Personal trainer, running coach and author Laura Fountain reflects on disparity ahead of the South of England Cross Country Championships this weekend
My friend Laura and I coached track sessions together at our running club. New runners would often ask which Laura was which. We’d shrug and say, “It doesn’t really matter.”
We were both pregnant at the same time, too, her delivering just a few months before me. Our kids have been going to baby groups and toddler classes together for two years. They run around together and we wonder whether they’ll be future runners.
But while Laura has a little girl, I have a boy. And so, if they do grow up to follow our muddy footsteps and run cross country, they’ll compete under unequal terms. In cross country, men and boys often run longer races than women and girls.
The English National Cross Country Championships this year will see the senior women running 8K while the men run 12K. Even the junior men will run 10K.
I try to be mindful of the messages that I’m giving my son. The messages that society gives him are largely out of my control though. What does a race that demands men and boys run further than women and girls tell him? Probably that to be female means to be less capable. But I also worry what it tells him it means to be a man. When you tell women they’re weaker, you’re also telling men they have to be stronger.
The South of England Cross Country Championships this year will, again, see men running 15K and women 8K. Those who object to the equalising of race distances will often say, ‘but women don’t want to run 15K’, as though all men do.
Runners are runners. We all prefer to run on di erent terrain, at di erent times of day, to run di erent distances. To think that gender dictates what sort of running we’d want to do is ridiculous and the message that our sex dictates what running we’re capable of is dangerous for both men and women.
Last year I ran five miles from my home to the start of the South of England championship race. It took my total distance for the day to further than the men’s race. I want my son to see that inequality, in whatever shape or form, should be challenged and not just accepted as part of ‘tradition’ or any other excuse.
And, if he and his female friends decide to run cross country, I want them to be able to compete on equal terms.