While male competitors still clock the fastest times at the majority of running events, women have begun to emerge victorious in ultra- and trail races in recent years. Averaging 7:38 per mile, Camille Herron crossed the finish line before any of her male competitors when she broke the women’s world record for 100 miles at the 2017 Tunnel Hill 100 with a final time of 12:42:39.
Another example is Courtney Dauwalter, who won the Moab 240-mile Endurance Run outright in 57 hours and 52 minutes last fall. Before Herron and Dauwalter, Pam Reed turned heads years ago when she won back-to-back Badwater Ultramarathon races in 2002 and 2003.
But despite the remarkable achievements on the trails by women, female participation in ultras remains relatively low. According to the American Trail Running Association, a spring 2017 survey showed that just 42 percent of participants were female. The ultrarunning statistics are even lower with 34 percent female participation in 2017, according to Ultrarunning magazine.
To combat the disparity, these female race directors and competitors are coming up with new ways to encourage more women to get on the trails.
Mallory Brooks, Cofounder/Director of Spectrum Trail Racing
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Mallory Brooks of Spectrum Trail Racing recently experimented with a unique pricing structure to entice female participation in the double marathon at the 2018 Goodwater Trail Race in Georgetown, Texas. When five male runners had to withdraw two weeks before the sold-out race, Brooks looked at the numbers and noticed that the small field for the 56.4 mile race included only one woman. In an effort to bring more women into the double marathon competition, Spectrum offered the five open spots to women only and slashed the usual $105 entry fee in half.
In six hours, the open spots for the double marathon were filled by female participants and more women continued to reach out with the hope of gaining entry. In an effort to include everyone, the women who continued to reach out past the deadline were still allowed to compete in the single marathon. On race day, two of the top three podium spots were earned by women—Jessie Winnett and Ali Sloan finished second and third overall in the double.
“Women enjoy doing things together,” Brooks told Runner’s World. “When we put that ad out there, I was worried that men were going to say that’s basically reverse discrimination. I was ready for some backlash and we received none. I think people are more okay with things like that because they realize there is a good heart behind it.
“The intention is to pull women in, it’s not to exclude men. Until it’s even, we’ll keep doing it.”
Brooks was impressed, if not surprised, by the rush of women hoping to enter her race.
“It takes a lot of guts and planning to sign up months in advance and be ready for this race, but it takes a lot of gusto to sign up for a double marathon four days before,” she said.
Last fall, Spectrum hosted the inaugural race of The Game: 5K + Last Man Standing, where runners of all ages and genders compete over a series of 5K loops, and the last person running takes home the prize money. Last year’s race came down to two women who competed until midnight on Sunday evening (the competition started on Saturday morning). Brooks learned that the winner, Deena Carr, raced to give her eight children Christmas presents with the prize money earned.
“Women are f****** tough, and then you add on the mom factor,” she said. “I know there are some really really great dads out there who would do anything for their kids, but there is something that a mom will do that’s way beyond.”
Brooks started Spectrum Trail Racing in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Jason, and she’s a hardcore competitor herself. Last August, Brooks and Allison Macsas broke the Wonderland Trail women’s unsupported speed record together.
Candice Burt, Race Director of Destination Trail Racing
#Repost @rokisphoto ・・・ If I could edit finish line photos forever, my heart would forever be overfilled. – Here, Kate Desmurs (@salomonrunning) finishes off the Moab 240 mile endurance run as a complete ball of joy. Take this energy into the weekend and have a good one! – October 17, 2017 Now: Moab Library (I’m moving in) – @tailwindnutrition @salomonrunning @destinationtrailraces #moab #200isthenew100 #utah #moab240 #ultramarathon #run #igrunners #runningcommunity #getoutside #fitnation #exercise #liveyourdreams #travel #trailrunning #goodsouls #finished #adventure #mountainlocals #wanderlust #vanlife #endurance #photography #timetoplay #itstheweekend #fun #behappy #smile #letsdothisagain @volletgreg
A post shared by Destination Trail (@destinationtrailraces) on Oct 20, 2017 at 2:18pm PDT
Burt created what is thought to be the first single-loop, 200-mile footrace in the United States at the 2014 Tahoe 200 Endurance Run. The race features nearly 40,000 feet of elevation gain and traverses the rocky terrain around Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America. But at the time of the Tahoe 200’s inception, the idea of racing that far was deemed risky and fairly unheard of in the ultra community. At that point, Burt had only been organizing races for two years with 100 miles being the longest distance.
“When I came up with my first 200-miler in Tahoe, I certainly had people who thought, ‘What is she thinking? She can’t put on this 200-mile race,’” Burt said. “But ultrarunners are adventurous… there were enough people who trusted me and we started filling up that race pretty much as soon as I announced it.”
The first Tahoe 200 had 60 finishers, and in 2017, 123 athletes completed the race. Since the inaugural 200-mile race in 2014, Burt has created a “Triple Crown of 200s,” the Bigfoot 200 in the Cascade Mountain Range of Washington State, the Moab 200 which explores the Arches National Park of Utah, and the original Tahoe 200. Along with the 200-mile races, Destination Trail Racing offers six additional shorter races around the Pacific Northwest.
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Burt’s key to get more women involved is that she doesn’t require athletes to list qualifying times in order to gain entry into her 200-mile races. As Burt says, qualifiers can make the prospect of competing very difficult for women, especially mothers who need to take time off for pregnancy. Burt herself is a mother of two.
“The requirements are just becoming too involved. I know for myself, I don’t even apply anymore because I don’t have the time to do the qualifiers,” she said. “It might seem counterintuitive, but the truth is, are you going to sign up for a 200 miler if you don’t think you can do it? No. Women aren’t stupid. We know what we can handle, we know what we can train for, and we don’t need a race organization to tell us we need to do certain races to be ready.”
Burt is an accomplished trail runner herself with several podium finishes on her list of career highlights. In 2012, she finished runner-up among female participants in the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 mile endurance run, the same year she broke the unsupported speed record for the Wonderland Trail. She placed top three overall at the HURT 100 in 2013, 2014, and 2016, and she won the 2014 Zion 100.
Richelle Criswell, Cofounder/Director of Trailhead Running
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At one of the many trailheads in Austin, women gather every Tuesday night to run together. As the sun goes down, the runners put on their headlamps and discuss the route before taking a group selfie, which is meant to record the headcount of the group in the rare event of someone losing their way. But it’s more than just a photo opportunity. The selfie brings everyone together as a reminder of the Trailhead Running motto: “You’re not lost. You’re with us!”
Richelle Criswell and Susan Farago created Trailhead Running in 2012 with the goal of introducing women to the sport of trail running. As Criswell remembers, the idea came to her after she attended a series of free workouts hosted by local running stores. The workouts left her feeling overlooked as a female runner. She yearned for more guidance and encouragement, and along with Farago, her longtime friend, saw an opportunity to bring female runners together. The duo often ran together on the popular Barton Creek Greenbelt trail in Austin, where other women inquired about trail running. The interest was apparent, but most had reservations such as fear of getting lost or safety concerns while running alone.
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“Susan and I saw that as an opportunity to create a community where we can encourage women to try trail running, and if they enjoy it, they can meet other women that want to do the same thing,” Criswell said. “That’s how Trailhead Running was born, to encourage other women to get out there.”
Today, Trailhead Running offers informational camps, training programs with groups that meet multiple times a week, and a “Women on the Trails Race Series,” which consists of three races that run from November to February. It’s all done with the primary goal of getting more women on the trails together.
“It’s not about how fast or how far with our group,” Criswell said. “It’s a matter of feeling comfortable, learning your surroundings, and understanding how to do this on your own so that you can encourage other women to come run with you down the road.”
The races are organized to eliminate any fear that may come with running on the trail. Criswell and Farago “mark the courses to death on purpose” to take away the anxiety of getting lost. Families are encouraged to spectate on the course, and the prizes are “functional finisher awards” such as custom scarves, coffee mugs, pint glasses, patches, and canvas tote bags.
Gina Lucrezi, Founder of Trail Sisters
Introducing our NEW Trail Sisters Trucker Hats, and Trail Sisters Pup #EzratheAiredale ! Swipe ⬅️ to new designs. Available in both standard and petite sizes. #gearwithamission • Visit TrailSisters.net/store for more details! • *Pup not for sale 😉 • #trailsisters #runwithher #truckerhats #puppy #traildog #community #support #empoweringwomen
A post shared by Trail Sisters (@trail_sisters) on Mar 14, 2018 at 2:27pm PDT
After years of working in the outdoor advertising industry, Gina Lucrezi noticed a huge lack of female representation within the trail running community. She was told by several brand leaders that without more female participation in trail racing, brands wouldn’t change their marketing strategies. A professional trail runner herself, Lucrezi decided to take action by creating the Trail Sisters blog.
“There weren’t a lot of resources and educational pieces that were from women by women,” Lucrezi said. “I just thought there’d be more women in the sport if somebody would speak to them. I really wanted to present something for women so they felt like they had a place in the sport.”
Trail Sisters began as an online journal, but has evolved into a larger community with the long-term goal of creating a movement of female trail runners. When Lucrezi created the website in April 2016, she reached out to seven women from her network who all committed to writing one blog per month. Soon more women started to reach out with the desire to contribute and tell their stories.
Today, Trail Sisters boasts 32 primary contributors and 40 guest contributors. The list of contributors includes a wide range of backgrounds: professional runners, magazine editors, mothers, working professionals, and influencers in the sport.
“I’m trying to provide this platform so that women can share their experiences and their knowledge with the hope of growing the participation for everybody,” she said.
Some of those experiences include running guides, race recaps, gear reviews, nutrition tips, advice for major races and runs around the world, and the always fascinating “Ask The Trail Sisters” section where almost every reader question gets answered by multiple contributors.
Ultimately, Lucrezi wants to provide a platform for female trail runners to inspire, educate, and empower one another through shared storytelling.
“What I’ve discovered is women want a voice,” she said. “They want a place to talk and to share the things that they’ve experienced. It’s all about camaraderie and growing opportunity. It’s about becoming a stronger force altogether.”
how to get more women into trail running