Running a Women-Only Race

It seems that women-only races are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. For many years women weren’t allowed to run long distances races. To even be typing that seems absurd to me but I remember when doctors would tell women they shouldn’t run. Going on absolutely no real findings, doctors believed running was somehow bad for women and/or that women couldn’t run long distances because we were too frail and our periods somehow interfered with running. If you even attempted to run while pregnant, you would be condemned by everyone you knew.

Flash back to 1967 when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon with a numbered entry. She registered under the name “K.V. Switzer” and was almost thrown off the course while running by race official Jock Semple. Kathrine is a legend in the field of running and an inspiration to all runners but especially female runners. It took another five years before women were officially allowed to run in the Boston Marathon in 1972.

The field of female runners has increased over the years and gradually more and more women have been entering races but women are still out-numbered by men at most marathons. So why the draw to a women-only race? Well, I can tell you my first-hand experience. I ran a women-only plus “one lucky guy” half marathon in Massachusetts a few years ago. The race organizers allowed entry for one guy (I’m not sure how he was chosen from the other males that entered or even how many males entered for that matter).

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Some of the fall foliage from the All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon

The All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon I ran in Massachusetts was one that sticks out in my mind, of all of the half marathons I’ve run. Yes, the course was beautiful with all of the fall foliage in peak season and running past farms along country roads was lovely but that’s not what makes the race memorable. The race stands out in my mind apart from the rest because of the camaraderie at the race simply because it was an all-women race. It’s difficult to explain but it had a different kind of vibe than the usual male/female mixed races. You can read my full race report here.

I know there has been some backlash from some women’s only races, namely some of the Diva races, which include the half marathon and 5K in many cities in the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada. These races are all about the stereotypical feminine bling like pink boas, tiaras, tutus, and pretty much all things pink. I think it’s all meant to provide a fun atmosphere and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Personally, I’m not a diva in any way, shape, or form, but I feel if some women want to be, that should be their choice. I have a friend who has run in some of the diva races and she said they’re “kind of silly” but also “kind of fun.” I say if it takes that kind of thing to encourage some women to run a race, so be it.

One important note, not all women’s only races are like the diva ones or the ones you hear about firefighters handing out jewelry to finishers at the end. The race I ran wasn’t handing out chocolates, roses, or anything frilly. The medal did have a pink ribbon but it wasn’t anything too over the top. In general this race was like any other race, except it happened to be all women and one guy running the race, and like I said earlier, there was a different kind of vibe.

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Women in the All Women and One Lucky Guy at the start- not much pink here!

Finally, my thoughts on men running in women’s only races. While these races are geared toward women and providing a safe, encouraging space, sometimes men will sign up. Sometimes their wife/girlfriend/friend/sister will ask them to run the race with them, and sometimes they just want to sign up and run it on their own, although I think both cases are pretty rare. There’s nothing to stop them. I don’t think we would ever have a role reversal like the Kathrine Switzer attempt to throw a man off a women’s only course. I think most men understand that women enjoy having their own space to run a race and they’re fine with that.

Want to try your own Women’s Only race? Here are a few to try:

See Jane Run Women’s Half Marathon & 5K – San Francisco Bay Area

Her Madison Half Marathon & 5K- Wisconsin

Bridge of the Goddess Half Marathon & 10K- Oregon

Queen Bee Half Marathon & 4-Miler- Cincinnati, Ohio

Unleash the She 5K & 10K- Minnesota

Phoenix Women’s Half Marathon, 5K, & 10K- Arizona

Cocoa Half Marathon, 5K, 10K, & 1 Mile Family Fun Run- San Antonio, Texas

Savannah Women’s Half Marathon & 5K- Georgia

Thelma and Louise Half Marathon & Relay- Utah

National Women’s Half Marathon & 8K- Washington, DC

Disney Princess Half Marathon, 10K, & 5K- Florida

Tinker Bell Half Marathon- California

Shape Women’s Half Marathon- New York City

Diva Running Series- multiple locations

How many of you have run in a women-only race? Any you’d recommend? Please share your experience here. Do you hate the very idea of women’s only races? Share those opinions as well!

Happy running!

Donna