In “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” Mika mentions that for a long period of time, women had little participation in sports due to societies, “beliefs about their weakness and physical vulnerability,” which still exist, “to some extent today.” Being a female student athlete myself and having trained in the past with a mixed gender team, I know that this is true. My male teammates can easily outperform me in any situation, running faster, lifting more, etc. While women are no longer considered to only be of importance to cook, clean, and have babies, they still are not regarded entirely as being as capable as men. Women remain stereotyped as the “weaker sex” in society today but are slowly making steps to becoming equivalent to men in the field of athletics with changes like Title IX and the increase of women in athletics.
But I was recently reading the book “Born To Run,” by Chris McDougall the other day. He starts the book looking on how to solve his nagging injury but then delves into research of how people, specifically the Tarahumara Indians that remain separate from society in the mountains in Mexico, are able to run extremely long distances. What I found most interesting from his book was his talk about the runner Ann Trason. In one of the most exciting parts of the book, the Tarahumara Indians are taken from their secluded tribes in Mexico to race at the premier ultra running event, the Leadville 100, “The race where legends are created and limits are tested. One hundred miles of extreme Colorado Rockies terrain — from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet.” AKA, probably the most difficult race ever since you are running for at minimum 16 hours up and downhill with half of it overnight.
In the race, Ann was the fiercest competition against the incredibly fast and persevering Tarahumara. The Tarahumara ended up winning the race after going back and forth with Ann over hours of racing but she put up a challenge for them.
McDougall highlighted other races that Ann had won or held the course record for, which surprised me because I would not expect a woman to be the fastest at these races. He interviewed her telling about one of her first races, where the men all passed her on the downhills, but she easily breezed past them on the uphill and ended up being one of the top finishers. On a profile of her online there is a story that, “At the Way Too cool 50K one year, Ann came upon fast ultrarunner Dave Scott not too far from the finish and asked him if he wanted to tie. Dave realized this was Ann’s polite way of saying, ‘Do you want to run in hard together or do you want me to beat you?’ The pair finished together.” Clearly, she is not only one of the best female ultra runners but one of the best ultra runners.
And it is not just Ann that is beating men. Race organizer Tracy Sudlun said, ““The differences as you probe farther into the ultradistances seem to indicate men and women are competing more on an even plane.” New studies back up this claim: “Recently, thanks in part to increasing numbers of women ultra-athletes and the times they’re turning in, have we begun to suspect women may be more efficient at using that body fat early in a race and saving the glycogen for the long haul.”
So what if we have been looking at sports all wrong? We limit ourselves to looking at only the small frame of sports that exist today. Games and races are usually more popular if they are decently short, which makes them easier to train for and compete in. In Born to Run, McDougall explains that earlier civilizations ran for survival and would actually run down their prey until they passed out, which usually required twenty plus miles to do. Running is difficult, but I would guarantee most people would pick a four mile run over a 100 mile run. Sure, a lot of guys row faster than me (I can beat a lot of them though!), but what if we made a sport more difficult by increasing its distance. Perhaps if we rowed for 24 hours or played basketball for extreme lengths of time then girls would be succeeding more than men then and would no longer be the “weaker sex.”