*This was actually written in November of 2014 on a personal blog that I have, but it’s nonetheless what I think to be a pretty important topic in the world of mountain, ultra, trail running, and it certainly seemed like a relevant topic for Women Talk Sports. I may be a bit naïve, but while I know that disparities between the men’s and women’s sides of the sport is pretty prevalent, be it through unequal media attention, funding, or sponsorship, I like most people I more or less turned a blind eye to it all until this fairly recent instance where I got to experience it for myself firsthand pretty blatantly. After publishing it, it got a surprising amount of attention and I got several emails and Facebook messages from others who I didn’t know, who’d experienced similar situations on larger or smaller scales. It was also peppered with some backlash from several people who believed that I was taking a jab at what the US M.U.T. committee that presides at many of the USATF meetings was or was not doing, which really wasn’t the case at all, I was just making a point. Thankfully the people who compose that committee are working to resolve some of these disparities regarding some of the unequal funding of men’s and women’s USA Mountain Running Teams, and 2016 is supposed to be the year that’s going to see tremendous change on that front, but that remains to be seen. Lastly, I should also add in a huge, special thanks to Sage Canaday who, since finding out about the lack of funding for the women’s team going to this year’s World Mountain Running Long Distance Championship, generously donated funds that he had earned from the sales from his self-made film “M.U.T. Runner” to allow for some partial funding for additional women on the team.*
I had to wait a few days to post this one as I had to pick the brains of a few trustworthy runner friends just to ensure that I’m not making up a problem and getting all in a tizzy and flying off the handle and there isn’t really a problem at all, as I’ve been a bit wont to do on occasion. I’ll own it.
Anyway, a little backgroud: for anyone that doesn’t know, Team USA had like, this totally rad showing at the WMRA Championships (which was mixed in with the Pikes Peak Ascent) this last August. On the women’s side, we went first through third (Allie McGlaughlin, Morgan Arritola, and myself), and for the men, 1st, 3rd, and 4th (Sage Canaday, Andy Wacker, and Joe Gray). So gold for both. It was awesome. I don’t even know how I still have a face because it got totally rocked off that day.
I’m relatively new to this whole mountain running gig, and I’ve learned that there are a lot of opportunities to represent the US on an international level and different mountain, ultra, trail events. In this particular race, apparently if you were to podium (top-3) you’re a shoo-in for the Team USA going to next year’s WMRA Championships. I knew this going into the race, so that provided a little extra ‘umph to get to the top of that little hill. Next year, the WMRA Championships will be the Zermatt Marathon in Switzerland. Since Team USA is composed of five men and five women at this particular event, the members are chosen by whether they are podium finishers at the previous year’s WMRA Champs, and this year, November 8th’s Moab Trail Marathon acted as an additional qualifier where the overall winners (Dakota Jones for the men and Megan Kimmel for the women) also got automatic bids for next year. The final slot will be chosen by resume’. For the men, they still have two open remaining by-resume’ positions since just Sage and Andy were podium finishers on Pikes Peak, rather than 3 of us on the podium for the women. And even better, the LOC for Zermatt will fund 75% of our team’s travel to go out there and compete. That’s huge, holy cow.
Or will they? Yes and no.
I stumbled upon an article floating out in the Twittersphere the other day: http://www.usmrt.com/2015-wmra-world-long-distance-championship-team-usa-selection
Needless to say I was surprised to learn that only one woman from Pikes Peak would receive financial assistance, much deserved of course, whereas the top three men would, regardless of the fact that both the men’s and women’s teams heading to Zermatt will feature five runners. I was under the assumption that the top 3 men and top 3 women would get funding, but it appears Morgan and myself are the odd (wo)men out. I came to learn that in total, six runners will be funded: all five members of the men’s team, one of five the women, and a team manager. Maybe it’s always been that way and I’m beating a dead horse, since I think I may have been the only one surprised by it. Maybe I should have known. But in any case it kinda killed my buzz. Cramped my style. Rained on my parade. Being on Team USA is a rare opportunity and one that I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on so long as I’m healthy and running, but a few thousand bucks to be part of it may be a bit of a game-changer. But then, if it’s important enough to you, you’ll find a way to make it work. No doubt plenty of other teams from countries substantially less well-off than ours find a way to make it happen.
Before I go on, I have to throw in a massive and extremely long-winded disclaimer for several reasons. For one, because I’ve already shot my mouth off once and it seems to have been interpreted as an attack on the efforts of our amazing M.U.T. committee of abundantly wonderful humans (comprised of Nancy Hobbs, Ellen Miller, Rich Bolt, Paul Kirsch and others with whom I am not yet familiar) that we are incredibly fortunate to have in the US of A. Running and competing is a privilege and not a right, just as having those people back us is also a privilege and not a right. They don’t have to be there, and they don’t have to do it, or they could just as easily sit idly by and do nothing while other people make all the rules–fair or not–and they do anything but. The way things are is certainly not from lack of effort on their part, far from it, and I know I’m not just speaking for myself when I say I’ve got nothing but gratitude for all of them.
My second disclaimer is that I don’t really know 100% what I’m talking about. So take it all with a grain of salt. No, scratch that, get to the nearest feed store and get yourself a salt lick.
My third disclaimer is that I don’t operate under the illusion that my thoughts are in any way organized. I struggle. Forgive me.
Anyway, Nancy is possibly the biggest force that I am aware of in the efforts to diminish and hopefully eventually eliminate these kinds of disparities. Nancy was a member of the first-ever women’s US mountain running team back in the day, so if anyone “gets it” it would be her. And were there any Nancies advocating for the team back then? I don’t know, but I kinda doubt it. She will go out of her way to ensure that everyone has a chance if they’ve earned it, and perhaps most importantly, in this day and age of flavor-of-the-week-USATF-s*it-storms, she will answer anything to the best of her ability and will ALWAYS go to bat for you. When this issue was brought to her attention (actually it had her attention way before this, but then we went and blew up the Facebook the other day), she promptly jumped in to clarify the situation, and here is what she said:
“There have been some questions from athletes regarding the Long Distance Championships to be held in Zermatt July 4, 2015. As of today, we have 8 auto selects for Team USA (which will be comprised of up to 5 men and 5 women) to compete at the event. These include Sage Canaday, Andy Wacker, Dakota Jones, Allie Mac, Shannon Payne, Morgan Arritola, and Megan Kimmel. There will be at least one at-large woman selected and two at-large men. The auto selects have until mid-April to confirm their participation. There is some concern over the funding being disparate which is true from the LOC. The way the contract reads, the top 3 men and top 1 woman from the prior year’s Long Distance Challenge receive 75% funding. The WMRA Council addressed this disparity at meetings in September and moving forward, a new contract will reflect equal money for the top three men and women. However, the contract with Zermatt, and Pikes Peak before Zermatt, had a contract which stated this level of funding back at a time when we had little interest from athletes to participate in the event and few countries even fielding one athlete. Was it fair at that time for only one woman to get the 75% and three men to get the 75%? No, but at the same time…there wasn’t the level of competition and commitment there is now. There is funding from the LOC for lodging and meals for 6 athletes plus one team leader — or 7. This is the way the funding was at Pikes Peak this year from the LOC. Because the event is now at the level of Championship…moving forward, there will be positive changes in terms of funding and support. Up until last year, the US Long Distance Team received NO uniforms and NO funding from USATF. We fought for support and last year, while still a “challenge,” we were granted uniforms for Team USA. In 2015, USATF just approved our budget allocation for Teams via the Mountain Ultra Trail Council. We received a $15,000 increase. Does that mean full funding for our teams…the answer is no. Was full funding requested? The answer is Yes. We have worked tirelessly as volunteers to support our athletes and our program growing it from a budget of $150 in year one to now well over $60,000. Might not seem like much when looking at the USATF overall budget, but 1) we are not an Olympic Sport, 2) we don’t have high performance funding. What we do have our committed folks working on the athlete’s behalf to raise funds and awareness for our sport. If anyone is interested in funding levels, or has any question about the above, we’re all about transparency. Simply ask. Our Mountain Ultra Trail exec committee meets regularly by phone and reviews numerous initiatives and issues. Also our minutes from the USATF annual meeting in Anaheim will be posted soon (we are in the review stage to make sure we didn’t miss anything). my email is: Nanohobbs@gmail.com if you have any questions on the above.”
I completely understand why my spur-of-the-moment gripe was met with maybe a tinge of defensiveness. I mean, they had to fight for UNIFORMS for us for crap sakes. So needless to say, that enormous increase in funding was huge and hard-won. I certainly played no part in earning it, and supposedly it’s changing for the better down the road. I don’t think any runner affiliated with the mountain and trail scene could possibly overstate their appreciation for what’s been done for us behind the scenes.
On the women’s side of things, sure there’s less funding, sure they send 4 women to the World Mountain Running Championships versus 6 men, but we’re lucky to get anything at all. There are countries that will not send ANY women to compete at an international level, or at any level at all for that matter, so here we are back to the privilege-not-a-right thing. Reality is, there are significant disparities in terms of interest in the sport between men and women, just look at Club XC this last weekend: the men’s open field was almost twice the size of the women’s. I get it. But as far as opportunities and support go, it’s a chicken-or-the-egg paradox: are there disparities in opportunities and support because of lack of interest, or lack of interest because of those disparities?
While we’ve got it pretty darn good in the U.S., the WMRA is not just the U.S., so certainly not everyone’s got it as good as we do because not everyone shares the same viewpoints as our M.U.T. committee does. Should this stuff even be an issue in this sport (or anywhere) at all? Nope, but–and this phrase makes me want to barf–it is what it is. It would be great if everything was all shiny and happy and we could all just link arms and gleefully run through a sun-dappled forest together, but there are lots of things that shouldn’t be problems but are. So of course, this little issue is a minuscule part of much one that’s way too big for a silly blog post, and plus just makes people squirmy and uncomfortable. Pretty sure it’s one of those “tip of the iceberg” type deals.
Anyway, was I at any of those meetings? Was I the one going out on a limb for US athletes? Do I know half of what goes into it? Did I do any of the legwork? Big nope to all of the above. But, do I reap the benefits of other peoples’ tireless efforts? Most definitely.
So I get it, I really do. ALL of Nancy’s points are totally valid and I’ll never say they’re not. Simply put, what I gleaned from the explanation is that until recently, women hadn’t taken enough interest (or their countries of origin didn’t allow them to) to warrant giving them same types of privileges and monetary support as the men, and even though that mentality is a world away now, we’re still paying for it (quite literally in the case of buying a plane ticket to Switzerland). Point(s) taken. I understand the angle from which they’re coming from.
My defense on the other hand is a pathetic, pitifully mewling, “But I want to go too and this isn’t fair.” Talk about first world problems. Somebody slap me. From my angle though, all I see are the 2nd and 3rd place guys being deemed somehow more worthy than their female counterparts who finished equivalently in the same race, like those performances are somehow worth less. Or maybe worthless?
As an aside, and while we’re on the subject of first world problems, the 2nd place man, Azerya Teklay, is an Eritrean soldier who supports his family on $15 a month (to take a break from my rant and read more about him and about problems that are REALLY problems, check out http://www.pikespeaksports.us/group/roadtrailrunning/forum/topics/sometimes-the-good-guys-place-second) . Since us Westerners basically live in the lap of luxury, we’ll never know that kind of want. But that said, what if the 2nd place woman was in the same position as Teklay? She’d be S.O.L. despite being among the best in the world, and I’m sure that’s happened many a time.
BUT, on the upside, USATF-Colorado still may pitch in to help with some travel expenses, and the LOC for Zermatt may allocate additional funds to beef up their field. So you know what that means?
In any case, whether I was on the receiving end of this disparity or not, I guess I just think it would be really remiss, apathetic, and not to mention unfair of me to stay all sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice, roll with it, pretend like it’s all fine, and not speak up. I’d be doing a disservice to my favorite thing in the world. Thankfully plenty of other people have spoken up, particularly those on our M.U.T. Committee in the U.S., and they’ve got the loudest voices. I haven’t got a magic bullet solution unfortunately, and if there was one, they’d have found it by now. It’s all a moot point now given the rationale that was used to determine the current system that’s in place for the time being, but the best I can come up with is 1) allocate a smaller percentage of funds spread over an entire team versus just 6 total, or 2) fund 3 men and 3 women.
Whatever, just keep it equal.