Editorial: Why women’s races matter

The Ottawa Race Weekend added Canadian stars to the start list.
Natasha Fraser on her way to setting a new course record at the Victoria's Pioneer 8K in January
Natasha Fraser on her way to setting a new course record at the Victoria’s Pioneer 8K in January. Photo Tony Austin.

As the founder of the Toronto Women’s Run series, and as the elite athlete recruiter (and three-time half-marathon race winner in the series), we have to say we were more than a little dismayed by Rory Gilfillan’s myopic perspective on women’s running.

What Gilfillan does is confuse women’s running — be it competitive, semi-competitive, even simply participatory — with the new extension of running races meant to be “experiential” fun runs. The recent craze of Colour Runs or Tough Mudder events are proof that there is a new market for fitness enthusiasts and newbies alike that is not primarily runner-oriented. Non-competitive runners have a right to organized events, too, and contrary to Gilfillan’s argument, they are not cultivating an atmosphere of mediocrity for running. They actually may be doing just the opposite, opening the gates to eventual speedsters who will migrate to the competitive fields. To our minds, driving active living in any way is a wonderful thing and in no way detracts from the seriousness of committed runners.

We have spent the past five years offering events for the women’s running community. Since its inception, more than 10,000 women have raced in our series, crossing our (timed) finish line.  Our tagline is women set the pace. This means that whether she is interested in setting a personal best or if this is her first race, it is up to each and every woman to decide upon her own goals. The races are also fun, supportive and inspirational. We want to provide an opportunity for women to be fit and active, build confidence, be connected and cross the finish line with others just like her.

Additionally, our races have a very competitive side, and we get many of the top runners in the province out on race day. While this is not meant to be like Ottawa’s Emilie’s Run (a race which consistently draws the fastest women in the country), our last 5K had three women running under 18:00 on a tough course. We provide an opportunity for the elite women to be the frontrunners, to race against each other and cross the finish line first — something which doesn’t happen in mixed gender races. Conversely, starting alongside the elites are those women and girls who are not racing against one another but against the clock, or simply for the love of running and the joy of being part of an athletic community.

Regardless of what motivates each of us to toe the line, our collective goal and hope at the Toronto Women’s Run Series is that we provide women and girls the opportunity to embrace our sport, to run or walk in a high quality races that are devoted to supporting, showcasing and developing women’s running in Canada.

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Cory Freedman and Suzanne Zelazo

Cory Freedman is the founder of the Toronto Women’s Run series and Suzanne Zelazo is an elite triathlete and  senior editor of  Triathlon Magazine Canada.

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