Women in Trail Running

Please enjoy my mixed smattering bag of womenly goodies on this little writing odyssey. I just kind of went with the flow…not that monthly flow, but yeah, you get it.
Now I may not speak for every female out there, but let’s get something straight…

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Or get muddy, but that’s everyone. Between the toes, under the nails, cuticles. So much for that pedi!

You will chafe. Somewhere, maybe somewhere you didn’t know you could. You’ll feel temperatures differently. You’re hot, she’s cold. It’s 50 degrees.

Maybe you leak a little in places. Maybe you get weird blisters just thinking about running. Maybe you run intervals. Maybe your heart is in a different place than your friend’s. Your hands swell. You get boob sweat in winter. Maybe you lack boobs and wear push up bras for running? I know I did for a long time. But don’t tell anyone.

Ladies come in all sizes, all shapes, and every ability. The ladies who are out there giving it what they have, have courage. Race day isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. No, a lot of training gets put in. And if a lot of training wasn’t put in (I admit I’m sometimes one of those), we put forth all of our experience on the course in front of us. That experience, however, comes from miles and miles of training under all sorts of conditions. Rain, snow, wind, more snow, heat of the sun midday, creepy lonely nights…those birds, will they attack? It’s just a robin.

Nope, that’s definitely a red winged black bird…time to run like heck. Que impromptu speed session. Wait, what’s that rustling over in the bushes? Ack! Chipmunk. But something deep in the back of our mind keeps us on our toes at every little change in environment, or sound that isn’t expected…

Our heads sometimes go straight to flight or fight, and being totally self aware that things are out to get us. That something could be men. No, not all men are dangerous, but there are some that are, and they wish for less than good things to happen to us. For what reason? Who knows. But we don’t deserve it.

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We are out there giving it our all, to work hard for ourselves. We oftentimes think about when we should run, or who we can run with, to give us that peace of mind, of protection against our society and world. We want to feel strong. So we make ourselves strong. And that can come in a variety of ways.

We go to the gym, putting on clothes that hope do not draw attention, especially in such an enclosed area. We head out to do our speed workout on the track, keeping covered afraid wearing just a sports bra even though it’s hot as the devil’s oven out just to not attract unwanted gazes, or worse, have others judge our rolls and scars. Out on the streets we run with a swivel to our head, keeping an eye out for followers, and trying to avoid cat calls. Driving to a running spot so people can’t track where we live, or how often we run a certain path…

We try so often to be safe and feel confident. Now I know I cannot help you all be more confident, it’s just the society we are in. But we have trails. Running freely and judgement free among the trees and tricky roots and rocks that line our path, making it a harder earned run. And when you get done, you can bask in the glory of what you accomplished. Running trails, you can leave your pace behind you. It will be what it will be.

I write this as my own blog post, just reaching out to other women out there, saying it’s ok to be experiencing these things. No it is not ok for society to treat us this way, but the winds of change are slow. Now I would like to talk about what we do out there.

Buzzing participants surround you, manly men, cocky men…oh neat there are some ladies here. You go to talk to them. They are just doing the 10k option, while you feel a little embarrassed you are running the 50k and will be in for the long haul, kind of wishing one of them was joining you in your day of labor.

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And don’t get me wrong, everyone who goes out there is a champion in my book, and I’m not meaning to say just a 10k, but I am reaching out to those of us who want to go that extra mile (or 20), who have drank from the sacred kool-aid we call ultra running. We sometimes feel very lonely, sometimes like we are the only ones there, and the few other women may look very intimidating; classic ultra long distance runner, long blonde hair, carrying just a handheld, lean and tall, and seemingly ignoring everything going on around them. You are there with your hydration pack, packed full of supplies for your long haul with blister kit, extra gels, salt tabs, body glide, chapstick, and bladder weighing in at 5 pounds no less.

But there is a smile under that trucker hat, as your focus soon shifts to the starting line as the sun begins to peak out revealing the trail before you. You start to focus in on the inner you, why you are here. Why are you there? You should be there for yourself, and it’s ok to be selfish! Enjoy your day.

I know it’s hard to be one of the few females out on course though. And sometimes it may seem that others aren’t experiencing the raging hot spot you are getting from higher than expected humidity under your bra, or wait, did that bee just sting me? The NERVE of that bee…no it was a wasp. Die wasp. Missed. Guess I’ll keep chugging along.

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It’s hard to be huffing and puffing on a hill — and yes you trained for that hill and you knew it was coming — and being passed by men who seem to be taking it in stride. Remember to take the time and bring the focus back on yourself and what YOU can do for yourself at any given moment. Each moment you earn for yourself. Each step you take forward (and sometimes a few lost steps that may add to your day, shake those off and accept the bonus miles and brag later). Each breath you are able to enjoy.

Close your eyes and take in what you have managed to accomplish. Sometimes it’s so hard when you compare yourself to others. And inevitably it will happen. To every one of us…big or small, faster or slower. Running generally is a solo sport. Don’t expect to run with others, everyone has different skills, and bless the trail angel when they come along and are by your side.

Let’s take a step back. You are there for the 10k, this is your first trail race, and you have worked so hard for so long to get to this point. You are nervous, but maybe you have some new and old friends by your side. Who quickly disperse once the run starts. You are alone with yourself. You are trying to convince yourself not to give into walking. Walking is so easy!

No, you did not get this far to give up on your arduous efforts leading up to this! You might feel so overwhelmed you don’t deserve to be there. Well, let me tell you the news.

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Breaking news really. You paid to be there (whether that’s paying for the shoes on your feet, or an event or whatnot), you worked hard to be there, and you have every right as every other person has to be there right in that moment, and all your future steps leading you forward. But your mind is a powerful thing, it can empower you and take it right away from you at the same time. Mental toughness, the willingness to refuse to quit. Build it up like a monument so no one can take it down. Come at each step that seems darker and darker with curiosity instead of anxiety or negativity. Ask what you may feel like in 5 minutes, or 90 seconds. Create a mantra…you can do anything for 1 minute. Negativity is temporary, I promise you that. But if you give up, you keep part of that darkness, and will only wonder what could have been if you’d taken the next step.

What is your limit? Can you actually find out? Is there one? You might find you have a temporary limit…work to remove it. Come back, try again and again. Seek joy and pleasure in your journey and soak every moment in, because one day you may not be able to later in life.

It’s rather interesting to see the stats on events, especially as they get longer. I see a lot of participation, women outweighing men, in shorter events. I see women get at it, every pace, every shape. These miles are nothing! But as the miles drag on, those of the female variety tend to lessen in participation. Are we scared of trying? I know from psych research that women are more cautious than men, not as likely to take risks. So it may come down to personality as well. Going the distance is definitely a risk, and an ever increasing risk of failure. We dislike failure. It may be that women are expected to raise kids. I don’t see a lack in participation from the male variety. Shouldn’t raising kids be a joint effort? Another societal expectation? I have no right to say since I do not have these experiences, but I know others who might be going through this. And maybe that’s completely ok with them, that’s their relationship and family.

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But I at least want to say: try. It becomes rather addicting to try, and to see new places, experience new things. Oh how I call the mountains’ name so often (they don’t answer back echoing the sounds of my empty wallet). Prove to yourself you can do hard things, and it’s ok that they are hard, even harder than you expected. And maybe you need a break. That’s ok too. In life there is ebb and flow. Up and down. Positivity and negativity.

Ultimately, you are going to be upset with yourself. You’re going to be angry at things. That’s normal. Go for a run, you’ll feel better, even if it’s delayed after a day or two. You don’t have to sit there and be supportive and positive all the time. We are women and our mood swings can be dangerous…to others. And sometimes ourselves. Find something you can do to chill. Take a salt bath. Drink some tea listening to classical music for 10 minutes. Yoga? I’m not a yoga person, but deep breathing is the shizzle I hear. Close your eyes and imagine your happy place. Do you hear the sound of the leaves crinkling before you on the ground? The smell of fresh pine. Can you hear muffling of the virgin snowfall? Or feel the radiant sunrays on your back, with the crickets singing off in the distance?

This has been quite an adventure in itself. Being a woman running can be lonely even in a crowded room. Hold your shoulders back, chin up, as cliche as that sounds, and march forward in your endeavors. YOUR endeavors. YOUR journey. Each step is so important, if just for you. Don’t be afraid to question, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. No one on Earth is perfect, no man, no woman. It’s hard not being afraid, but sometimes the greatest reward is overcoming that fear and just being you.