At the Southern Road Relays in Crystal Palace, club runners have the opportunity to run with some of the best runners in the country, and it’s bursting with both energy and talent. Held on 22nd September there was rain, but it was a warm day – winter cross country still feels a long way away. The wet ground did make for slightly treacherous conditions under foot, especially on the waterlogged tartan track where it was difficult to push off. Women run in a team of four, men in a team of six – the disparity is historic rather than explainable.
Starting on the historic track at Crystal Palace, the atmosphere was charged with the gifted and talented among our field, from the very youngest, who run earlier in the day, to the brave vets who still want to punish themselves by running at top gear for three miles, or thereabouts.
Each member of the relay team starts on the track then heads off for two laps before handing over to the next member. Everyone gave their absolute best, especially on what felt like a significant hill on each lap: running at threshold along an uphill drag is tough.
There was a discrepancy in race distances between men and women – the reason I hadn’t entered the race initially. Women run 4.8K in this road relay, men 6.1K. It seems like such a stupid rule – that the men run 1.3K further than women. Made farcical on the day with the extra distance created for the men by a dead turn, then a run down to a car park, another dead turn, then running back up to return to the circuit around the track. In the rain we watched as men slipped and fell on the dead turns – the price they had to pay to run that 1.3K further.
Following a drop out from my club’s senior women’s team I agreed to step in, despite being over 20 years older than the other members, so from the start we were at a disadvantage. When we finished in the top half of the field we were more than chuffed: we were running against the top teams, and female runners, in our region. We did ourselves proud. When we then supported our men’s team, which was also pulled together at the last minute, we also felt a sense of pride watching them push themselves to their limits. They were awesome, too!
The South of England Athletics Association (SEAA) that organises this event falls somewhat behind other regional associations that are beginning to equalise distances for both men and women. After all, there is no reason to have different distances for each sex. Is there?
Or was there a reason? After my three miles of complete lactic adulation I wanted to ask an official about the discrepancy. I found the chief official, with my other team mates, and promised myself I wouldn’t throw my phone at him if he gave me a stupid answer. I expected to be disappointed.
And I was. “Men won’t come down in distance to run the same as women,” he told me. “Elite women refuse to increase their distance to run the same as men.” Really? We’ve seen Laura Muir, Elish McColgan, Charlie Purdue, Stef Twell and Jo Pavey and every other elite woman doing just that.
And just how many elite women is he talking about? And where is the evidence that they refuse to run the same distance over cross-country, or in a road relay, as men?
“Also, it’s all about money,” the official continued. “If women were allowed to run further, and the same distance as men, the events would take longer, which would mean they would have to run over two days, costing more.”
The youngest woman in our team, Beccy Lord (who is faster than all the men from my club) asked: “None of these men are as fast as me. Why can’t I run the same as them? None of them can keep up with me, but I’m not allowed to run the same, this is discrimination isn’t it? I pay the same entrance fee.” No reply, no answer, no explanation.
The problem is that our national governing body in running can’t force the regional organising bodies to set equal distances for both sexes. Each regional organisation can do what it wishes. They are self-governing and set their own rules. This is just in England, however: in Scotland, cross-country races have been equalised.
In the meantime, SEAA still insist on maintaining their policy of only allowing women to run unequal though this winter. That is, just to make it clear, the last few months before we enter 2020, a technological and advanced scientific age where humanity stretches out its arm into the unknown universe to explore new possibilities of other life and other places to live, where we delve miles deep into the ocean to discover unknown species with incredible insights for science. Where women still aren’t allowed to run as far as men.
The southern regional cross-country, held in London on Parliament Hill on 25thJanuary 2020, will see women being ‘allowed’ to run only 8K, compared to the men’s race, which is 15K.
Just like last year, I will run my women’s race, as hard and fast as I can. Then I will join in the men’s race and run theirs too (as much as I can as I will have to run fast to finish in time for their start). Which will mean that I will run further than the men, like I did last year. And in that race I was shouted at by marshals to get off the course because I might fall over and “get in the way of the men”. Help us by running with us and supporting us!
This year, we want as many of you as possible – women and men – to join us at Parliament Hill, January 25th, 2020, to run the full course and make a stand. Unless we make a protest, nothing is ever going to change. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us you’re coming.