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 ( 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.

In my races, all runners who register as non-binary will be personally contacted and offered a few possibilities.  They may chose to participate as completely non-binary, which means that they don't score against male or female runners (so unless they were to finish in the top 3 overall, they would not be eligible for awards).  This is how the few other races that allow runners to register as non-binary handle it.

While this is certainly a step in the right direction towards acknowledging that some participants don't necessarily identify in the traditional 'male' or 'female' categories and don't necessarily want to race and be identified as such, I don't believe it goes far enough to provide a level and fair playing field for all to participate.  The solution at my races takes it a step further.

Each runner who registers as non-binary will have two additional options that allow them to compete and be eligible for awards against their biological/hormonal peers.  Non-binary runners will be allowed to designate if they are 'non-binary/estrogen-leaning' or 'non-binary/testosterone-leaning' and consequently compete against the likewise estrogen-leaning females and the testosterone-leaning males.  It allows them to register as they identify, yet allow them to still compete for overall and age-group awards if they chose to.

We did consider, initially, just having a third gender category for non-binary athletes.  However with only few athletes identifying this way, in some races simply selecting 'non-binary would qualify a runner for the overall non-binary victory.  Further, it would ultimately be a scenario where 'sub-elite men' could quickly determine that they would be eligible for overall victories if they register for non-binary.  While that's a worst case scenario that I hope doesn't happen, simply having an overall non-binary champion seemed like an in-elegant solution to the challenge.  I hope that solution that my races will be taking this year will be fair and equitable for all...however I completely expect that we will learn from it and make some changes in future years based on how it plays out.

Either way, the ultimate goal was to propose a potential solution that seems to be fair, and that will at least start the process of determining how to score non-binary athletes in running races in a fair and equitable way.

I was interviewed, along with my training buddy Kelsey Allen, about gender identity in running at our local TV station - here's the interview.

Women in Trail Running
A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a group discussion with several other enthusiastic trail running females...they (like me) were passionate runners who wanted to see more ladies hitting the trails.  However, I am extremely excited that these are women of action, not just talk.  While we spent much of our discussion chatting about why the number of ladies in trail running isn't higher, ultimately these theories were used to develop a survey to collect data on the true reasons.  I am optimistic that armed with the data from this survey, we can collectively start to approach more women and get them on the trails in a meaningful way.

It's just the beginning of this project, however I cant wait to see where it goes.  Hopefully, over time, we'll continue to see the number of ladies hitting the trails (and participating in trail and ultras) continue to grow.  More to come on this...


  1. Thank you for this, putting it out there and taking such as positive stance! This is something that I've thought about a great deal recently and trying to come up with an approach for my races.

    1. Derrick - feel free to pass along what you ultimately do! Some of this stuff is so new that we need to learn from each other and hope to ultimately get it right!


  2. Amy! So glad to see you write this. I hadn't seen it until today when I caught the title in the "blog roll" of my own blog. I wrote an editorial about the topic in the May 1 SMAC newsletter. See p. 20:

    My piece focused more on acknowledging the concept in general, as I felt like there has been a strange silence about that third category in the local running community and I was tired of pretending it wasn't happening. But I have also been hoping that more and more local RDs would address the competition / sporting aspect of it, precisely as you have.

    Cheers to you for doing the right thing.

    1. Thanks for sharing your editorial, and interesting read.

      As far as I know, the Seven Sisters Trail Race (and VT100, in July) will be the first two races to have tackled this issue beyond just allowing folks to check the most appropriate box...allowing them to equally compete. However, these is even disagreement about this on the Seven Sisters race committee, so I suspect that we'll continue to strive for the best solution. Either way - good luck to you as you find what's right for your races.

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