Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rock The Sisterhood!

I was surprised and amused with the strong comments about my post on the Barkley and females.

The ultra community is small. Female ultra runners are a small percentage of the runners out there. I have no statistics on this, but look at any race result in Ultra Running magazine, and see how many underlined names there are, finishing a race.

In a running podcast I listen to, the host (male) had made an observation that since males and females are not equal, perhaps there should be different cut off times for males and females-i.e., give the ladies a little extra time to finish.
Can you imagine? Being the AS Captain at a race? "Hey George, going to have to pull ya, buddy, cut off time. Oh Sally? Go ahead sweetie, you got fifteen more minutes".

Now I don't think the male podcaster was being sexist, just a bit thick-headed. In general, I would agree that men and women are not physical equals. Males are usually a bit stronger, faster, bigger. Hence, look at race results. Only six races in 2010 won outright by women (someone check UR for that, I don't have the copy handy.)

So since we are not equals, not as fast/strong/big as men, isn't it kickass that we are held to the same standards?  Females, being the underdogs here, only get the same time as the guys? To climb up the same mountains, wade the same streams, run through the bluebells and get the same time allotment? Well, and some females even finish ahead of many males in a race! Go figure!

A mile is gender neutral. A mile doesn't care if you are male or female. Neither does the time clock. This is a reason I like events like running races in the Olympics-it's all there, in the black and white. Someone crossed the finish line ahead of someone else. There's no judging if the triple axle was artistically better than the previous triple axle contestant. Nope. Who crossed the line first. Or who ran the most miles in XX amount of time.

Back to the Barkley..

I believe my friend Adam summed it up much better than I did, in his comments and on his blog:

I mean this will all due respect to the opposite sex and intend zero sexism in this comment. . . There are undoubtedly women out there that CAN finish Barkley. The question is though, of the women that CAN finish, how many have the DESIRE? There are far fewer women than men in the sport of ultrarunning so the number of possible finishers is already reduced. This race is as sadistic (and tough) as they come and requires more suffering than most (including me) desire. So will a woman finish? . . . someday (and I hope this year), but if I were a betting man I wouldn't be tossing much money to the bookie. I personally know a few women that have as good of a chance as any of the top men, but they simply don't have the key ingredient - DESIRE!

(And this is no candy ass trail. In fact, there is very little trail. For more info on the Barkley, Matt Mahoney has the unofficial website.  This year, there were 9 runners finishing the Fun Run (3 loops of 60 miles) and Brett Maune, a Barkley Virgin, became finisher # 10. Gary Cantrell, the Race Director, will almost certainly make the course worse next year in some fashion.)

But how many ultra women even know about the Barkley? Does it not capture the imagination,of a race so impossibly hard, that the outcome is an almost certain DNF? Is this more appealing to the machismo, the testosterone-laden members of the species? Are women just more practical, they look at the odds, the terrain, engage their common sense, and find other races to do in the early springtime?

There's got to be a few more females out there who are tough enough to contemplate this race. This might be good trail time conversation for my weekend races, poll the females-and males-about the Barkley, and see what they think!


  1. Miss Kimba. I will make my CONTEMPLATION public. Only contemplation. I have contemplated. I have no doubt that it will take me several years to get beyond mere contemplating on this one. But oh yes. I have contemplated.

  2. I love Laz's quotes - especially this one:

    "True success is not the absence of failure,It is the refusal to surrender."

    Completing even one loop out there is an accomplishment, and must be an incredible challenge if even Bur and Losey stopped there.

  3. I have read a couple accounts of the Barkley, and it is certainly one I would never contemplate doing. Anyone who attempts it gets the tough as nails award in my book!

    oh, and on the subject of males/females in ultras... I believe the distance covered is a great equalizer, meaning... we all suffer equally!

  4. I think it is possible for a woman to finish Barkley, but not anytime soon. Sue Johnston made it a little less than 3.5 loops and she is one of the toughest ladies I have ever known. Barkley is even tougher now than when she did that. Some lady or ladies are going to have to do better than she did before it is realistic to think of a woman to finish it. Jennifer Pharr Davis is the only woman that I know of that has what it takes and I don't think she could finish it either.


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