I have been asked over the years about why men and women race different distances, but being in the thick of it, doesn’t provide great perspective so I always just accepted that was the way it was and I would do my best to prepare for the races on the calendar despite never having a good answer and deep down knowing it almost certainly stems from a decision some old white men made because they truly believed something bad would happen to a woman if she raced that far. I also really like 10km races and was of course afraid of change. Somewhat indifferent to the idea of equal distance racing, I attended US Ski and Snowboard Congress in my role as athlete representative a few years back when the proposal was made to engage in equal distance racing.
It wasn’t the data presented or any one convincing presentation that made me become a supporter, it was hearing the other women in the meeting, often older women, who did not support the move and who I could really feel in their tone, were questioning whether or not a female could and should race the same distance as a male. Knowing and respecting many of these women, it made me realize the subconscious effect that the different distances had on females over the years. I’m definitely no physiologist, but given what I know men and women are doing for training (essentially the same), I don’t see why it would cause harm for a female to race the same distance as a male. While no one was admitting it straight out, there was genuine fear of having to race a longer race. This was the same response I got from many female athletes upon introduction of the idea, simply fear. I noticed it in myself, it’s intimidating, but so is anything that is new and something you care about. I also couldn’t help but think about all the many ways we subconsciously discriminate because of cultural norms and just how hard that can be to fight. Some combination of human’s struggle with change and a subconscious message that all these females had had over the years, I felt had left them questioning whether they should be racing that far or not. Shoulding on yourself is no way to find success. This left me a strong desire to see what happens when we tell girls from a young age that they are strong enough to race the same distance as a boy.
Women’s sports have come such a long ways and I am forever grateful for the opportunities that were available to me as a young girl and the many female role models I had in my town growing up, but I also know that not everyone experiences equal opportunity today and I do know there is still a significant pay gap from sponsors between men and women and many sports that do see discrimination towards females. It’s a cause I want to fight for and a cause I’m willing to take a chance on. With that in mind, I became a supporter of equal distance racing.
I’ve only completed one weekend of equal distance racing so far, but I do think it was a success. It was a fun event and I got lots of positive feedback from viewers about the event. With all new things however, I’m sure there will be some ups and downs as we navigate this new world of equal distances. And to be honest, I’m not sure what the distances should be. I do want to be aware of how if affects the men because the ultimate goal is to lift cross country skiing for both men and women. Personally, I would love to see less standardized distances and more using the terrain and courses a venue has to offer to make the best and more interesting race possible for men and women. I think the variation of cross country is what makes it entertaining for both athletes and fans.
One difficult challenge we are facing in the evaluation of equal distance racing is that the total number of races has increased so the total load of racing, male or female, has increased from previous seasons, making it very difficult to evaluate the impact of each factor separately. Regardless, the opportunity to create belief and some level of equality is huge and sends a bigger message to the world. I’m excited to be on this journey with some strong women!
This topic was covered in an interview I did with On Her Turf as well: here