Gender Bender

113th Boston Marathon April 20, 2009, Boston, MA Photo by: Lisa Coniglio Victah1111@aol.com 631-741-1865 www.photorun.NET

Kara rewrites the narrative. Wear pink and kick ass.

The topic of gender in sport has been on my mind in recent weeks, and I have a lot of thoughts on the issue.

  • I always pursue equality in my life, whether in running or in general. We’ve recently posted about it on the blog, and while I think we all want the same things from our beloved sport, I come from a different school of thought. However, the one thing we can universally agree on is this: men and women are wired differently.
  • A couple weeks ago, I was in Seattle watching the ECNL soccer playoffs. At the tournament, I saw a lot of girls, from all over the U.S., playing soccer. They are the very best players in the country, and they proved that on the field. They were fierce, competitive and, yes, feminine. Their uniforms fit their bodies because they were women’s uniforms cut for a woman’s body. But my husband’s teams looked a little different. Their shorts were longer, the tops boxier. So I asked, and I found out that his girls wear boys’ uniforms. Wait, why? “To even the playing field.” Wait, what? What’s wrong with wearing a woman’s uniform? I mean, as long as it’s not pink. Right? But why is pink the enemy?
  • Isn’t the great equalizer being able to embrace our differences and share the same power? Why do we have to measure ourselves against maleness to be equal, even in sport? Why can’t wearing a pink tutu in a race be empowering, if that’s what you love? I don’t need to be like a man to feel strong, capable or competitive. I don’t need to set aside my femininity in any area of my life — sport, career or relationships — I am a woman and I seek equality by embracing who I am, not by setting it aside.

Fierce competitors, but not genderless.

  • I don’t think the world of sports perpetuates a specific “girly” stereotype to attract women. From my vantage, women’s sports are intense, powerful and exciting. Did you watch the Women’s World Cup? Have you seen Kara Goucher compete?
  • Parents don’t sign up their daughters for softball so they can wear cute uniforms. They sign them up to play softball because their daughters want to play softball. If appearance were the motivator, they’d probably sign them up for pageants. My gut tells me that these girls want to play the sport and be allowed to be girls. We can’t deny that girls like Elsa, so why not let them wear Elsa and play the game they love? Girls playing sports doesn’t lessen what is means to be a girl, and it doesn’t lessen what it means to play sports.
  • Then there are race T-shirts. We complained until we got the right fit for our shirts, but we now complain if they’re pink? It seems inconsequential to me. Sexist sayings aside, I see nothing wrong with the women’s tees being different than the men’s at the same race.

I think you can absolutely love your sport while absolutely embracing who you are, and if that means wearing an asexual outfit, great. But if you want to rock a pink shirt and tutu, you’ll still be a badass in my eyes. — Amie

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Race Recap: Queen Bee Half Marathon

When my friend Tessa, who has known me since I was 8, asked if I’d run a fall half marathon with her to help her get back in shape after having a baby, I happily agreed. After all, she agreed to run a half marathon with me after I had my first baby a couple of years ago.

Besides, I, too, was looking for a fall race, so when the organizers of the Flying Pig Marathon announced the inaugural Queen Bee Half Marathon, we knew it was fate. Tessa (who lives in St. Louis) and I agreed to train together, from afar. And even though we were both a bit conflicted regarding our feelings on running a women’s-themed event, by the time the big day arrived, we were both totally excited.

Sweet swag from the excellent expo.

Sweet swag from the excellent expo.

The Expo: If the expo, which was held at the brand-shiny-new casino downtown, was any indication of how this race was going to go, I knew we were in for a treat. I already love race expos, and this one was particularly awesome. Along with a long-sleeved (well designed) race tech shirt, we also received a nice bag, a Queen Bee-themed Sweaty Band and a pair of sunglasses.

While race expos always have decent discounts on local merchandise, this one truly had some of the best deals — and it was all women’s apparel. The local running store, Bob Roncker’s Running Spot, had Moving Comfort sports bras for $10. Seriously, people. Ten! Dollars! And yeah, OK, I know, I KNOW you’re not supposed to wear new clothes on race day, but they had the cutest Queen Bee tank tops and I had a pair of arm warmers I’ve really been wanting to give a whirl, so what the hell, I bought a tank to wear for the race. I had to get back to work, so I didn’t partake in the massages, braiding bar, mini facials, and multitude of other free awesomeness at the expo, but like the race it is named for, this expo really ruled. (Ba-dum-CHING!)

Breaking running rules, but ready to roll.

Breaking running rules, ready to roll.

The Parking: Race morning, I was a little concerned about parking for the race. The start and finish were at the casino (which is where the race organizers encouraged everyone to park), so I had a chance to case the scene while I was there for the expo. I observed that this potentially could become a ridiculous bottle neck, and when race morning came, that’s exactly what happened.

Luckily, I work downtown, so I know the area well and was able troubleshoot and find an open parking lot near the finish line. It turned out perfectly because we were able to weave through the finish area (and to the vast number of open port-potties) before making our way to the start line. Five dollars well spent.

The Start: This race sold out and reached capacity a full two weeks before race day. Race organizers must have been prepared for this because the start line was wonderful. It was well-organized, not crowded and easy to find our way to the appropriate pace group. Because of the parking snafu, race organizers announced that they’d delay the start of the race 10-15 minutes to allow people to get to the start line. Since it wasn’t TOO chilly out (actually, it was ideal running weather — cloud cover, no wind and approximately 50 degrees), this was just a slight annoyance. Hopefully next year, they’ll find a better solution for parking, and it won’t be an issue.

Aaand, they're off!

Aaand, they’re off!

I was surprised by the number of men I saw on my way to the start. While the Queen Bee is a women’s-themed race, it’s not women exclusive, and men could run — with a 15-minute handicap. I should also note that while the men’s shirts weren’t as awesome as the women’s, they were still pretty great. I also saw a few dudes proudly sporting their race-themed Sweaty Bands. I, for one, appreciate a man secure enough in his masculinity to rock a purple Sweaty Band. Well done, dudes.

The Climb: Our fool-proof race plan was to hang with the 2:10 pace group (that’s about a 10-minute mile pace, for those of you who suck at race math as badly as I do) and to NOT GO ANY FASTER than them for the first 5K. I have a tendency to get excited at the beginning of races, go out way too fast and die somewhere in the middle. But because I made a pledge to eliminate reckless miles — and to enjoy this race with my childhood girlfriend — we were sticking with the pace group, dagnabit.

The pacers, dressed in full bee costumes, cheerfully led us up the beast of the hill that was the first three miles of the race. The climb to Eden Park is ALWAYS hard, and it’s especially hard when it comes at the beginning of a race when you haven’t yet found your rhythm. Despite that, the fall leaves looked beautiful and showcased the city wonderfully. I saw my friend, Cat, cheering near the top of the hill, and her high-five gave me the energy to power up the remainder of the climb.

O’Bryonville and Hyde Park: Ah, sweet relief. In my mind, I was thinking, “It’s all downhill from here!” and wished my legs would sync up with my brain a bit faster. Our scenery got decidedly more urban, and the crowd support picked up. There was a particularly enthusiastic group handing out Twizzlers somewhere around mile four.

At one point, I said, “Do you hear that music? What is that?” before I realized it was the music in my own headphones that I had been completely oblivious to until this point. In fact, I can honestly say I could have run this race sans music entirely (this is not something I say lightly, as a music-reliant runner).

Badass bagpipe boy.

Badass bagpipe boy.

Mt. Lookout: As we turned the corner onto Linwood toward Mt. Lookout Square (and my home turf), my friend, Sara, popped out onto the street, ready to run a few miles with us. Whoohoo! This was a godsend because the pace group was just starting to get away from us as I was starting to feel the fatigue from the early hills.

There was a big crowd in Mt. Lookout Square and all kinds of funny signs, treats and even a table of beer shots. And then … wait a second. What? What the crap is that hill?!? DAMMIT. I drive Linwood almost every day, so it never occurred to me to run this little section of the course, but it was decidedly uphill. Since I had already signed off on being DONE with the hills, this was not a welcome discovery. Up ahead, I saw my daughter, Nora, waving wildly at us from atop my husband’s shoulders. She looked so happy! And it made me happy! Tessa and I stopped to kiss our kids and hug our husbands. Well worth the 30-second break — AND now we were halfway home.

Historic East End: As we cruised into the back half of the race, we lost sight of the pace group once and for all and decided we were tired anyway, so we might as well just enjoy the ride. Aces! They were handing out orange slices just as we were having this very conversation.

The East End is one of my favorite sections of Cincinnati. The beautiful historic buildings, painted ladies and little shops make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. I thought the crowds (both the runners and the spectators) would thin out, but they were pretty steady the entire race, the East End being no exception. In fact, we got cheers from Bad Angels Chrissy and Allie, who were spectating along with my favorite twin toddlers, Ben and Charlie.

The awesome mile markers and themed fuel stations continued to rock throughout the this section. My favorite was a line of people handing out Vasoline on popsicle sticks. I’ve seen this (and needed this) for a full marathon before, but never for a half. Since my ArmPocket was rubbing me raw, I grabbed a stick, swiped my arm and had instant relief. Thanks, random stranger with lubricant!

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Please, sir, I’d like some more.

River Drive: The best part about River Drive is that it is almost completely flat. The worst part of River Drive is that it is completely flat. Ugh. I really hate River Drive. I have bad race memory from the torrential downpour of the 2013 Cincinnati Half Marathon, and I just generally never run well on this section of road. Which really isn’t fair to the road. It’s a perfectly nice road with interesting sites and a beautiful view of both the river and the city skyline. But all I could think about at that moment in time was just how far away the city looked. I wanted to be done. Done running. FOREVER.

But I had made a pact to enjoy this race, so I distracted myself with the race ridiculousness. Luckily, River Drive offered up a few of my favorite mile stations.

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Now THAT is how you do Chippendale’s.

First up was “Margaritaville,” where the local Parrothead Club was handing out leis whilst blasting Jimmy Buffett. Sing it, Coral Reefers!

Next, we reached the “Royal Tea” station, where they were wearing crowns and handing out cups of tea. Don’t mind if I do!

And at mile 12, we hit the Chippendale’s mile marker. When I saw “Chippendale’s” as a mile theme in the race pamphlet, I was fully prepared to go into a full-blown feminist rage about equality for BOTH genders, expecting to see half-dressed men in bow ties handing out water. What ACTUALLY greeted us at mile 12 was a group of middle-aged men and women, wearing T-shirts with muscles drawn on them, handing out chocolate chip cookies. OK, now that’s funny. In fact, it was my favorite fuel station.

The Finishing Stretch: What goes down, must go up. And, since we’d been running down on the river for a handful of miles, there was a bit of a climb to come back into the city. I was completely tanked and just trying to get one foot in front of the other to finish this thing. Just then, Bad Angel Kelly whizzed by us and flashed her horns. Since I knew she was aiming for a 2:30 finish time and was blowing by us at mile 11, I also knew she was well on her way to a big-time PR. Rock on, Kelly!

Then, Tessa started scoping out people we could pick off before we finished. We cruised by crampy-crying lady and long-religious-skirt girl before we hit the finishing stretch.  It was the first time I noticed the wind all day, and it felt pretty good, even if it was working against us.

Best finish line ever.

Best finish line ever.

The crowd was cheering, a glee-club was singing and when we crossed the finish line, military guys in full uniform placed medals around our necks. Very classy. So classy that I teared up as Tessa gave me a high-five and a huge hug. I glanced down at my watch and realized that Tessa had also PR’ed — and by a solid 8 minutes. Not a bad day at the races at all.

The After Party: The After Party was pretty awesome. Unlike most overly-crowded race parties with long lines for the good goodies, the Queen Bee Race Party had a plethora of easily-accessible presents. There were chocolate-covered strawberries, mimosas, Skyline three-ways, a medal-engraving station and even race-themed flip flops. The band was rockin’ (albeit a little too loud for this old lady) on the outdoor stage, and everywhere I looked, I saw groups of girlfriends with smiles from ear-to-ear.

We give this race two horns up!

We give this race four horns up!

Final Thoughts: Nearly everything about this race surpassed my expectations. For all of my fears about the female theme feeling condescending, the Queen Bee managed to find a way to make it all feel empowering, fun and inspirational. From Rosie Red at the starting line to a sunflower for every runner at the finish line, I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this race.

And since the race itself was geared toward female camaraderie, this recap would not be complete without mentioning that it allowed me to spend a couple of hours (which is hard to find with kids and jobs and distance and families) with one of my best friends in the whole wide world. And while Tessa keeps thanking me for helping her get through training and to the start line, it was she who helped me through the end of the race and to the finish line. But after all, isn’t that what friends are for? — Aidz

Run Like a Girl

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.

Deena tells it like it is.

Deena eases my race-related trepidations.

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 wears pink. Deena races against women. Deena is awesome.

Deena wears pink. Deena races against women. Deena is awesome.

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

Gonna Make You Sweat

I was recently told that I am an abnormal sweater, and each trip to the gym has made me ever more aware of my sweating tendencies.

Sweating it out at the Bix 7 last year.

Sure, I perspire in the usual places that most women do — under the arms, behind the knees, right at my sports bra line. But then there are the weird ones. Sweat pours down the front of my legs, originating at my knees. It starts at my wrists, rolls down my forearms and drips off my elbows.

When I finish my treadmill workout, it looks like I dumped a bottle of water on the control panel. Then I’ll stop, look around and seem to be the sweatiest person in the gym.

Part of it could be because I’m actually working out, unlike a lot of people who go to the gym just to “be seen,” but surely that can’t be the only factor. My curiosity sent me to the Googles.

I found a New York Times article about a study that looked at the sweating tendencies of men and women, both fit and unfit. As you’d probably expect, the fit men sweated more than the fit women, albeit through the same number of active sweat glands, and fit people of both genders perspired more than their unfit counterparts.

Not surprising, right? Now, get this:

“We know that fitness changes the sweating response,” said Timothy Cable, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology at John Moores University in Liverpool, England, who has extensively studied female athletes and how they perspire. As someone becomes more fit, his or her body begins to sweat at a lower body temperature. This is important, because “the body has a critical core temperature,” Dr. Cable said, which occurs at about 104 degrees, after which the brain simply “shuts down the motor cortex.” … Sweating delays the onset of this critical heat buildup. … If you start to sweat at a lower temperature and increase your sweating rate as you get hotter during hard exercise, you’re less likely to reach the critical temperature.

A-ha! So, it turns out, I’m a sweaty beast because, well, I’m a beast, and my weird wrist sweat is helping me survive my tough workouts (and this heat wave). I’ll take it. — Mags

More Women Going the Distance

Women distance runners are straight up blowin’ up. A few stats for your mind grapes:

  • In 1980, only 10 percent of marathon finishers in the United States were women, but in 2011, 41 percent of U.S. marathon finishers were women.

Joan Benoit wins the first women”s Olympic marathon during the 1984 Olympics at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Credit: Tony Duffy/Allsport

  • In 1996, only 3,300 women registered for the Chicago Marathon. Last year, 20,300 registered, and the largest participant age group for women was 25-29 (for men, it was 40-44).
  • Last year, 59 percent of half marathon finishers in the U.S. were women.

Incredible. Especially considering that 50 years ago, the longest distance women were allowed to race in the Olympics was 800 meters. They didn’t add the women’s marathon to the Olympics until 1984.

I find the Chicago Marathon numbers particularly interesting. It got me thinking, how will the numbers change as these women age? Will they stick with it? Or are these late 20-somethings flipping out about turning 30 and trying to squeeze in a marathon before they’re old and gray (sarcasm)? Tough to say.

Whatever the case may be, it feels pretty darn awesome to be a part of this generation of female runners who are stepping up to the starting line in droves. — Mags

Pink Think

A few weeks ago, I ranted about a 3.1 sticker. Today, I have a new car-sticker-inspired rant, but it’s about a bigger issue.

First, I’ll address the inspiration for this brain dump: It was a seemingly innocent pink 26.2 marathon sticker.

Now, I know that pink stuff isn’t inherently evil. In fact, I love pink. It’s one of my favorite colors. Especially when it’s bright and vibrant. However, it’s the principle behind making things pink for women where I take offense.

I'm not kidding. I wear a lot of pink.

During my formative years, there wasn’t much of a selection when it came to women’s athletic apparel. I ran all of my high school track meets in men’s spikes, and I got my first pair of women’s soccer cleats in college. (Thanks, Mia Hamm.)

When women’s sports apparel first burst on the scene, it was pretty much the same as men’s apparel, only PINK. No, dudes, the problem isn’t the color, it’s the shape. Women are shaped differently than men, and you need to make clothing differently to accommodate.

Also, it’s belittling to assume that if you make something pink that it will appeal to a woman.

So how does my disdain for a pink Cardinals jersey translate to anger over that pink 26.2 sticker?

Well, it’s even worse, actually. Why do you feel the need to qualify your marathon pride with the fact that you are a woman? A man would never put RUNNER BOY sticker on his car.

Power to the Pig. And to the Pink.

Pigging out in pink.

Running is not about gender. Bringing gender into the equation feels like a step backward. So, it bothers me when someone qualifies herself as a RUNNER GIRL, and not just simply a runner.

Now, I promise you I will be wearing pink for the upcoming Flying Pig Marathon, just as I do every year. It’s THE PIG. Pigs are pink! And since Maggie is running the Chicago Marathon for the Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization, I fully support her running in team colors. In fact, it’s appropriate.

And that’s where it’s all a very fine line. Embrace your femininity and take pride in your accomplishments as a strong woman. Just make sure that the emphasis is on the accomplishment and not on the gender.

And also, don’t put a stupid RUNNER GIRL magnet on your car. It’s annoying, and I will mock you. — Aidz