When Running USA released its annual “state of the sport” report last month the data revealed that this currently running boom is being driven by women.
At virtually every distance (save for the marathon) women now represent the majority of runners toeing the line. Half-marathon participation, for example, has basically flipped in the last decade, with women representing about 60% of the field.
Since the first running boom began roughly 40 years ago, omen’s only races have played a major role in getting women involved with the sport. These events have gone from being tiny novelty gatherings (the first ever women’s race only had a field of 78 back in 1972) to being among the biggest in the sport, selling out 15,000+ fields in a matter of days.
Here in Canada, women’s only events have been growing at seemingly just about the same rate. Cory Freedman, who organizes a women’s only series in Toronto, has her events have continued to grow ever year. “Pretty much all of our races sell out every year,” says Freedman, who is gearing up for her Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon and 5K on May 26.
Out east, the level of demand is no different. Race organizers Michelle Kempton and Stacy Chesnutt decided to put on a women’s only 5K fun run, the Sole Sisters Women’s Race, in 2012 when they realized that Halifax didn’t have a women’s only event. “It sold out months before race day with 1,500 women,” says Kempton. “This year we sold-out 5 months before race-day with 2,500 women and have had hundreds ask us to open the event up to more participants. We can’t this year because our medals and shirts are ordered months in advance, but we may consider growing it’s size again next year.”
Freedman thinks there’s a number of reasons why these events are in such high demand. “It’s about getting out there, leaving the kids and the partner behind, and running with other women, being social,” observes Freedman. “It’s about women setting their own pace. I get super fast girls running 1:22-23 on a challenging course, and I get newbies. It’s supportive, it’s fun, it’s competitive.” Ultimately, she feels that these races provide an opportunity for women to get fit and be active in the right environment.
Freedman does allow men to compete, but she says that the male runners in the Toronto running community are respectful of the idea behind women’s races. “We have not had a guy cross the finish line first.”
The Sole Sisters event has taken a slightly different approach. “No timing Sole Sisters is what makes it different than any other female race we’ve heard about,” says Kempton of her event. “Ours is important because it gives women an opportunity to run together in a non-competitive environment.”
Kempton says that women are hyper competitive, and that’s why she had the idea of putting on an untamed running event. “Some may not admit it, but women compete with each other from an early age,” says Kempton. “For friends, boyfriends, careers and even to be the best wife or mom. We wanted to create an environment that celebrated health and friendship made through running. We don’t keep track of who crosses the finish line first or last. We’ve never seen an event with so many women holding hands and smiling as they cross the finish line.”
Both Freedman and Kempton are impressed by the support they’ve received from male runners in the community. “The men in the running community have been completely supportive, actually they make up a majority of our volunteers,” says Kempton. Freedman pointed out that many of the male partners of women in the race come out on race day to either volunteer at aid stations or show their support. “And we always get a few wise single guys looking to find a girlfriend.”