Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Gender Equality

Update to the below - at the 2018 VT100 awards ceremony, we did call up the top 10 men and the top 10 women in the 100 mile race.  Sorry to disappoint those that supported the published awards structure.

I have been recently called out on social media regarding the number of awards given at the Vermont 100, specifically the decision to award to the top 10 men and top 5 women.  This conversation has come after a few weeks of discussion with an individual who doesn't agree with the decision made.  She has since taken to harassing me and trying to bully me into a different decision.

Below is the information that was sent to her:
"I appreciate your feedback on this topic as I know it's a charged issue for many.  I will point out that as an RD, there's no possible way to make everyone happy, so I just do the best I can and hope to not make too many mistakes along the way.

I will first start by letting you know of the history of the top runner awards at VT100.  Before I took over the race, they only acknowledged the top 10 overall (regardless of gender) - some years that was all 10 men (and no women), some years it had up to 2 women in the top 10.  Most years, only the top female would crack the top 10 overall and get anything other than the same belt buckle as everyone else.  Back then, the top 10 would get a special 'top 10' buckle rather than any awards, and everyone else got the same buckle regardless of whether you finished in 18 hours or 23:59.  I've finished 4 times on the podium at VT100, placing as high as 2nd place (missing winning by 2 minutes)...I have 6 of the same belt buckles, having never cracked the top 10 and never getting anything different than anyone else.  So, that's where things started only a few years ago.

Now, I'm a numbers person.  I want there to be more women running, and want stronger female competition.  However, I define equity differently than some others (including you two) do.  I think equality is recognizing the same percentage of the two genders, which in an ideal world would be the same number but at VT100 is not.  Perhaps I should change it on the website to state that we'll recognize the top 4% of either gender (but never less than 5 and never more than 10), as that's actually what we do.  Here's the numbers that have run the VT100 over the last 5 years:
2018 - 76% male
2017 - 79% male
2016 - 79% male
2015 - 80% male
2014 - 79% male
The numbers have been fairly consistent, at more than 3/4 of the race being men, therefore the top 3.7% of men each year get recognized and the top 6.9% of female every year gets recognized.  How is that unfair to the women?

Also, the results show a similar gap between the 1-5th female as the 1-10th male:
2017 - 1-5th male gap - 1:52; 1-10th male gap - 3:07; 1-5th female - 3:11, 1-10th female - 5:24
2016 - 1-5th male gap - 1:17; 1-10th male gap - 2:49; 1-5th female - 2:53, 1-10th female - 5:00
2015 - 1-5th male gap - 2:33; 1-10th male gap - 3:48; 1-5th female - 1:50, 1-10th female - 4:17 
This is when only the top 10 overall were awarded anything differently:
2014 - 1-5th male gap - 1:50; 1-10th male gap - 2:53; 1-5th female - 2:00, 1-10th female - 4:06 (0 female in the top 10 overall)
2013 - 1-5th male gap - 0:41; 1-10th male gap - 3:36; 1-5th female - 2:53, 1-10th female - 3:55 (1 female in the top 10 overall)

So, in the years where we at least award the top 5 female as opposed to only those that fell within the top 10 overall, the women's field has gotten less competitive...showing that offering additional awards to more top females has not resulted in a more competitive race (as the argument that if often cited is that the race would get more competitive if we recognized more women).

Again, only my opinion, but as this is my race to direct I can chose what I think is fair.  You are welcome to RD your own events and award things how ever you want, and I will respect your decision to do so.

The tough spot we're in right now is that:

awards are already purchased (and yes, they are purchased, not donated...so money has been spent) - the only thing we could do at this point is reduce the number of men getting awards...and then I'm stuck with extra men's jackets that I already paid for.

the award structure has been advertised since folks signed up for the race, so it doesn't seem fair to change the structure at this point even if I was inclined to do so.

This is a discussion for November and December, before awards are purchased and before registration happens.  

Trust me when I say that no matter who you talk to about this race, everyone thinks that there is 'just one thing that could be improved'.  For you, it's the awards structure.  For someone else, it's the fact that registration filled up in 12 minutes but we don't have a lottery.  For others, it's that we don't have Tailwind on course.  Some folks think that 100k finishers should get belt buckles.  There was one guy that blasted me for still requiring the 8-hours volunteer service to participant.  I've had (and will likely continue to have) angry emails from folks who believe that a male-to-female transgender runner shouldn't be awarded a top spot if that's where she finishes.  Everyone has an opinion on how to do things better - and every change makes some folks happy and some folks unhappy.  

I do listen and consider each piece of feedback that is offered.  We will continue to watch the men's vs. women's participation numbers, as well as the time gap from 1-5th and 1-10th for each gender, and hope that women become a larger percentage of the field in the future."

At this point, with only a few days before the race and numerous tasks to complete in that time, I wish that folks would respect that while they have a different opinion than the VT100 that it doesn't automatically make this decision wrong.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Coaching at Hampshire College

For the past year, I've been coaching the Hampshire College running team - for cross country in the fall and 'track and trails' in the spring.  It's been a fun experience - I really do enjoy working with runners, getting them excited about running, watching them improve, and hopefully inspiring them to continue to run after college. 

Anyway, one of the athletes, Gwyn, is a sprinter so I only got to work with her on occasion - but she wrote the essay below for her 'Intro to Coaching' class where she had to observe a coach in action.  

By Gwyn Burns
“How many more ‘till no more?” Amy says to the conglomerate of sprinters that are located outside of the Hampshire College multisport center. “Three more ‘till no more!” We all shout back.

Today we are asked to work on our starts, which involves running down beside campus way, on the grass since Hampshire’s un-sporty attitude can be seen through the lack of an outdoor track. Eric, the normal sprinting coach is gone for the day, probably off working his other job as an electrician, which means Amy is our coach for the day.
 You wouldn’t think that Amy Rusiecki, at 5ft. 6in. would be an imposing force, but she is. She is someone that finds a way to compete in 50k as well as 100k races, a distance that some would shy away from, but one that Amy faces full on. With her welcoming smile, and joking attitude, some might forget that she can be intense, often making the workouts harder than they need to be, creating competition between the runners. You can hear her feelings in her voice, when she is excited it increases an octave. When she is serious or disappointed, her voice will lower, but she is hardly ever disappointed. She walks with power, probably from all the running she does, or with the confidence of someone who can run for longer than others.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Gender and Trail Running

Over the past few weeks, I've had a few opportunities to discuss gender in trail running - and in many different contexts.  It's wonderful to have so many folks (and groups) looking at these issues - so I want to comment on a few topics below.

Transgender Runners

In the past few years as a Race Director, I've had to deal with feedback on the fact that I awarded a podium position to a male-to-female transgender runner at VT100.  While I'm glad that folks feel free to ask questions about this decision, I am confident that the correct decision was made.  The transgender runner followed the USATF (and IOC) regulations regarding when, during her transition, she was required to still register as male for races and when she was allowed to register as female. 

Much of the criticism from others seems to involve the fact that I didn't conduct any drug testing on this runner to confirm that her testosterone levels were in alignment with the USATF regulations.  However, as I pointed out to those who raised concern, I have not tested any other athlete in the race for their potential use of performance enhancing drugs (or other drugs on the USATF/IOC banned list) nor have I questioned the gender or age of any other runner.  Trail running, where all that is being won is a pair of shoes or some sponsor's swag, is often built on the trust of each runner registering and I believe it would be hypocritical to scrutinize one group of athletes more than any other.  Runners could lie on their age, for example, and win age group awards...yet I have never checked IDs at registration to confirm that everyone signed up appropriately - trusting each runner to be accurate.  All runners also sign a waiver that they comply with USATF regulations (which include their ban on the use of certain performance enhancing drugs), and I trust that all runners are in compliance with that regulation also.

While I respect that every race director has the right to handle each situation as they see fit (it is their race, after all), I chose to follow the guidance of the USATF and the IOC for many things, including their stance on transgender runners.

Non-Binary Runners

The registration company that I use (runreg.com) defaults to allow runners to register for any of three gender categories - 'male', 'female' or 'non-binary/prefer not to answer'.  This is a relatively new thing, and I think it's a wonderful acknowledgement for folks to recognize that how you identify may not be in alignment with your born gender.  I don't believe this issue (i.e. how to handle/score non-binary runners) has been tackled by many race directors yet.  While I don't know that I have determined the ideal solution, through extensive conversations with a non-binary runner, at least I am offering a solution that will hopefully be a jumping off for other races to use.