I’m running the Queen Bee Half Marathon this weekend, and I have a confession to make: I feel the constant need to apologize for it.
Why? I think it comes down to respect.
I pride myself on being an athlete. It’s so much a part of who I am that when I am injured or otherwise unable to participate, I find myself in a bit of an identity crisis. My entire life, I’ve found validation in sports, and now, on the eve of a race that is tailor-made to who I am — as a female athlete in the city in which I reside — I feel confused (and maybe even embarrassed) about my own enthusiasm for the event. And I’m not alone! Runner’s World just published an article questioning whether women-only races are necessary in this day and age.
There are a variety of factors at play here, but I think it all stems from our societal mindset that when something is feminine, it’s somehow lesser.
When I realized this the other day, I was so disgusted with myself. Why should I feel “silly” running a race for women? It’s the same distance (and certainly just as, if not more, difficult of a course) as any other half marathon on the planet.
As I was discussing the over-the-top race swag with my friend, Tessa, who’s coming in town to run the race with me, she said, “I’m done feeling bad about all of this. This is how men feel every day in a world that is tailored to them. This is going to be the best race ever.” Sometimes it’s really nice to have smart, insightful friends.
Then, when I heard that Deena Kastor was coming to Cincinnati for a meet-and-greet two days before the race, I knew I wanted to ask her how she felt about women’s-themed events. I actually got the chance to sit down for a solid 20 minutes (squeeee!) and pick her brain.
“I love women’s races!” Deena happily exclaimed. “I’ve watched my fair share of them, and when I ran my first women’s-themed half marathon a year ago, I told my agent as soon as I was done that I wanted to run it again. There’s just a completely different energy when you get a group of women together like that. I can’t even really explain it. But it’s like the air is buzzing with excitement, and well, it’s just awesome.”
I poked her further, referencing that Runner’s World article. Deena waved her hand at me and rolled her eyes. “Pffft! I saw that article too! And I didn’t even read it because I thought it was so stupid. Of course we should have women’s races. Why not make a healthy running lifestyle as inviting as possible for women?”
Deena Kastor is one of the best runners in the world. And you know what? Each of her 12 American records are “women’s only” records. That Olympic medal? She won it running the women’s marathon.
Does that make them silly? Do I respect those any less because she’s a woman who competes against women? Not a chance.
So you know what? If women’s-themed events are good enough for Deena Kastor, then by golly, they’re good enough for me too. I think I might even be convinced that this race is going to be pretty damn fun. Bring it on, Queen Bee. — Aidz