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Women’s participation in running – the White Star perspective

White Star Running’s Andy Palmer talks about the rise he has witnessed in women’s participation in running over the years and at White Star events.

“Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” – Marilyn Monroe

It’s International Women’s Day. Now, I am by no means an expert in feminism or women’s sport… or, in fact, women. However, over the last 20 years I’ve watched running become a sport or hobby or pastime that both sexes can enjoy.

Let’s get a few things clear. I’ve only been involved in running 20 or so years. In that time, the rise of the ‘lady runner has grown bigly’… as Donald Trump would say. I used to be race director of the Poole 10k. Just a quick scan of the results in 2010 shows that men outnumbered women 2:1; the last results from 2019 show that women were in a slight majority.

In 2018, we had more women than men compete in every single distance at the Larmer races, including the marathon. That was a first for us. Now this trend if repeated at most, if not all, of our events. At the Dark Valley 10k, women out numbered men 4:1.

We have seen women like Stacey Connelly win overall at Bad Cow; Holly Rush and Jackie Stretton podium overall, beating some of our best male trail runners.

What’s changed?

Why the increase in participation? I think there are lots of different reasons.

  • Race For Life was a major step for participation in running; a safe women’s only event that was non-judgemental of size or age or whatever. It was the being there that mattered.
  • This Girl Can, a campaign led by Sport England, states that, “This Girl Can is a campaign that aims to reduce that gap and inspire women to be more physically active.”
  • Advocates for women’s endurance running have grown too; people like Allie Bailly with her Ultra Awesome work for example.
  • The creation of parkrun, a safe inclusive weekly timed event for all the family.

I think the London 2012 Olympic Games had an effect on participation too. There were a lot of inspirational women athletes achieving great things, right on our doorstep. Strong female role models are great thing for women’s sport.

Of course, those of us who put on races have a part to play in this too. We have to ensure that events are accessible, inclusive, fair and safe. I’ve seen discrimination in races… even recently. There are occasions when women’s prizes are less than the men’s prizes, even though the distances, terrain and conditions were the same. I have to remind myself what century we’re in.

I’m sure we will see women’s entries increase in longer events even more. I remember reading somewhere that over very long distances, women are better runners than men. The great Ann Trason would regularly beat a whole field of men over very long races. (Read more on Ann here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Trason.)

So, as races start to return in 2021, we expect to see some amazing examples of women’s running from increased participation and personal achievements, to placing at the top end too. With so many new runners taking up the sport during lockdown, we can’t wait to see new faces out on the trails very soon.



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