Not a month out from running my first ultra-marathon, I find myself wondering at the equity emanating from the sport.
Aside from money for entrance fees and transportation to starting lines, the physical sport of running requires no equipment. These relatively low barriers to entry have allowed athletes across the world to find success running. Yet popular distances, from the 5k to the marathon, are virtually always won by a man.
In 1992, Nature published an article predicting that women would overtake men in the marathon by 1998. This has yet to occur: Eliud Kipchoge, widely regarded as the greatest marathoner ever, holds the men’s record at 2:01:39; Paula Radcliffe holds the women’s at 2:15:25.
Women are on pace, though, to spar with—and defeat—men in ultrarunning, defined as any distance beyond the 26.2 miles of the marathon, which has massively grown in popularity in recent years.
Courtney Dauwalter, perhaps the most famous American woman ultramarathoner, is known for not just beating, but destroying course records set by men. In 2017 at the Moab 240 Endurance Run, Dauwalter finished in 57 hours, 55 minutes and 13 seconds. She was 10 hours in front of Sean Nakamura, the second-place finisher.
In January, Jasmin Paris won the Montane Spine Race, a 268-mile event, in 83 hours, breaking the course record by 12 hours and defeating the male second-place runner by 15 hours.
Women like Dauwalter and Paris unarguably demonstrate that women can triumph on foot. Some in the ultrarunning community, however, believe this apparent equality is simply due to the fact that ultrarunning remains largely out of the mainstream. If more people ran ultramarathons, the argument goes, men would surely win every time—nevermind the fact that men vastly outnumber women at ultrarunning start lines already.
Women are outrunning and outlasting men at vast distances. And whether or not women continue to smash course records and pass men on the trails, we must keep running. To outrun and outlast is a feat not easily conquered, but women like Paris and Dauwalter show us that anything is possible.