get my own at home 😉 ) Not because it is women only. Maybe the lady tinged marketing is overstating what was actually present at the race, but I was there to race. And I did. Most of my competitors were women, but isn’t how we look at age group and overall awards anyway?

  10. I have run in them, and I don’t mind them, honestly I picked them because they sounded like fun, well run events at convenient times and nice places. I didn’t really care that they were women’s only. I’ve had a lot of fun and they give out better swag than the other races I’ve done.

    1. So I ran in a Women’s race on Saturday- It was fun, fairly well organized and had terrific swag. It also benefited the Women’s Mental Health Program at a nearby hospital and I’m fully on board with that. That said, right before the little girls race (which was also really well done), the race director announced that “as girls, we are all in it for the bling bling”, referencing the finisher medals for the girls. I just about died inside and finally saw the other side of not liking the women’s only race. It killed me that the message the little girls were getting was not that running was awesome, or fun, or something that’s good for you, but that you get “bling” at the end. Made me a bit sad.

      I’m a girly girl at heart- I think running tutu’s are fun, as are sparkly skirts, but I’d never ever claim that I was in it for the bling. No matter what the swag is, no matter who the run is aimed at, I’m there to run, I’m there to push myself, and I’m there to enjoy the sport. Honestly, I felt like in this moment the whole thing was cheapened just a little bit.

      1. I can identify a lot. I like girly stuff, though I just say no to tutus 🙂 I don’t mind girlyness but I HATE the presumption that I’m not into making the ugly face, sweating like a mofo and kicking ass because I have a vagina!

  11. OK, I am going to go against the crowd here. I am a big advocate of (some) women’s only races. The one that I have raced a couple of times is the NYRR Mini 10K ( I mean, check out that picture. How much pink do you see? How many tutus? Just a bunch of badass female runners, getting to line up at the front of the pack for once (rather than a couple back, behind the fastest men), ready to kick ass. Just look at the results if you need some confirmation that this is a serious race– the winner won in 31:47 (a 5:07 pace). A women running a 5:30 pace wouldn’t even have cracked the top 10.

    Now, I am not a fan of the chocolates, champagne, jewelery and massages phenomenon you speak of in particular, and which is becoming more and more popular, but just because a race is women-only doesn’t mean it has to fit that mold.

    I am fundamentally in favor of women-only races because the experience for me, as a mid-pack runner, is so different than in a mixed race. I do a ton of mixed-gender races every year, I’m not some delicate flower who can’t compete with men, but competing amongst women is a different experience. My first women-only race fundamentally changed my perception of myself as a not very good runner. Lining up for my first women-only race, I realized that I was only middling when I compared myself to men– looking around and comparing myself only to women, I was actually near the front of the pack. Everyone seeded around me was a serious racer.

    For those who think that they are sexist– Men at the front of the pack have a chance that women don’t in almost every single mixed race– to be first, or to be in contention for first. In most mixed races, especially large mixed races, women never even get a chance to compete for the top overall places, to run down the home stretch to the finish line and realize that there’s no one ahead of you, that you are going to win the race. (OK, so I am nowhere near that level– but shouldn’t women have that opportunity also once in a while?)

    1. I agree with you 110%! I hate the “tutu” marketing crap, but RACING all women sounds great to me as does a post race pedi in that case 😉

  12. I don’t care if its a race of all women or not. What I care about is that women’s achievements are recognized as much as men’s. Women’s results in big ticket mixed gender races are frequently overlooked and given little attention. Just like these women’s only races receive significantly less publicity than mixed gender ones do.

    Women’s athletics are frequently not taken as seriously as they deserve. These races seem to perpetuate that trend instead of resist it and because of that I am not much of a fan.

  13. I admit it, I have run in both a running tutu and a sparkle skirt. And I love pink. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a serious runner. I like the idea of women only races for some of the reasons Meaghan mentioned above… however, in most cases, I think the execution is flawed.

    It becomes more about the Pretty! Pink! Marketing! then the fact that they are catering to athletes who happen to be female. And frankly, it feels pretty demeaning in some – no, make that most – cases. Case in point: I did consider one women’s only half a couple of years ago, because it was close, relatively inexpensive and fit into my training plan. Then I found out that they offer a Photo Prep station at mile 13 with combs, mirrors, lipstick, etc. so you can “pretty up” for the finish line photo. Yeah, not interested in that sort of thing at all.

  14. I have never understood the double standard. Tell me how I’m wrong. Wasn’t there a lawsuit 20 years ago when they tried to have a men’s only race? Or if they tried that today, it would be an uproar.

    1. Is it fair that women can set world records only in women-only races? Wouldn’t it be nice for women to have the opportunity to race outright for a win and not have to be 6th person, first woman. Track races are segregated by gender usually. Do you really want to run in the Tutu Dash 5k? Do you think they’ll turn your money away? Was it fair that all races were men only until fairly recently? Have women tended to deny men access to their freedom to compete? Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about women-only races, but I think it’s an interesting topic to discuss!