DID YOU REALIZE THAT GIRLS ON HIGH SCHOOL CROSS COUNTRY TEAMS don’t always race the same distances in meets as boys? I learned this in Runner’s World, “This Fall High School Girls In Most States Will Race Same Distances As Boys”, by Allison Wade. According to Wade's piece, 48 states will have changed this practice and only 2 remain with some differences.
The cited reason is not as simple as an old rule being rigidly followed into modern times. Or so the explanation seems to imply. What is the arugment for maintaining gender-based distinctions? Larger schools can field sufficiently large teams but smaller schools cannot, and it’s felt that increasing the race distance would further decrease high school girls participation in the sport at these smaller schools. This is the case in Oklahoma and Texas, where girls run 3.2K instead of 5K races in small schools.
Another reason cited by coaches of smaller school teams is that 7th and 8th graders are sometimes on their rosters, and until they get into 9th grade, these girls are better off running shorter distance races.
More surprising is that the situation is similar at the collegiate level and in the world of professional racing. “Collegiate men race 8,000 meters throughout most of their season before moving up to 10,000 meters in the post-season, while women race 6,000 meters. At the professional level, men race 12,000 meters at the world cross-country championships while women race 8,000 meters.”
A Runner’s World article “Men v Women Race Distance: An Equal Running Field” has an extensive discussion that seems to say the differences arose because historically distances have varied for both genders, women entered important competitions later than men, and women were at first not thought to be as strong as their male counterparts. One reason the differences remain seems to be that no one has challenged them. An argument is also made that changing race distance might lower the number of women (or men) a team can field competitively.
Apparently in track and field events the distances are the same. In road races and marathons they of course are the same.
The article concludes, “experts agree the anachronistic setup serves no real purpose.” Cross country runner Katie Carlson, who at the time of the article’s writing was a senior at Middlebury College and who researched the topic, is quoted at the end of the piece as saying, "I believe it has a profound psychological effect on women and girls, and how we see ourselves relative to men… It sends a very subtle message that no matter how hard women run, we're seen as second-best."
What do you say?
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EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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